The Colgate Scene
July 2002

Tchaikovsky's Complete Songs cover
Tchaikovsky's Complete Songs
by Richard D. Sylvester, professor of Russian, emeritus
Indiana University Press 2002

This is a deceptive volume. At first glance, it appears to be an encyclopedic compendium of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's songs, with original Russian texts, transliterations, translations and commentary about the origins of the songs, the biographical contexts of their composition, the recordings and reception of each song, as well as a bibliography, discography, indexes and a CD containing choice recordings of 22 of the songs. Indeed, this book is such an encyclopedic compendium, the first work in any language to analyze all of the great composer's 103 songs, known in Russian as "romances" and well-loved by people throughout Russia. It is a model of research and organization, an indispensable handbook for students of Tchaikovsky's work, singers, musicians and musicologists and lovers of vocal music.

However, in Dick Sylvester's loving hands, this volume is much more. Each short chapter, focused on a different song, is a snapshot of a creative moment in Tchaikovsky's career, and emerging from the whole is the story of an inspired life in an extraordinary era. Emphasizing the unfolding of Tchaikovsky's work, this volume stands as a corrective to the more lurid approaches to the composer's life. Beyond, that, it is a unique portrait of the cultural world of 19th century Russia, and the international swirl of art, friendship and performance in which Tchaikov-sky dwelled. The fascinating characters who people this book -- writers famous and obscure among whom Tchaikovsky found his lyrics, fellow composers, musicians, singers, artists, critics, patrons, music lovers -- are revealed through sometimes droll, frequently poignant stories gathered from letters and memoirs.

Every song has an intriguing pre-history, followed by a long existence as the object of critical scrutiny, performance and interpretation, and Sylvester vividly conveys the "lives" of these songs in these narratives, always celebrating the intricate processes through which Tchaikovsky wed music, language, poetry and Russian cultural themes.

Many years in the making, this volume is the product of copious research, including hundreds of conversations with Tchaikovsky scholars, archivists, aficionados and performers. Sylvester's scholarly energy is matched here with his uncanny skill at selecting the most telling details about Tchaikovsky's creative process and the social landscape that gave birth to his music.

Eyes Wide Open: Bodyguard Strategies for Self-Protection
by Kristie Kilgore '84
Clinetop Press, 2001

"No one consciously starts off the day saying, `Today, I want to be a victim,'" Kristie Kilgore writes in this hair-raising and thoroughly engrossing book. Nevertheless, 11 million Americans are victims of violence every year. According to Kilgore, a martial artist and self-protection expert, most violence is predictable and could be avoided. She says that potential victims (read: everyone) should take the time to prepare themselves for situations most of us decline to even think about -- until it is too late.

Interpolating victims' stories with wisdom gleaned from professional bodyguards and in her own experience, Kilgore makes encounters with violence seem almost inevitable. And she asks, essentially, why aren't we paying attention? Women and girls, for instance, are most likely to experience violence in their homes or the homes of people they know. The risk of violence to women declines with age, and 18-year-old women are statistically at the highest risk. Yet, Kilgore says, societal norms still dictate that girls be taught that their job is to be liked and not to make waves. A girl's hesitance to trust her own intuition may lead her into situations -- even into long-term relationships -- in which she is sexually and/or physically abused.

"In my interviews," Kilgore writes, "the female victims of predictable violence committed by someone they knew often exhibit a sort of selflessness during their abuse -- a willingness to give themselves, their perceptions and their intuition over to the perceptions and needs of another."

The book's title is apt. Kilgore's aim is to teach readers to be alert to danger every moment of every day. Although she devotes a substantial number of pages to physical methods of self-defense (with photo illustrations throughout), her focus is on prevention. Through hundreds of examples that mix real-life lessons with the latest psychological theories on victimization, Kilgore demonstrates how to think, act and look like a person who is in control. How to be your own bodyguard.

"[C]ontrary to what is depicted in the movies, use of physical force is a last resort for a bodyguard," she writes. "Under threatening conditions that turn into action, the bodyguard will attempt to remove his client from the environment, eliminating the exposure to the threat without use of force. Even before this, the bodyguard will first attempt to keep the client from being in the high-risk environment at all. We can all learn from this paradigm of protection."

Foreseeing the Future cover
Foreseeing the Future: Evangeline Adams and Astrology in America
Karen Christino '81
One Reed Publications, 2002

Whether we believe in them or not, most of us read our horoscopes now and then. That is all we tend to know about astrology. The practice -- once thought by its practitioners to be an exact science -- is not rooted deeply in American history. It took Evangeline Adams (1868-1932) to popularize astrology in this country, using sophisticated marketing techniques that clearly set her apart from charlatans on the music hall circuit and "gypsy" seers at county fairs.

Karen Christino, an astrologer who has written two books, numerous articles and a column for American Astrology magazine, begins this short biography of Adams acknowledging that much of the material available for research came from Adams' own writing. She ends the book saying that as time goes by, newspapers crumble and microfilm breaks down, it will become even harder to find original source material on Adams. Then, Christino says, "Adams will simply be a legend, a story, perhaps a myth."

That would probably be fine with Adams, who spent the better part of her life embellishing her story so she could achieve near-mythic status.

Evangeline Adams often implied that she was born into "the" Adams family, which produced two presidents and a host of statesmen and scholars. In fact, Adams' forebears branched off from that family tree with the first American-born generation. Henry Adams, a farmer from Somersetshire, England, came to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1636. His son Joseph was ancestor to presidents; his son John fathered the line that eventually produced Evangeline.

Adams' father died young, and money was tight for Adams and her mother from then on. When Adams was in her early 20s, she and her mother took a house together on Boston's Beacon Hill, and Adams went to work as a secretary -- and, later, as a teacher -- to support them. At the same time, she began studying her future craft with prominent astrologers in Boston. Her extended family disapproved of Adams' jobs and of astrology, which didn't deter her but made her realize that Boston might not be the best place for her to live.

In 1899, three years after her mother's death, Adams moved to New York City. She planned to set up shop as an astrologer in the swanky Fifth Avenue Hotel. When, on her first day in the city, she mentioned those plans to the hotel manager, he promptly booted her out. The travel-weary Adams, along with her secretary, went across town to the Windsor Hotel, whose owner, Warren Leland, was delighted to have them.

The Windsor Hotel burned to the ground the day after Adams moved in, and she later told the New York Times that she had read Leland's palm and foreseen disaster for him. The source of the Leland story, as with most of the stories of Adams' early success, was her autobiography and/or her interviews with the press. Though Adams told another New York newspaper that Leland himself had corroborated the tale of her forecast, there is no proof that he did. In fact, Leland, whose wife and daughter died in the fire, was reported to be incoherent with grief thereafter. He died of appendicitis less than three weeks later.

But the story caught on, and Adams' reputation was made, to be nurtured further by deft self-promotion. She soon rented a studio in Carnegie Hall, where she lived and saw clients for the rest of her life.

Though she attained wealth and fame, Adams' life was bumpy. She was twice tried for fortune telling and twice acquitted. The distinction between fortune telling and astrology, she maintained, was that astrologers dealt in indications, while fortunetellers dealt in prophecy. If you paid attention to what your astrologer said, you could change the future by knowing the indications in advance.

Upsetting as they were to her, the trials only increased Adams' visibility, and thus her success. She claimed as clients such luminaries as Mary Pickford and Douglas Fair-banks, the King of Siam and J.P. Morgan. She went on to gain national fame as the author of several books on astrology and was host of her own radio show. She died a wealthy woman in 1932.

"As Evangeline always concentrated on her public persona, it has been difficult to ascertain exactly what the real woman was all about," Christino writes. That the author had to rely mainly on Adams' books, articles and correspondence severely limits the credence a reader can bring to the material. But Christino doesn't try to make us believe facts that can't be verified. Instead, she points out that Adams' legacy endures in today's practice of astrology. Adams, Christino says, "wrote her books not only to gain publicity and prestige, but also to educate the public about her favorite topic . . . [S]he paved the way for all popular astrologers who followed her."

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