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Coffee Talk

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Johann Bach is remembered as one of the world’s greatest composers, known for orchestral compositions such as the Brandenburg Concertos. But one of Bach’s lesser-known works is Schweigt stille, plaudit nicht (“Be Still, Stop Chattering”) — a humorous ode to coffee popularly known as the Coffee Cantata. Written sometime in the 1730s, Bach’s opera makes light of fears that coffee was an immoral beverage entirely unfit for consumption. In the 18th century, European coffee shops were boisterous places of conversation, unchaperoned meeting places for young romantics, and the birthplaces of political plots. A reported lover of coffee, Bach wrote a 10-movement piece that pokes fun at the uproar over coffee. The opera tells the story of a father attempting to persuade his daughter to give up her coffee addiction so that she might get married, but in the end, she becomes a coffee-imbibing bride.


I recently attended an excellent musical program presented by a musicologist and resident at the Masonic Village in Sewickley, PA, where I also reside. This Continuing Care Retirement Community (“CCRC) is exceptional with exceptional programming. Indeed, noting the coffee reference, I jokingly said the program was so good it was “Chock Full” of wonderful classical musical selection, and what better selection for July than “Americana?"

What grabbed me last night was that several 20th-century American composers featured in the musical selection were of Jewish heritage: Copland, Bernstein, and Gershwin. And although John Williams was not Jewish, his close friendship and musical collaboration with Steven Spielberg have given us magnificent music. Thus, I found including the theme from Schindler’s List particularly profound. For me, the selections triggered a series of thought-provoking issues in the form of “what ifs.” The first “what-if” kept haunting me as I listened. What if Gershwin’s or Copland’s parents couldn’t immigrate from Russia? What if Bernstein’s parents or Speilberg’s Grandparents hadn’t been able to immigrate from Ukraine? So that got me thinking about immigration, all the problems we currently have in our country, and what challenges will be faced worldwide as global warming and continued hostile governments force people from one place to another.

Given our current political climate, my next “what-if” was, might a wave of terror visit our beloved country in 2024 if Trump or a “Trumpian” wins the election? What if the "MAGA” movement grows, as the SS did in Germany in the 1930s, into a Nazi-like regime led by an autocratic crazy person like Hitler? After all those mental “what-ifs,” the final selection, Souza’s "Stars and Stripes Forever," was troubling. Ordinarily, I love this march, and I couldn’t help but clap and feel patriotic as I listened, imaginary fireworks going off in my head. But I had a subliminal vision of Trump hugging and kissing the American Flag, making it a symbol of what he and his followers stand for and refashioning our already Great America, despite its defects, into his hateful vision of what that means.

What then came to mind was The New Colossus, a sonnet written by Emma Lazarus, a Jewish woman and activist from New York City. She wrote the poem in 1883 to raise money to construct a pedestal for the Statue of Liberty. By 1903 the poem was cast onto a bronze plaque and mounted inside the pedestal's lower level.

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me; I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” This country’s greatness and true genius lies in its diversity.”

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