The book “Moby Dick” “is sailor Ishmael’s narrative of the obsessive quest of Ahab, captain of the whaling ship Pequod, for revenge on Moby Dick, the white whale that on the ship’s previous voyage bit off Ahab’s leg at the knee . . . Its reputation as a ‘Great American Novel”‘ was established only in the 20th century, after the centennial of its author’s birth. William Faulkner confessed he wished he had written the book himself, and D. H. Lawrence called it ‘one of the strangest and most wonderful books in the world’ and ‘the greatest book of the sea ever written.’ Its opening sentence, “Call me Ishmael”, is among world literature’s most famous.” – Wikipedia
In the summer of 1956 I walked the few blocks from Maple Avenue to the Lakewood Colonial Theater to see Herman Melville’s classic, “Moby Dick” on film. At the time I think I had not read the book, but had read the Classics Illustrated comic book. Captain Ahab was played by film super star Gregory Peck. Even today I can still see the scenes of the movie play in my memory. The power of the film was created by two of my favorite humanities icons: John Huston, and Ray Bradbury. John Huston’s classic films are too numerous to name. Here are a few of my favorites: The Maltese Falcon, African Queen, The Treasure of Sierra Madre, The Man Who Would Be King, and The Quiet Man. I don’t know how many times I have watched each of those films. John Huson eventually gave up his American citizenship and moved to Ireland, the Emerald Isle. John Huston directed the Moby Dick and wrote the script with Ray Bradbury. Bradbury is also one of my favorite authors. Here are some of his most famous (I read them all): Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, and I Sing the Body Electric. My absolute favorite was a collection of short stories published in 1953, The Golden Apples of the Sun. The words “the golden apples of the sun” were part of the final stanza of the poem by Irish poet W. B. Yeats, “The Song of Wandering Aengus.” Even after over half a century, I can still quote the final three lines: “And pluck till time and times are done, The silver apples of the moon, The golden apples of the sun.”
The world is full of coincidences . . . and connections. The morning before St. Patrick’s Day this year, Peg and I drove to Emerald Ridge in South Hill to listen to our grandson Riley’s last musical competition as a student at Puyallup High School; he plays the euphonium.
We arrived at Emerald Ridge High School early. We listened to the final number from the Puyallup Symphonic Band and then entered the performance hall to find seats. Our son’s in-laws, Brent and Nancy Kirkpatrick as well as his wife Wendy were already seated. Soon we moved down two rows. Peg and I stayed in aisle seat but Brent and Nancy joined our daughter-in-law, Wendy. Soon I noticed them talking with Washington Music Educators Association (WMEA) Hall of Fame member Andy Burch – nwadventures.us/Andy-Burch-Band-Director.html
“Mr. Burch” was the music teacher of Riley Doman, his older sister Bailee, and his younger sister Laci. When Laci competed on flute a month earlier, Mr. Burch was there to hear her. Mr. Burch works miracles with students. The students and their parents love him. What a great and caring teacher.
On time, the Puyallup Concert Band, led by Eric Ryan began playing their selection. The musical piece he had chosen for the competition was called Of Sailors and Whales. I had never heard of this number before, which has five movements, each corresponding to the major characters from Moby-Dick: Ishmael, Queequeg, Father Mapple, Captain Ahab, and the white whale itself. “The selections reflect the desire of humans to explore new lands, the depths of the ocean, the heights of the mountains, and outer space.” – Music Professor Douglas Weeks, Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Of Sailors and Whales pulled you in and built it’s power with each part. The third movement, Father Mapple, had nearly half the band vocalizing almost like a Gregorian chant. Peg and I were captured. Captain Ahab and The White Whale left us with our mouths open as the band reached a powerful crescendo including bells, a kettle drum, and a large gong. The dominance of the horns was breath taking.
There were three judges. We sat directly behind two of them. At the end of the performance, the students and their parents left the auditorium and then milled about.
When the judges were ready, the band members with their instruments (no percussion) went to the rehearsal room. Director Eric Ryan thanked the students and then introduced one of the judges we had seen earlier. The judge knew of the piece, but had not heard it performed. She said, “The greatest compliment I can give you is that now I want to perform this piece.” She gave suggestions about the performance: recommending the brass be front and center and not off to the side to make it even more powerful. She mentioned that the score for the horns says, “You can’t play too loudly.” She then led the band through the drone and scales. A drone is a harmonic or monophonic effect with a note or continuously sounded though part or most of a song. Bagpipes have special drone reeds as well as other reeds to add melody. The drone of Of Sailors and Whales reaches out and nearly crushes your lungs. You can feel the hatred of Ahab and the absolute power of Moby Dick, the Great White Whale.
In addition to the band members in the rehearsal room, there were perhaps a dozen others. Andy Burch was one of them. Our family added five. I’m positive Director Ryan will share more thoughts during their next class, but I am sure there will be plenty of accolades to go around. We were so proud of the band, Peg and I have met several of them over the years.
Actually, Peg and I met Moby Dick in Copalis, near Ocean Shores, in 2017 on our last vacation to the coast. Well, really it was “Moby Dic,” a 1937 Buick Roadmaster, which had seen service as a wedding vehicle. Peg sat the in back seat to experience the luxury. We had a lovely time with the owners. – nwadventures.us/MobyDic.html
Peg and I had a lovely time in Ocean Shores and an even better time in South Hill. The music brought back my own band memories. In the fifth grade, 1956 at Park Lodge, just after I had seen “Moby Dick,” I began playing the Saxophone. I participated in numerous competitions at Clover Park High School, where I played alto in the orchestra and baritone in the concert band. Five of our grandchildren learned musical instruments in grade school through high school. Peg and I love music, art, and poetry. Each contains our own memories and dreams. The music we heard on Saturday morning, the day before St. Patrick’s Day, was our own “golden apples of the sun.”
Mike Krainak says
Don…enjoyed your column above, especially your commentary on “Moby Dick” by my favorite fitm director John Huston…as a former film history, theory and criticism instructor at UNO, Huston’s films were a regular contribution to my classes…I never tire of seeing and appreciating his best films, many of which you mention and especially the under appreciated “Moby Dick.” However, tho I am probably not the first to point this out, can’t help but mention that the very fine “Quiet Man” was not directed by Huston but by John Ford who the former had, as you know, very little in common. I would only add among Huston greatest films, the like of “Fat City”, “Wise Blood”, “Asphalt Jungle”, “Prizzi’s Honor” and “The Dead”, an amazing list.
Don Doman says
Thank you for writing and commenting.
You are right of course . . . I must have been in the John writing about “Quiet Man.” Writing about John Huston moving to Ireland jumped my synapses.
Many people don’t know the joy of re-reading a great book, or re-watching a great movie . . . and actually they don’t have to be great. They just need to connect with your senses and emotions. I’ll drop off to sleep by watching a favorite film. I close my eyes and listen to the words and music while the images play in my own mind, and then soon I am fast asleep.
I used to belong to a movie group. Once a month a different member would host movie night. After eating movie candy and drinking a soda, tea, beer, or wine, the host would then gather everyone together and announce the film for the evening. The would explain why the chose the movie and then everyone would watch it and discuss it afterwards.
Thanks, again for reading and writing.
Dennis Flannigan says
Nice review of an epiphany for the audience, the judges, the instructor and the band/orchestra. Stumbling across the amazing adds the phrase random chances to the joy of life. Your article brought life to readers, so in short, you dealt a full house.
Again, I learned even reading about epiphanies is, well, an epiphany. Well done. Lunch is on you.
Don Doman says
I bow down to your epicenter and raise you an enlightenment. There’s a sculpture at the Asian Art Museum (currently being remodeled) entitled “Monk at the Moment of Enlightenment” – check out our story – http://www.nwadventures.us/CapHill-2015.html, which has an image of the monk and a little information. It also has an image of a nice lady with an old man that might stir your memory.
Thanks for your kind words.