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Friday, August 17, 2007

Max Roach

We're holding a musical vigil in the library office today in tribute to Max Roach who died yesterday at the age of 83. By any measure, Mr. Roach was one of the greatest musicians of the twentieth century. As others have and will eulogize him more adequately than I can, I'll only add two things: I think he was the finest drum soloist ever. It's almost like the drum solo was invented in anticipation of his talents.
More importantly, he carried himself with an unmistakable dignity in an era and a business that embittered the proudest musicians.

Our thoughts are with his family and friends, including two of his longtime collaborators, Philadelphians Odean Pope and Tyrone Brown.

Here's one of my favorite photographs of Mr. Roach:

All images borrowed from Bernard Castiglioni's fantastic site Drummerworld. Thanks.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

"My Dear Kid": Or, Why Can't We Have A Nice Blog Post About a Happy Milestone in a Young Man's Life Without Some G_ddamn Neo-Nazis Butting In?

The Rosenbach Museum & LibraryOur magisterial current exhibition, Chosen: Philadelphia's Great Hebraica, closes in a couple of weeks. I recently stumbled across the letter above. In honor of the exhibition, I thought I'd post it here. Click on the image above Morris Rosenbach as a young man, perhaps around the time of his own bar mitzvah.  2006.1521.  The Rosenbach Museum & Library.and read it. It was written by Morris Rosenbach (pictured left) to his younger brother A.S.W. (a.k.a. Kid, a.k.a. Abie) on the occasion of A.S.W.'s bar mitzvah. There's some great stuff in this one, including Morris's recollections of brother Philip's bar mitzvah.

This tattered letter with its numerous typos relates more directly to the Rosenbach Family Hebraica on display in our Library, I suppose, than it does to the great Hebrew books in the exhibition gallery. One of the books in the exhibition does contain what is thought to be the earliest known illustration of a bar mitzvah (from 1738), though, so there's that connection. And this letter gives you a sense of how bar mitzvahs were celebrated in the nineteenth-century so you can gather some more data on bar mitzvahs through the centuries. (No bat mitzvahs at the time Morris wrote to Abie, by the way, though apparently young Jewish women did receive embroidered fans when they turned eighteen. Doesn't seem quite right, does it, compared to the food and new suits and gifts Morris writes about the young men in the family receiving? I'm glad Jewish girls, starting with Judith Kaplan in 1922, stood up and demanded their due in the form of bat mitzvahs (though I understand the Orthodox don't perform the bat mitzvah. I suppose ancient world religions need not conform to my ideas of fairness and gender equality, though I still think it would be nice if they did.) Anyway, here's the earliest (perhaps) bar mitzvah illustration from the Rosenbach's wonderful little Leipnick prayer book:

MS 1055/28. The Rosenbach Musuem & Library
(FYI -- a beautiful facsimile of the book is available in our shop. If you can't visit us to the see the exhibition, check out the show's catalog, available from the same source.)

And now, unfortunately, for the neo-Nazis. If you Google "history of bat mizvah", you'll get a link to the venerable American Jewish Historical Society. Most disturbingly, Aryan Nations of Lexington, S.C., has highjacked the URL. Their site, soliciting donations and emblazoned with their motto: "Violence Solves Everything" (seriously) comes up when you click the link. That statement hits the trifecta as one the most frightening, odious, and idiotic things I've come across in a long while. These are obviously some disturbed people. (I've notified AJHS about the problem. It will, I hope, be fixed by the time you read this.) To attain a little karmic balance, you might want to visit these folks.

That's a bummer to end on, huh? Well, go back and read Morris's letter. It should put a smile on your face and put you back in touch with some fundamental human goodness.

And then there's this: the time, probably around the period the letter was written, when Morris and a friend fell asleep in front of camera in a photography studio. It's a good thing no one had a Sharpie handy, cuz I can imagine some real hijinks issuing from such circumstances.

2006.1525.  The Rosenbach Museum & Library.

1. Morris Rosenbach (1865-?). Typed letter to A.S.W. Rosenbach, Philadelphia, Pa. Beverly Station, Missouri: July 30, 1889.
2. Gilbert & Bacon. Portriat of Morris Rosenbach. Philadelphia, Pa. 2006.1521
3. Joseph ben David, of Leipnick, scribe. Birkat Hamazon and other blessings: manuscript. Darmstadt, 1732. MS 1055/28

4. F.G. Luden. Portrait of Morris Rosenbach and an unknown friend. Jefferson City, Mo. 2006.1525

Friday, August 10, 2007


We're doing some cleaning and reorganizing around here.

Somebody left the head of Molly Bloom, wrapped in plastic, outside the basement bathrooms.

It's been sitting there for days.

It makes me think of poor Laura Palmer.

I keep expecting Bob to show up.

It's creepy.

Don't go down there.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Dakota Lessons

A 850d.  The Rosenbach Museum & Library.
The Dakota language primer shown above contains several woodcut illustrations. Most of them are bucolic, Currier & Ives type jobs -- farmers working the fields, bonnetted little girls holding flower baskets in quaint cottage door ways, children sailing on a windy, but not threatening, lake, etc., etc. (Most of them depicting scenes not in the least familiar to the book's target audience, I suspect.) And then there's this one:

A 850d.  The Rosenbach Museum & Library.
I hope you can make it out (click on it for a slightly larger version): a dog tied to a chair, wearing dark glasses and a bandana around its neck, with a book and an urgently gesticulating boy in front of him. I guess the boy is teaching the dog the alphabet, but I just find this image weird. Maybe the text explains it all, but I don't read Dakota, so I have no idea. Given the undeniable tragedies of U.S.-American Indian history, one could use some kind of historically long-distance, foggy, crude cultural studies lens to read the image as an unintentional commentary on teaching Indians to read and write, i.e., it's like trying to make a beast literate. But I must catch myself before I backslide into the strident political correctness of my younger days and bore you with my critique of the extensive evils of colonialism, real as they may be. (I'm probaly not being fair to the book's author, Stephen Return Riggs, a missionary who spent forty years living among the Sioux with his wife and nine children (Alfred, Isabella, Martha, Anna, Thomas, Henry, Robert, Cornelia, and Edna) and produced landmarks studies of Dakota language and culture.

As it turns out, precious few people can speak Dakota (a.ka. Santee -- a dialect of the Siouan languages related to Lakota) nowadays, somewhere between 8000 to 9000 at all levels of fluency. Those who do speak the language are growing older (average age is 65) and aren't being replaced by younger speakers. So the language is on the verge of extinction. Much more information of on its precarious status can be found here.

The death of a language must be very sad thing, indeed. I imagine there's a way in which languages embody a certain understanding of the world. Yiddish nearly went extinct after the Holocaust, for example, and having recently acquired a copy of Leo Rosten's The Joys of Yiddish (after hearing legendary Philadelphia drummer Elaine Hoffman Watts jokingly refer to her piano player as a shlepper), I have to say MML 1196.  Copy of the first edition owned by well-known shiksa Marianne Moore.  The Rosenbach Museum &'s hard to imagine American English without the contributions of Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazim. (Bagel? Hooha? Schmegegge? Schmuck? Shtick? Nogoodnik? All from Yiddish.) And here we're just talking about vocabulary words, let alone the other multifarious contributions Yiddish speakers have made to our culture. Perhaps the Dakota language's influence has not been felt quite as widely (Minnesota takes its name from the Dakota language), but that's no reason to ignore its peril. As the Lakota Language Consortium puts it, "each nation uses language to embed ideas of culture, history, philosophy and belief. Language is ultimately the core expression of a people's existence." You'd have to be pretty hard-hearted not to see that as a loss to humanity.

Anyway, the Rosenbach has quite a few American Indian language primers, including a few others in Dakota, and other books about Indians. I'm not sure how useful the primers would be to folks looking to revive a dying language, I'm sure they are many, many interesting and compelling stories connected to them. These illustrations come from David Cusick's Sketches of Ancient History of the Six Nations..., possibly the first English-language Indian history written by an Indian. Yeah, they're primitive and kind of humorous, but it's hard not to be fascinated by them. It's hard not to ask what the stories behind them are, to want to know about the people who created them:

A 828d.  I'd thought only Devo music could produce movements like these.  The Rosenbach Museum & Library.
A 828d.  The Rosenbach Museum & Library.
A 828d. The Rosenbach Museum & Library.
And, according to Wikipedia, there's some thinking that this book may have influenced the Book of Mormon. If so, that makes it all the more interesting. Origins of the Book of Mormon aside, I think you get my point.
Click here to learn the parts of the body in Dakota. Here for a couple Dakota folktales. And from the book we started with, here are your multiplication tables in Dakota:
A 850d.  The Rosenbach Museum & Library.
1.2. Stephen Return Riggs (1812-1883). Dakota Tawoonspe. Woapi II. Dakota Lessons. Book II. Lousiville, Ky.: Morton and Griswold, [1850.] A 850d
3. Leo Rosten (1908-1997). The Joys of Yiddish. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968. MML 1196
4, 5, 6. David Cusick (c.1780-c.1840). David Cusick's Sketches of Ancient History of the Six Nations... Tuscarora Village, Lewiston, Niagra Co., [Lockport. N.Y. Cooley & Lothrop, printers] 1828. A 828d
7. Stephen Return Riggs (1812-1883). Dakota Tawoonspe. Woapi II. Dakota Lessons. Book II. Louisville, Ky.: Morton and Griswold, [1850.] A 850d