Category Archives: News About Me

Christmas Holiday Blog, 2016

Merry Christmas!

I hope you enjoy the images of Christmases long ago scattered within this post. If you keep reading, you’ll learn more about them!
Part I

A friend of mine recently asked me what traditions my family followed for Christmas. I was hard pressed to come up with anything terribly specific or interesting. We don’t consistently eat anything special on Christmas Eve, and since my parents, and then my wife and I, have all been church musicians, most Christmas Eves (and sometimes Christmas Day itself) have been working holidays. I guess I can safely say that music more than anything else connects me to a sense of Christmases past.

I’m not especially troubled that highly complex or richly textured “traditions” have not accumulated around my personal celebration or experience of Christmas. Many of the “traditions” embedded in the general nostalgic patina of this holiday—and enshrined on keep-sake chinaware and holiday cards (which—guilty!—I also like to send) were relatively new, even in the early twentieth century, given the millennia that Christians have been observing this holiday.

Nevertheless, I would say that as a child, my favorite parts of Christmas were setting up the nativity sets in our house and listening to an old LP my father had of a dramatic reading of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. That story remains an important part of my personal sense of tradition around the Christmas holiday, as does the carol, “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen,” which I first heard on that LP. And I loved traveling to Fulton, New York, on Christmas to spend the day with my cousins, or having them come to Syracuse to visit us. Those Christmases with my cousins are important memories, if not exactly “traditions.” And it meant a lot to me recently when my daughter Madison asked me if this year she was going to hear me practice a piano rondo that I composed on Christmas carols. That piece of mine has apparently become part of her sense of the holiday, even though I only composed it five years ago. Well, I suppose traditions have to start somewhere!

Part II

I have always been fascinated by my family history, as my father was before me. A few weeks ago, I dug into a box of old family cards and letters that my father had saved from my Grandmother Pelkey’s estate. Lyma May (Strong) Pelkey would have been 111 years old this Christmas! Imagine my surprise to find one-hundred-year-old postcards that Lyma had carefully preserved in that box! I also discovered that my grandma was named “Lima” at birth, and not “Lyma”!

(This is the earliest dated postcard in the collection: 1908 according to the postal cancellation stamp.)

As a historian, I was fascinated by the postcards not just because of their age and because they physically linked me to a long-gone age (several cards pre-date the beginning of World War I), but also because they showed me that even in the 1910s, there was a nostalgic quality to the Christmas iconography that my own Grandmother Pelkey (that is, Lima Strong) experienced as a little girl in Willsboro, New York.

(Postcards from 1912 and 1915 according to dates on their backs.)

And it may be that this is the strongest “tradition” that links together most fully all of us citizens of Christmases past and Christmas present: we are all bathed in the warm light of nostalgia. No matter how far back we push, we never reach the “golden age” of Christmas “long, long ago”.

(A postcard from 1914 — the first Christmas of World War I.)

Part III

But you know what: That’s perfectly OK! There’s nothing inherently wrong with nostalgia, at least in small doses now and then. But what I need to keep reminding myself is that “peace on earth, goodwill to all human kind” will not be found someday, “long, long ago.” The path to peace and goodwill is before us, and it is paved by the large and small decisions that each of us will have to make in 2017, 2018, 2019….

I really do want to live the promise of Christmas, the promise made possible by Emmanuel. So I am readying myself for a new commitment to gift giving—but not just gifts wrapped up in paper and tied with bows. I mean daily gifts of love, joy, peace, patience, each offered to those around me and to myself when I (inevitably) will fail.

Will you join me?

Will you help to hold me accountable?

There have been too many “bah, humbug” moments on the path behind me—perhaps you feel the same way? I really don’t want to go back, nor turn back.

I’m ready for a lot more “God bless us, every one!” going forward.

Come on! Let’s go! Let’s make it happen!

(And if you need a soundtrack to help launch your journey, come back on December 24 for my Christmas Eve music podcast!)

Stan

December 23, 2016

(An undated postcard from the same collection of a little girl ice skating; the image already seems dream-like, nostalgic.) 

This is not a Christmas postcard, but it was among the postcards my Grandmother saved from her childhood. Grandma Pelkey was a snazzy dresser — that’s one of the things I remember most clearly about her. I can only imagine the impression an image like this may have made on her when she was about ten–after all, she saved two such cards, and they are the only duplicates in her collection.     SCP

Audio Sample: My Science Fiction Novel

I’ve enjoyed reading science fiction and watching it on film and television for a long time. While I was in high school, I even wrote some sci-fi and fantasy stories, but I set that part of my creative life aside when I went to college and spent more and more time on my music.

For years, I wanted to get back to my fiction writing, but I never seemed to have time, and I always lacked inspiration. Then about two years ago, the outline of an entire science fiction novel materialized in my head one morning. I began writing that evening, and I rapidly drafted about half of the outlined project.

In the last few weeks, I had the idea of recording several portions of the novel to create something like a “book on tape” that I could add to the media section of my website. Furthermore, I decided I would try to prepare an underscore for the recordings. I had originally thought I would write something relatively traditional, but a few days ago I had a completely new idea that seemed to better fit the nature of the first part of the text that I had decided to record. The result is an experimental underscore using (mostly) naturally occurring sounds that I generated and then pieced together, thus echoing mid-century “musique concrete”.

The portion of the text that I have recorded first is intentionally peculiar. My goal was to create a passage that was not character driven at all but instead described an unfamiliar landscape in a highly objective, impartial manner that was nevertheless contained within an abstract formal pattern.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

“Interlude Number” by Stan Pelkey

Musical sounds generated by Stan Pelkey (June 20–23, 2016). Underscore composed by Stan Pelkey (June 23, 2016). Read by the author. 

What I’ve Been Watching (March and April): “Mr. Robot”

A Review:

Mr. Robot

What makes compelling television? One critical component—at least for dramatic series—is a lively ensemble cast with a set of compelling characters whose different backgrounds, motivations, aspirations, and flaws writers can explore (either in groups or individually) over a course of episodes. Twists and turns are also important, as is placing characters at genuine risk.

Mr. Robot, which was created by Sam Esmail and airs on the USA Network, meets these characteristics. Like the once-popular Lost, it makes significant use of non-linear narrative and story telling, filling in significant swaths of back story only as it becomes absolutely necessary for the dramatic needs of particular episodes and for the first season as a whole. Non-linear story telling requires more investment from a viewer or reader (in my opinion), but it also helps “launch” an episode or an entire series more quickly than if writers or show runners first get bogged down in significant amounts of exposition. Furthermore, non-linear story telling allows writers to explore subtly complex aspects of character, situation, plot, and even ethics and social realities once viewers feel invested in the characters and their contexts.

Dexter also used non-linear story telling to great effect, especially in its first two seasons. Its writers also made great use of twists and sudden reveals, which were often anticipated (in hindsight) by the recurring backtracking and non-linear (but dramatically motivated) additions of information.

Indeed, Mr. Robot’s main character, Elliot Alderson (played brilliantly by Rami Malek — and compare his performance here to his equally haunting portrayal of Snafu Shelton in The Pacific), reminds me a great deal of Dexter Morgan. Both are emotionally damaged and socially maladjusted—but nevertheless sympathetic—vigilantes who use their superior knowledge in a particular “technical area” to fight back against injustices. Both also create a private world that is constructed via voice-over narrative to which viewers have privileged access. Mr. Robot takes this a step further, however. While Dexter seems to be speaking to us (note his knowing glance toward us, the viewers, at the end of Dexter‘s opening title sequence), Elliot addresses us directly and knowingly so. What is peculiar is that while he speaks to us, Elliot seems to think that we are the (his) imaginary characters.

In retrospect, Elliot’s belief that we are imaginary characters in his head should cue viewers into just how ridiculously complex the representation of Elliot’s understanding of reality actually is—and how foolishly we take for granted the fiction that the camera never lies in our audiovisual media—given the most significant reveals of final episodes of the first season of this very fine series.

Mr. Robot also harkens back to Lost and Dexter, among other recent and current television programs that I have enjoyed (others include Deadwood and the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica), in its unrelentingly pessimistic view of human nature… or at least of human society. While this makes for compelling story telling, one has to wonder: Is this really all we want to (re)present on contemporary television, even among us adults? Does this really capture what we actually believe about our condition and our contexts? Do we really accept that our economics, our social relationships, our politics, and our technologies are all unseemly and spirit-crushing? Is it simply naïve to think that art—and I do believe film and even television can rise to that level—should be, or at least may be, celebratory and edifying, at least sometimes?

Let me be clear: I rarely reject a television show or movie simply because it is gritty or challenges simplistic ethical platitudes. On the contrary, ethical complexity is a hallmark I deeply appreciate. Furthermore, I enjoy different  audiovisual text for many reasons besides plot and “surface” meaning. Character and character development, pithy and/or witty dialogue, the successful deployment of varied narrative devices, music and / as narrative, and visual density are all aspects of audiovisual media that I love. But gritty and challenging alone are also not enough.

Here’s the bottom line for me: if the gritty trend in television drama–especially on cable channels–suggest that there’s really no hope for change (personal or social), then why point out what must be by default glaringly obvious to every thoughtful viewer? Or is it that compelling, authentic, complicated and complicating–but ultimately hopeful–drama is simply too difficult to create (and market) in our society today?

Stan Pelkey

My Chamber Music Recital

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On Sunday, April 17, 2016, I presented a recital of some of my original chamber music at the First Presbyterian Church in Thomasville, Georgia. I was joined on the program by five very talented graduate students from the College of Music at Florida State University. Among the works presented were pieces for wind trio, quartet, and quintet, and solo piano.

Ensemble12Stan3

In addition to performing a short piano meditation on the Lutheran hymn “Kirken Den Er Et Gammelt Hus” (“Built on a Rock”), which I composed while working as Minister of Music for St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Pittsford, New York, in 1997, I also premiered a large piano solo work, “Six Lyrical Pieces” (2016).

 

I also asked members of the audience to share their perceptions of the meaning of those movements — which I explained followed a broad “program” about family, childhood, parents, conflict, and resolution — during the reception following the recital. I will post transcriptions of audience members’ comments soon.

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Special thanks to the musicians who participated in the recital, and to my colleague, Michael Strickland, who recorded the event.

Please enjoy the following excerpts from the concert.

All selections composed by Stanley C. Pelkey.

“Meditation on ‘Built on a Rock'” (1997)

“Prelude” from Six Lyrical Pieces (2016)

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“Salutation and Variations for Wind Quartet” (2016)

{original theme by Stan Pelkey}

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“Interlude for Wind Quintet” (2008 / 2016)

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Wind Quintet No. 1, mov. 1 (1997)

“Fugue” from Suite for Wind Quartet (2009; 2016)

Ensemble2

Family Reflections at Christmas

Any moment now, my son, Nate, will walk through the door, home for his first extended winter break in College. It seemed appropriate, then, to post this short reflection.

Several days ago, I was reading a letter that my Mom wrote to Heidi and me for our anniversary. It contained a beautiful reflection about my Dad and my son. Back when Nate was less than 2 years old, Dad would spend an afternoon or two in our home in Pittsford, New York, with Nate so that I could go into Eastman to do some research for my dissertation. In very early spring 1999, Nate slid off the guest bed one day and landed on a toy truck or car in just the “right” way that his leg slid out from under him, and he fell and broke his leg —  on the very night before I left town for a job interview!

I want to share this story for two reasons. First, it is precious and sweet and life affirming at a time when I think we all need those reminders of the good things in the world and the good times in our lives. This is the season of pilgrims’ stars and lighted candles; let’s remember that the darkness cannot beat us when we are agents Faith, Hope, and Love.

Second, I’ve been enjoying seeing pictures of former students now raising their own families; some are even enjoying their first Christmases this December! I want you all to know how wonderful it is to see you so happy. Enjoy these times! Make the most of them! They go by quickly. I can remember Nate’s first Christmas like it was yesterday; now we’re anticipating his first Christmas home from college.

My Mom writes: “This morning [December 4, 2015] I browsed through 3 ‘composition’ books in which Dad wrote sermons as well as papers (reflective) for [his M.Div. degree]. Later I typed his papers but he always wrote everything in long hand first. I found a section where he told about taking care of Nathan in Pittsford. One morning when Dad arrived Nate was fussy. He had recently had the cast removed from his leg. But he held up his arms for Dad to take him. Dad wrote that Nate snuggled against his chest and shoulder for a good 5 minutes. Dad could feel Nate’s little heart beating and surmised that Nate could feel Dad’s heart beating. Even though I must have typed this paper, I didn’t recall the incident nor the impact it made on Dad. I am keeping those notebooks.”

Dear Readers: Hold your loved ones, your friends, and your neighbors close! And may Peace abound.

December 17, 2015

A Tribute to My Musical Mother

{Welcome to this expanded post, “A Tribute to My Musical Mother.” I added the original version of this tribute to my blog in November 2015. The expanded version includes additional photographs and several musical selections performed by my mother, Jean Pelkey. Enjoy!  scp August 10, 2016}

Many of you enjoyed reading my tribute to my musical father, and several of you asked to read a tribute to my musical mother. So with notes from Mom, an extended conversation for some follow up questions, and a sprinkling of my own memories, here we go….

Among my earliest musical memories are impressions of standing with Mom in the Reformed Church in Syracuse, New York, during the singing of Sunday morning hymns. I can distinctly remember listening to her sing words that moved by too quickly for my early reading skills to decipher in time with the music. Yet I can also remember that as I stood beside her, I knew that one day, I would be able to read and sing along, too. Years later, when that had become a reality, I’d join Mom in reading the alto lines in the hymnal—before my voice changed. My wife (Heidi) teases me that I still extemporaneously harmonize tunes with alto lines (albeit in my baritone range).

FamilyPhoto

A family photo from ca. 1973. Left to right: Doris Foss (the author’s grandmother); Stan Pelkey (seated on Grandma Foss’s lap); Tana Pelkey (the author’s sister); Lyman Pelkey (the author’s father); Jean Pelkey (the author’s mother). Photo taken in the living room of my parents’ home, 116 Rugby Road, Syracuse, New York.  

It is fitting that hymns and hymn singing are central to my experience of my mother as a musician, because from the time Mom and her sisters could read, they, too, followed the words in the hymnbooks of their childhood Free Methodist Church. At that time, in the 1930s and 1940s, Free Methodist congregations often did not use musical instruments in worship. Mom notes that she and her sisters learned quickly to read music because of all the vocal music they sang at church.

My grandmother arranged for Mom to take piano lessons from Lovely McCleery, the wife of their pastor. Mrs. McCleery was a graduate of the music program at Houghton College, a small Wesleyan school in the southern tier of New York State. (My mother and a number of her uncles, cousins, and sisters attended Houghton College.) At the time of those piano lessons with Mrs. McCleery, however, Mom balked at scales and classical music! She just wanted to play church songs, and she always hoped that some day they would have an instrument in church. In the meantime, she occasionally got to play the organ at the local Baptist church, and Mom and her sisters would harmonize songs, which they’d sing without accompaniment. Sometimes they’d sing together at district-wide gatherings of the Free Methodist congregations.

Mom remembers singing Haydn’s chorus, “The Heavens are Telling,” while in high school, and that her choir also sang Messiah in a special concert in Buffalo. I’ve pressed Mom about her other musical experiences as a child because I have tried to understand what influenced her to develop her particular approach to playing hymns. You see, Mom’s style of hymn playing on the piano has probably been her greatest musical influence on my development as a musician. In her approach, I hear echoes of early gospel and old time music, and even elements of boogie-woogie. Her style has been a part of my soundscape since before I was born, and it is a sound I have tried to capture (for years) in my own improvisations and compositions. Mom remembers her family did listen to Christian gospel music on the radio during her childhood (I can see an image something like the Waltons gathered around the radio in their living room, with Grandma Walton preferring the hymns over the fiddle tunes!). I’d love to hear some of those old programs and to listen for tell-tale influences seeping from Thomas Dorsey, for example, into rural, white Protestant Christian hymn playing in the northeast in those years.

Jean Pelkey playing “There’s Within My Heart a Melody,” one of the hymn tunes I remember her playing the most when I was a child. Recorded in Perkasie, Pennsylvania, August 9, 2016. Please scroll to the end for an additional recording.

For a time in the early 1960s, before she moved to Syracuse and met Dad, Mom moved to Kansas City, Missouri, to work for the publishing house of the Church of the Nazarene. For a while, she was organist at St Paul’s Nazarene in Kansas City. Mom writes, “There was also a pianist and she covered for my mistakes, bless her heart! At that time I did take some lessons for the Hammond organ. I really don’t know how I paid for them, because my salary was very minimum as Assistant VBS Editor.” Mom also served two brief stints as a lay pastor, which led her to play the keyboard instrument available, serve as song leader, and preach a sermon. A few years later, after marrying Dad, my parents provided the music at Trinity United Methodist Church in Clay, New York, and they would play piano and organ together on hymns, something people really liked to hear. That was a very common approach to hymn accompaniment in the United Methodist Churches in Kentucky when Heidi and I first met. I’ve enjoyed those times—actually fewer than I would have expected—when she and I have been able to play hymns on the piano and organ together.

After he retired from teaching, Dad returned to seminary to pursue his M.Div. Mom took the reigns at Trinity to accompany the choir, and she says she became very “conscientious practicing the accompaniment…, and I really did improve at sight reading.” In the past few years, with eyesight weakening, she has discovered she can “play from memory after seeing the printed hymns and gospel songs for so many decades.”

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My parents celebrating their anniversary in August 2011. Both Jean and Lyman Pelkey have had a profound impact upon me as a musician, a parent, a teacher, and a person.

I’ve mentioned Mom’s singing and her piano playing. She has also always been a person who hums along with her daily tasks. I think that’s a habit I picked up from her. I hum a lot. I whistle a lot. I make up tunes to brighten my day.

Sometimes, Nate and Maddie tease me about that, or about the handful of recurring ditties I’ll whistle that they’ve come to expect to hear on a regular basis. They’ve heard those musical gestures so many times now, they can repeat them back to me. Yes, I know it’s quirky, but it’s all OK. No, it’s actually all very and most truly wonderful: music continues to bind parents and children among the Pelkeys.

I would not trade that musical bond for anything, not even when my kids—still—make up incredibly ridiculous dances to accompany some of my favorite piano pieces that I have obviously practiced too many times for too many years. The smiles we share and the laughter that rings through the house are the best music of all.

The world needs music… a lot more of it.

(Originally posted on November 17, 2015.)

StanPelkeywithJean@1979?

Jean Pelkey and Stan Pelkey, ca. 1979.

StanMom.August2016Jean Pelkey and Stan Pelkey. Photo taken by Madison Pelkey on August 9, 2016, in the living room of my mother’s apartment in Perkasie, Pennsylvania. 

 

 

Jean Pelkey playing the hymn tuns “He Touched Me” and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” on August 9, 2016, in Perkasie, Pennsylvania. These renditions are part of a longer medley that my mother played recently for the service at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church. I am so pleased that she is still making music and putting a smile on my face and a tune in my heart. Thanks, Mom! I love you very, very much.   scp  August 10, 2016

A Tribute to My Musical Father

November 8, 2015

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I’ve been increasingly aware of theIMG_0048 truth of that old saw as I have pushed into middle age. Every time I get a hair cut, I swear my father is looking back at me in the mirror! That’s not a bad thing in and of itself. I have had a very positive relationship with my father, especially during my adult years, and this is something for which I am deeply grateful as more and more of Dad has been lost in recent years to dementia. It’s just that I do not like being reminded that I am middle aged, nor that my life-long tug-of-war with weight gain has become decidedly more challenging in the past five years!

But let’s face it: sons often want to create points of distinction from their fathers. I’ve certainly felt that way over the years, despite my good relationship with Dad. At the same time, that did not stop me as a teen from practicing how I answered the phone so that I sounded exactly like Dad! Nor did it stop me from developing a legible but fairly distinctive handwriting style inspired by Dad’s penmanship. Nor has it stopped me in more recent years from taking a page from Dad’s playbook as I try to dress professionally for work. I’ve even appropriated a few of his ties (’though not all of them – our tastes are similar but not the same!) and old watches, which I occasionally wear for good luck, or to keep him close to me. And of course, at the very root of my professional life, I became a musician, and an organist to boot, in large part because being a musician ran in the family!

LymanAtOrganScone_Stan

(Photo above: Lyman Pelkey playing the pipe organ at First Presbyterian Church in Syracuse, New York, January 1994. Photo on right: Stan playing the in Scone Palace in Scotland, Summer 1997.)

Still I was surprised recently when I watched a video of myself playing the organ and realized that even some of my performance mannerisms reflect those of Dad. HA! And I had thought I had avoided developing those! And then there was recently a photo of me talking to a guest at the Florida State University, and it could have been Dad in that photo. The apple… well you get the point.

So in the spirit of gratefulness to Dad (and quiet resignation that genetics, environment, and probably unconscious mimicry are winning out over overconfident free will each time I perform and in many of my daily quirks), I wanted to share a bit about my father’s musical background and that of his father, too, as a tribute to the power of family in the construction of our musical selves. (I could also write about my mother’s influence on my musical life: I have spent years trying to emulate her gospel piano playing! But that will have to wait for another blog post!)

My father had a habit of recording family history and self-reflections in his books and musical scores. I have inherited many of these items, and I have drawn on their notes for the following summary.

 

In July 2003, my father wrote across the cover of a signed copy of a violin method book by Claude Case (Carl Fischer, 1910) that it had belonged to his father, Stanley C. Pelkey I (April 14, 1901—January 1, 1976). Grandpa grew up in a tiny farming community (Jay, New York) in the Adirondack Park. In those days, many rural youth of my grandparents’ generation did not attend high school. As my father notes, Grandpa’s parents were urged to send him to high school by his grammar teacher, but that would have required rooming and boarding some distance away in Au Sable Forks, New York. This proved impossible. My father—who also spent his early childhood in the Adirondacks—remembers that before World War II, the “extremely hilly and narrow” roads in the mountains were often impassible throughout the winter and sometimes even into May. Although he did not finish high school, Grandpa Pelkey was foresighted enough to move his own family (ca. 1949) out of the mountains and to Massena, New York, where there were more job opportunities. He was also naturally gifted as a salesman, and ultimately he and my grandmother were able to send their three children to college.

StanAndPhilipStanAndLyma.Youth

(Photo above: my grandfather, Stanley Pelkey, and one of my great uncles, Philip Strong. Photo on right: my paternal grandparents, Stanley and Lyma Pelkey.)

Grandpa played fiddle in his youth. It must have been important to him because even after he stopped actively playing, he kept his old violins. My parents owned them afterwards for a number of years. I never heard my grandfather make music, and he died when I was 3 years old, so I only have one or two memories of him. But there was always a piano in my grandparents’ house in Massena (it is now in my mother’s apartment), and they had an old pump organ in their summer camp along the St. Lawrence River. Grandpa’s fiddling laid a foundation upon which three generations of musical lives were built and continue to be built. (I count my own children’s musical lives among these three generations.)

I am now in possession of a small music manuscript book in which Dad wrote down an arrangement of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 that he prepared for organ for his use at the Congregational Church in Massena. In that little manuscript book, Dad recorded much of his own musical history. He spent his first years of life in Burke, New York, and he began taking piano lessons (as he recalled) in 1945 with Mrs. Sadie Mason, the organist at the Burke Methodist Church. After the family moved to Massena, Dad studied piano with Mrs. Ivah Church from 1949-1955. He must have made reasonably good progress, because he started playing the organ for the Methodist Church in Massena in February 1953 and continued to do so until he graduated from high school in 1955. He then went to Syracuse University to continue his musical training, but he returned home each summer to serve as organist at the Congregational Church in Massena until 1959.

During his first year at Syracuse University (1955–1956), Dad was an organ student of David N. Johnson, a piano student of Ada Shinaman Crouse, and a tenor in the Chapel Choir of Arthur Poister. Dad’s freshman theory professor, Franklin Morris, had been a pupil of famed composer Paul Hindemith (one of my personal favorites), while Poister had been a pupil of Marcel Dupré in Paris. Dad later transferred out of music and became an English major and spent his career as an English teacher in the Syracuse City Schools. He second-guessed the decision to change his major for most of his adult life. But Dad continued to be active as a parish organist into his 70s, and he even took organ lessons again for a time after he retired and before he went back to school for another master’s degree, his M.Div. from the Colgate Rochester Divinity School (1994–2000).

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(Photo: Three generations of Pelkey men: Lyman, Stanley, and Nate, with Heidi Pelkey, at Colgate Rochester Divinity School, where my father completed his M.Div. during the 1990s.)

My parents met while they were both teachers in Syracuse, and after marrying, they remained in the City. I grew up—musically and otherwise—in the shadow of Syracuse University. Although Dad spent his career as an English teacher, he continued to nurture his musical interests, as well as my sister’s and mine, in part through the musical opportunities made available to the community by the University. I have very fond memories of attending organ concerts by Will Headlee and ever-popular piano recitals by Frederick Marvin at Syracuse University with Dad and my sister while I was in high school. Another especially powerful memory for me is playing in a master class with famed Eastman School of Music organ professor Russell Saunders during a regional conference of the American Guild of Organists held on Syracuse University’s campus. Dad was there with me.

Music and music making were just natural activities in my home while I was growing up. I was playing piano and teaching myself to read music before I was 5. We lived and breathed music. I am grateful for the many times in my life that I was able to talk about music with my father and for the times we were able to play for each other after I began my own journey as an organist. Indeed, I wish I could have more of those conversations with him now. But I am also very grateful for the musical conversations I can now have with my own daughter and son.

I would love to hear some of your stories about how you and your parents or you and your children have shared music together in your personal and/or professional lives. Please feel free to comment.

 

Current Projects

I am currently and actively working on three research and writing projects, two of which are direct expansions of my initial published work on 1950s and 1960s culture and intellectual history, which can be found in my chapters in Anxiety Muted: American Film Music in a Suburban Age. If all goes as currently planned, I will complete another book on American television music within the next two years, as well as an essay on aesthetics.

I am grateful for having had the opportunity on October 15, 2015, to give a presentation to the Society for Musicology at the College of Music at Florida State University. I previewed a part of a chapter that will form part of the new book I mentioned in the paragraph above.

Major Publications

As an active musicologist and historian, I am regularly working on research for a number of publications and other scholarly projects and contributions. Here are three publications that I would especially like to highlight for you.   ~ ~ ~


Muted Anxiety: American Film Music in a Suburban Age (Oxford University Press, 2014) is now available. I edited this collection on film and television music with my colleague, Dr. Anthony Bushard.  You can purchase a copy here.

 

Music and History: Bridging the Disciplines (University of Mississippi Press, 2005) has celebrated the tenth anniversary of its publication. I edited this collection with my colleague, Dr. Jeffrey Jackson. We presented a retrospective reflection on this work at the national conference of the American Historical Association in Washington in January 2015.  You can purchase a copy here.

 

This interesting collection, Buffy, Ballads, and Bad Guys Who Sing: Music in the Worlds of Joss Whedon, includes an essay of mine on music in the series Firefly.

* Photos courtesy of  Brian LaBrec (April 22, 2017; May 1, 2018). You can check out some of his other work here.