The Monthly Editorial Blog By Schlafly Beer Co-Founder Tom Schlafly
I recently had dinner with two alert readers (ARs) named Steve and Jeanne Maritz, along with their son Jack, who is not an AR. My reason for denying Jack the status of AR has nothing to do with his intelligence or acumen, both of which probably surpass those of most ARs. No, Jack is not an AR because he’s too young. The Beer Police, specifically the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (whose website boasts about being funded by the federal government) are vigilant against promoting beer to an audience that might include young adults under the age of 21. In case anyone from CAMY happens to be reading this, I want to go on record by saying that this column is not intended to be read by Jack Maritz or any of his contemporaries. Jack, if you’re reading this, please stop now!
In the course of dinner Jack, who is no longer reading this and therefore can’t correct me, mentioned that the courses for which he had registered in his upcoming semester at Bates College included Logic and Rhetoric. Upon hearing this, I remarked, “How trivial!” Not surprisingly, Jack (not an AR) and his AR parents took offense at this perceived slur on the curriculum of an esteemed liberal arts college. I quickly pointed out that I was referring to the Trivium, or three liberal arts of Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric, which were to be studied in that order. Having presumably mastered Grammar, Jack was now ready to study Logic and Rhetoric.
At medieval universities, students who had mastered the Trivium, were deemed ready to study the Quadrivium, or four additional liberal arts of Arithmetic (to understand number); Geometry (to understand number in space); Music (to understand number in time); and Astronomy (to understand number in time and space). Without realizing I was doing so, I studied the first two parts of the Quadrivium in elementary and high school before moving on to the second two parts (Music and Astronomy) in college.
The Astronomy course that I took was favored by many liberal arts majors as a way of fulfilling our science requirement. If I recall correctly, students who wanted to major in Astronomy were not allowed to take it and were instead put in a much more challenging class. At the time, notoriously easy courses at Georgetown were known as “turkeys” and this particular class was affectionately called “Astroturk.”
I also took some music appreciation courses that were pure electives and could not lead to any kind of degree in music. One was taught by Paul Hume, the music editor at The Washington Post, who was best known for his unflattering review of a recital by Margaret Truman. This critique caused her father, President Harry Truman, to write an insulting letter threatening him with physical violence. Had Professor Hume or any other citizen dared to write such a letter to the President, the wrath of the Secret Service would undoubtedly have been visited upon him.
My other music appreciation course was titled “History of Jazz” and was taught by a musician with the National Symphony. Professor Webster thought the best way to experience jazz was at live performances, not merely listening to recordings in a classroom. Whenever a well-known jazz musician came to Washington, he would arrange a discounted admission for members of our class. It wasn’t a bad deal to pay half-price or less to hear Count Basie, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk and get academic credit for doing so. In November of 1969 he told the class we should go to Mr. Henry’s on Capitol Hill to hear a teacher in the D. C. Public School System who was performing there. I still remember his saying, “You haven’t heard of her yet, but I promise you will soon.” He was absolutely right. The teacher’s name was Roberta Flack.
Like most college students I listened to a lot of music without getting credit for it. One of my favorite venues in Washington was the Howard Theatre, where I saw James Brown (and The Famous Flames) and Junior Walker & the All Stars, among others. Unfortunately, the riots that followed the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in April of 1968 led to the abrupt demise of the Howard.
The following summer I was back in St. Louis and went to a Jefferson Airplane concert at Kiel Auditorium. Forty-six years later I realized that was the first time I saw or heard Mike Prokopf, the bassist in the band that opened for Grace Slick et al. I learned this detail about Mike’s life shortly after he died, when family, friends and colleagues gathered at a funeral home to pay their respects and reminisce. Among the mementoes on display was a review of the concert from The Saint Louis Post-Dispatch that specifically mentioned the virtuosity of the unnamed bass player in the opening act. As I was reading the yellowed newspaper clipping, it suddenly occurred to me, “I was there. I first heard Mike Prokopf perform back in the late 1960s and didn’t even know it.”
About a quarter-century later I was exposed to a more mature version of Mike’s virtuosity when the Geyer Street Sheiks played at The Schlafly Tap Room. Not too long thereafter Mike came to work for us on a full time basis in a variety of capacities from the front of the house to the office upstairs. As with his music he was dedicated, conscientious and committed to excellence. He was consistently kind, considerate and respectful to colleagues and customers alike. He was a great musician and an even better human being. And that’s not a trivial accomplishment.