Wednesday, August 23, 2017

From the Earth to the Moon

As a kid, HBO was pretty much off limits. Cable was one luxury in our house, and Dad and Mom would pay a little extra to get HBO. Honestly, there wasn't much on HBO at that time that I wanted to watch. (Actually, even now there are few things that I want to watch on HBO. Except Veep. That show is brilliant.)

When I was 12, there was something shown on HBO that finally got me interested. I'm not sure if I asked to watch it, or if my parents invited me to watch it, but either way I got into it immediately.

The show was From the Earth to the Moon, produced (in part) by Tom Hanks and Ron Howard and aired 19 (19?!) years ago. It chronicled the missions of Apollo, mainly, but briefly touches upon the Mercury and Gemini missions as well.

I have this miniseries on DVD and watch them every couple of years, along with my copies of Band of Brothers and The Pacific, which were also produced by Tom Hanks. I guess I went on a Hanks-produced marathon the past week, watching all three of these miniseries (I even watched the two WWII in chronological order and that was amazing).

Since From the Earth to the Moon was the third in my viewing list, I was surprised at how different it was to the other two. While Band of Brothers and The Pacific revolve around different soldiers in the Pacific and Atlantic theaters of battle, the episodes are very similar in style. But in From the Earth to the Moon, each episode is a completely different style, with different writers and different directors getting a chance to provide their take on a specific event in the space race.

This greatly comes into effect between parts six and seven. Part six, "Mare Tranquilitatis," is about Apollo 11 and is very reverential to the material. Part seven, "That's All There Is," is a buddy comedy about three bros who also happen to go to the moon together. (It's also my favorite episode.)

Some people might get thrown off between the different genres of film making in one series. I personally loved it. People were doing extraordinary things, and it wasn't serious all the time.

Two of the episodes have a documentary style: part three, "We Have Cleared the Tower," takes you with the documentary crew as they follow the members of Apollo 7 around. But in part twelve, ""Le Voyage Dans La Lune," we see a documentation of Apollo 17 in its final form. 

Even in the later episodes after Apollo 11, interest is still kept. Two episodes focus mainly on the science of the moon and the geology used to study the rocks. That might seem very boring for people, but this series made it interesting and showed that it wasn't just about getting to the moon; it was about studying and experimenting once they got there.

It is not something that can be viewed in chronological order, and I remember getting a little confused when watching it for the first time. One part takes place completely in 1968 (appropriately titled "1968") while another will jump from 1972 back to 1964 and before going through the late 60s back to 1972. Don't think that the Apollo missions took the entire decade; manned flights in Apollo only lasted from 1967 to 1972, with several missions taking place within one calendar year. 

The show did an amazing job with costumes, not relying on the strict 1960s attire but also transitioning into early 1970s clothing as well. This is shown well in part eleven, "The Original Wives Club," which features some of the astronauts' wives throughout those years. (It's another favorite; and it was directed by Sally Field and written by Karen Janszen!)

This series was a great way to get me interested in that history of which I did not see firsthand, like my parents. It also was a gateway to the other miniseries by HBO which premiered a few years later. (It is far less gruesome and not as vulgar in language.) Unfortunately, it was produced before HD capability and also has the boxed-TV format instead of widescreen.

Even with those issues, the special effects are truly stunning. They actually look like they are in space, orbiting the earth. The lunar shots are less convincing, but they're still pretty good considering it was the 1990s and George Lucas/Lucasfilm was still tinkering with special effects in The Phantom Menace

It is pretty fun nowadays to play "Spot the Actor," which I picked up from my Papa and Dad. Look! The dad from The Wonder Years! And Westley from The Princess Bride! And the guy from Wings! And the jerk doctor from ER actually being a nice guy! And the guy from Malcolm in the Middle! And Tom Hanks walking in front of a big statue! (Turns out that's a statue of Apollo. I should have really been able to figure that out.)

If you have not seen this series, do it. Find it somewhere (the library, maybe?) and watch it. I will even lend out my DVDs if you so desire. We are coming up on the 50th anniversary of many of these Apollo flights, and it's good for people to remember all those amazing accomplishments done by special people.

And then maybe if we all watch this series again and make noise, maybe we can get NASA off the ground again. I for one would love to see some manned missions to other planets, or watch other countries make their own way to the moon. Watching these shows makes those ideas seem closer to reality than we sometimes make them!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

My Summer Playlist

I love collecting music. As soon as a piece catches my ear, I immediately investigate how to get that song onto a CD or in my phone. Things like Shazam have made it really easy to do, but sometimes the kind of music that catches my ear isn't necessarily what the rest of America is jamming to. 

This music playlist chronicles my entire summer. This summer was absolutely amazing, with so many special things happening. I managed to find a piece for every special memory I have of this extended school break. I hope you enjoy!

Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary Choir, "Christ Begins"

Our grade school graduation service was capped off by the entire school singing this piece, written by several pastors in the WELS and performed at the Seminary a few years ago. (This video is an ASL interpretation of the song.) I really enjoyed directing the kids, and the kids loved singing it with piano, guitar, and violin!

Charles Ore, "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" 

The WELS Conference on Worship, Music, and the Arts (AKA Worship Conference) started off with a Reformation celebration, capped off by this piece as the postlude. You can call it my next Challenge Piece!

Felix Mendelssohn, "Verleih' uns Frieden"

This was sung by my choir at the All Saints service during Worship Conference. We sang it in English, titled "Grant Us Thy Peace." But we had the full orchestration with it. I have loved the sound of cellos ever since I heard Bach's Cello Suite, but this was the first time that the sound made me cry. Ugh, it's so beautiful. 

John Butler, "Ocean"

We're stepping away from Worship Conference for a bit to go to Europe. On my first night in London I was walking around Trafalgar Square. (It still seems weird to type those words!) A busker was in front of the National Gallery playing this song. I heard it from across the square and just loved the sound. Luckily at the end the busker said that it wasn't an original song, but one composed by John Butler.

I knew John Butler from my mother - she loves the John Butler Trio - so that night I went onto YouTube and found the song. This song can't just be heard, it needs to be viewed. Just look at what he does with his hands - it's nuts!

Edward Elgar, "Nimrod"

In St. Paul's Cathedral I was there for the Eucharist service, but I conveniently decided to go up to the Golden Gallery during the service itself. When I came down, the organist was playing this piece. He pulled out all the stops for the climax of the piece, and then brought it down to the softest flutes in mere seconds. I like the orchestral version, but the organ is how I'll remember it. 

J.S. Bach, "Sleepers, Awake"

In Germany I visited Leipzig, where Bach spent time composing for St. Thomas' Church. To commemorate my time I had to find a Bach piece I actually enjoy, and I remember loving this one on my mother's Bach Greatest Hits CD. 

Bedřich Smetana, "The Moldau"

Smetana was a German-speaking Czech who wrote a piece about the flow of the river that runs through the Czech Republic and Prague. The river's Czech name is Vltava, but its German name is the Moldau. The Czech people love this piece, and so do I. 

A Great Big World, "There Is An Answer"

If I were to put together a video of my trip, this would be the music in the background. I have owned this album for a while, but I had to rediscover this song at a Kohl's before putting it in my permanent repertoire. 

Jay Som, "The Bus Song"

I heard this one while in Milwaukee with my brother. While he lived there, he always talked about the radio station were I ended up hearing this song. So I guess he's right - it's a pretty good station!

Boku No Hero Academia, "You Say Run"

This was the summer where I started watching My Hero Academia, and it filled up the Naruto-sized hole in my heart. This is the piece that many people - including myself - are latching on to, and it is definitely worth a listen. 

I have heard many anime soundtracks, and they all end up sounding the same after a while - I'm sure the people that play them sometimes get bored. But when they played through this song, I like to think they all looked at each other and said, "This one is lit."

Dan Forrest (and Martin Luther), "A Mighty Fortress"

We finish the summer playlist by looking ahead to the fall. I sang this piece at the opening concert for Worship Conference. There are some pieces that make your hair stand on end and get a thrilling feeling as you perform or play them. This happens to be one of those pieces. 

I enjoyed my summer, but it's time to head back to school! Here's looking forward to concerts, family, education, and Star Wars.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Olympic Blurb: Los Angeles 2028

A few weeks ago it was announced that Paris and Los Angeles would be the next hosts of the Summer Olympic Games...but it would be up to the two cities to get together and decide which one would host 2024 and which would host 2028.

Those two cities were all that was left from a potential list of five cities that had applied to host the 2024 Summer Olympics. The others had pulled out (like Boston) because of lack of city approval, or lack of funding.

Not only were Paris and Los Angeles fully invested, they went all out in their campaign to get the International Olympic Committee to notice all the work they put into their bids, and thankfully the IOC noticed both. It also made the IOC's job a little easier over the next four years; they won't have to spend a lot of time picking a new host city for 2028 because it's all done!

Then on Monday, it was revealed that Los Angeles would host in 2028! All of their signage, their website, and their social media transformed overnight, making that "4" into an "8." No one seemed disappointed that it wasn't going to happen as soon as they thought. On the contrary, people were thrilled to get an extra four years to plan this thing out and get the city (and its suburbs) ready to host again after 44 years.

I actually caught a podcast that was released yesterday featuring Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti and LA Olympic chairman Casey Wasserman talking to Bill Simmons about the bid. It was a fascinating listen, and I encourage you to listen as well. If you can't listen to all of it, listen starting at 28:00 and go for about 90 seconds:

It was great listening to these two men in Los Angeles talking about the Olympics with a passion that I feel all the time. It was great to find a connection - yes, the Olympics are important.

As chairmen usually do, they promoted the heck out of the city in their bid and on the podcast, saying that no new stadiums would have to be built, every facility would have future uses, transportation would connect every area, they would not end the Olympics in debt because of all the private financing, and that the Olympic budget is not part of the city budget - it's all privately financed. That's something I didn't even know was possible, but here we are.

It has been well publicized that Olympic organizers from previous years are shady people - even the most recent Rio Olympics has already had several organizers put on trial for corruption and other things. Can we trust Mayor Garcetti and Wasserman to be telling the honest truth on all of their organizing plans? Well, no, but we can trust that they are passionate about this large event that is coming our way.

It's inevitable that there are going to be problems, and that the media is going to pounce on it and blow it out of proportion. One of the stadiums is going to be found to be not up to code, or a neighborhood is going to have to relocate to accommodate security regulations, or there won't be enough police officers, or something. But God-willing, this thing is going to happen.

So what does that mean for me? Well, I'll be *shudders* in my 40s in 2028. Will I go to the Olympics?

I would respond with a big "Yesbut." Yes, I wouldn't dare miss out on an Olympics in my home country, but I would like to not do it as a spectator. That is hopefully what I'll be doing in 2020 in Tokyo. In Los Angeles, I want to help. I want to volunteer!

Even though these Los Angeles games aren't for another 11 years, they've already opened up volunteer channels on their website, and yup, I've already signed up. Will I be able to do it? Only God knows, really. But if it comes close and I find out I should have done something 2-5 years earlier, I'll really be angry. Better to be safe than sorry. 

I think it would be awesome to be able to help out around the venues, or assist spectators, or heck - assist athletes. If I have an Olympics under my belt by then, I can use that experience to help out.

In order to get priority volunteering at the Olympics itself, the volunteer committee will be offering a lot of opportunities to volunteer in the next ten years. Participating in those would really help me out, so I might be making a few more trips to Los Angeles in the next few years to keep up my status. (So instead of Walt Disney World, I guess I'll be seeing more of Disneyland!)

Now this Olympics is waaaaaaaaay out in the future. You're probably all laughing at me. Or rolling your eyes. Or both. That's fine.

In the past 12 years I've realized a passion for this major event. Even when it's bashed or turns out badly, I support the idealism that was presented by Pierre de Coubertin over 100 years ago and that many of these world athletes support. The more I can promote it to my friends, family, and readers, the more I hope that enjoyment can spread from casual viewing to full-on enthusiasm!

I'm going to work really hard to follow this campaign to the end, whether I'm there in LA or not. I hope you'll be supporting it, too.