Our Solitary Labor Day (September 7, 2020)

Since Saturday, the temperature has been over 100 degrees in our area, it’s toasting outside. I can’t take our Golden Retriever Gigi out for a walk, she’s so bored. Thanks airconditioning, I’m able to work. Today’s Labor Day, I’m writing something.

My previous blog “Spontaneous Thoughts of Chinese Qixi Festival” wrote about the laboring scene of the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl”: “You are plowing while I am weaving textiles; you re carrying water while I am sprinkling field.”  After the Qixi Festival, it comes “Labor Day” in America.

(In between we had my husband Bill’s birthday “Zoom” celebration yesterday, that would be another project.)

Beginning in the late 19th century, as the trade union and labor movements grew, trade unionists proposed that a day be set aside to celebrate labor. “Labor Day” was promoted by the Central Labor Union and the Knights of Labor, which organized the first parade in New York City. In 1887, Oregon was the first state of the United States to make it an official public holiday. By the time it became an official federal holiday in 1894, thirty states in the United States officially celebrated Labor Day.

Labor Day is a federal holiday in the United States celebrated on the first Monday in September to honor and recognize the American labor movement and the works and contributions of laborers to the development and achievements of the United States.[1][2][3] It is the Monday of the long weekend known as Labor Day Weekend.

(from Wikipedia)

The following video briefly introduces the history of Labor Day in the United States:

The History of Labor Day

For many Americans, the arrival of Labor Day also means that the summer is gradually closing, and the students’ summer vacation is about to end. Therefore, every family will hold an outdoor barbecue party, or take the children to the Shopping Mall to purchase school supplies, or gather the whole family to watch sports games. At this very moment, the U.S. Open Tennis Game is in play. We are still in the midst of the epidemic.  All live sports games with fake spectators are not as exciting as in the past years.  The hurricanes in the south are still threatening; the wildfires in northern California are still there;  Southern California where we live was also in the middle of heatwave.  The Gengzi Year (every 60 years in circle in Chinese) has really proved a troublesome year with endless disasters!

When Labor Day is here, I’m just casually talking about my attitude towards “labor”. I remember when I was a child, I watched a cartoon entitled: A Little Kitten Go Fishing, in which the title song “Labor Is the Most Glorious Thing”:

“The sun is bright and golden,

The rooster sings its song three times,

The flowers woke up,

The bird is busy dressing up.

Little magpie built a new house,

The little bee gathers honey,

Where does a happy life come from?

It depends on labors which create.

Green leaves and red flowers,

Little Butterfly is playful,

Don’t love work or study,

We don’t learn from it at all.

To learn from magpies to build new houses,

To learn bees to pick honey,

The joy of labor is endless,

The creation of labor is the most glorious thing.”

During the nearly half a year of the epidemic, every day was my working day behind the closed door. I worked hard, either composing music or writing blogs. For me, a creative life is the best remedy to overcome all kinds of anxieties and kill all negativities.  Special circumstances lead tp special ways of life, I’ve learned a hard way when I was sent to a farm to do forced labors during the China’s Cultural Revolution.  The quiet atmosphere makes me very focused and my thoughts just go wild. Somehow this is good for me to be calm down and do whatever I would like to do.  Numerous ideas like stimulant energies saturated into my fingertips and they were dancing on my computer keyboard.  Every detail in my daily work during the quarantine period is a beautiful beating musical note, they swarmed onto the musical staff. I want to write my experience. For me, labor is a real enjoyment. For me, if there is no such word as labor in life, there will be no sense of happiness, it would be boring and dull.

In spring, I wrote a multi-media composition entitled Soliloquy in the Epidemic Spring

Here’s the description about the piece:

“When the Covid-19 pandemic spread to America, the beautiful world shut down in front of us.  Completely unprepared, I lost the sense of goals in the music world and became dysfunctional: depressed, wandering, ineffectual.  Until one day I heard Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise on KUSC (Classical music radio station), I was deeply touched by the heart wrenching melody.  

It was in the middle of the most gorgeous season, the roses in our garden are    blooming, producing a riot of colors.  The visual and audio splendors became the huge inspiration for the “monologue” of my personal quarantined life.  

Social distancing may accompany us for a while.  As a composer, my concept of creation has to adapt to new media and possibilities.

The piece is for String Quartet, Electronic Sound and Visual Effects.  Everything had to be created solely by myself instead of live musicians.

It is a spontaneous mixed thoughts of reality and subconsciousness of uncertainty.  

I. Morning coffee brewing , kitchen sound, birds chirping, from the radio, Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise is wafting in the background.

II. String Quartet joins the natural world, continue to “sing” this memorable   and emotional Vocalise.

III. Pandemic outbreaks, “Stay-home” order was enacted by the government, people were panicking, driving to supermarkets, stockpiling food.  

IV. Eerie ambulance sirens mingled with newscasts, people were very scared and got lost.

V. Calm down, calm down, with the soothing melody from the second movement “Scene at the creek” from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 sounding by my ears, my pastoral life begins: staycation, gardening, harvesting and cooking.  

VI. People are dying, the statistics are rising, a shroud of ghostly sensation is approaching.  

VII. The “Elegy” for the deceased Covid-19 victims.

VIII. Reaching out: through FaceBook, FaceTime, Skype, WeChat, Zoom, etc. My quarantined space is limited, but social media on the internet are limitless.

IX. Spring is here, there is light at the end of the tunnel, maybe?  I want to be hopeful.

X. I’m not alone, it’s the PANDEMIC!  We have to face this universal catastrophe and voice solidarity with the world.  

Musically, it’s a quasi Variation based on the theme of Vocalise, the string quartet dispersed with electronic sounds of the uncontrollable concrete realities.”

Currently I am composing my Summer composition:  Episodes During the Plagued Summer, all the musical notes like the little tadpoles, one by one, jumping onto the “river” of the 5-line staff, I’m feeling great to have something accomplished during the 6-month isolation.   So far I have completed 6 movements (a total of 7 movements). ), this piece is basically related to all festivals and cooking. Throughout the summer we have a total of 7 festivals: 1) Chinese Dragon Boat Festival; 2) Father’s Day; 3) July 4th; 4) Bastille Day; 5) Chinese Qixi Festival; 6) Labor Day; 7) Rosh Hashanah. Just finished my 6th movement: Labor Day. I want to simply to create this work to describe my daily life during the epidemic.

The following page is from the 6th movement: “Labor Day”.

A comfortable and beautiful home is through hardworking and wisdom, and the reward is very generous. Throughout the summer, day in and day out, under the scorching sun, I’m plowing, weeding, watering and harvesting in the vegetable garden by my diligent hands.  I’m making homey meals and experimenting new recipes day after day.  As a result, every bit of my work definitely gives me positive energies, which makes me feel complacent.  Now at the early September, the sunset is much earlier than in June. The crop of corns of 3 months ago is no longer lush.  There are still plenty of red and green peppers in the vegetable garden, long thread of yard beans tangle together with other tomato plants.  There are violet-colored eggplants, a few of red and yellow tomatoes.  Growing vegetables is so much fun!

Cooking is the relaxation technique during the unpredictable near future.  I’m improvising our dinners every day. Practice is the process of learning.

I will use Sheila Lukins’s “Labour Day Picnic” as our main recipe for Labor Day. I will make some adjustments and try to create some rustic flavors of  a “farmhouse”:

1) Delicious Tri-Colored Salad: This salad’s main ingredients are lentil, celery, carrot.  The starchy soil of lentils can fully absorb pungent onions and garlic, then garnished with chopped celeries and carrots.  On top of 3 main ingredients, dripping with homemade dressing made from olive oil, lemon, mint, red vinegar, shallots and yogurt.  You can taste all the detailed flavors.

2) Skirt Veal Steak: Since we live in Southern California, Mexican tortillas are very popular. Delicious skirt veal steaks, with onions, Tabasco sauce, lime juice, red vinegar and coriander in tortillas are so delicious.

3) Roast Four Reds: Red is a symbol of happiness and joy. There are red beets, juicy red tomatoes, crispy red onions and shiny red bell peppers. Slice them all, add a little golden corns and green onions, sprinkle them with salt and pepper, drizzle them with olive oil, then bake in the oven for 30 minutes.

4) Plum Crisp: This simple and easy-to-make late-summer desert on Labor Day will give you a taste of the last batch of plums in season. The top layer of plum crisps is like candied fruit, sweet but not greasy, and has all the flavors of butter pastry taste. Freshly baked plum crisp and vanilla ice cream are the best match, add a little bit Creme Fraiche to end the Labor Day  dinner to a satisfaction.

After a day’s work on Labor Day, drinking a little bit of Hennessy, while watching the US Open Tennis Tournament, I’m feeling very relaxed…

Published by Joan Huang

I'm a freelance composer living in bucolic Altadena, the suburb of Los Angeles. Besides music making, I love cooking, drinking wines with friends, gardening, hiking and traveling.

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