San Francisco Music and the WPA

You’re undoubtedly familiar with many of the WPA (Works Projects Administration) endeavors in San Francisco: the Botanical Gardens, the Zoo, the murals at Coit Tower and Rincon Center; but you may not be aware of how much the WPA accomplished in encouraging and preserving our musical heritage. The largest agency of President Roosevelt’s New Deal agenda, the WPA, employed millions of people from all walks of life and focused on such civic improvement as the construction of public buildings, roads and parks; and the commission of cultural undertakings such as works of art, and theatrical and musical performances.   The branch of the WPA that handled its musical ventures, the Federal Music Project, had an office in San Francisco and was directed by composer,...

The Unforgiving Years by Victor Serge

When browsing the shelves for a book to bring with me on a trip, I picked up Victor Serge’s Unforgiving Years.  I’d never heard of the author but the disturbing figure of the burning man on the cover piqued my interest.  Unforgiving Years is not an easy read but it is well worth the trouble.  It is an amazing account of survival, war, and political intrigue with a distinct dystopian tang reminiscent of Orwell’s 1984 and hallucinatory imagery that remind one of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five.  Much of the story is drawn from Serge’s life experiences so to understand the book you first must know a little about the author. Victor Serge was the pen name of Victor Lvovich Kibalchich, an ethnic Russian born in Brussels in 1890 to peripatetic, intellectuals...

Going “deep” with your chronology

As I mentioned in a previous post, when conducting biographical research, assembling a chronology is your first step. But what’s your second? Filling in the background, the setting in which your subject lived – the weather, the politics, the stock prices, the scandals of the day. All that had an effect on your subject, whether minor or profound. How do you find this stuff out? You can start with the newspaper! Your local library most likely will have either paper or microfilm copies of the important newspapers from your area. There are also several newspaper databases that make research easy (check your local library or the nearest university library). A database you can access right now (without leaving your home!) is the California Digital Newspaper...