Thursday, April 30, 2009
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
The article mentions meeting the composer of the tune "Sands of Kuwait". Here is a pipes-and-brass arrangement of the same, quite unrelated to anybody in the article. The piper's name is Pete Deneen, and the video came from the YouTube channel of the band playing with him: archipelagomusic.
*Mr. MacArthur is also a member of Na Seòid. His solos on their CD (the link, there) are on tracks 9 and 12. In fact, he wrote Track 12 as an introductory kind of piece for the band. I loaned out my copy of the CD, so I don't have the liner notes to elucidate a bit more, but the words were quite entertaining in translation.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Monday, April 27, 2009
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Here's a photo, though; our booth is assigned to the "International Market" corner of the festival, or some such thing, (truly international--we're always right next to the encampment of Roman reinactors, separated only by a rope fence which some wit several years back dubbed, "Hadrian's Wall"). Anyway, I caught part of the Aztec dancers' performance. The rattle of the shells bouncing against each other on a couple of dozen ankles made for a pretty impressive sound.
Saturday, April 25, 2009
Back in my university days (ah! so long ago!) I had a pet ground beetle for a few days. His name was Plato because that was what we were supposed to be studying for that week. Well, that is, we were supposed to be studying an essay by the philosopher, but it comes out the same if somebody asks you what you are studying and you reply, "Plato." Not that I did study the creature as much as I had hoped (indeed, I don't know if it was a him), but I brought him earthworms and finally, noting that he wasn't all that crazy about earthworms, and reading that his ilk prefer slugs (if I remember aright), and that it was the other Plato and his ilk who were truly demanding my attention, I took him back out to the woods and left him free to hunt his own supper.
If you would like to read accounts of more successful entomological research, it's an excellent time of year to look up Jean Henri Fabre. You can read his Book of Insects in its entirety there on Google Books. The descriptions of insect habits, translated from the French, are quite lively and even amusing at times, but, even more impressive than the obvious attention to detail is Fabre's delighted passion for his work. If you have ever enjoyed a few moments on your hands and knees listening to the miraculous, distant sound of a caterpillar chewing through a leaf, or if you have ever frozen yourself into some impossible position by a lake, holding your breath and wondering if that sky-blue slip of a damselfly would possibly take a notion to land were you might get a better look, well, you will thoroughly enjoy an hour or two with Fabre. He did what he loved best to do--and it shows through every word.
Somewhere in the middle of it all, you might vaguely recall that Fabre's own life story makes a classic in its own right. Born into a poor farming family and largely self-educated, even lacking a microscope for years, he filled volumes with his painstaking observations, serving as an inspiration to countless future scientists. Though that is an impressive story, to say the least, struggle and stamina are not the themes of his writing, so much as joy, pure and simple. As Edwin Way Teale wrote in the introduction to The Insect World of Jean Henri Fabre:
Fabre found the delights of a lifetime--adventure and fame, as well--in
observing the near-at-home. He was an explorer whose jungles were weed-lots and whose deserts were sandbanks. . .Throughout his long life. . .Fabre never lost
his zest for the insect world with its multitudinous mysteries. And no man ever
lived who transmitted that enthusiasm to more of his fellow-men.
Friday, April 24, 2009
This is what you get for trying to shoot lenticular clouds from a pull-out along Highway 58. (The truck wasn't as close as it looks here--I just had the zoom on, trying to catch those distant clouds from the previous pictures.)
Both the clouds and the traffic were better after I left the highway. Would you believe that sometimes these clouds are reported as flying saucers? I wonder where people get ideas like that!
Thursday, April 23, 2009
A nice change of pace, the lineup here also includes a Scots (not Gaelic) version of Robert Burns' "My Luve is Like a Red, Red Rose". (A sidenote: if you'd rather have it in Gaelic, you can go over to CD Baby and sample track 10 on James Graham's latest album.)
And following the Burns song is the beautiful "Taladh Chriosda," the "Christ Child's Lullaby". Although I don't believe it is an identical version, you can get the basic idea of the meaning and a short history of the piece here. Yes, it is Easter time, and no, there was no way I was going to wait until Christmas to post the most perfect Christmas carol ever written!
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
If the books are attractive, the magazines, at 20 cents apiece, are even more so. For 20 cents you can get an article that includes pictures of a googly-eyed glass squid, or a reconstructed Viking longship, or the ancient Irish monastic site of Skellig Michael. Magazine pictures are a bit quicker reading than The Centuries of Santa Fe, so I can claim to have put my magazines to marginally better use than the majority of my books.
All that merely to preface this: I was paging through one my newly-acquired periodicals a couple of weeks back and I found this picture, of some resourceful Assyrians crossing a river with the help of inflated goatskins. [I apologise for not being able to put it right there in the text for everyone to see, but I couldn't find a picture of it that wasn't copyrighted, thus the link.] Assyrian bas-reliefs are very interesting, and all, but I'm afraid what caught my attention was the goatskins. Is it just me, or do they look like bagpipes to you, too?
I might have refrained from mentioning it at all, but later the same day I was digging around for information on John Roy Stewart and came across this amusing passage on Google Books. It would appear that the similarities between highland pipes and Assyrian flotation devices do not stop with the picture:
It was the practice of the Highlanders in 1745 to impress and carry along
with them every man whom they discovered to be a piper, and the music of their
favourite instrument solaced them on many a weary march. Donald Ferguson, from
Coire-garf, in Mar, was a cheerful volunteer in the prince's cause, and he no
doubt officiated at all times with becoming alacrity. When Colonel Roy Stewart
surprised and made prisoners a party of the king's troops at Keith, Donald was
thrown in the skirmish off the bridge into the Isla, but with singular presence
of mind, if it was not merely instinctive devotion to duty, he kept blowing with
vigour and the inflated bag completely sustained him until he was rescued! The
danger of his situation could not repress the merriment of his companions at its
peculiar drollery, but he used afterwards to say that as long as he was able to
blow up his muckle pipes he should neither die nor drown! McIan's"
costumes of the clans of Scotland seventy-four coloured illustrations, with
descriptive letterpress by James Logan By James Logan, Robert Ronald
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Each one you look at is more impossibly wonderful than the last. . .
. . .though, unlike most gems, they are quite damp.
Monday, April 20, 2009
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Saturday, April 18, 2009
If you think you'd like to have a listen to a piobaireachd, an accessible, though not exactly traditional place to start is "Andrew MacNeill of Colonsay" on SFU's Down Under album. (By coincidence, recorded in Australia). You can sample a wee bit of it here: Track 4 offers the end of the first variation, and the beginning of the second, but you will gather you need to hear the whole thing to get the full effect (iTunes does have it. I checked). Piobaireachd is a very solo style, so the band treatment with the harmonies and all is a bit out of the ordinary, but quite lovely to listen to. Adding to the interest, instead of playing the ground at the beginning of the tune, the band sings canntaireachd.
The Captain's Corner has quite the selection of piobaireachds (and light music as well), recorded at professional competitions. If you scroll down to the Winter Storm 2009 entry, you might start with "The Piper's Warning to His Master" and "A Flame of Wrath". If you decide this sort of thing is to your liking, by all means scroll back up to the top of the page and listen to Willie McCallum's rendition of "Lament for the Children" in the Metro Cup 2009 article.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Least this entry end on an entirely depressing note, I will mention one of the survivors of the tragedy--the enterprising Iain Ruadh Stiùbhart, or in English, John Roy Stuart. He was, besides a soldier, a fine poet in Gaelic, and rumor has it, a piper as well. As you can read at the page above, the Alan Breck Stewart of Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped is believed to have been based somewhat on John Roy. Regardless of what he may or may not have inspired, his life reads like an adventure novel; the chapter about him here is well worth a look. (And, it would appear, he should get some credit for being a drummer, as well!)
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Here are a few clearer pictures of a similar instrument, though the fingerboard seems to be undeniably flat.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Monday, April 13, 2009
Sunday, April 12, 2009
When I was small, I loved those plastic sleeves that shrunk around the egg, not because they were quick (coloring eggs strikes me as being more fun) but because it was fascinating to watch the edges curl tightly when you lowered the egg into boiling water. (They were, of course, impossible to get off afterwards when you were actually expected to eat the egg.)
The dyes would have made any alchemist think his life's work quite in vain, transforming an ordinary mason jar into a lamp from beyond the borders of the world. The kitchen reeked of vinegar, the smell, it seemed, of creativity, and there on the table, hoarding light in their mysterious depths were the jars. The orange jar was the most brilliant, and the most mysterious because when you dipped an egg in, it always came out unmistakeably yellow. The blue jar had its own brand of miracle, because it was like a starless sky at midnight, more black than blue, really, but any egg that disappeared below its unsounded surface would reappear as brilliant as the sky at noon.
In the weeks following Easter, eating dyed eggs was an expected, though not particularly prized ritual. Peeling them was a good deal of fun; the whites inside had become a paler version of the shell. But eating them? They tasted suspiciously like hardboiled eggs, no matter what color they were. They had the looks, alright, but somehow they couldn't compete with chocolate eggs.
One of these years, I am going to think ahead and buy a set of dyes (the plastic sleeves are tempting, but an all-too-fleeting pleasure) to see if it was as much fun as I remember, though, in my old age, I suspect that I would spend more time staring at the stained-glass qualities of the not-really-orange jar than I would thinking of creative ways to use it.
In the meantime, here is a gorgeous gallery of the be-all, end-all of Easter arts: Pysanky Eggs!
Saturday, April 11, 2009
And the sun was elusive.
Friday, April 10, 2009
"Oh Peter, apostle, have you seen my fair love?"
Ochón is ochón ó
"I saw him crucified on high"
Ochón is ochón ó
"Who is that fine man on the tree of suffering?"
Ochón is ochón ó
"Don't you recognize your Son, Mother?"
Ochón is ochón ó
The singer is Lorcán Mac Mathúna.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
The road croaked homeward heavily,Or
The west was clear and warm,
The smoke of evening food and ease
Rose like a blue tree in the trees
When he came to Eldred's farm.
Long looked the Roman on the land;
The trees as golden crowns
Blazed, drenched with dawn and dew-empearled,
While faintlier coloured, freshlier curled,
The clouds from underneath the world
Stood up over the downs.
Paradox is synonymous with Chesterton's name, and his poetry is as weighted with it as any of his other writings.
For a War MemorialSuggested inscription probably not selected by the committeeThe hucksters haggle in the martThe cars and carts go by;
Senates and schools go droning on;
For dead things cannot die.
A storm stooped on the place of tombs
With bolts to blast and rive;
But these be the names of many men
The lightning found alive.
If usurers rule and rights decay
And visions view once more
Great Carthage like a golden shell
Gape hollow on the shore,
Still to the last of crumbling time
Upon this stone be read
How many men of England died
To prove they were not dead.
More quotes forthcoming. . .but I need to read for a while.
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Footnote: I messed up. I was supposed to repeat "Arran Boat Song" and, with the camera staring at me couldn't for the life of me remember how it went; thus that little hiccup is where Mom was playing what she was supposed to play and I was moving on to where I wasn't supposed to be yet. (I am sorely tempted here to catalogue all of the faults the fiddler committed, but I think we'll just let it go at that.)
In case anyone would like to find music for or recordings of the tunes, again the first is "Arran Boat Song," the second "Braighe Loch Iall"(also called "Braes of Locheil" or "Hills of Locheil") and the third "St. Kilda Wedding."
"Braighe Loch Iall" is, for one thing, the beautiful title song on Rachel Walker's first CD, among the songs, ironically, which you can't sample on the linked page (but the ones you can hear are lovely). I got the idea for speeding it up (though not quite as frenetically I did in execution!) from Alasdair Fraser's Portrait of a Scottish Fiddler (part of the set which comprises Track 3. I would say "Alas, unfortunately the clip only gives you the beginning of the slow air," but it happens to be my favorite slow air, so I shall refrain from lamenting). It is, again, Mr. Fraser (this time with cellist Natalie Haas) who included an impeccable "St. Kilda Wedding" on Fire and Grace (Track 4. . .and this time, you actually can hear a clip "St. Kilda Wedding"!).
Monday, April 6, 2009
[Edit] Okay, I didn't design this post intentionally to coincide with the Donald MacLeod Memorial competition, but as things turn out, that just happened days ago. The winner, Alan Bevan, who has carried off many a solo prize, is also a member of the Simon Fraser University Pipe Band.
Sunday, April 5, 2009
(Below: Setting up the real pipers for massed bands at the noon opening ceremonies. Massed bands=sort of like Russian roulette with the bagpipes. That is to say, if you are short and in the back, you have a fifty-fifty chance of guessing correctly whether the drum major signaled to end the tune at the end, or to repeat the whole thing. Not that I would know. Yes, I will listen with a good deal more attention the next time the instructions are given pre-attack.)
The weather was superb; a bit hot in the sun, to be sure (and there was plenty of sun) but a perfect day for a chat in the shade. Somebody across the street from the band tents had an orange tree in blossom in their yard, and the spicy-sweet smell alone was worth the drive.
As far as general reporting goes, that is about it. The piping and ensuing camraderie was so delightful that I saw less of the games in general than I ever have, opting to stick around the band tents most of the time. I even missed browsing through the book vendors' tent for the first time I remember (though I am sure my pocketbook is the better for it). I vastly enjoyed the solo competition; I recently switched to Balance Tone reeds for my drones and they have made a world of difference in the way the pipes handle. Murphy's Law did kick in and no matter how nicely I had the pipes going while I was warming up, the drones were out of tune when it actually came time to knuckle down and play for the judge, but playing-wise, they still felt awfully nice.
Saturday, April 4, 2009
The first of these was off of Highway 99; I think it was just a little south of Lodi, but it was the wild mustard--acres and acres of it--that caught my eye, rather than any geographical fact. I headed east from the highway and tried to find a place where I might both park and get a comprehensive shot of the fields. Well, the rule on that road seems to be that you can't have both. All of the biggest views were fleeting, visible only from a moving car on a fairly busy road. A side road provided a shoulder to park on, but comparatively limited views. Not that this should be taken as a complaint per se. What it lacked in expansive landscapes it made up in incidental charm: redwing blackbirds chattering among the weeds in a ditch, cascades of blackberry brambles, and a strong, coast-like wind, just cold enough to make you feel alive. A few days later, on my way back south I took Highway 5 and was, once again, lured off the main road, this time near Hood. Here the fields lacked the golden ostentation of mustard, but they were very wide and very green, broken only by the levees, or by equally green groves of trees. I drove through Hood and along the top of the levee beyond it until I remembered that I was supposed to be back in Tehachapi for a 7:00 rehersal that night and I was, instead of getting myself there, backtracking towards Sacramento. All the same, I stopped before I had quite reached 5 again and took a few quick shots of a herd of cattle in one of the impossibly green fields. Picture miles of field like that, a wind with a distant flavour of almost-forgotten snow blowing out of a wide blue sky, and you will gather that it was difficult to merge back onto the highway.
Friday, April 3, 2009
Thursday, April 2, 2009
[Last July] Some industrious person had built a driftwood shed on the beach at Cambria--complete with a flag at the peak of the roof (that doesn't show up well in this picture). Mostly, this is just a picture of a grand morning: fog on the sea, damp sand between your toes, the tang of salt on your lips, the slow march of the surf woven with the cries of seagulls far away. About as perfect as life gets.