Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Which is neither here nor there, where this lovely song is concerned. It sticks in my mind that I have posted it before, and, if so, probably did mention that it was originally written in the Hebrides, in Gaelic (in case the tune doesn't give that away).
Boys of the Lough also have a very sparse and lovely arrangement of the song on their CD Midwinter Night's Dream (Well, scratch what I just said about John Doyle being the only one of the three above who was familiar--no less a person than Christy O' Leary played uillean pipes and sang with Boys of the Lough. I should study CD liners more often.) It's a neat album all around, with a few good carols set in among a lot of tunes with titles like "Christmas Day in the Morning," in keeping with the situation, and lots of Shetland fiddling from Aly Bain.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
The corresponding law for sunsets (yet unnamed), runs thus"The splendour of the sunset is inversely proportional to the photogencity of the location in which it is observed and/or the availability of an operational camera." Which is the nice way of saying that the sunsets that plaster themselves over the window during the evening shift at work have been splendid, but have too much city in the way to make pictures that might truly do them justice. So late last month I drove out Jackson way, stalking the wild sunset. The one I encountered was indeed a good deal less vast and less vibrant than those I had admired in less spectacular settings, but it was, all the same, a pleasant place, and a grand moment in which to be alive. The eager winter edge in the air, and the comfortable sounds of distant cows you will have to imagine for yourself.
"I never had a piece of toast
Particularly long and wide,
But it fell upon the sanded floor
And always on the buttered side."
Monday, December 13, 2010
Sunday, December 12, 2010
The wise of the world (as represented by Wikipedia) believe the poem originally existed as a song, though none of the original tune has survived. Below is a modern setting similar to the one I heard this afternoon (and yes, though much of the pronunciation was updated, as far as I could tell, our choir, also, used the wonderful phrase "we moun singen").
Saturday, December 11, 2010
Perhaps, to give the circumstances their due, it was not entirely the carpet. As a matter of fact, half of it was the shock of realizing I was indulging in the unprecedented venture of visiting a Robert Louis Stevenson museum--when it was open. I had laid a hand on the door, the door had swung inwards and I was--
I will go back a short space in time to explain that I was at the library in St. Helena, and I had arrived there mostly by a most pleasant, corkscrew-shaped trip over Highway 128, a route that had lead me up the north side of Davis, and out into the walnut groves, through Winters, and, at last, up into the foothills to the west, brown, homelike and holding up the sky with their share of oaks. Putah Creek runs along the highway for a space, laced tightly in the greys and whites and yellow sparks of late autumn's sycamores. The road climbs a little higher, up into country where stolid pines lift their fleet of masts above a mute, motionless ocean of manzanita thickets. Another few turns, and the way leads downhill again, among narrow valleys where the strange grey oaks of Solano County assuage the year-end theft of their leaves with eerie gonfalons of trailing moss. Right around high, bare red banks, left, finding pines and oaks behind and unambitious hills raising nothing more than a velvet of manzanita. Pines again, to frame the sky-grey shards of Lake Hennessey and beyond it the fringes of civilization that blossom suddenly into the Napa Valley, less wild than the country that came before it, but touched as it is by humankind, it might be considered a work of art, rather than of nature, a canvas of vineyards rusting richly in the long shadows thrown by the southbound sun.
It was small wonder if I was already slightly dazed when I reached the museum at last. At last, I say--after a time much longer than a drive through the mountains. I had, in essence been nearing that particular door since the Fourth of July. In great contrast to the sunbaked silence that had defined my memories of the place, the whole end of the street was now lined with cars, and the library was open to many hurried comings and goings.
Life even sprouted on the lintel of the museum itself as a man emerged, rasping with a broom at the impeccable walkway. I followed a little behind him as he went in again, walking more slowly the nearer I came to the door; the ambition of going inside suddenly seemed rather presumptuous. But the handle gave easily, the door swung aside, heavy and silent, and there I stood on the step, I must say in the interest of accurate reporting--gawking. I can recall hearing, as a child, a fairy tale that had, as one of its most impressive characters, a "dog with eyes as big as the Round Tower." I had no idea what the Round Tower was, and to be honest, I still have no idea. But it sounded very large indeed, and I now have a fair inkling, at least, of how it feels to have eyes approaching that size.
For I, pulling the door softly to behind me, was looking in on a room of opulent quiet, of glass cases and dark furniture all laid out against the thickest, reddest carpet I had ever seen. It had a welcoming, comfortable air, like a home library awaiting its intended reader, an impression hardly discouraged by the books which lay in every direction, most monumentalised in their appointed cases, but with a fair and tempting store of newer editions laid out for sale. A book of another sort lay on a table directly before me. A lady, who was standing several thousand miles away on the other side of the small room greeted me kindly and asked, "Will you please sign the guestbook?" I did that and accepted her invitation to come in and look around, though my feet, ever more deeply impressed by the carpeting and the sense of where I was, were slow to move. I began with the glass case to my left, and it's a wonder that in itself didn't finish me. There was a watch in the case. It was Stevenson's watch, open so that any casual passerby might see how the man who wrote Kidnapped told his hours. Next to it was a plain silver wedding band, also Stevenson's. I had seen many pictures (and there were plenty to see in that room) which recorded how extraordinarily thin that author was, but I was scarcely prepared for the sight of a ring which would have fit over one of my own fingers with very little room to spare. I was most certainly not prepared, despite my expedition to accomplish the same, to find myself in such close proximity to solid mementos of a man who had conjured such extraordinarily solid characters out of mere words.
The docent from the distant kingdoms on the other side of the room rescued me at that point, offering to give me a tour before I was left to my own devices. She was wonderfully patient, informative, and, above all, enthusiastic. Her story of the museum's founding was particularly interesting. I had supposed it had been settled in St. Helena piecemeal in vague deference to Stevenson's tarrying in the general neighbourhood. I had the story almost exactly backwards: the gentleman who began the collection, an advertising magnate named Norman Strouse, had a home in the area himself, and it was his perusing of The Silverado Squatters (at the site of the bunkhouse pictured in the book, if I remember correctly) that lead to a lifelong interest in the author. His enthusiasm resulted in a most impressive collection, impressive, at least, to others who might share his passion:
"And did you ever read 'A Child's Garden of Verses?'" the docent asked, pausing before another case. She didn't have to say much else. There in brave, garish paint, many gnarled by time and most in two ill-featured dimensions, marched and galloped the leaden legions of the Land of Counterpane.
Here was Louis' desk, the one he used at Vailima (the eyes now began to feel as though they had quite surpassed the Round Tower); there was his flageolet, rather like a recorder. . .this was his own collection of books. . .
Any one of these items would have astounded in itself, but I was particularly enthralled by the bookshelf. After my guide had completed the tour, I returned to savour the fading gold titles on the back of the bindings: some were worn away beyond reading, but I could still marvel at an age that published a life of Sir Walter Scott in. . .was it five volumes? (though the similar length of a nearby work on the Crimean War seemed a bit more readily believable). Popular Tales of the West Highlands had the distinction of having been quoted in a footnote of David Balfour, according to which it contains the uncanny air that Alan taught David to whistle toward the end of Kidnapped. Lower was a graceful two-volume set by another Stevenson--I believe it was Louis' father Thomas--on some fine point of lighthouse construction. The spines of several Dickens books were still legible: Bleak House, A Tale of Two Cities, and Martin Chuzzlewit. The shelves also contained several volumes of poetry, most of it fairly contemporaenous with its late owner, but also containing the inviting Poets and Poetry of Scotland, with Thomas the Rhymer and Richard Gall's names, in a gossamer of gold letters bookending the epoch the collection spanned. It was a rather delightful thought to picture a man who could work such magic with English as Stevenson, taking his own quiet enjoyment from words which had preceded him--even if, by an evil chance, he missed the added benefits of rich, red carpet in his own time.
Saturday, November 13, 2010
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
How many calves tayles behoveth to reche from the erthe to the skye?
And the answer (Ready?):
No more but one if it be long ynough.
Saturday, October 16, 2010
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Okay. Fine. I was in there last week, and, yes, I bought a book on the Sutton Hoo treasure. It seemed like just the thing every well-stocked Old English library needed. (One more parentheses: I have a lifelong ambition to have a well-stocked Old English library. I have no idea what that has to do with actually reading the books.)
Now, at last, we cut to the point of this soliloquy: the effects of reading the introduction and the preface to a book on Sutton Hoo. One might read the introduction and the preface to the book on a rare occasion when one is very early to work. One might forget to take the book out of the car after work. And, faced, one afternoon, with the incalculable distance from the house to the car, one might decide to supplement one's Old English studies with that 21st century phenomenon known as the Internet. In which case, where better to turn than the British Museum?
Frankly, I think anywhere would be better than the British Museum. Because if you go there, you might be reminded of the Lewis Chessmen, or you might be apprised of the existence of the Vindolanda Tablets. Which might distract you from making the trek to the car for the book on Sutton Hoo.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Sunday, September 12, 2010
Friday, September 10, 2010
P.S. As a matter of fact, yes this has been stuck in my head all week.
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
The pictures on the Getty site seemed somehow familiar, but it took me a while to recall that I had seen a similarly crafted statue at Carmel Mission a couple of years ago. The St. Francis there was likely carved about a century after La Roldán's time, being produced around 1791 for the mission at Santa Cruz, but the similarities of design are hard to miss, and the placard, which, inexplicably, I remembered to photograph, describes it as "carved wood, gessoed and painted."
Monday, August 30, 2010
Saturday, August 28, 2010
"I heard you from way over there, and it was so good, and I snuck up the hill to see if it was a real funeral."
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Monday, August 23, 2010
Thursday, August 19, 2010
Monday, August 16, 2010
Anyway, yes, that was a webcast of webcasts! I was sorry that Simon Fraser University missed a hat trick (ah well, there will be other years), but from the moment St. Laurence O' Toole stepped out on the field, they sounded like they owned the place--and what a sound it was!
The BBC site that carried the live stream now has the Grade 1 performances archived, with commentary by Canada's Bob Worrall. Very much worth a look and a listen--or a second, third, or fourth look and listen, for that matter! I'm smitten with SFU's medley (they had me from the get-go with a march setting of the slow air "Cha Till MacCrimmon), but there are as many exciting arrangements to be had as there were bands entered.
Friday, August 13, 2010
Monday, August 9, 2010
Saturday, August 7, 2010
The videos here have more on ornamentation and bowing.
Friday, August 6, 2010
If it's time to give the poem another reading, the RCAF has a copy up on their website, along with a biography of the poet.
Thursday, August 5, 2010
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
One can certainly understand how Orpheus' story (or variations thereof) would appeal to someone whose livelihood was music, but until I was looking for more information on Monteverdi's opera, I had no idea that so many composers had adapted the same subject!
My previous appreciation of the theme had been fueled almostly solely by Tolkien's rendering of the Middle English Sir Orfeo, which, in fact, eschewed with Hades altogether and had Orfeo's wife carried off by a king of the Otherworld rather than the Underworld. The University of Rochester offers this Middle English edition, with generous notes. A 1909 translation is available from Google Books:
(Tolkien's take on it is, as you would expect, quite solidly satisfying. And even better, if you go looking for it at your local library, it generally comes in a collection with his version of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.)
Then, as my friend Maria reminded me, there is the Shetland King Orfeo which, in some ways, is about as far removed from the original as you can get, while still having the tale vaguely recognizeable. Again, Orfeo's wife is carried off by the "King o' Ferrie," and here, her name is nothing close to Eurydice. If I had to choose an incarnation of Orpheus' character that I liked best, however, it would be this one. Monteverdi's version seems somewhat above likes and dislikes, though certainly inspiring sympathy. In contrast, the picture painted by the laconic understatement of the old ballad seems less of a demi-god and more of a human being. A straightforward sort of man. Although certain prejudices incline me to be utterly delighted with an Orfeo who, faced with task of melting his adversary's heart, takes up his pipes*, the real charm of the piece is the concise request of the mortal man, standing before the dazzled court of Ferrie: "What I will hae I will you tell,/And dat's me Lady Isabel."
Biot Edmonston got the words to the song from an Andrew Coutts, of Unst in the late 1800's. The Oxford Book of Ballads publishes the tune for it as well, but it's rather rarely sung, quite possibly because not many people can make a phrase like "Scowan ürla grün," sound convincing. The Scottish band Malinky has quite a good version, which you can sample here.
The odd phrases that make up the chorus are, by the way, not exactly Scandinavian. As the song was collected when a form of Scots had taken over as the language of Shetland, such phrases as survived in song, having lost their meaning, began to erode in pronunciation as well. Based on similarities to Danish, The Oxford Book of Ballads proposes that Scowan ürla grün is "The wood is early green," and Whar giorten han grün oarlac, "Where the hart goes yearly." I seem to remember reading something Mr. Edmonston himself had written indicating that the singer he learned the song from did not know what the phrases meant, but now that I want to confirm that, of course I can't find it.
*Did the poet who wrote the ballad mean "pipes" as in bagpipes? Highland pipes were never much of an institution in Norse-influenced Shetland. But if you're going to play "good gabber reels," what other pipes could you possibly use?
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Of course, there is the caveat for those who have heard the opera and might be wondering what bee has taken up residence in my bonnet: I vastly prefer Baroque music to most of that of the Classical period, and (without being too well studied on the subject) prefer Rennaisance music even to Baroque. So when Monteverdi comes along, gracefully toeing the line between the Rennaisance and Baroque periods, the chances are pretty good that I will find some of his music tolerable--or better.
Anyway, L'Orfeo, from a [my] musical standpoint, is a delight, with its archaic vocal styles and period instruments seemingly set adrift in an ocean of music. The opera doesn't have the islands, if you will, of arias that stand apart by their contrast to the rise and fall of the recitatives, just waves that are raised a bit higher against the sun than those around them. Rather than a reflection against the arias, this is a remark on the appeal of the recitatives; L'Orfeo, as appropriate to its subject, mesmerises by an unbroken current of music.
NPR has a page dedicated to this opera where one can read a synopsis and listen to two of the arias. They are both quite beautiful (and quite sad), but "Possente Spirto" is, on top of that, rather astounding with its early Baroque ornamentation and interplay between voice and orchestra.
Sunday, August 1, 2010
Saturday, July 31, 2010
Friday, July 30, 2010
Thursday, July 29, 2010
I enjoyed that enough to see whether the folks who posted it, the Institute of Musical Traditions in Maryland, had any other videos. Which they do indeed (YouTube channel here). But who would have guessed that "any other videos" would include an Alasdair Fraser/Natalie Haas duet?
Then the search veered off in another direction as I thought if I put up a fiddle version of "Gloomy Winter's Noo Awa'," I might do well to find a definitive sung version. It's hard to say if Ben the Hoose has a definitive sung version, as the sample they have on their website is likewise mostly fiddle, but they are another duo worth a listen, in any case.
Most coincidental of all (but far off the trad music track), the phrase "gloomy winter" had been used in this nature photography blog post--so if you'd like to see some birds in very sharp focus indeed, that would be the place to check. If you've had enough birds for one week, go have a look anyway. It's pure art.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
The Davis Arboretum, thankfully, was about as far from bottlenecks and radios as you can get while still being within a mile of I-80. It was very quiet indeed; I had many a parking space to choose from (free, as it is on weekends, too) and gratefully left the car to its own devices for a while.
As I had decided to drive out on the spur of the moment, finding the Sunday afternoon heavy with the bright new intelligence that there was a botanical garden in Davis, I hadn't taken much time to research how the Arboretum was laid out. Without spending a good deal of time mulling it over, memories of other gardens had prepared me to expect something. . .well, if not expansive, giving, at least, a certain impression of spaciousness . This was why I was, at first, slightly disappointed to discover that the Arboretum is, through most of its considerable length, restricted to the banks of Putah Creek. It was, however, only a very momentary disappointment, which was pounced upon and devoured by the notion that there was far too much to see as it was.
While I am sure the creek has its charms as a feature in its own right, and likely enables the growing of some fine riparian flora, the greatest entertainment that it provided was the creatures living in and around it. I was only a few hundred yards on my wanderings when I was stopped by the sight of a barn swallow (or so I believe it was) calmly sitting on a branch over the water. I had never, in fact, seen a barn swallow calmly sitting anywhere, so I stopped to see it while I could, admiring the contrast of its sleek purple back and its scarlet face. It was just a hair too far away for me to get a sharp picture, but, since it didn't seem to be going anywhere, I had plenty of shots at it anyway.
It was carrying on a sporadic conversation with another swallow which would occasionally make an airborne appearance, coming in for a fly-by above the still water. The efforts of this second bird had a graceful conclusion, almost at my feet as I stood on the bridge. With sharp bank that would have done a Spitfire pilot proud, it came in on a blur that was a moth, winging, white beneath the overhanging trees. For an instant, sharp and startling as the best photo I missed all afternoon, all the unknown wonder of "footless halls of air" was suspended in the narrow void between the dark branches and the dark water. The moth was a darting star, wheeling across a strange, green inverted sky, and after it, exploded a presence, all spear-graceful wings, and purple smoke and red fire. Somewhere in the depths of space, these two impossible forces collided, and the star fluttered feebly in the mouth of the swallow.
Less graceful in its first impression was the green heron I glimpsed several times along stream's course. Its feathers were, from a distance, as smooth--and imaginative--as something that had been drawn in coloured pencil, but when it would sense anyone nearby, its efforts to make itself scarce gave an impression of great vexation, rather than fear. It had fine, strong, bright yellow legs, which it used to such a desperate effect, galloping off at a quick, but ungainly waddle, that at first I (who had never seen a green heron before and had no idea what I was looking at) wondered whether it could fly at all. When, at last, with a cry of exasperation, it took off, it proved quite steady in the air, with an elegant wingspan that came as a surprise on its stolid body. Much less airworthy and certainly lacking in long, yellow legs, turtles would surface through the murky water on occasion. The pictures I got of those were irredeemably out of focus, probably because of overabundance of lighting between the sun and its reflection on the water, but they were quite funny to watch. Their build dictates only one possible way for them to swim, their heavy shells dragging below the surface of the water and only their noses just barely above it. Of course, going around at an angle like this, with their noses literally in the air, they have quite a supercillious look about them. Perhaps they have good reason for looking as though they think they should be envied--in some of the long, sunny stretches, even that green water looked rather tempting to me, too.
As I said, though, an early impression of the Arboretum was that there was too much to see. I felt rather as though I was faced with a buffet where, in feeling obliged to taste everything, I put myself in danger of missing those dishes I knew I liked best. That is to say, I would stop in one place and shoot a few pictures, and instead of getting all I could out of that location, would stop and push myself around the next bend in the creek in the interest of "seeing it all." Which I never did. But that's enough for tonight.
Monday, July 26, 2010
Sunday, July 25, 2010
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Sunday, July 11, 2010
Anyway, here is a very bluegrassy version, complete with a couple of smashing banjo breaks by a group called High LoneSome Bluegrass Band.
And here is something even more unexpected (and I'm not just talking about the hat), a fluent harmonica version by Buddy Greene, Jeff Taylor (accordion/piano) and Tricia Walker (percussion) preceded by "Blackberry Blossom".
Saturday, July 10, 2010
And, better and better, it looks as though this page is only a sliver in a forest of articles and biographies available on the site--but one must start somewhere.
Friday, July 9, 2010
I had brought a change of clothes with a hazy notion of going. . .somewhere after the parade and getting a few pictures of. . .something. Fortunately, I took a wrong turn early in the day, when I was trying to find the spot where the band was supposed to meet, and found myself crossing Silverado Trail. What was it about the name that sounded so familiar? The answer took the form of a second question, which burst upon me scarce seconds later--How did you forget that Robert Louis Stevenson used to live around here? So, after the parade, and fully aware that no stretch of the imagination was going to qualify what I was doing as a legitimate 4th of July custom, I got back on Silverado Trail and drove up towards St. Helena to see if there was a trace of RLS to be found. There were certainly a good many cars to see. St. Helena was a happenin' place. Still the slowed traffic meant I had plenty of time to see the sign pointing the way to to the Stevenson museum. I chortled in my joy at this stroke of luck; searching for small, rumoured historical sites by dead reckoning is a very chancy business. Of course, I was under no misapprehensions that luck would extend to fantastical lengths and that the museum would be open, but it was still gratifying to find the place, neatly labeled, next to the public library.
Not far from the fountain, a larger sign designated the library and museum, and beyond that was (perhaps not too surprisingly) a small, tidy vineyard.
Having satisfied, as far as I could, my literary curiousity by gazing at the stucco on the outside of the building, one might think I would be content and would head for home. Even I thought that-- but I did not do it. Instead I let myself be seized by an even wilder ambition, and, by rather devious routes, turned the car in a gradually westering direction.
After some time (the details of which I will spare you, as it mostly involved going around corners, so I could go around other corners and up grades so I could go down grades), I saw something grey and soft curled about the tops of the hills ahead of me. Fire? I didn't smell any smoke when I rolled the window down. Perhaps the wind was blowing the wrong way. But, no, the wind was just fine as it was, and great tufts of the grey stuff were eddying past the car. And it smelled wonderfully wet. "It's fog!" And grand fog it was, too, just flitting about in graceful pieces, cooling off July in a most unexpected way, and not interfering with driving in the least. And if fog on the hills was a sight for sore eyes, what was fog on the ocean? I, having driven about as far westward as I was going to get, got out at Doran Beach on Bodega Bay. Perhaps enthusiasm leads to exaggeration in this case, but the weather didn't feel much above 60, if it was even that. And there was plenty of ocean.
And if that wasn't a fine Independence Day, what is?