Saturday, January 16, 2010

All the Conveniences of the Modern World

I am rather fond of Google Books, not only for their out-of-copyright volumes which one can dig up on a whim and read cover to cover, but for their search feature which helps one find a phrase or a topic in a virtual shelfull of books, old and new. While the currently copyrighted ones cannot be read there online, Google Books offers a further service, a book search which can pinpoint a copy of one tome or another in a library. They even kindly calculate the distance between your location and that of a likely library, and offer to map it. This is very helpful and very considerate, but just how thoroughly informed it is, I hesitate to guess. The book I suddenly decided I must get my hands on showed up in a single library--in a town called Munich. Not even Munich, North Dakota. The next column over, the one where they tell you the distance read: 5700 Miles. I am reading some other books this weekend.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

And In Sports

Come to find out, we just missed the end of street football season in Kirkwall, Orkney. The town holds a big game--and I do mean big!--on Christmas, and another on New Year's Day where nearly two hundred citizens, divided into sides by neighborhood, strive to work the ball up or down the street and into the appropriate goal. It does sound like a good time! You can read more about it here.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Just Under the Wire

Well, keeping to the tradition of 12 days of Christmas, there is still a wee bit of time to bring up a very neat album that we found in my parents' CD collection when we were looking for something to play on Christmas Eve. It's called (not too surprisingly) Holiday Guitar; the man behind the guitar is Dan Crary. All in all, it's a laid-back album, but if it puts one in a relaxing mood, that is only because the guitar player must have done anything but relax to get it all together. The arrangements span a pure, melodic version of "The Coventry Carol," to wonderfully bluegrassed renditions of "God Rest Ye, Merrie Gentlemen," and "What Child is This?" with an appropriately harmonica-laced, "Christmas Blues A-Comin'" thrown into the mix. It is quite rare that tried-and-true carols like those that make up the majority here are complimented with treatment that makes them sound fresh and new all over again, but this album seems to do it very tidily. To get right to the point, the musicians are treating Christmas music like music--with room for embellishment and innovation--and not merely an obligatory seasonal parroting of a hundred other instrumentalists.

You can (and should) hear a few samples over at Dan Crary's own webpage; Holiday Guitar is about a quarter of the way down the page if you scroll down here. If you need any more assurance that it is a rather remarkable album, here is a last thought to chew on: Crary's swinging (and, again, harmonica-complemented) rendition of "Santa, Baby," actually compells one to replay the track immediately on finishing it. No other musician in my book can make that claim to fame.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

J.R.R. Tolkien (January 3, 1892--September 2, 1973)

"Such stories have now a mythical or total (unanalysable) effect, an effect quite independent of the findings of Comparative Folk-lore, and one which it cannot spoil or explain; they open a door on Other Time, and if we pass through, though only for a moment, we stand outside our own time, outside Time itself, maybe," writes Tolkien in "On Fairy-Stories," though the description would apply equally to his own tales.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Molly on the Shore

Percy Grainger's "Molly on the Shore" wandered across the classical station a couple of months ago and quite charmed me (the tune did. I hadn't heard the name yet--honest!) but it has been a bit difficult to find a recording I was eager to pass along. It seems to be a very popular piece for school bands, and for clarinet quartets in particular. (There, now you have something for breaking the ice the next time you have lunch with a clarinet quartet.)

Although a full-orchestra version has its charms, there is little lacking in this rich all-clarinet rendition by students from UIUC (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign?):

Friday, January 1, 2010

Puddle Jumping

My grandmother, my cousin and myself had, to all appearances, kept roughly the same, (rather conservative) hours last night, which is perhaps why each of us seemed so keen to come up with an excuse to justify the exceptional languor which was overtaking us one by one this afternoon.
"I do love a good cup of coffee after a dinner like that," I sighed, "But I should have known better. I didn't get to sleep until two."
"It was decaf, " said my grandmother, heartlessly.

Still, I was quite tired when I toddled down to the park this afternoon, which might be one reason I was staring into puddles instead of paying attention to anything in the real world. 2010 came in with no great flourish in these parts, and the day was very dark and very still, brooding over the morning's rainfall. Bits and pieces of trees began to appear in the small puddles, plunging weirdly down into a sky which was, if anything, darker than the one over my head. The size of the puddles precluded getting in a whole tree, in most cases, but the focus this limit imposed made for some rather interesting views.
A valley oak, upside-down:

A sad and wispy bit of a tree in a sad and wispy bit of a puddle:

The largest puddle held nearly a whole sycamore: