Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Roldán, Gold Leaf, and St. Francis

Here's a bit of a change: a page from the Getty Museum on a 17th century sculptor named Luisa Roldán. The page itself is quite interesting as regards the life of the artist and the construction of the intricate wooden statues in which La Roldán, as she was called, specialised. The video, if you have a minute (okay, twelve minutes, but it goes by very quickly) to view it is even better; it shows modern artists recreating the techniques that went into making such a statue as Roldán's Saint Ginés de La Jara.

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

Seeing Double

Happy Snappy is a photography blog with a clever twist. It is maintained by two girls in two different countries who each post a photo on a weekly theme--a very good photo, I might add.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Thanks. . .I Think

Quote of the day, from a small tow-headed being of maybe seven who came, with admirable politeness, and introduced himself when I was practicing in the park this evening:

"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

Marina State Beach

Most of my pictures from the Monterey trip earlier in the month were from Marina State Beach, where I stopped on the drive home.The only thing missing here is the true colours, which were bound up with the motion of the wind, the fog, and the waves. A breaker might be carved in jade as it rose agains the milk-white sun and the dove-feathers of cloud, and then, as it curled down past its crest, it would shimmer into a dark peacock green.

Monday, August 23, 2010


Any comment on this video seems to fall a bit flat, so I'll just stick to the facts: Bruce MacGregor plays a strathspey and a couple of reels. The recording quality isn't the clearest, but the fiddling is splendid!

Thursday, August 19, 2010


The piper Bill Millin, who played Lord Lovat's commandos ashore on D-Day, passed away yesterday according to the BBC. The epitaph that springs immediately to mind is from the last chapter of O'Crohan's The Islandman: "The like of us will never be again."

Monday, August 16, 2010

A day late. . .or three

Saturday was a very difficult day, only because the World Pipe Band Championships web stream was, if possible, even more phenomenal than last year. It was a weird change of direction to shut down the computer and go straight off to work with my mind full of medley sets and nobody to talk about them, despite the droves of people (quite lovely people, for the most part) that I was waiting on all day.

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


And, before the screich o' day, to mangle the old song, the drums will beat. Well, no, not before daybreak in Scotland, but in the wee hours here, they'll be kicking off the World Pipe Band Championships. Last year's BBC stream was monumental, what with crystal-clear sound recording, informative and unobtrusive commentary, and some topnotch filming reaching computers all over the world. By all means, if you find yourself up before about 9am, PST, catch some of it here!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Episode 2

From the studio that brought you The Robert Louis Stevenson Silverado Museum, comes the next installment in the thrilling series How to Visit a Closed Historical Literary Site. I was in the Monterey area over the weekend and, of course, nothing would do but that I must find Stevenson House, yet another footprint of the author's California travels. Well in keeping with my methodology for visiting such sites, I was only nearby thanks to a Highland Games. . .and by the time Sunday's massed bands had finished, Stevenson House, which is only open for a few hours on Saturdays, had been closed for over 24 hours. Even the gate had a "closed" sign, if I might presume to interpret the heavy padlock, so I saw what I could of the gardens (Monterey gardens are unfailingly vibrant) by leaning over the fence. I am reasonably sure that whatever else one can blame Stevenson for, teaching pigeons to panhandle was not one of his offenses. Someone since his time, however, had implied to the pigeons of Houston Street that a flightless biped was an unfailing source of nourishment. They came trooping up to me over the grey, silent asphalt and looked much taken aback when I did not offer to stand them a round. I was busy staring at the windows and wondering, unpoetically, if RLS actually used to look through them, or if all the glass has been replaced.
The sign on the front of the building was marvelously economical, being both the old and the new titles of the place at one go, though again, I haven't the slightest as to whether the "original" sign is, in anything but name, the original; trivial things like paint do not endure salt Monterey seasons unscathed.
I'd had fair warning; I'd looked up the museum hours even before I left home, and I knew it wouldn't be working out to go inside this trip, but still I felt a little wistful. It is an odd thing, I know. There is the Bohemian Stevenson whose main purpose in California was a typically Bohemian love-affair, an at times irresponsible, and certainly impractical man, but somehow that's the same man who invented Alan Breck Stuart. I don't mean the historical character, of course; I mean the John Roy-like little hero who stole the show in Kidnapped. And that is what brings me to look at the outside of closed, fog-dulled buildings. I don't know if I was half as interested in knowing that Stevenson had looked out of the window (as much as I admire his writing) as I was in knowing that some minute spark of Alan Breck had once been there.

Saturday, August 7, 2010


A couple of the posts here last September mentioned Scottish fiddler Bruce MacGregor. Well, to mention him again, among his other projects, he's filmed a series of how-to videos on different aspects of fiddle technique. I s'pose they would naturally be of the most interest to fiddlers, but this bit on double stops where Mr. MacGregor takes a strathspey apart and puts it back together again by way of demonstration will probably be of just as much interest to anyone who appreciates a bit of drive in a strathspey.

The videos here have more on ornamentation and bowing.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Climbing Sunward

J. G. Magee, Jr.'s "High Flight" has been anthologised (I don't think I've seen a high school reader without it) and recited so many times that, perhaps, it can, by its familiarity, be taken for granted. A shame, that. It's such a perfect piece, not only in the artless, natural construction of the lines, but in its accomplishment of weaving, word by word, a scene so terrifyingly alive. It fills a mind full of sun and "windswept heights," to the point where it is no longer merely taking in polished words but, yes, flying. Impossibly high.

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

But No News is Good News, They Say

That is, I have little to relate, unless the discovery of a mantis in the delphiniums this afternoon counts as news. The middle shot might be an attempt at 50's-style Sci Fi. . .then again, it might be an accident.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Orfeo, Part II

Picking up where I left off last night, here's the libretto for L'Orfeo, from the website of a New York radio program called, "Here of a Sunday Morning." The libretto (Italian and English) is in .PDF, which takes a moment to open, of course, but it comes in handy if you want to go right to the pages corresponding to the arias in the link I put up last night. "Tu se' morta" is at the very bottom of page 6, "Possente spirto," at the top of page 9.

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

Orfeo, Part I

Once again, here's one to blame on the radio. Somebody deemed the classical station should broadcast Monteverdi's L'Orfeo a couple of weeks back, and I happened to be on the receiving end at the time. To wax very common about something uncommon, had I been wearing socks, it would have knocked them off. For the first time in my life, I fell madly in love with an opera.

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

Strings and All

In the course of picking up pipe tunes, you certainly run into a fair share of laments, for great folk like the Laird of Anapool (no matter if nobody knows who he was--he rated a fine piobaireachd!), and for small things like an infamously Little Supper. Piobaireachd, and even the pipes themselves aside, there are still numberless pieces that might be played or sung in sorrow at the passing of things that were, from the loss of a homeland ("Lochaber no More") to the loss of a love ("Colorado Trail"). But a lament for the art of shoemaking? Well, perhaps a traditional shoemaker, faced with the advent of the Industrial Revolution would indeed be inclined to write such a thing. Here Bruce Molsky gives his inimitable rendition of "Peg and Awl," accompanied by himself on fiddle and Darol Anger on viola.