Tuesday, March 31, 2015

J.S. Bach: All Music To "The Glory Of God And The Refreshment Of The Soul"

J.S. Bach                                      E.G. Haussman, Germany, 1746
In the summer of my ninth year our family moved from the small town we called home. We left not only familiar places but also family, including the large family at Mount Calvary Lutheran Church. The church had been baptizing members of my father's family for eighty years and I was one of them. Mount Calvary was also the place that introduced me to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. It helped to have an aunt as church organist and several aunts, uncles, and cousins in the choir. I thank them almost every day.

Birthday commemorations at Old Tybee Ranger usually begin with a bit of biographical information. In the case of Bach the music tells us all we really need to know.

Being that it is Holy Week, we begin with the opening chorus from Bach's Passion According to St. John, BWV 245:

Lord, thou our Governor, thou, whose fame 

In every nation glorious is, 
Show us through this thy Passion, 
That thou, the very Son of God, 
In every age, E'en in the greatest depths of woe,
Most glorious art become!

Here is a familiar piece attributed to Bach, Toccata & Fugue in D minor, BWV 565, performed by 17 year-old Dutch organist, Gert van Heof:

Canadian Glenn Gould was the most technically perfect interpreter of Bach's keyboard music in our lifetime. His approach was unique and not to everyone's preference. Gould was well-known for singing along while he performed. Here he is playing several of Bach's Goldberg Variations, BWV 988:

Finally here is the opening chorus from Bach's cantata, Wachet auf, rue uns die Stimme, BWV 140, also known as Sleepers Awake.

“Wake, arise,” loud call the voices 

of watchmen so high in the tower,

“Wake up, you town Jerusalem!”
Midnight’s hour is now approaching

They call to us with lucid voices: 

Where are the clever virgins now?

Behold, the bridegroom comes 

Rise up, your lanterns take! 

Prepare yourself 

For the wedding,
You must arise and go to him!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Palm Sunday 2015

Today is Palm Sunday, the last Sunday of Lent. On this day, Christians around the world will commemorate the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and the beginning of Holy Week.

All glory, laud, and honor to you Redeemer King,
To whom the lips of children made sweet hosannas ring.

You are the king of Israel and David's royal Son,
Now in the Lord's name coming, our King and Blessed One.

The company of angels are praising you on high;
Creation and all mortals in chorus make reply.

The multitude of pilgrims with palms before you went,
Our praise and prayer and anthems before you we present.

To you, before your Passion, they sang their hymns of praise.
To you, now high exalted, our melody we raise.

Their praises you accepted; accept the prayers we bring,
Great author of all goodness, all good and gracious King.

All glory, laud and honor to you, Redeemer King,
To whom the lips of children made sweet hosannas ring.

Theodulf of Orleans, 750/760-821

The Bible pictured above served my grandparents and parents well beginning around 1900. It's too fragile for use these days, but still holds almost a century of memorabilia, including a dozen or so treasured Palm Sunday crosses from my childhood.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Divine One In What Would Be Her 91st Year

At our house we enjoy the music channels as much as the video programming. The "Singers and Swing" channel in particular is one of our favorites and one of their singers we hear every day is the late, great Sarah Vaughan. Today marks the 91st anniversary of her birth in Newark, New Jersey. The introductory paragraph of her Wikipedia entry quotes the music critic, Scott Yanow, as saying she had "one of the most wondrous voices of the 20th century." With a three octave range, wonderful diction, and a sensuously rich voice she could wring every emotion out of a popular song or jazz number. When coupled with the greatest of songwriters from the first half of the 20th century I think she could be matched only by Ella Fitzgerald for her vocal magic and entertainment value. 

Vaughan passed away in 1990 and in the past twenty-five years we have the likes of Jane Monhoit, Diana Krall, Nancy LaMott, and others to carry on the jazz vocalist traditions. As I have said before we've come down a long way in what passes for popular music over the past generation. Of course, there are exceptions but for the most part real singing has become subordinate to other aspects of presentation, performance, and spectacle. And once more I ask the question, "Where is jazz, a genre birthed in the United States?" It is alive in many small markets across the country but it remains a small portfolio in the financial departments of our corporate music industry. The corporate bottom line drives the industry today and it drives some of our best musical talent into a parallel universe. These niches of excellence exist for those who want seek them out but it is far easier to succumb to the mediocrity forced upon the market by the accountants and their search for profit through the lowest common denominators in music.

Here are three examples of superb music sung by the Divine One at a time when professional musicians actually had a major roll in the industry management. Do enjoy. And do your best to support the American cultural phenomenon knows as jazz.  

Here is Vaughan and trumpeter, Clifford Brown, performing Lullaby of Birdland from their 1954 album, a recording entered into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.

In 1958 she recorded Misty with Quincy Jones and his orchestra. Misty was her signature song for many years.

By the early '70's this Sondheim classic displaced Misty as the Divine One's song.

Happy birthday, Sassy!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Tennessee Williams: Drama All The Way

Tennessee Williams in 1951

Tennessee Williams, a pillar of 20th century American drama, was born on this day in 1911. The Public Broadcasting Service's American Masters series online biography of Williams opens with this paragraph:

He was brilliant and prolific, breathing life and passion into such memorable characters as Blanche DuBois and Stanley Kowalski in his critically acclaimed A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE. And like them, he was troubled and self-destructive, an abuser of alcohol and drugs. He was awarded four Drama Critic Circle Awards, two Pulitzer Prizes and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He was derided by critics and blacklisted by Roman Catholic Cardinal Spellman, who condemned one of his scripts as “revolting, deplorable, morally repellent, offensive to Christian standards of decency.” He was Tennessee Williams, one of the greatest playwrights in American history.

Like most Americans, I know Willams only through his best play adaptations on film.  For me, the prolonged tension and violence he presented in virtually all of his work always had limited appeal. On the other hand watching Elizabeth Taylor cavorting in various stages of dress had its own set of production and entertainment values for a young teenager.  

Here is an Arts and Entertainment biography excerpt covering Williams's later years: 

The full American Masters article on Williams is available here.

Robert Frost: The Possibilities Of Roads And Snowy Evenings

Robert Frost in 1951

When I think of Robert Frost three memories come to mind. First, there is the poetry that was likely introduced into my elementary school classroom through The Road Not Taken, Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening, and Mending Wall. The vivid imagery in a small package was enough to catch even a young student's attention. The second memory is that of an old, long-faced man standing tall and capped with a mound of white hair. It's an appropriate image as Frost would have been well into his seventies by 1950. Despite his age he was quite a public figure in his later years. I remember seeing him on television many times. Finally, there is the old man standing at the Capitol on a bitter January day in 1961 attempting to read a poem written on the occasion of the presidential inauguration of John F. Kennedy. One could say his inability to complete the reading was an appropriate ending for a man who had led such a difficult life. In two years both Frost and Kennedy would be gone. 

The Academy of American Poets has this to say about Frost:

Though his work is principally associated with the life and landscape of New England—and though he was a poet of traditional verse forms and metrics who remained steadfastly aloof from the poetic movements and fashions of his time—Frost is anything but merely a regional poet. The author of searching and often dark meditations on universal themes, he is a quintessentially modern poet in his adherence to language as it is actually spoken, in the psychological complexity of his portraits, and in the degree to which his work is infused with layers of ambiguity and irony.

The full article is available  here.

It's difficult for me to believe that a poet I remember has been gone so long that several of his works are in the public domain. One of them is The Road Not Taken written in 1916.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Frost reading at John F. Kennedy inauguration in 1961

Top photo, Fred Palumbo, World Telegram staff photographer - Library of Congress. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection.
Bottom photo, B. Anthony Stewart/National Geographic/Getty

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Georgia's Flannery O'Connor

This week is an important one in the history of American literature. In the span of two days, it contains three birthdays, that of the poet, Robert Frost, the playwright and author, Tennessee Williams, and the outstanding fiction writer, Flannery O'Connor. Today we'll review O'Connor. 

Mary Flannery O'Connor, First Communion Day, 1932

She was born in Savannah on March 25, 1925, and spent her early childhood as a devout Catholic there in a home on Lafayette Square.  The square features moss-draped live oaks, colorful azaleas, and abundance of birds, all sitting in the shadows of the towering spires of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.   Things haven't changed much in this beautiful space. It still has its interesting spectrum of regular visitors: fast-walking pedestrians, lovers holding hand, lunch hour diners, retirees enjoying the benches, touring families, people waiting for the bus, runners and bikers, and playing children. And every day as they have for 120 years, the cathedral bells remind the people of God's grace and their obligations as His children. I think as long as you can visit Lafayette Square, say on a pleasant Sunday afternoon, you can know O'Connor well.

Her family moved to Atlanta in 1938, where her father was diagnosed with lupus, a chronic disease involving the destruction of healthy tissue by the body's immune system.  Soon after they moved 100 miles southeast to her mother's family home in Milledgeville.  When her father died in 1941, O'Connor moved a few miles north of town to her uncle's farm where she lived with her mother. Eventually, the farm would be called Andalusia, and it would become a refuge following her own diagnosis with lupus in 1950. At Andalusia, she would weave her experiences and memories of  people, ethics, morals, and religion into some of America's finest literature. 

O'Connor house at Andalusia 

At Andalusia she would write her novels, Wise Blood, and The Violent Bear It Away, along with scores of short stories published in two collections in her lifetime, A Good Man Is Hard To Find, and Everything That Rises Must Converge. Her Complete Stories appeared posthumously in 1971.

O'Connor's bedroom-office at Andalusia

In 1964 lupus took Flannery O'Connor from us in her 39th year. You can visit both her childhood home and Andalusia thanks to foundations that preserve the landscapes and memories she cherished. And, thanks to her, you can visit the South anytime by simply opening one of her books. 

Writers who see by the light of their Christian faith will have, in these times, the sharpest eye for the grotesque, for the perverse, and for the unacceptable. To the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures.


Childhood photo, Andalusia Farm, Inc. Photo courtesy of the Flannery O'Connor Collection,           Georgia College and State University, Milledgeville, Georgia.
House, deepsouthmagazine.com
Bedroom, photo courtesy of Emily Elizabeth Beck
Adult portrait, openculture.com

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Rite Of Spring Is Here!

We just finished our first full day of northern spring so here's some music to celebrate the season breaking upon us. It is Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring [Le Sacre du Printemps] for many years a personal favorite. Through the Internet we can enjoy the 1987 recreation of the dance originally choreographed for the piece's premiere in 1913. I'm not much of a dance fan but the historian in me - one who does enjoy early 20th century history and culture - thinks this is an interesting bit of entertainment.

I've written about The Rite of Spring before because it is so significant in the world of music over the last century. The ballet was remarkably innovative. Pandemonium erupted at its premiere in Paris. After all it was a strange mixture of weird music, strange dance, and human sacrifice. But Stravinsky's new and soon to be beloved music never stopped in his lifetime. In fact, the music you  just heard could have been written earlier this afternoon it is so fresh. And Stravinsky has been gone for more than forty springs.

Note that Parts Two and Three are available. Hope you enjoy all of it.  

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Sandhill Cranes - Soaring Overhead

It's been a warm week in Atlanta and that translates to afternoons on the patio. Several times the reading, sky-watching or quiet sunning has been pleasantly interrupted by the distant croaking of the last waves of Sandhill cranes pushing northwest to their summer habitats. Sandhills are enjoyable to watch with their shapely "v" or wide arced formations as well as their "kettling" or staging in uplifts as they to break out into formations. 

In our woodland setting they're almost always heard - "ka-rooo, ka-rooo, ka-rooo" - before seen, a situation that leaves us hoping they will fly over our clearing. Most of the time they do because they fly high, very high, sometimes a thousand feet or more. At those altitudes it's hard to imagine that you're watching a bird that may stand over four feet tall and soar on a near-seven foot wing span. 

GIF-Distribution Map

Lately, the resident populations of Sandhills have been growing in the south. Their permanent numbers in Georgia are estimated to be in the thousands. Those that do migrate over Georgia this time of year are headed to their breeding grounds from the Great Lakes to the southern shore of Hudson Bay.  Coming or going, they always bring a smile and leave us looking up for more.

Sandhill crane (Terry W. Johnson)

Top photo, ducks.org
Map, Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center, U.S. Geological Survey, npwrc.usgs.gov
Bottom photo, Wildlife Resources Division, Georgia Department of Natural Resources

Monday, March 16, 2015

Happy St. Patrick's Day 2015!

Happy St. Patrick's Day 2015

I could focus on the contemporary experience of St. Patrick's Day in the U.S. - the wearing of the green, the parades, the parties, the drinking songs. Instead I want to look back at the true meaning of the day, the religious aspects, that so often get lost in the worldly celebration. Of course, there's nothing wrong with celebration - we do live in the world - as long as it's done in moderation while we keep the origins of the day in mind. Enjoy.

If you do nothing else with this post, at least listen to the remarkably powerful hymn!

The Reverend Paul Prange, Chair of the Board for Ministerial Education, Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, has this to say about St. Patrick:

When it comes to St. Patrick, truth may be stranger than fiction.
Born in Scotland, he grew up as a Christian but was not too serious about his faith. His life changed suddenly at age sixteen when he was kidnapped by Irish pirates. For six years he labored as a slave, tending pigs and sheep. He began to value the Christian faith in which he had been raised. When he escaped from slavery, he made his way to the coast, got a job on a ship, and returned to his family in Scotland.
Back in Scotland, he could not get Ireland out of his mind. The love of Christ was compelling him to share with his former captors the promises of God that had come to mean so much to him while he lived among them. After studying the Bible for nearly 20 years, he went back to Ireland a free man, and he never left.
Patrick baptized thousands of people. He helped to organize congregations all over Ireland, and worked hard to train and ordain men to serve as ministers of the gospel. Among his converts were wealthy women who became Christians in the face of family opposition. He also dealt with the royal family of the time, instructing them in the truths of the faith.
It is very unlikely that he drove all of the snakes out of Ireland. He probably did not wear green all of the time. But the historical truths of his life are inspiring, and cause us to give thanks to God for faithful missionaries.


Today's music is St. Patrick's Breastplate, a 19th century hymn based on words attributed to him.

St. Patrick's Breastplate

I bind unto myself today
the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three.

I bind this day to me for ever,
by power of faith, Christ's Incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan river;
His death on cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb;
His riding up the heavenly way;
His coming at the day of doom:
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself today
the power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, his might to stay,
His ear to hearken, to my need;
the wisdom of my God to teach,
his hand to guide, his shield to ward;
the word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Christ be with me, 
Christ within me,
Christ behind me,
Christ before me,
Christ beside me,
Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort 
and restore me.

Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ in quiet,
Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of
all that love me,
Christ in mouth of 
friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself today
the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three.
Of whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
praise to the Lord of my salvation,
salvation is of Christ the Lord.

Our literary piece comes from the opening paragraphs of the Confession, one of two extant documents written by St. Patrick.  The translation from the Latin in by Ludwig Bieler.  

I am Patrick, a sinner, most unlearned, the least of all the faithful, and utterly despised by many. My father was Calpornius, a deacon, son of Potitus, a priest, of the village Bannavem Taburniæ; he had a country seat nearby, and there I was taken captive.
I was then about sixteen years of age. I did not know the true God. I was taken into captivity to Ireland with many thousands of people---and deservedly so, because we turned away from God, and did not keep His commandments, and did not obey our priests, who used to remind us of our salvation. And the Lord brought over us the wrath of his anger and scattered us among many nations, even unto the utmost part of the earth, where now my littleness is placed among strangers.
And there the Lord opened the sense of my unbelief that I might at last remember my sins and be converted with all my heart to the Lord my God, who had regard for my abjection, and mercy on my youth and ignorance, and watched over me before I knew Him, and before I was able to distinguish between good and evil, and guarded me, and comforted me as would a father his son.
Hence I cannot be silent---nor, indeed, is it expedient---about the great benefits and the great grace which the lord has deigned to bestow upon me in the land of my captivity; for this we can give to God in return after having been chastened by Him, to exalt and praise His wonders before every nation that is anywhere under the heaven.
Because there is no other God, nor ever was, nor will be, than God the Father unbegotten, without beginning, from whom is all beginning, the Lord of the universe, as we have been taught; and His son Jesus Christ, whom we declare to have always been with the Father, spiritually and ineffably begotten by the Father before the beginning of the world, before all beginning; and by Him are made all things visible and invisible. He was made man, and, having defeated death, was received into heaven by the Father; and He hath given Him all power over all names in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue shall confess to Him that Jesus Christ is Lord and God, in whom we believe, and whose advent we expect soon to be, judge of the living and of the dead, who will render to every man according to his deeds; and He has poured forth upon us abundantly the Holy Spirit, the gift and pledge of immortality, who makes those who believe and obey sons of God and joint heirs with Christ; and Him do we confess and adore, one God in the Trinity of the Holy Name.
For He Himself has said through the Prophet: Call upon me in the day of thy trouble, and I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me. And again He says: It is honourable to reveal and confess the works of God.
Although I am imperfect in many things, I nevertheless wish that my brethren and kinsmen should know what sort of person I am, so that they may understand my heart's desire.
And so I should dread exceedingly, with fear and trembling, this sentence on that day when no one will be able to escape or hide, but we all, without exception, shall have to give an account even of our smallest sins before the judgement of the Lord Christ.

Here is a link to the remaining eight pages describing his journey from slave to missionary.

Photo, oca.org
Prange comment, welslutherans site, Facebook
Confessions, catholicplanet.com

A St. Patrick's Day Countdown - Day 1

In the late 19th century the Arbuckle Bros. Coffee Company of New York began issuing themed advertising cards in series to increase its business. I have over 300 of these cards that were collected by my ancestors over two generations. The company issued three cards with Irish themes and I'm pleased to post two of them in our St. Patrick's Day countdown. The first one appeared in the National Geographical Series and did not have descriptive information on the reverse. The description below was issued with the card in the company's special promotional booklet entitled, Arbuckles' Illustrated Atlas of Fifty Principal Nations of the World [1889].

IRELAND, known to the Greeks by the name Ierne (Erin) and to the Romans by the name Hibernia, is the second largest of the British Isles, and is washed on the N. W. and S. sides by the Atlantic Oceand and separated from Great Britain by the N. Channel, the Irish Sea and St. George's Channel. Dublin, the capital, first mentioned by Ptolemy, is one of the finest cities in the Empire, and is situated at the head of Dublin Bay. A Lord Lieutenant is head of the executive government, and is assisted by a Privy Council and Chief Secretary.
Area, 32,531 square miles; population 1881, 5,174,836. Between 1853 and 1889 2,289,735 Irish emigrants landed in the United States.
The great central portion of Ireland is flat, and not less than 2,830,000 acres is bog, but much of the soil is of singular fertility. The climate is milder and moister than that of Great Britain, and clothes the plains and valleys with the richest pasture, procuring for Ireland the name of the Emerald Isle. The coast inlets, called Loughs, are many and of great extent. The lakes of Killarney, three in number, in Kerry, and under shadow of the loftiest mountains in the island, are widely famed for their romantic beauty. The chief crops are wheat, barley, oats, potatoes, beans, peas. The live stock comprises horses, cattle, sheep and pigs. The most important manufacture is that of linen. Other industries are muslin sewing, lace making and woolen and worsted goods. There is a considerable amount of whisky distilling and porter brewing. The Shamrock (trefoil) is the national badge of Ireland.

Our second card comes from the Sports and Pastimes of all Nations Series. I think you'll enjoy the description from the reverse.

THE Emerald Isle from time immemorial has been the home of merry sport and gladsome enjoyment. Its people are hotheaded and quick to resent offence, generous to a fault, and forgiving to a degree, superstitious, devout and easy going.
The celebration of Hallowe'en, the 31st of October is a festivity that is looked forward to with keenest anticipation by all the young people of Ireland. Numerous are the games played. For instance apples are placed in a tub of water and each in turn tries to pick one out with his teeth. If successful it predicted luck in matters of love.
Another Hallowe'en game is Apple and Candle. On a stick 18 inches long, an apple is fastened at one end, and a lighted candle at the other. The stick is suspended from the ceiling by a string and then the string is swung backward and forward, while the players one by one try to catch the apple in their teeth.
Who shall describe the Irish jig. Into its engaging movements and attractive energy is infused much of the national spirit.
A peculiar sport of the Irish, and one very characteristic of the humor of the race is that of the "Greased Pig." Such an animal is anointed so that his hide is extremely slippery. He is then started to run amuck through the ranks of those participating in the play. These attempt to catch and hold his pigship with their hands--a difficult task. He who succeeds, walks off with the prize the squealing cause of the tumult and hilarity.
The Irish are famous boxers. Boxing is the art of using those natural weapons--the hands, in assault and defence. To be a good boxer one must be quick of eye, self-possessed, ready of device, agile and good-tempered.

There is no shortage of traditional Irish music and we're happy to continue enjoying it with this post of The Dubliners' definitive version of the 17th century song, Whiskey In The Jar:

We conclude with another Irish literature quiz. Can you name the author? The book title?

Andreas put his hand up to shade his eyes and, at the same time, a cloud passed overhead. It wasn’t as clear as it had been before. He must indeed have been mistaken. But now he must pull himself together. He had a restaurant to run. If people came all the way up the hilly path, they would not want to find a mad man, someone crazed by the sun fancying disasters in a peaceful Greek village.

He continued fixing the red and green plastic-covered cloths with little clips to the long wooden tables on the terrace outside his taverna. This would be a hot day, with plenty of visitors at lunch time. He had laboriously written the menu on the blackboard. He often wondered why he did it... it was the same food every day. But the visitors liked it; and he would put ‘Welcome’ in six languages. They liked that too.

The food was not special. Nothing they could not have got in two dozen other little tavernas. There was souvlaki, the lamb kebabs. Well, goat kebabs really, but the visitors liked to think they were lamb. And there was moussakas, warm and glutinous in its big pie dish. There were the big bowls of salad, white squares of salty feta cheese and lush red tomatoes. There were the racks of barbouni, the red mullet waiting to be grilled, the swordfish steaks. There were the big steel trays of desserts in the fridge, kataïfi and baklava, nuts honey and pastry. The chilled cabinets of retsina and local wines. Why else did people come to Greece? People came from all over the world and loved what Andreas, and dozens like him, could provide.

He always recognised the nationality of any visitor to Aghia Anna and could greet them in a few words of their own language. It was like a game to him now, after years of knowing the way people walked and reading their body language.


Sunday, March 15, 2015

A St. Patrick's Day Countdown - Day 2

Our literary segment today comes from the pen of C. S. Lewis who was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1898 but spent most of his life in England beginning in 1916 with his admission to University College, Oxford. He never lost touch with what he called "my Irish life" visiting Belfast at every opportunity, maintaining a wide circle of Irish friendships and studying Celtic history and culture. 

The Meteorite

Among the hills a meteorite
Lies huge; and moss has overgrown,
And wind and rain with touches light
Made soft, the contours of the stone.

Thus easily can Earth digest
A cinder of sidereal fire,
And make her translunary guest
The native of an English shire.

Nor is it strange these wanderers
Find in her lap their fitting place,
For every particle that's hers
Came at the first from outer space.

All that is Earth has once been sky;
Down from the sun of old she came,
Or from some star that travelled by
Too close to his entangling flame.

Hence, if belated drops yet fall
From heaven, on these her plastic power
Still works as once it worked on all
The glad rush of the golden shower.

Music for the day is by the late musician and composer, Derek Bell, whose life was as interesting as his performances were beautiful. Bell was a musical prodigy and a master of the Irish harp and hammered dulcimer. Many readers may recognize his name through his association with the traditional Irish band, The Chieftains.  The first fifteen selections are of Irish or Celtic origin.

The following quote from harpspectrums.org tells the story of Bell's almost accidental associations with both the harp and The Chieftans. 

Harpo Marx playing the harp in the movies was Belfast native Derek Bell’s first acquaintance with the instrument, but it wasn’t until well after graduation from London’s Royal College of Music in oboe, piano and composition that Derek actually learned to play one. And even that was rather by accident. After a while in his job as manager of the Belfast Symphony Orchestra, where one of his tasks was keeping the harps tuned and maintained, he decided to learn to play them. He took his first lessons from Sheila Larchet-Cuthbert, and within a year or so, in 1965, became principal oboist and harpist with the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra. As well, he began researching old brass-strung baroque Irish harps, and then writing arrangements.
In 1972 Derek, dressed in proper costume, played as Turlough O’Carolan in a St. Patrick’s Day radio commemoration of the 18th century blind harper. The musicians consisted of solo Irish harp, a baroque string orchestra, and a line of solo Irish folk instrumentalists calling themselves The Chieftains, including Paddy Moloney, with whom Derek was to become best friends. On the program was ‘Carolan’s Concerto’. In 1975 Derek joined the band as a full-time member, playing harp, piano, and various percussion instruments, meanwhile continuing his classical composing career and recording many solo albums.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Murder Kroger: Where "Shop 'Til You Drop" Is Frighteningly Real

In the thirty or so years our family has lived in metro Atlanta, I've had a few opportunities to drive past the Kroger on Ponce de Leon Avenue between North Avenue at Somerset Place. It's known as Murder Kroger. The site is a few blocks from the Carter Center and a ten minute walk from Piedmont Park and the tony Mid-Town district on Peachtree Street. 

The store opened in the mid-'80's in response to tax incentives and a vast urban renewal project including new residential space in a former Ford Motor plant. Over its near thirty year history the neighborhood has witnessed increasing gentrification along with new shops, bars, restaurants ,and recreational opportunities on the recently opened Atlanta Beltline Trail. That seems to have made little difference in one statistic; that is, crime. And the crime of interest is murder. The first killing occurred in the parking lot in 1991. A murder victim was found locked inside a car in the parking lot in 2002. Another victim was found just off the parking lot in 2012. Four days ago, a man was killed next to the building confronting thieves breaking into his car. It's not clear precisely when the moniker, "Murder Kroger" came about, but it has been well-earned at a tragic cost. And it is a tragedy that a place can be known by such a name.   It is as if we have come to accept Murder Kroger as a norm.  It does, after all, have a Facebook page ,  fan club,  tee-shirt, Twitter account (posted by Freddy Kroger), and a song: 

Down on Ponce where the call girls roam
and the homeless trannies won't leave you alone
just a block or so past the Clermont Lounge
sits the deadliest grocery store in town
it's a good place to go if you wanna buy crack
but if you go there for groceries you may never come back

Its murder
Murder Kroger
Its murder
Murder Kroger

It's a grocery store with a deadly twist
You'll get shot in the head for your shopping list
Murder Kroger

It's the worst place to shop in all of Atlanta
you could lose your life over a twelve pack of Fanta
if you leave your car don't forget your mace
unless you wanna get stabbed in the face
by an angry bum with a switchblade knife
I hope those hot pockets were worth your life

It's murder

Murder Kroger
Murder Kroger

The odds are good you won't come back alive
and your friends will all hear about it on Fox 5
Murder Kroger

It's Murder Kroger
It's Murder Kroger
Murder Kroger

It's a grocery store with a deadly twist
You'll get shot in the head for your shopping list

It's Murder Kroger
It's Murder Kroger
Murder Kroger

The odds are good you won't come back alive
and your friends will all hear about it on Fox 5
Murder Kroger

Murder Kroger has tried to rebrand itself as the Beltline Kroger. It no longer sits in a "bad" neighborhood but murder was there in 1991 and it's there today. I don't know if the store will ever overcome it's past. I don't fully know what such a store and its culture says about us. I do know with certainty it is a well-known landmark, quirky, bizarre, and somewhat risky. 

A St. Patrick's Day Countdown - Day 3

On to the final days of our St. Patrick's Day countdown! We've examined some of the places and symbols of Ireland and this 1910 postcard features another one, the Green Harp Flag. 

For today's music we look to Ireland not as a source but as a venue for one of the world's most beloved compositions, Messiah.  George Frederic Handel composed his oratorio in London in less than four weeks. He chose Dublin as the site of the premiere because his works in the past year had met with a mediocre reception in London. On April 13, 1742 Messiah was greeted enthusiastically at its first performance. That enthusiasm spread quickly to London and throughout the western world. Here is the version of the Hallelujah chorus as it was performed in Dublin in 1742.

Our Irish literature question for the day is a simple directive, one of my favorites:

Hold to the now, the here, through which all future plunges to the past.

Can you name the author?  The book?  And an extra pint next Tuesday if you know who speaks the line.

Friday, March 13, 2015

A Saint Patrick's Day Countdown - Day 4

Here is today's piece of Irish literature, a well-read piece it is. Name the author and title and I promise to share a pint with you on the about to be mentioned shore.  

...I often let my legs drop, and could feel no bottom; but when I was almost gone, and able to struggle no longer, I found myself within my depth; and by this time the storm was much abated. The declivity was so small, that I walked near a mile before I got to the shore, which I conjectured was about eight o’clock in the evening. I then advanced forward near half a mile, but could not discover any sign of houses or inhabitants; at least I was in so weak a condition, that I did not observe them. I was extremely tired, and with that, and the heat of the weather, and about half a pint of brandy that I drank as I left the ship, I found myself much inclined to sleep. I lay down on the grass, which was very short and soft, where I slept sounder than ever I remembered to have done in my life, and, as I reckoned, about nine hours; for when I awaked, it was just day-light. I attempted to rise, but was not able to stir....

Music for the day comes from Clannad, the well-known Irish family band from County Donegal. The group got its international exposure from a theme song composed for the 1982 British serial based on Gerald Seymour's novel, Harry's Game. This work of historical fiction explores British espionage during the Irish Republican Army uprising beginning in 1969. The following video features the song as well as the story behind the Theme From Harry's Game as told by members of Clannad.

The lyric is based on an ancient Galway text. The translation from Gaelic reads:

I will go east and go west
From whence came the moon and the sun

Fol lol the doh, fol the day
Fol the doh, fol the day

The moon and the sun will go
And the young man with the reputation behind him

Fol lol the doh, fol the day 
Fol the doh, fol the day
Fol lol the doh, fol the day
Fol the doh, fol the day

I will go wherever he came from
The young man with his reputation behind him

Fol lol the doh, fol the day
Fol the doh, fol the day

Thursday, March 12, 2015

A St. Patrick's Day Countdown - Day 5

Ireland is home to the earliest works written in a local language in Western Europe. Much of that early literature featured mythological themes in the form of chants, songs, and poems. The tradition there is a long one covering perhaps 1500 years. Here is a short poem from our time written by William Butler Yeats, Ireland's Nobel Prize-winning literary icon. Indeed, the past is never far from the present...or the future.

To the Rose Upon the Rood of Time

Red Rose, proud Rose, sad Rose of all my days!
Come near me, while I sing the ancient ways:
Cuchulain battling with the bitter tide;
The Druid, grey, wood-nurtured, quiet-eyed,
Who cast round Fergus dreams, and ruin untold;
And thine own sadness, where of stars, grown old
In dancing silver-sandalled on the sea,
Sing in their high and lonely melody.
Come near, that no more blinded hy man's fate,
I find under the boughs of love and hate,
In all poor foolish things that live a day,
Eternal beauty wandering on her way.

Come near, come near, come near - Ah, leave me still
A little space for the rose-breath to fill!
Lest I no more bear common things that crave;
The weak worm hiding down in its small cave,
The field-mouse running by me in the grass,
And heavy mortal hopes that toil and pass;
But seek alone to hear the strange things said
By God to the bright hearts of those long dead,
And learn to chaunt a tongue men do not know.
Come near; I would, before my time to go,
Sing of old Eire and the ancient ways:
Red Rose, proud Rose, sad Rose of all my days.

Music for the day comes from the pen of Charles V. Stanford, an Irishman often credited with the British music renaissance of the early 20th century. The selection is the first ten minutes - one of two parts - of his Irish Rhapsody No. 1, Op. 78

Yeats poem, The Literature Network, www.online-literature.com

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A St. Patrick's Day Countdown - Day 6

Bring my pipe and fill its bowl,
That I may puff to sooth my soul.
For it is sure to clear my brain,
And bring old memories back again.

Our music for the day comes from the Irish Rovers. For the last fifty years they toured the world with their ballads. In 2015-16 they will carry out their last world tour. The members live in both Canada and Ireland and intend to keep the Rover sound alive by attending music festivals and special events. 

And now it's time for an excerpt from the rich tradition of Irish literature. If you know the author and book title you can have an extra pint of Guinness next Tuesday.

...I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish Wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.