Thursday, June 4, 2020

The hope I dreamed of was a dream,
Was but a dream; and now I wake
Exceeding comfortless, and worn, and old,
For a dream's sake.

I hang my harp upon a tree,
A weeping willow in a lake;
I hang my silenced harp there, wrung and snapt
For a dream's sake.

Lie still, lie still, my breaking heart;
My silent heart, lie still and break:
Life, and the world, and mine own self, are changed
For a dream's sake.

Christina Rossetti

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

“Come away, death”

Come away, come away, death,
And in sad cypress let me be laid.
Fly away, fly away, breath;
I am slain by a fair cruel maid.
My shroud of white, stuck all with yew,
O, prepare it!
My part of death, no one so true
Did share it.

Not a flower, not a flower sweet,
On my black coffin let there be strown.
Not a friend, not a friend greet
My poor corpse, where my bones shall be thrown.
A thousand thousand sighs to save,
Lay me, O, where
Sad true lover never find my grave,
To weep there!

— William Shakespeare, from Twelfth Night, II:4

I have long felt a connection with this text, and it moves me so much that I try to keep it shut away.  (Like this one.) But a few days ago, in a Shakespeare-themed choral concert, I performed in a most poignant setting by Erik Nielsen, and it still haunts me, words and music. I wish I could forget it.

Monday, November 14, 2016

“As the bird sings”

“I would like to paint as the bird sings…I would like to prevent one from seeing how it is done.”
— Claude Monet (French, 14 November 1840 - 5 December 1926)

Claude Monet (1840-1926), The Magpie (La Pie), oil on canvas, painted 1868-1869. Musée d'Orsay, Paris. Painted en plein air near Étretat in Normandy. [frissons of recollection of Étretat and the Musée d'Orsay]

Source of quote: Maurice Guillemot in Steven Z. Levine’s Monet, Narcissus, and Self-Reflection: The Modernist Myth of the Self, University of Chicago Press, 1995, page 177.

Monday, August 8, 2016

“When I can look Life in the eyes”

When I can look Life in the eyes,
Grown calm and very coldly wise,
Life will have given me the Truth,
And taken in exchange---my youth.

— Sara Teasdale, American poet (8 Aug 1884-1933)

Friday, July 8, 2016

“When the darkness sets in”

“People are like stained glass windows: they sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light within.”

—Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, psychiatrist and author (8 Jul 1926-2004)

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Florida foliage

D and I recently enjoyed a road trip to Sarasota, with a quick two-day dash down, and a more leisurely five-day drive back. At a fundraising event in February, we had won a week at a condo in Sarasota, and we built a nice little trip around that windfall. It was a very relaxing vacation; unlike our most recent big trip (2014 choral tour to Paris!), this time we had no commitments, no schedule except as defined by our week at the condo, and no obligations except to each other. D grew up in Sarasota (on Siesta Key), and was interested in having a look. We’ve been to Sarasota a few times over the years, but never for such an extended period. In the weeks leading up to the trip, we did some research so we could make the most of our time while there. Cycling is always D’s first priority, so he called a local bike shop to see about group rides, and he hit the jackpot – there were group rides every day of the week, mostly in the very early morning, and most of them of the race-pace type of ride that he prefers. Of course, I was looking forward to birding in Florida, and hoped to add a few birds to my nonexistent life list. (I don’t maintain a list, except in my head, where I do know what I have, and have not, seen.) I’ll save bird photos for some future posts.

Of course, the tropical foliage is altogether different from what we have here in New England, and I was entranced by the sheer variety of colors, textures of the plants, shrubs, vines, and flowers. Here are a few photos of foliage that caught my eye. I think all of these are native plants. (We also visited a botanical garden with exotics; I’ll write about that in a separate post.). The photos shown here are from Sarasota and the surrounding area, including Myakka River State Park (FL), as well as from natural areas in South Carolina and North Carolina where we stopped on our way home.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

"The kingdom of music"

“The kingdom of music is not the kingdom of this world; it will accept those whom breeding and intellect and culture have alike rejected. The commonplace person begins to play, and shoots into the empyrean without effort, whilst we look up, marvelling how he has escaped us, and thinking how we could worship him and love him, would he but translate his visions into human words, and his experiences into human actions. Perhaps he cannot; certainly he does not, or does so very seldom. … Like every true performer, she was intoxicated by the mere feel of the notes: they were fingers caressing her own; and by touch, not by sound alone, did she come to her desire.”

― E.M. Forster (1879-1970), A Room with a View

Sunday, May 22, 2016


While reading about Plum Island (Mass.) just now, I remembered a short but wonderful visit that D and I made there last summer. Here is one of the scenes we enjoyed:

I’ve noticed that in many of my photos, I’ve unconsciously framed the shots so that they reveal converging (or diverging) angles. Here, a series of converging lines are formed by the horizon (top of the water), the “border” between the sand and water, and the ascending progression of vegetation.

Here’s a similar convergence in a photo taken on a frigid day last winter at the Quabbin Reservoir:

Something about these angles and proportions appeals to me. 

Images © 2016 Quodlibet. All rights reserved. Duplication or republication in any format is prohibited without express permission.

“Language is as real”

“Language is as real, as tangible in our lives, as streets, pipelines, telephone switchboards, microwaves, radioactivity, cloning laboratories, nuclear power stations.”

— Adrienne Rich, American writer (1929-2012)

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Hoffmann on Beethoven: “The essence of romanticism”

My notes indicate that some time ago, during a conversation about music (including, apparently, Beethoven), I had sent these quotes to K:

“Music reveals to man an unknown realm, a world quite separate from the outer sensual world surrounding him, a world in which he leaves behind all precise feelings in order to embrace an inexpressible longing.”


“Beethoven’s music sets in motion the machinery of awe, of fear, of terror, of pain, and awakens that infinite yearning which is the essence of romanticism. He is therefore a purely romantic composer.”

At the top, I had written in all caps one word: TRUTH.

I can’t recall the conversation, or what inspired me to find and send those snippets. In any case, their wisdom persists. Their origin, of course, is E.T.A. Hoffmann’s justly-famous review of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016


[originally published 5/10/16]

[An ensemble in which I used to sing] requires quadrennial re-auditions for each of its members, and this spring, all Soprano Is and Tenor Is will have to re-audition in order to maintain membership. I had my audition last night. I’ve been in the [ensemble] for ten years, and have re-auditioned twice, so this was my third go-round. The process is fine, and gives everyone – singers and leadership – an opportunity to reassess membership.

Friday, May 6, 2016

"Aesthetic surplus"? Or the highest expression of his piety?

This morning, a musical colleague forwarded an interesting article about JSB from today’s issue of the Wall Street Journal. The author, Markus Rathey (professor of music history at Yale University and president of the American Bach Society) reflects on the profound differences between the way Bach’s sacred works are heard in modern times (that is, in concert) compared to when they were presented as originally intended (that is, during worship services). This is nothing new; these differences are well known to Bach scholars, Bach performers, and Bach lovers, and necessarily inform many aspects of presentation and interpretation of JSB’s sacred works.

I was surprised however, that Rathey used most of his allotted word count to speculate on the idea that “We don’t know much about Bach’s own faith.” Here’s what he said, in part:

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

“You're chosen to be a poet"

“You choose to be a novelist, but you’re chosen to be a poet. This is a gift and it’s a tremendous responsibility. You have to be willing to give something terribly intimate and secret of yourself to the world and not care, because you have to believe that what you have to say is important enough.”

—May Sarton, Belgian-American poet, novelist, and memoirist (May 3 1912-1995)

Reading these words of May Sarton forces me to recall the many poems I wrote several years ago, during a very dark period of my life.

Monday, May 2, 2016


I subscribe to several email services by which I receive daily doses of art and cultural history. Each day I learn new vocabulary, read a poem, look at (and learn about) a piece of art, enjoy snippets of literary and music history, etc. Many of these bits and bobs are connected to the date – “On this date in [fill in the year,] such-and-such happened.] Together these are a nice way to start the day.

Much of what I read is new to me, but of course, much of it is familiar, too. Sometimes I skip over the topics I already know about, but sometimes I read the familiar pieces with close attention if they are favorite topics. Such as Mozart.

Yesterday’s edition of The Writer’s Almanac included a feature about the premiere of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro on May 1, 1786 in Vienna. The article included the usual stuff about Beaumarchais, political tensions, da Ponte, and Emperor Joseph’s famous edict about excessive encores. But two items caught my attention and made me wonder who had researched and written — and edited — this little essay.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Common Knowledge

In recent weeks, I’ve been thinking of our relationship to our natural world, and in particular, how we have lost so much knowledge about how nature “works.” This, combined with what seems to be some sort of modern fastidiousness about what is “ugly” in nature, and misplaced fear (born of ignorance) about animals and natural phenomena, underlies much destructive behavior. The results of this disconnect are really distressing. Our common knowledge about the natural world has evaporated.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

"A fresh seed"

“A new word is like a fresh seed sown on the ground of the discussion.”
—Ludwig Wittgenstein, Viennese philosopher (26 Apr 1889-1951)

Sunday, April 24, 2016

“Was ever anything so civil?”

“What on earth could be more luxurious than a sofa, a book, and a cup of coffee?...Was ever anything so civil?”
—Anthony Trollope, English author (1815-1882), from The Warden

Oh, how I love Trollope’s Barsetshire series! I knew nothing of it when, years ago, I picked the slim and slight-seeming novella The Warden, the first of the six novels that comprise the series. I knew The Warden to be about a choirmaster in the Anglican Church in the mid-19th century, but I never imagined what a wonderful world it would open up to me. Each of the novels is wonderful, though The Warden and Barchester Towers will always be my favorites. And of course of course, the BBC  dramatization known as The Barchester Chronicles is perfect – perfect in its casting, costumes, settings, and most of all for capturing Trollope’s razor-sharp satire of the Church, tempered by many comic moments and a tender affection for the characters that people these novels. And any dramatization that brings together Alan Rickman, Nigel Hawthorne, Geraldine McEwan, and Donald Pleasance has got to be worth watching.

My pleasure in the Barsetshire novels led me on to the Palliser series, and to several other novels in Trollope’s oeuvre, all of which I read (and re-read) with great pleasure. Someday I will read them all.

In honor of Trollope’s 201st birth anniversary, which is today, April 24, I will watch the Barchester Chronicles again as I prepare dinner.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Renewing their Vows

Almost exactly two years ago, I wrote about the feeding rituals that Northern Cardinals display in the spring. Cardinals mate for life, and each spring they use specific feeding behaviors to refresh and strengthen their pair bonds. Read the whole thing here:

This year, the Cardinals that nest in and around our yard have been displaying this behavior since January – much earlier than I’ve seen before. Here’s a pretty pair that was having a breakfast date on our deck this morning:

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Choir Moon

Choir Moon
© Quodlibet 2016 All rights reserved

I’m always in a rather exalted state after choir rehearsals. Not exalted as in above it all, not elevated, not superior, but exalted as in expanded, brightened, and feeling somewhat unearthly. Not unearthly as in heavenly, but unearthly as in not of the earth.

“No net ensnares me”

Charlotte Brontë was born on this date in 1816 – exactly 200 years ago. That’s reason enough to write about one of my favorite novels, her Jane Eyre. Since I first read it at about the age of twelve, Jane Eyre has been a sort of touchstone in my life. I’ve probably read it twenty times or more, and in fact I enjoyed another survey of its pages just a few months ago.

“Every genuine thing retains this tone”

Thoreau on birdsong:

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Gaze Not on Swans

April is National Poetry Month, so here's a poem. But why limit your enjoyment of poetry to any particular month, or day, or hour? Find a poem to enjoy any time it pleaseth thou so to do.


[During the time when I was unable to update this blog, I set aside many drafts, topics, and items of interest to write about later. Among the items I saved were responses that I had posted to ChoralNet in response to questions from other members of that forum. Here’s one of those Q&A items, edited slightly for publication here.]


Question: How important/necessary is it to have an encore prepared for a choral concert?  We have a tradition of closing our Christmas concert with a piece about peace, which is usually fairly quiet and contemplative.  I have difficulty finding a suitable encore, and sometimes wonder if it’s really necessary.  Is it perhaps better to send the audience out with peaceful sounds, and just conclude with the applause and the presentation of flowers, etc.?  Would the audience feel cheated?  What is your practice and your experience?

My Answer:

Scientists “Discover” Forgotten Human Knowledge

Excerpts from a research summary published in the Washington Post:

Living closer to nature is better for your health, new research suggests — and may even extend your life.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Wine Moms

Via K, who showed in her tagging which one she thinks I am. She’s right, of course. <3

Monday, April 18, 2016

Resting Shopping Face

The other day as I was doing the grocery shopping, I moved up and down the aisles, deep in thought about several pressing problems – some personal, some professional, some musical. I was by myself, and busy with my thoughts about shopping (check prices, ingredients) and the various issues on my mind.


I guess I’ve reached the point in my life where it’s easier, and sometimes a better choice, to stop caring so much about things. What is gained by investing emotionally or intellectually? What difference is made? Not much that I can see. Investment implies a return, and where there is no return, or where there is a negative result, it is wiser not to invest.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Not Excited

I finally have gotten the strength to confront this blog and delete delete delete anything related to my association with certain choral ensembles and their directors, since it just makes me sad.

Some of the essays are, I think and hope, valuable in and of themselves, so I've edited many of them to delete references to those ensembles and persons.

Ooh, just found this in my draft folder - what the hell. It's a few years old, but it's a perfect example of how even the highest standards for a choir mean nothing if there is no follow-up to hold people accountable. And how the double standards and inconsistency can breed discontent and resentment among those who do invest in doing the right thing. It used to matter to me, I guess. Funny how angry I was, when in the end it did not matter at all.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Everybody goes Awww!

Why do I so love the paintings of Jackson Pollock? I suppose it doesn’t really matter why, only that I do.


What are these four Blue Jays up to?

Storytelling and Religion

Yesterday, in the context of writing about Galileo, I explored a few ideas about free thought. This morning, when browsing through some unfinished essays, I found the following fragment, which seems substantial enough to publish on its own. I wrote this a few years back in response to an online discussion about how religion consists merely of stories but relies on the ability (?) of people to accept the stories as real.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Free Thinking

It was on this date in 1633, April 12, that the Italian astronomer, mathematician, engineer and philosopher, Galileo Galilei (1564-1662) was brought to trial by the Inquisition. Of course, Galileo’s heliocentric theories, observations, and assertions undermined the geocentric perspective that had originated with interpretations of the Bible, so the Roman Catholic Church couldn’t allow that sort of free-thinking.* He was eventually found guilty of heresy and was forced to spend the remainder of his long life under house arrest.

English novelist and poet Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) offered this observation: “If Galileo had said in verse that the world moved, the inquisition might have let him alone.”

* Think for a moment, about that concept – free thinking. If our thinking is not free, what is it? Bound? Constricted? Limited? Why would anyone choose to be limited in thought, in the exercise of the brain, the act that most profoundly defines us as individuals? To what end? Religions that suppress and punish free thought are dangerous and anti-human. Where would we be today without the benefits of ideas from the scientists, poets, artists, musicians, humanists, leaders, and regular people who have enriched, enlightened, and elevated our lives? 

Portrait of Galileo Galilei (1636) by Justus Sustermans (1587-1681). This is a copy by Niccolo Cecconi (1835-1902) of Sustermans’ original, which had been painted during the period of Galileo’s house arrest. Sustermans’ portrait hangs in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence; Cecconi’s version is held by the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

Monday, April 11, 2016


The rain rained
The wind wound
The night blew
With a blowing sound

What did I fear
In the blowing night?
The darkest dark? or
The flash of light?

Much is hidden
In the dark
Much revealed
By lightning’s spark

Though darkness
yet appeals to me
the day reveals
what I must see

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Subtle Lunacy

Did I write this?

While clearing and cleaning and classifying this afternoon I found a folder marked “Miscellaneous” – oh, that label is like unexploded ordinance, unearthed while cleaning the yard after a long and messy winter. I opened the folder, afraid to the point of stomach-churning nausea at what I might find inside


Monday, February 1, 2016

Someday maybe I'll get in there

Seems rather calm dark quiet
My childhood fantasy dream was to be able to get into a drawer and close it from the inside and no one would know I was in there
I'm too big to fit into a drawer now
But a closet might do

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Call Away

Grasses in the Back Meadow, September 2013
Image © Quodlibet, 2013. All rights reserved

The Call Away
by Robert Bly
A cold wind flows over the cornfields;
Fleets of blackbirds ride that ocean.
I want to be out of here, go out,
Outdoors, anywhere in wind.

My back against a shed wall, I settle
Down where no one can find me.
I stare out at the box-elder leaves
Moving frond-like in that mysterious water.

What is it that I want? Not money,
Not a large desk, not a house with ten rooms.
This is what I want to do: to sit here,
To take no part, to be called away by wind.

I want to go the new way, build a shack
With one door, sit against the door frame.
After twenty years, you will see on my face
The same expression you see in the grass.

"The Call Away" by Robert Bly (American, b. 1926) from Like the New Moon, I Will Live My Life. © White Pine Press, 2015

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Possible Sapsucker Hybrid?

As a fairly dedicated “patch” birder (read more about that here), I don’t travel specifically to look for birds, though I will take advantage of errands and longer trips to bird whenever I can. During the winter, especially, I enjoy just seeing what shows up at the feeders.

I was delighted when Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers stopped at our suet feeder in October 2006 and again in 2007, most likely migrating birds. None came by in 2008, but in January 2009, a male Sapsucker came and stayed for the winter. You can read about its interesting behavior here (no photos from that long-ago era). A couple of juveniles stopped by briefly in October 2009 and in January 2010, the same male that had been our guest the previous year returned and took up residence. You can read about its encounter with a localmockingbird.

The same Sapsucker has returned each January since then, staying for a few months until the weather warms and the sap runs again. (D and I have noticed that the Sapsucker doesn’t show up in the yard until the weather gets really cold, say below 20°F. That makes sense, of course, given its preferred diet of sap and sap-attracted insects.)

How do I know it’s the same bird? Well, photos are telling, of course, and I have many, dating back to 2012. But birders, especially patch birders and back-yard birders, are able to identify individual birds; we are close observers of plumage and behavior. In the case of this Sapsucker, it has followed the same route into our yard every day that I have seen it over the years: from the neighbor’s yard to the west, stopping in the dead elm (where an old bittersweet vine provides fruit snacks) before winging into the suet. And its behavior on the suet is the same from day to day and year to year.

Anyway – the point of all that is to establish that I know this particular bird very well. Now to the interesting part.

Harbingers of Spring

It’s been bitterly cold for days, and it was -5°F this morning, yet over the past few weeks I have noted many signs of spring in the behaviors of birds in and around the yard. Yesterday I watched two male Hairy Woodpeckers in their funny territorial display:

Neruda: Bird by Bird

Baltimore Oriole
© Quodlibet 2014 All rights reserved

I’ve wandered the world in search of life:
bird by bird I’ve come to know the earth:
discovered where fire flames aloft:
the expenditure of energy
and my disinterestedness were rewarded,
even though no one paid me for it,
because I received those wings in my soul
and immobility never held me down.

– Pablo Neruda (Chilean, 1904-1973) 
from Art of Birds