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

Research Notes

For those who might be interested in reading about my professional work, here's an essay about a recent research project:


"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: http://quodlibet-sarah.blogspot.com/2014/04/to-refresh-and-strengthen.html

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.

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 (?) or 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

Monday, February 23, 2015

In Honor of Samuel Pepys

The English civil servant and diarist was born on this date in London in 1633.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Brâncuși: On Architecture

“Architecture is inhabited sculpture.”
— Constantin Brâncuși, Romanian sculptor (born on this date in 1876; d. 1957)

Spiral staircase supporting the jubé at St.-Etienne-du-Mont, Paris
Photo © 2011 Quodlibet. All rights reserved

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Michelangelo: The Dying Slave

“Beauty is the purgation of superfluities.”

—Michelangelo Buonarroti, Italian sculptor, painter, architect, and poet (1475-1564)

Michelangelo died on this date in 1564.

Michelangelo Buonarotti (1475-1564)
The Dying Slave - Marble, 1513-1516
The Louvre, Paris
Photo © 2011 Quodlibet. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Good Times Ahead

Here’s what’s on my reading list:

On Reading

“Some say life is the thing, but I prefer reading.”

— English novelist Ruth Rendell, born on this date in 1930

Review: Hartford Symphony Orchestra – Rachmaninoff and Firebird

Once in a while, we are fortunate to be in the right place at the right time to witness extraordinary things.

On Friday night, D and I were in the right place at the right time. We were in our seats at the lovely Belding Theater at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, where the Hartford Symphony Orchestra presented a compellingly-performed program of music by Wagner, Rachmaninoff, Bernstein, and Stravinsky.

Of course, the program was marketed as suitable for Valentine’s Day, and in her pre-concert remarks, Music Director Carolyn Kuan teased out some tenuous “love” connections between the selections. But it didn’t really matter, because this music can stand on its own, especially when presented so beautifully.

Hals: Merrymakers at Shrovetide

Frans Hals (Dutch, Antwerp 1582/83–1666 Haarlem)
Merrymakers at Shrovetide (ca. 1616–17)
Oil on canvas
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Review: Wadsworth Atheneum

As part of a gloriously arty weekend, we spent several hours at the Wadsworth Atheneum on Saturday afternoon to visit some favorite paintings and to see the newly renovated spaces for contemporary art and other exhibits. You can read more about the changes at the Atheneum’s own website; I won’t attempt to describe it all here.

I’m not qualified to offer a technical or even a qualified aesthetic review, but I can offer a perspective as a patron who attends museums very often and as one who pays close attention to how art is presented within a museum space.

Stricher: The Red Rocks

I found this on K’s old Tumblr. Arresting.

The Red Rocks
Gérard Stricher (French, b.1948)

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Sargent: Venice in Gray Weather

John Singer Sargent (1856-1925): Venice in Gray Weather
Oil on canvas, 1880-1882. Private Collection

Via K. I think she posts some of these images just for me. 

Something is rotten

Several months ago D and I attended a performance of Shakespeare’s Hamlet at a regional theatre. I ordered the tickets online and, as is my practice, was careful to opt out of further email from the theatre. Nonetheless, a few days after the production, I received an email (!) soliciting my feedback about our experience. Here is my response (slightly edited and expanded).

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Everyone Sang

Everyone Sang
Siegfried Sassoon

Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom,
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark-green fields; on—on—and out of sight.

Everyone's voice was suddenly lifted;
And beauty came like the setting sun:
My heart was shaken with tears; and horror
Drifted away ... O, but Everyone
Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will never be done.

"Everyone Sang" by Siegfried Sassoon, from Collected Poems: 1908-1956

CONCORA Has Good News!

CONCORA’s Board of Directors is delighted to announce the appointment of Christopher Shepard as its second Artistic Director, succeeding Artistic Director Emeritus Richard Coffey, who founded the ensemble as the region's first all-professional choir in 1974. The ensemble has been led by guest conductors during the 2014-2015 season, as a national search was conducted to identify Maestro Coffey’s successor. Dr. Shepard will assume leadership of the ensemble starting with the soon-to-be announced 2015-2016 season.

More info at www.concora.org and

[I wrote the news release and developed the communication plan – a three week project in two days.] [“Glue!” “No, duct tape.”]

Moonlight on the snow

Moonlight on the snow
and snowdrifts
like polar bears
on the deck

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

“I will wade out”

I will wade out
e. e. cummings

i will wade out
                        till my thighs are steeped in burning flowers
i will take the sun in my mouth
and leap into the ripe air
                                                 with closed eyes
to dash against darkness
                                       in the sleeping curves of my body
shall enter fingers of smooth mastery
with chasteness of sea-girls
                                            Will i complete the mystery
                                            of my flesh
i will rise
               After a thousand years
             And set my teeth in the silver of the moon

poetry via K
photo via Q

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Blow, blow, thou winter wind

Blow, blow, thou winter wind
William Shakespeare, 1564 - 1616
As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII

Blow, blow, thou winter wind,
Thou art not so unkind
As man’s ingratitude;
Thy tooth is not so keen,
Because thou art not seen,
Although thy breath be rude.

Heigh-ho! sing, heigh-ho! unto the green holly:
Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly:
Then, heigh-ho, the holly!
This life is most jolly.

Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky,
That does not bite so nigh
As benefits forgot:
Though thou the waters warp,
Thy sting is not so sharp
As friend remembered not.

Heigh-ho! sing . . .

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Borrowed Light

Sic Vita
(Thus Life)

Henry King (1592-1669)

Or as the flights of Eagles are;
Or like the fresh spring’s gaudy hue;
Or silver drops of morning dew;
Or like a wind that chafes the flood;
Or bubbles which on water stood;
Even such is man, whose borrowed light
Is straight called in, and paid to night.
The Wind blows out; the Bubble dies;
The Spring entombed in Autumn lies;
The Dew dries up; the Star is shot;
The Flight is past; and Man forgot.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

“How Little Can I Realize”

“From Smith’s Hill I looked toward the mountain line. Who can believe that the mountain peak which he beholds fifty miles off in the horizon, rising far and faintly blue above an intermediate range, while he stands on his trivial native hills or in the dusty highway, can be the same with which he looked up at once near at hand from a gorge in the midst of primitive woods? For a part of two days I traveled across lots once, loitering by the way, through primitive wood and swamps over the highest peak of the Peterboro Hills to Monadnock, by ways from which all landlords and stage-drivers endeavored to dissuade us. It was not a month ago. But now that I look across the globe in an instant to the dim Monadnock peak, and these familiar fields and copsewoods appear to occupy the greater part of the interval, I cannot realize that Joe Eavely’s house still stands there at the base of the mountain, and all that long tramp through wild woods with invigorating scents before I got to it. I cannot realize that on the tops of those cool blue ridges are in abundance berries still, bluer than themselves, as if they borrowed their blueness from their locality. From the mountains we do not discern our native hills; but from our native hills we look out easily to the far blue mountains, which seem to preside over them. As I look northwestward to that summit from a Concord cornfield, how little can I realize all the life that is passing between me and it,—the retired up-country farmhouses, the lonely mills, wooded vales, wild rocky pastures, and new clearings on stark mountain-sides, and rivers murmuring through primitive woods! All these, and how much more, I overlook. I see the very peak,—there can be no mistake,—but how much I do not see, that is between me and it! How much I overlook! In this way we see stars. What is it but a faint blue cloud, a mist that may vanish? But what is it, on the other hand, to one who has traveled to it day after day, has threaded the forest and climbed the hills that are between this and that, has tasted the raspberries or the blueberries that grow on it, and the springs that gush from it, has been wearied with climbing its rocky sides, felt the coolness of its summit, and been lost in the clouds there?

—From the Journal of Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), September 27, 1852.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

“Willing to pass for a fool”

“I am interested in an indistinct prospect, a distant view, a mere suggestion often, revealing an almost wholly new world to me. I rejoice to get, and am apt to present, a new view. But I find it impossible to present my view to most people. In effect, it would seem that they do not wish to take a new view in any case. Heat lightning flashes, which reveal a distant horizon to our twilight eyes. But my fellows simply assert that it is not broad day, which everybody knows, and fail to perceive the phenomenon at all. I am willing to pass for a fool in my own desperate, perhaps foolish, efforts to persuade them to lift the veil from off the possible and future, which they hold down with both their hands, before their eyes. The most valuable communication or news consists of hints and suggestions. When a truth comes to be known and accepted, it begins to be bad taste to repeat it. Every individual constitution is a probe employed in a new direction, and a wise man will attend to each one’s report.”

—From the Journal of Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), July 29, 1857.