Thursday, January 31, 2013

Big Wind

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Last night a huge storm of rain and strong winds swept over New England. The wind roared all night long, making an eerie sort of music in and around the trees, fences, building edges, and wires that form the instrument of our yard.

When we took a look around this morning, we saw that a gate and a portion of fencing was down, a screen had been blown off one of the windows, and numerous small branches had been knocked down.

We were alarmed and sorry to see that a large limb had come off our “owl tree,” the old oak that has sheltered a grey phase Screech Owl for the past few months.

Here’s a photo of the tree taken several weeks ago. See the little owl peeking out?


Here is the little owl snug as a bug, in a photo taken earlier this month:


And here is the tree this morning (cell phone photo taken through a wet window):


The limb above the owl’s roosting hole has been sheared off. It’s lying in the stream at the moment.


We haven’t seen the owl yet today, and are hoping that it survived the storm and the blow to its tree.

The “roof” of the owl’s hole seems to be intact, so perhaps the bird can continue to roost there.

I expect that the little owl has fared well hunting around our bird feeders, where mice come out at night to feast on the spilled birdseed.

****************

Update, February 1 (the next day): The little owl is out there this morning, snuggled into his usual spot. :-D

That makes me feel a little better, considering what is going on just down the street this morning:

http://quodlibet-sarah.blogspot.com/2013/02/the-golden-avenue.html

 

Elegant, Elevated, And Ecstatic ― The Sacred Choral Music of Ned Rorem

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On February 10, CONCORA, the all-professional choir in which I sing, will mark the 100th birth anniversary of English composer Benjamin Britten, and the 90th birthday of American composer Ned Rorem, with a concert of “Modern Masters.” (Details on venue, tickets, etc., are at the end of this post.)

Until I began singing with CONCORA and with the South Church Chancel Choir, I wasn’t all that familiar with Ned Rorem’s music. Since then, I’ve fallen for it head over heels. Rorem gives us honest music. That may seem an odd word to describe music, but that’s how I respond to it. In this honesty is beauty and strength.

All the works by Rorem on this program are sacred pieces. Rorem is not a religious person, yet he creates utterly sympathetic settings for sacred texts. As Rorem, a self-proclaimed atheist, said about his sacred choral music: “Half my entire musical output is for chorus, about a hundred pieces, and half of those in turn are based on so-called sacred texts. Yet if I do not believe in God, I believe in Belief, and in the great works which the notion of God has inspired.”

I understand that entirely. I am not religious, either, but I respond to sacred music because I respond to the belief of the believers. I sing not for myself; rather I sing with, and for, those who composed the texts and the music, and for those who listen and are inspired. Well, it makes sense to me.

I’ve posted several items about the concert, and information about Ned Rorem, here:
http://quodlibet-sarah.blogspot.com/search/label/CONCORA%20Modern%20Masters

Here’s the repertoire list, and my program notes, for the portions of CONCORA’s program that are devoted to Rorem’s music.

Selections from Rorem’s Seven Motets for the Church Year
     While All Things Were in Quiet Silence (Motet for Christmas)
     Before the Morning Star Begotten (Motet for Epiphany)
     Lay Up for Yourselves (Motet for Ash Wednesday)
     Praise Him Who Was Crucified (Motet for Easter)
     God is Gone Up (Alleluia verse for Ascension)

And these:
     Thee, God…
     O Joyous Light
     Lead, Kindly Light

Here are my program notes for these selections (© 2013 Grace Notes Writing. All rights reserved).

***************

About Ned Rorem’s Seven Motets for the Church Year Maestro Coffey says, “These are a church musician’s liturgical buffet. These short works capture the essence of the given seasonal thought, present it without affectation, and then end as humbly as they begin. [Many of his motets are composed with] one note per syllable, such as one might find in a hymnal. There the similarities end, however, for Rorem adds delicious twists and turns of chromaticism and key-changes, yielding a most listenable and affirming effect in every case.”
While All Things Were in Quiet Silence (Motet for Christmas) is a quiet contemplation of the Word made flesh.
While all things were in quiet silence, and that night was in the midst of her swift course,
thine Almighty Word, O Lord, leaped down out of thy royal throne. Alleluia.
Text: Antiphon of Matins, Christmas I (Liber Usualis)

Before the Morning Star Begotten (Motet for Epiphany) begins like a simple folk song. As more voices join, it grows in strength before ending in a shout of joy.
Before the morning star begotten, and Lord from everlasting,
our Saviour is made manifest unto the world today.
Text: Antiphon of Evensong, Epiphany

With ever-increasing luminosity, Lay Up for Yourselves (Motet for Ash Wednesday) looks to the promise of heaven.
Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt,
and where thieves do not break through and steal.
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
Text: Matthew 6:20-21

In Praise Him Who Was Crucified (Motet for Easter), Rorem evokes the medieval organum style
Praise him who was crucified in the flesh; glorify him who for your sakes was buried; worship him who hath risen from the dead. He whom you seek among the dead now liveth; and the life of man with him hath arisen. Alleluia!
Text: Antiphon of Evensong in Easter Octave

God is Gone Up is an unabashedly exuberant acclamation of Christ’s ascent to Heaven.
God is gone up with a merry noise, and the Lord with the sound of the trumpet.
The Lord is among them as in the holy place of Sinai,
He is gone up on high; He hath led captivity captive. Alleluia.
Text: Alleluia verse for Ascension (Psalm 47:5, Psalm 68:17-18)
Thee, God… is the third in Rorem’s 1973 collection Three Motets on Texts by Gerard Manley Hopkins. A deeply religious convert to Catholicism, British Victorian-era poet Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) remains highly-regarded. Rorem’s setting for organ and choir is elegant, elevated, and ecstatic, and inherently sympathetic to the voice. Maestro Coffey calls this “a choral rhapsody, with voices frolicking and chasing each other up and down.” Rorem once commented, “I conceive all music…vocally. Whatever my music is written for — tuba, tambourine, tubular bells — it is always the singer within me crying to get out.”
Thee, God, I come from, to thee go,
All day long I like fountain flow
From thy hand out, swayed about
Mote-like in thy mighty glow.

What I know of thee I bless,
As acknowledging thy stress
On my being and as seeing
Something of thy holiness.

Once I turned from thee and hid,
Bound on what thou hadst forbid;
Sow the wind I would; I sinned:
I repent of what I did.

Bad I am, but yet thy child.
Father, be thou reconciled.
Spare thou me, since I see
With thy might that thou art mild.

I have life before me still
And thy purpose to fulfil;
Yet a debt to pay thee yet:
Help me, sir, and so I will.

But thou bidst, and just thou art,
Me shew mercy from thy heart
Towards my brother, every other
Man my mate and counterpart. Amen.
From its earliest times, Phos hilaron (O Joyous Light), a hymn nearly as old as Christianity itself, has been associated with the ceremonial lighting of lamps at eventide. It is known to have been part of the early Byzantine vespers liturgy, and is still in use today in the Eastern Orthodox Church. The “Lamp-Lighting Hymn” was translated into English in 1675, and soon thereafter made its way into the Lutheran liturgy and the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. The quietly joyful evening canticle has inspired many composers, including John Stainer, Arthur Sullivan, Sergei Rachmaninoff, and Ned Rorem, who included this quietly ecstatic setting of his own translation in Canticles: English Settings of Seven Liturgical Songs (1972).
O joyous light of the Father's face in heaven
shining through his Son, our Holy Lord, O Jesus Christ!
The sun fades now and one by one the stars shine forth
as we sing forth our love, O Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
You are forever worthy of our song, O Son of God,
for you bestow the light of life throughout the world. Amen.
On a trip to Italy in 1833, English priest and theologian John Henry Newman (1801-1890) fell dangerously ill. During his long recovery, he became impatient to return home to continue his work, and was further frustrated by delays in securing passage. En route, the ship was becalmed for a week in the Straits of Bonifacio, where Newman wrote Lead, Kindly Light. The poem quickly became widely-known and widely-loved. Ned Rorem set the first two stanzas of Newman’s hymn in his 1988 oratorio Goodbye, My Fancy, which was commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on the occasion of its 100th anniversary. In its review of the premiere in November, 1990, the Chicago Tribune said that “Rorem’s music remains blissfully oblivious to the blandishments of what used to be called modernism … Rorem’s choral writing savors leanness, elegance and subtlety, even when it roars.”
Lead, kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom,
Lead thou me on.
The night is dark, and I am far from home;
Lead thou me on.
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that thou
Shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now
Lead thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and [in] spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will; remember not past years! Amen.
 © 2013 GraceNotes Writing. All rights reserved. www.grace-notes.com
If you're interested in using these program notes,
please contact me via the comment function below.

Read about the Britten portion of the program here: http://quodlibet-sarah.blogspot.com/2013/01/moved-to-delight-by-melody-concora.html

It’s going to be beautiful.

CONCORA
“Modern Masters”
Monday, February 11, 2013, 7:30 p.m.
South Church, 90 Main St., New Britain, 06051
CONCORA celebrates the 100th anniversary of the birth of Benjamin Britten and the 90th birthday of Ned Rorem with a concert featuring works of these two musical masters of choral composition. Features Britten’s Hymn to St. Cecilia and selections from Rorem’s Seven Motets for the Church Year. Masterful works from other composers such as Eric Whitacre and John Rutter add to the celebration.
General admission $25, students $10.
(860) 293-0567
www.concora.org

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Ned Rorem: “Art has not stopped”

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On February 10, CONCORA, the all-professional choir in which I sing, will mark the 100th birth anniversary of English composer Benjamin Britten, and the 90th birthday of American composer Ned Rorem, with a concert of “Modern Masters.” Details about the concert, venue, etc., are at the end of this post.

In the past few days, I’ve posted a few snippets from a wonderful interview by Bruce Duffie with Ned Rorem, dating from 1986, which I came across while doing a bit of research for the program notes. In that interview Rorem shared some fascinating insights about music, society, and the art of composing.

You can read those excerpts, find more information about CONCORA’s concert, review the repertoire list, and read some of my program notes for the performance, here:
http://quodlibet-sarah.blogspot.com/search/label/CONCORA%20Modern%20Masters
(At that page, scroll down to see the earlier posts.)

Here’s a final snippet from that interview, in which Rorem answers a question: “Are we asking too much of life?” Rorem’s observation of our heedless ways is relevant to us today, is it not?

*********
Bruce Duffie: Are intelligent people such as you, and perhaps me, asking too much of life?

Ned Rorem: No, because we are humans. To be anything else would be to be another kind of mammal, and I think that all animals are as important as we are. I really do. I also think that they’ve got the answer more than we do. In the first piece I ever wrote for chorus and orchestra … one of the last movements is from an extract of André Gide, in which he talks about the deer and the hare being pursued and taking joy in their feints and leaps and bounds, even as they are jumping across the fields. Only man looks toward the future; animals don’t. They don’t look toward the past, and although they can suffer, they don’t pity themselves once the suffering is over. It is indigenous of us to have invented this kind of suffering, and it’s part of being a man not to be able to answer. We’ve invented the notion of God and an afterlife, and of art to keep us above water — although most people couldn’t care less as they whirl us headlong into obliteration. ... But art has not stopped.  
From an interview with Bruce Duffie (1986?)
http://www.bruceduffie.com/rorem.html

******************

Creativity is our salvation.

http://quodlibet-sarah.blogspot.com/2008/09/still-small-hope-for-our-ultimate.html

http://quodlibet-sarah.blogspot.com/2009/02/thinking-about-unquenchable-expression.html

**********************

CONCORA presents “Modern Masters”
Monday, February 11, 2013, 7:30 p.m.
South Church, 90 Main St., New Britain
CONCORA celebrates the 100th anniversary of the birth of Benjamin Britten and the 90th birthday of Ned Rorem with a concert featuring works of these two musical masters of choral composition. Features Britten’s Hymn to St. Cecilia and selections from Rorem’s Seven Motets for the Church Year. Masterful works from other composers such as Eric Whitacre and John Rutter add to the celebration.
General admission $25, students $10.
(860) 293-0567 www.concora.org

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

“And in Last Week’s Gun News...”

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Joe Nocera’s column in yesterday’s New York Times is blunt. Stark. Frightening. Necessary.

Read it.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/29/opinion/nocera-and-in-last-weeks-gun-news.html?hp

Predictably, some of the commenters point out that some of these reports come from certain ethnic or socioeconomic strata.

My commentary:

Regardless of the socioeconomic status, motivation, ethnicity, geographic location, age, gender, etc., etc., of those who perpetrate gun violence, there is one overriding factor about why all that gun violence is possible at all -- our country is flooded with firearms, and access to guns and ammo is easy and cheap. Anyone with a credit card and an internet connection can get cases of ammo delivered to their front door:
http://quodlibet-sarah.blogspot.com/2013/01/loaded-special-delivery.html

The NRA is not a gun owners’ advocacy organization, despite its claims and posturing. Rather, it is a powerful lobbyist for gun manufacturers. The NRA has a huge financial stake in this game, and will continue to push for unfettered access to guns, and will continue to advocate for the provision of millions -- millions! -- of armed guards, who will, of course have to be provided with guns manufactured by the NRA’s members. More guns, more money -- that is, literally, their bottom line.

Until we repeal the Second Amendment, make most gun ownership illegal, conduct a buy-back to remove the millions of guns from our society, and enforce these provisions rigorously, we will continue to see an endless, and probably increasing, stream of news stories such as those cited in Mr. Nocera’s column.

More on the sheer numbers of guns and why we need to get rid of them:
http://quodlibet-sarah.blogspot.com/2013/01/isnt-it-obvious-what-causes-gun.html

And more on the ready availability of large amounts of unsecured ammunition:
http://quodlibet-sarah.blogspot.com/2013/01/loaded-special-delivery.html



Ned Rorem on the mysteries of music — thinking about CONCORA's “Modern Masters”

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On February 10, CONCORA, the all-professional choir in which I sing, will mark the 100th birth anniversary of English composer Benjamin Britten, and the 90th birthday of American composer Ned Rorem, with a concert of “Modern Masters.” Details about the concert, venue, etc., are at the end of this post.

Yesterday I posted an excerpt from a wonderful interview by Bruce Duffie with Ned Rorem, dating from 1986, which I came across while doing a bit of research for the program notes. In that interview Rorem shared some fascinating insights about music, society, and the art of composing.

You can read that excerpt, find more information about CONCORA’s concert, review the repertoire list, and read some of my program notes for the performance, here:
http://quodlibet-sarah.blogspot.com/search/label/CONCORA%20Modern%20Masters
(At that page, scroll down to see the earlier posts.)

Here’s another interesting excerpt from that interview, in which Rorem shares some insight on how he hears, and responds to, certain harmonic constructions.

*********

Ned Rorem: Music is still mysterious to me. I still don’t know what it means, and I still don’t know what in it can move me or anybody else to tears. Nobody knows — nobody — and I’m not a fool, and neither is Susan Langer, who spent her life writing on the philosophy of music. I do know, though, what in music will move me in a very cold, medicinal way. I can be extremely moved by a major seventh, or secondary seventh chords, and by sequences in Bach and in Ravel. I can be left utterly cold by dominant sevenths. Speaking in terms strictly of harmony, what moves me is the acrid sharpness of a minor second or a major seventh, or minor ninth that then resolves. The resolution to me is heartbreaking. I hear a lot of Bach, which has a great deal of that kind of resolution, exactly as I hear Ravel or Poulenc, which also has those chords, and yet Bach never knew who Poulenc and Ravel were. I hear the music very similarly. I’ve talked to [American pianist and harpsichordist] Rosalind Turek, for example, who plays more Bach keyboard music than anybody else, and she doesn’t know what I’m talking about because she doesn’t know the contemporary allusions that I’m making. I’ve talked to David Del Tredici about this because he used in one of his pieces the same Bach chorale that Alban Berg used in the violin concerto. Do you know that Chorale prelude? It’s called Est ist Genug, and it has a blue note it in it. I said, “David, I’ve always dug that blue note,” and he said, “That’s not a blue note. That’s a modulation. That’s not a lowered seventh, it’s a modulation into the subdominant.” So in the key of C, he was hearing the B flat as already being in F and therefore much more normally than I, who was hearing it as a blue note in C. But beyond that, just as I can’t know if your blue is my blue, I can’t know if my blue note is your dominant seventh.

Bruce Duffie: So you were lingering on what was there, and he was already into what the next chord was.

NR: Yeah, but what I say to Rosalind Turek, “Stop for a moment and just hold onto that chord,” I’ll hear it vertically and she’s hearing it horizontally.
From an interview of Ned Rorem with Bruce Duffie (1986?)
http://www.bruceduffie.com/rorem.html
 
************

Rorem’s insights will make a difference in how I hear, sing, rehearse, and perform Rorem’s music. Rehearsals begin Friday for our February 10 concert. Come and hear for yourself.


CONCORA presents “Modern Masters”
Monday, February 11, 2013, 7:30 p.m.
South Church, 90 Main St., New Britain, 06051
General admission $25, students $10.
(860) 293-0567 www.concora.org


CONCORA - Connecticut Choral Artists

Monday, January 28, 2013

Nature has its own aesthetic

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As a birder and one who loves the beauty and elegance of all birds, and indeed the beauty of our natural world, I acknowledge that what I am about to write is biased.

Still.

This morning during my breakfast reading, I reviewed a post to a popular science-based blog that included a photo of an immature gull. The blog author described the bird as “ugly.”

I question characterizing this bird, or any animal, as “ugly.”

It seems that we have a sad propensity to label and mock anything that is a little awkward, not fully developed, not fully mature, not elegant, a little gawky...

The bird in the photo was immature gull; when it attains its adult plumage (a process that takes three or four years, depending on species), it will be “beautiful.” But for a young bird, that mottled plumage, which mimics the variegated colors of rock and sand, is the right sort of “beauty” to protect it against predators. Surely we can find beauty in the elegant economy of camouflage?

I admit to being sensitive to all this. The sensitivity stems in large part from my anger and despair about the steady destruction of habitat in my corner of the world, as I’ve written here:

http://quodlibet-sarah.blogspot.com/search/label/Habitat

People can cavalierly destroy habitat because they don’t think of it as habitat. They are not aware that hundreds or thousands of animals and birds live right in their yards and neighborhoods. They simply don't see the animals and birds that live around them, or if they do, they only have interest in animals that they perceive as attractive, or interesting in a gawkerish sort of way (generally large predators). No one cares about the “ugly” insects, “plain” birds, etc., etc.

A few weeks ago a raccoon died in our back yard. We left it there to see what would happen, what animals might make use of it, etc. We were delighted that two Turkey Vultures found the raccoon and feasted on it; crows and Blue Jays came the next day for the small pickings. (I have photos and will post about it eventually.) There’s not much of it left, a month after its demise, and many animals are better off for our leaving it to a natural process. Isn’t that a good thing?

I suppose that most people would think I was crazy to leave the dead raccoon in the yard, and even crazier to welcome the vultures, which are, in most people’s minds, “ugly,” “disgusting,” “evil,” and “icky” because they eat carrion. That’s all nonsense, of course. Vultures are interesting and useful animals, and without them, our world would indeed be more “icky.”

My concern is that when we assign human values of beauty, utility, and appropriateness to non-human species, we devalue them, and we make little of ourselves. When we close our minds to perceiving, appreciating, and protecting creatures that do not conform to our aesthetics, we make little of our world, and then it becomes all to easy to destroy, bit by bit. We do not see. We do not care to even look..

When we edge toward dismissiveness of certain living things, devaluing them because they don't conform to human aesthetics, or dietary tastes, etc., then we also devalue the diversity of life on this earth. To me, that’s an ugly attitude, and very sad.


Nature is just enough; but men and women must comprehend and accept her suggestions.
— Antoinette Brown Blackwell (1825 - 1921)

In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.
— Aristotle (384 BC - 322 BC), Parts of Animals

I would feel more optimistic about a bright future for man if he spent less time proving that he can outwit Nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority.
— E. B. White (1899 - 1985)

In wildness is the preservation of the world.
— Henry David Thoreau (1817 - 1862)

What nature delivers to us is never stale. Because what nature creates has eternity in it.
— Isaac Bashevis Singer (1904 - 1991)

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.
— John Muir (1838 - 1914), The Yosemite, 1912

 


Rorem on Composing and “The Flash” -- CONCORA Presents "Modern Masters"

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On February 10, CONCORA, the all-professional choir in which I sing, will mark the 100th birth anniversary of English composer Benjamin Britten, and the 90th birthday of American composer Ned Rorem, with a concert of “Modern Masters.” You can read more about the program, see the repertoire list, and read some of my program notes, by clicking here:

http://quodlibet-sarah.blogspot.com/search/label/CONCORA%20Modern%20Masters
(At that page, scroll down to see the earlier posts.)

Details about the concert:
CONCORA presents “Modern Masters”
Monday, February 11, 2013, 7:30 p.m.
South Church, 90 Main St., New Britain, 06051
General admission $25, students $10.
(860) 293-0567 www.concora.org

While doing the research for the program notes for this concert, I found a wonderful interview by Bruce Duffie with Ned Rorem, dating from 1986. In their conversation, Rorem (pictured) shared some fascinating insights about music, society, and the art of composing.

Rorem’s music is very beautiful. CONCORA’s Artistic Director Richard Coffey has a way with Rorem’s music – come and hear.

Bruce Duffie: Is writing music fun?

Ned Rorem: … It’s more than fun; it’s infinitely satisfying. I think any composer would concur that in spite of the fact that artists sometimes wrongly have the reputation for being disequilibriated, eccentric, and abnormal, in the long run they are the most well-balanced of people. When you are writing music, or doing anything creative — this doesn’t just go for me or anybody good; it can go for children in therapy classes making clay pottery — your mind is not so much on your own body, feeling sorry for yourself, or on the one hand thinking about sex or on the other hand thinking about food or on the third hand thinking about pains in your leg or headaches. You are outside of time and space during the moment that you’re writing music, so that when people talk about inspired writing — which is what laymen love to hear about — a so-called inspiration comes in a flash and lasts for about a flash. That flash illuminates some truth or other, which you spend the next year trying to recapture in notes or verbs or oils. You remember it, you reconstruct it, but the flash can’t last. If it lasted, you would be a psychopathic maniac, but I don’t think that anybody has more than four or five of those flashes in their whole life.

BD: Is that a part of being an artist, that you can recognize the flashes when they come?

NR: Yeah. Everybody has flashes. ... Everyone has moments of illumination, and everybody is inspired. There are many people who are just as inspired as artists, and those same people can be even a good deal more intelligent than certain great artists, but the artist is like anybody else, only more so. Or, put another way, he is like anybody else, but nobody else is like him. He is able to take these truths — which can be small truths or big ones, but they’re nevertheless truths — and make other people see their truth in his truth. That’s the only way we can appreciate a work of art. It’s like saying, “Yes, I recognize something of myself in this.” I was at the Art Institute earlier today, and I passed a lot of pictures that I’ve known for many, many years, which are masterpieces, but sort of left me cold because I didn’t feel like looking at them. I can choose the time I take to look at a picture, but I can’t with a piece of music. You can look away from the picture; you can’t listen away from a piece of music. You’re stuck with it until it’s over.
Here’s the link to the full interview: http://www.bruceduffie.com/rorem.html

Do go and read the whole thing; Rorem has a complex and vital intelligence, erudite and earthy and essential.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

“The Secrets of the Universal”

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Every rose that is sweet-scented within,
That rose is telling of the secrets of the Universal.

— Rumi (Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, 1207-1273), a 13th-century Persian Muslim poet, jurist, theologian, and Sufi mystic.
  Thank you, Steve and Lisa, for these roses, which tell of the secrets of the Universe.



   

 

 
  
 


From Mozart on his birthday

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“Neither a lofty degree of intelligence nor imagination nor both together go to the making of genius. Love, love, love, that is the soul of genius.”


―Wolfgang Amadé Mozart (January 27, 1756-December 5, 1791)





Saturday, January 26, 2013

CONCORA Presents “Modern Masters”

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On February 10, CONCORA, the all-professional choir in which I sing, will mark the 100th birth anniversary of English composer Benjamin Britten, and the 90th birthday of American composer Ned Rorem, with a concert of “Modern Masters.” (Details on time, location, and tickets are at the end of this post.)


Here’s the program:

Jean Berger (1909-2002) My Wishes

Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) Hymn to Saint Cecilia

Ned Rorem (b.1923) from Seven Motets for the Church Year
While All Things Were in Quiet Silence (Motet for Christmas)
Before the Morning Star Begotten (Motet for Epiphany)
Lay Up for Yourselves (Motet for Ash Wednesday)
Praise Him Who Was Crucified (Motet for Easter)
God is Gone Up (Alleluia verse for Ascension)

Eric Whitacre (b. 1970) Five Hebrew Love Songs

Paul Mealor (b. 1975) Ubi caritas

György Orbán (b. 1947) Daemon Irrepit Callidus

Benjamin Britten Jubilate Deo

John Rutter (b. 1945) Ave Maria

Ned Rorem
Thee, God…
O Joyous Light
Lead, Kindly Light

Robert L. Morris (b. 1941) Children, Go Where I Send Thee

Kevin Siegfried (b. 1969) Lay Me Low

Alice Parker (b. 1925) Hark! I Hear the Harps Eternal


I’ve prepared the program notes for this concert, and it has been a delight to learn about these composers and their music, the texts, and more. I'll be posting some of my program notes here. You can read all my postings about this concert here:

http://quodlibet-sarah.blogspot.com/search/label/CONCORA%20Modern%20Masters

Rehearsals start next week.

It’s going to be a memorable concert.

Just like every CONCORA concert.

CONCORA
“Modern Masters”
Monday, February 11, 2013, 7:30 p.m.
South Church, 90 Main St., New Britain, 06051
CONCORA celebrates the 100th anniversary of the birth of Benjamin Britten and the 90th birthday of Ned Rorem with a concert featuring works of these two musical masters of choral composition. Features Britten’s Hymn to St. Cecilia and selections from Rorem’s Seven Motets for the Church Year. Masterful works from other composers such as Eric Whitacre and John Rutter add to the celebration.
General admission $25, students $10.
(860) 293-0567
www.concora.org

Woodpeckers

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Of all the bird families, I particularly enjoy woodpeckers, along with raptors and waterfowl (ducks and geese). Their colorful patterns and interesting behavior are fascinating and provide endless enjoyment. We are lucky that six of the seven woodpecker species that are seen in our region are resident in and around our yard.

The Downy Woodpecker is the smallest. Very confiding, these little birds will wait patiently on nearby branches while we refill the suet feeders. Once in a while I stand very quietly next to the feeder, and the downies come in to feed, just two or three feet away from my face. The male has a small red chevron on the back of his head; you can just glimpse it here:

Downy woodpecker. Stubby bill and proportionately small head.

Downy woodpecker. Note the plain red patch on the nape.

One of my favorite photos.

The Hairy Woodpecker looks much like the Downy, but the larger Hairy is easily distinguished by its size and by its more robust proportions, particularly the large bill. The Hairy is a cautious and wary bird, flying off at the slightest disturbance.

Male hairy woodpecker. Notice the large head and bill.

Like the male Downy, the male Hairy has a red chevron on the nape, but it bisected by a thin black line:
 
Male Hairy woodpecker. A thin black vertical line bisects the red patch.
The Red-bellied Woodpecker is one of those birds with a seemingly-absurd name. True, there is a slight wash of salmon-rose on the lower belly, but that’s really only visible when the bird is in hand, or if it’s positioned fortuitously. D and I call this the “Scarlet-naped Woodpecker.”

Male Red-bellied Woodpecker. Brilliant scarlet nape.
The female Red-bellied has a scarlet nape, too, though the crown of her head is dove-grey.

Female Red-bellied Woodpecker. Scarlet nape and dove-grey crown.

Northern Flickers are among the most elegant birds in our region. Unlike other woodpeckers, they often feed on the ground when there is no snow cover, looking for ants, a favorite food. They also enjoy fruit, such as poison ivy berries, bittersweet, etc. They will come to suet feeders when they can’t find other food. This is a female; a male would have a black moustache mark on the cheek. I occasionally see her in the bitterswet vines over the hedgerow.

Female Northern Flicker
We see Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers at the feeders when the weather is very cold. Like flickers, they enjoy a varied diet, and I’ve also seen them eating berries from the poison ivy and bittersweet vines in our yard. To my eyes, this is an exceptionally beautiful bird, with its gold-spangled plumage and deep red accents. All these photos show a male Sapsucker; we've only had a female visit once, a few years ago.





Though Pileated Woodpeckers live on the wooded hill behind our house, we rarely see them. On occasion we hear their loud calls ringing through the woods. I was surprised and delighted last fall when a pair came through our yard and, one at a time, stopped briefly on our “suet tree.” None of them sampled the suet. I was able to get a few quick photos of the male of the pair.

Female Pileated Woodpecker
I would never expect to see the seventh woodpecker species, the Red-headed Woodpecker, in our yard. They prefer a more open habitat. I've seen them in Kansas and Nebraska, but never in Connecticut.

All images © Quodlibet 2012-2013. All rights reserved. Photos digibinned via IPhone4.

“Compare the solitary soul to a swan”

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Mute Swan at Fannie Stebbins Wildlife Refuge,
Longmeadow, Mass.
Image © Quodlibet All rights reserved.

Some moralist or mythological poet
Compares the solitary soul to a swan;
I am satisfied with that,
Satisfied if a troubled mirror show it,
Before that brief gleam of its life be gone,
An image of its state;
The wings half spread for flight,
The breast thrust out in pride
Whether to play, or to ride
Those winds that clamour of approaching night.

—W. B. Yeats (1865-1939), from “Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen”

Friday, January 25, 2013

“Moved to delight by the melody” — CONCORA presents “Modern Masters”

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On February 10, CONCORA, the all-professional choir in which I sing, will mark the 100th birth anniversary of English composer Benjamin Britten, and the 90th birthday of American composer Ned Rorem, with a concert of “Modern Masters.”

CONCORA presents “Modern Masters”
Monday, February 11, 2013, 7:30 p.m.
South Church, 90 Main St., New Britain
CONCORA celebrates the 100th anniversary of the birth of Benjamin Britten and the 90th birthday of Ned Rorem with a concert featuring works of these two musical masters of choral composition. Features Britten’s Hymn to St. Cecilia and selections from Rorem’s Seven Motets for the Church Year. Masterful works from other composers such as Eric Whitacre and John Rutter add to the celebration.
General admission $25, students $10.
(860) 293-0567 www.concora.org



You can read more about the program, see the repertoire list, and read some of my program notes, by clicking here:

http://quodlibet-sarah.blogspot.com/search/label/CONCORA%20Modern%20Masters

Scroll down to see the earlier posts.

Here are the program notes I prepared for the two works on the program by Benjamin Britten.

Britten seems to have been one of the more complex personalities among the great composers (though that perception might be influenced by the fact that we have access to so much biographical material which we lack for most composers of earlier eras). His music, and its genesis, is inextricably bound up with his personal life circumstances, more than, say, Mozart or perhaps even Rorem. The challenge for the program annotator is to provide just enough context for the music without offering a full-scale biography, and to avoid the temptation (to which too many program annotators yield) to speculate what a composer was thinking or feeling when composing this or that piece.


In Jubilate Deo, his 1961 setting of Psalm 100, British composer Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) presents an exuberantly joyous anthem of thanksgiving. It is characteristic of the music he composed for liturgical use, with a clear structure and equally-important writing for voices and organ. Maestro Coffey says of this work: “This is one of Britten’s masterpieces in miniature, offering some dazzling antiphonal writing, a sparkling part for organ, and sudden shifts of vocal timbre from full throttle to a whisper.” A quieter central portion reflects on the mystery of God.

O be joyful in the Lord, all ye lands;
Serve the Lord with gladness and come before his presence with a song.
Be ye sure that the Lord he is God:
It is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves;
We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
O go your way into his gates with thanksgiving,
and into his courts with praise:
Be thankful unto him, and speak good of his name.
For the Lord is gracious, his mercy is everlasting:
and his truth endureth from generation to generation.
Psalm 100

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end, Amen.
Book of Common Prayer

Benjamin Britten had long wanted to compose a work to honor Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of music, a status so conferred in recognition of the legend that she had sung praise to God at the moment of her death. (Britten was born, fortuitously, on November 22, the traditional feast day of Saint Cecilia.) In 1935, Britten recorded in his diary, “I’m having great difficulty in finding Latin words for a proposed Hymn to St. Cecilia — spent morning hunting.” It was not until five years later that his search for a text was fulfilled.

From 1939 to 1942, Britten and his partner, tenor Peter Pears, had lived and worked in the United States. There, they formed a close association with British poet W.H. Auden (1907-1973), who assumed the role (not always welcomed) of Britten’s mentor. When Auden learned of Britten’s wish to compose music for Saint Cecilia, he responded with the Hymn to Saint Cecilia, sending it to Britten along with unsolicited advice on how to be a better person and a better composer. (It was the last time that Britten and Auden would collaborate.)

When Britten and Pears departed for England in March 1942 (aboard a noisy, smelly, uncomfortable cargo vessel, the only berths they could secure), Britten faced an uncertain future at home; he had left England in protest over its entry into the war, and knew he would be called to a tribunal over his refusal to enlist. (He was eventually granted conscientious objector status, and was exempted from military service.) He also had been suffering from writer’s block, perhaps connected with his continued inner struggle to accept his homosexuality and its influence on his creative life.

Auden’s hope in composing the Hymn to Saint Cecilia for Britten had been that the words, and the process of setting them to music, would free the composer from his doubts, release him from an “artificial childhood” in which he denied his true adult self, and inspire in him a sense of freedom and repose.

Auden’s poem seems to have struck its mark, for it unleashed in Britten a torrent of confident productivity. Despite the stresses of the homeward journey, Britten completed two major choral works while at sea —the Hymn to Saint Cecilia and A Ceremony of Carols — both of which are remarkably luminous, optimistic, and beautifully crafted, considering the difficult circumstances under which they were composed.

In setting Auden’s remarkable text, Britten clearly enjoyed depicting the various musical aspects of the Saint Cecilia legend: she was said to be so close to heaven that she could hear the songs of angels, and she is credited with inventing the pipe organ in order to, as Auden says, “enlarge her prayer.” (In artistic renditions, she is often depicted at the console of an organ, though a better interpretation of the Greek “organon” or Latin “organum” might refer to the human vocal organ.)

Detail from the Ghent Altarpiece, showing Saint Cecilia at the organ
Britten’s embrace of Auden’s optimistic sentiment is immediately apparent in the light-filled transparency with which the work opens. Repeated figures in the tenor and bass evoke the “ground bass” or passacaglia style of Purcell and other Baroque masters. Over these, the upper voices, advancing and retreating in a medieval-style fauxbourdon, outline shimmering harmonies. By neatly juxtaposing the intellectual (Cecilia) and the erotic (Aphrodite), Auden acknowledges Britten’s conflicted impulses. A hushed invocation to the saint (Blessed Cecilia) closes the first section.

In the second section, Auden gives us the voice of Music itself, or perhaps of Britten, the perpetual child. A scherzo in the shape of a modified fugue, this music plays and chases itself in whispers, with full-voiced passages emerging for key phrases (I am defeat). The ground-bass theme from the first section is a unifying element. The chase comes to an abrupt end with a revelation, and a plea: I shall never be Different. Love me.

With a return of the invocation (Blessed Cecilia), the music blossoms into a lyrical contemplation on the regrets of lost childhood and acceptance of adulthood. A relentless ostinato in the bass voice denies escape from this confrontation, yet opportunity is at hand. Over the choir, a solo soprano voice emerges, looking back on childish things and offering redemption (O hang the head… Weep for the lives your wishes never led).

In the final lines, Auden follows the long tradition of Cecilia ode-making by naming various musical instruments, and Britten calls forth four solo voices to remarkable effect in depicting violin (alto), drum (bass), flute (soprano), and trumpet (tenor). The four “instrumental” lines are a poignant summation of the entire Hymn, which ends with a very quiet restatement of the refrain.


I.

In a garden shady this holy lady
With reverent cadence and subtle psalm,
Like a black swan as death came on
Poured forth her song in perfect calm:
And by ocean’s margin this innocent virgin
Constructed an organ to enlarge her prayer,
And notes tremendous from her great engine
Thundered out on the Roman air.

Blonde Aphrodite rose up excited,
Moved to delight by the melody,
White as an orchid she rode quite naked
In an oyster shell on top of the sea;
At sounds so entrancing the angels dancing
Came out of their trance into time again,
And around the wicked in Hell’s abysses
The huge flame flickered and eased their pain.

Blessed Cecilia, appear in visions
To all musicians, appear and inspire:
Translated Daughter, come down and startle
Composing mortals with immortal fire.


II.

I cannot grow;I have no shadow
To run away from,
I only play.

I cannot err;
There is no creature
Whom I belong to,
Whom I could wrong.

I am defeat
When it knows it
Can now do nothing
By suffering.

All you lived through,
Dancing because you
No longer need it
For any deed.

I shall never be
Different. Love me.

Blessed Cecilia, appear in visions
To all musicians, appear and inspire:
Translated Daughter, come down and startle
Composing mortals with immortal fire.


III.

O ear whose creatures cannot wish to fall,O calm of spaces unafraid of weight,
Where Sorrow is herself, forgetting all
The gaucheness of her adolescent state,
Where Hope within the altogether strange
From every outworn image is released,
And Dread born whole and normal like a beast
Into a world of truths that never change:
Restore our fallen day; O re-arrange.

(Soprano solo) O dear white children casual as birds,
Playing among the ruined languages,
So small beside their large confusing words,
So gay against the greater silences
Of dreadful things you did: O hang the head,
Impetuous child with the tremendous brain,
O weep, child, weep, O weep away the stain,
Lost innocence who wished your lover dead,
Weep for the lives your wishes never led.

O cry created as the bow of sin
Is drawn across our trembling violin.
(Alto solo) O weep, child, weep, O weep away the stain.

O law drummed out by hearts against the stillLong winter of our intellectual will.
(Bass solo) That what has been may never be again.

O flute that throbs with the thanksgiving breathOf convalescents on the shores of death.
(Soprano solo) O bless the freedom that you never chose.

O trumpets that unguarded children blow
About the fortress of their inner foe.
(Tenor solo) O wear your tribulation like a rose.

Blessed Cecilia, appear in visions
To all musicians, appear and inspire:
Translated Daughter, come down and startle
Composing mortals with immortal fire.


Program notes prepared for CONCORA by Grace Notes Writing.
© 2013 Grace Notes Writing. All rights reserved. www.grace-notes.com
Re-use, distribution, or re-publication in whole or in part is expressly forbidden and is punishable by law.
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