Drinks in Remembrance: Alan Rickman

You’ve heard, I’m sure, of the sad fact that Alan Rickman died of cancer last week. 69 years on earth, and suddenly he is gone.

Colonel BrandonWhether you loved him best as Hans Gruber, Severus Snape, the Sheriff of Nottingham, Professor Lazarus, Metatron, Marvin the paranoid android, Judge Turpin, Colonel Brandon, or someone else entirely – solely himself, perhaps – I’m sure you, like me, will miss him.

So here’s a tribute.  Raise a glass (or several!) with me.

Severus Snape (modified from Backyard Bartender)Snape cocktail
1.5 oz Cruzan Blackstrap Rum (having only Myer’s, I used that)
.5 oz Fernet Branca
.5 oz falernum
dash Peychaud’s bitters (alas, I have no lavender bitters)
dash creme de violette
dash rose syrup

Nancy has a delightful explanation for her Snape concoction (which was the original reason I sought out Fernet Branca and falernum, to be honest).  Having no lavender bitters, I attempted to make up the difference with some other floral additions.  As she says: strong, dark, complex.

Half-Blood Prince cocktailHalf-Blood Prince
2 oz dill-infused gin
1.5 oz green ChartreusePotions Master cocktail
spritz of absinthe
.5 oz lime juice
dash chamomile bitters
Stir with ice and strain into an appropriate goblet.  This is my nod to the Potions Master and the head of Slytherin House: herbal, complicated, very green, full of venerable spirits.  It’s a lot like a Last Word (equal parts gin, Chartreuse, lime, and Maraschino), but sourer.

Severus Snape (alternate)
1.5 oz CynarCynar (Chee-NAR)
I wondered if perhaps there were a simpler approach to Snape.  This is one such attempt, applicable to Sorcerer’s Stone Snape: a straight shot of Cynar, which is a drinkable bitter made from artichokes (ie, instead of an intensity which requires but a few drops in a cocktail, it’s dilute enough to consume on its own).  It’s complex, vegetal, dark, and (of course) bitter.  An acquired taste, but when you love it, you really love it.  Harry Potter, of course, finds Cynar innately suspicious.  He would; he’s only 11, after all.

Random potion bonus:

7 bottles

Danger lies before you, while safety lies behind,
Two of us will help you, whichever you would find,
One among us seven will let you move ahead,
Another will transport the drinker back instead,
Two among our number hold only nettle wine,
Three of us are killers, waiting hidden in line.
Choose, unless you wish to stay here forevermore,
To help you in your choice, we give you these clues four:
First, however slyly the poison tries to hide
You will always find some on nettle wine’s left side;
Second, different are those who stand at either end,
But if you would move onward, neither is your friend;
Third, as you see clearly, all are different size,
Neither dwarf nor giant holds death in their insides;
Fourth, the second left and the second on the right
Are twins once you taste them, though different at first sight.

Alexander Dane cocktail
Alexander Dane (as Dr. Lazarus)

1.5 oz cognac
.5 oz Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur
.5 oz blue curacao
.25 oz lemon juice

The thinking here was that Dane is Very Serious Business – “I played Richard III!” – not-quite-obscured by something brightly colored and mildly ridiculous.  Overall: shiny and enjoyable.

 


Colonel Brandon
Colonel Brandon cocktail
2 oz gin (I used Hendrick’s, but a London Dry would probably be better)
.75 oz lemon juice
.75 oz creme de cassis (blackberry liqueur)
.5 oz St-Germain
dash of plum bitters
I had the idea to make something rather British and proper, but also sweet enough to appeal to those moved chiefly by their sensibility.  It turned out to be a bit cloying, so throw in some sturdy Calvados or genever to bolster it: something befitting a man of action, one who needs an occupation lest he run mad.

Alan Rickman himself:
When my roommate and I made Tom Hiddleston cocktails, we found the most difficult one was Tom himself; not having met him, we could only work from a particular face he sometimes presented to the public.  The same difficulty attends Alan: by several Alan Rickmanaccounts I’ve read, he was everything kind, generous, funny, and generally delightful (but de mortuis, nil nisi bonum and all that).  So Thalia’s suggestion was to capture the unique quality of his striking voice by the use of something dark and deep.  The thing that came to mind was scotch.  If you’re a purist, sip it straight; if not, try a sort of modified toddy:

1 oz Laphroaig scotch
1/2 oz Drambuie
Fill teacup with hot water

It’s sweet enough not to be totally off-putting, but it is very very strong.  The smoky smell spread throughout my dining area and kitchen.

That seemed a bit overwhelming, so taking a cue from my friend Amanda, I tried to go the coffee route:

Alan Rickman (alternate)Alan Rickman tipple

1/2 oz Kahlua
1/2 oz Frangelico
1/2 barspoon (ie, 1/4 tsp or so) pimento dram (allspice liqueur)

Ideally this would have been mixed with coffee or espresso, to represent Alan’s liveliness and how engaging he was.  But it was quite late by that point, and prudence won out.  I hope to have a bit of a film festival before long, and see how a caffeinated version of this fits into it.

Alan, here’s to you.  We mourn your passing, but are glad you were there to depict Very Interesting People for a time.  You delighted us, and we will miss you.  Always.

Fog

By the time she took her leave, darkness had fallen, and the fog with it.  Together these obscured the path so thoroughly as to make her memory doubtful – even memory built up over years of taking this road, thousands of times.

This route should never feel anything but friendly – and yet, cloaked in obscurity as it was, every mile turned foe.  Nothing promised that the curves would remain as she had always encountered them; nothing could assure her that the trees and ponds and buildings by the way did not lay under some enchantment of their own, shifting thither and yon.  Whole minutes had gone by since she passed the last traffic signal, had they not?  Surely she should have reached the next red-light-turned-green by now.  But in between the road stretched on and on, with only fresh darkness on the horizon.

Ghostly eyes of lamps passed intermittently in the dimness, floating in the mist, whatever car or carriage they might be attached to invisible.  She shuddered at the thought of a deer, or a man, wandering out into the road, standing frozen while her car barreled into it.  Him.  Worse was the thought of a driver approaching without any lights, colliding twice as fast, with pulverizing force.

Pondering this, she eased off the gas and played idly with the headlights.  The regular lamps were dimmer, and thus of limited use – but the high beams fell on the cloud of water droplets, illuminating no further.  However slow she went, it couldn’t be helped – she couldn’t see.

No wonder fog stood in for fear.  Not only would it veil the unknown twice over, but it sent even the familiar into oblivion: dementia come sixty years early.

Uncut 2015 Christmas Letter

Hello, people-I-swear-to-write-but-never-do, relatives, and/or those who have filled me with a sense of obligation by mailing me something first!  Greetings of a seasonal variety to you!  May your Christmas season be full of love, hope, peace, and other fruits of the Spirit.

What follows is my attempt to sum up my year, despite the fact that you probably have learned most of this information via Facebook and, moreover, don’t expect changes of any great magnitude, because there weren’t any.  Unless you count starting on an antidepressant, in which case: there was one change of some magnitude in the past few months, and it is somewhat obvious if I forget it.   …pardon me a moment, I just realized I forgot something…

Right, so.  Life!  And the aspects thereof.  Well.  First off, there’s my…

Job: Yeaaah, I’m still at the law office.  I’ve now spent half a year as secretary for two attorneys, without more salary to show for it. Awesome.  Also awesome: doing anything with the court of appeals for the first time; we are all of us flailing about and consulting the court rules every 5 minutes.

Housing:  You may recall me living in a rental house with 3 other ladies.  As one of my erstwhile roommates got married and remained with her spouse in the house, Cecilia and I moved a whopping .8 miles north and east across Washtenaw.  This is close enough to walk between them, but far enough that anything you sent to my old address will miss me.  Except that I eventually put my mail on forward.  I meant to send you a tidy little handwritten note with my new address, but that just didn’t happen.  Sorry.

Romantic Relationships: Hahahaha, psych!  There’s been nothing of the sort for the last eight years at least.  This year, I went on 3 mediocre dates and 1 decent one, followed by some uninspired texts and no calls.  Friends have suggested I broaden my field of search to include more states, or at least the Fort Wayne seminary.  I may yet do so.

But! I am not without commitments: I have bought two new bookshelves this year and, by virtue of having a roommate who did the actual acquisition, acquired two kittens.  I’ve also become an official member of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, having decided after 1.5 years in their choir that I wouldn’t just run off somewhere else.  Except for the weekends when I’m off attending weddings, when I will run most anywhere given sufficient notice.  There were three such weddings this year – those of my erstwhile housemate Hannah G. W., my other erstwhile housemate Liz C. N., and my concert-going, somewhat-indie music-supplying, lemon-jousting drinking buddy Hannah M. K., whose Astoria wedding was a delight to witness and stand up in.  I also attended my friend Zach’s ordination to the Roman Catholic priesthood, which is basically like a wedding, except without a 300% markup on the celebratory cake.

There is now another wedding on the horizon, as my brother Paul is engaged to one of my dearest friends, Michelle; I am quite pleased for them (mostly because I am not the one currently dealing with obscene markups for nuptial celebration paraphernalia)(but also because I love them both dearly and, you know, hope they will carry on in delight together &c)(that said, Paul could be a bit less nauseating in his effusions of loving feeling)(someone get me a bucket).

I'm not even an engineer. Just label me "Exhausted" or "Envious" or something.

I’m not even an engineer. Just label me “Exhausted.”

Other celebrations: 12th Night (complete with Shakespeare, almond cake, and crowns); my first Feuerzangenbowle (complete with fiery sugar and carol-singing); Michaelmas (complete with more Milton than I’ve ever read in one sitting before); St. Crispin‘s Day (complete with yelling the Henry V speech to passersby on Mackinac Island); and birthday celebrations of several people, including me (complete with playing two games of Boggle at once!  Or eating Moroccan food/bowling/drinking Greek wine/reading Evelyn Waugh/however we celebrated birthdays).

I also basked in the reflected glory of my brother John competing on Jeopardy! in January, and his return for the Tournament of Champions in November.  My own knowledge of trivia has not been sufficient to get me past the online Jeopardy! test, but it HAS won me a few rounds on LearnedLeague.com.  Aw yiss.  So much less of a timesink than either TriviaCrack or JetPunk, addictions which I have overcome!   …Sadly I have not overcome my addiction to Sherlock fanfiction; please pray for my soul and/or recommend a support group.

No one can tell this deer is wearing jeans anyway.

No one can tell this deer is wearing jeans anyway.

On the bright side, I have profited greatly from reading both The Joy of Less and unfuckyourhabitat.tumblr.com, not that you can necessarily tell by looking at my work desk or my bedroom.  But I’ve managed to dispose of some papers that had lingered for the last year or six, and got rid of some brown pants just in time to miss them at Halloween.

Other consumables:  Continuing my tradition of checking things out of the library for as long as possible, I’ve had a couple books by Milosz out for 2 years now. It’s like grad school library privileges without needing to be in grad school.  Books I actually read include some volumes on orthography, a couple intriguing books by Neil Postman, and I, Robot; generally my reading material has been more poetic, word-loving, critical, depressed, and mildly feminist.

Viewing-wise, this has been the year of my finally watching Die Hard, The Room (via RiffTrax Live), Zoolander, and White Christmas for the very first time.  National Theatre Live brought Coriolanus and Hamlet within my purview, for which I both bless and curse them.  2015 also involved an Iron Man marathon (which, lest you be deceived, involves no physical activity) and more watching of The Decoy Bride / Not Another Happy Ending than is strictly advisable.  Not to mention The Mindy Project, Inspector Lewis, and odds and ends from Parks and Rec.

I remain a member of the UMS Choral Union, which performed Mendelssohn’s Elijah and Handel’s Messiah; as mentioned above, I’m part of my church choir as well.  Occasionally I pinch-hit as an alto because we are as poor in altos as we are rich in sopranos.  Shocking, I know.

This year’s culinary adventuring included the eating of Moroccan bistilla (would recommend) and the cooking of meringues, gluten-free pizza, and gluten-free fried chicken.  There were also a fair allotment of cocktails: lots of G&Ts and a fair sampling of Drinking with the Saints.

Also wik:  I read with some alacrity the epic saga of Brother Orange; I learned more of the geography of John and Elizabeth’s neighborhood whilst dogsitting, when I accidentally walked their dog Hektor 5 miles longer than necessary;  and I did the most Pinterest-y project of my life, namely, using twine and clothespins to hang a bunch of stuff, mostly calligraphy, on my bedroom wall.

963

There you have it: a far longer summary of a year than you might want or need.  Merry freaking Christmas, y’all.  See you all in 2016, unless I don’t actually.

Much love,
(really, I promise)
Joy

Onward, majestic Frog Steed!

Onward, majestic Frog Steed!  Onward to 2016!

Holst House

My dears, I have had a dream.

It started with Inspector Lewis.  My roommate and I were binge-watching the first series or three, and came to the episode “Dark Matter.”  Among other things, it features forensic pathologist Laura Hobson playing clarinet in a university orchestra performance of Holst’s “The Planets.”

This percolated in the back of my mind, emerging as a pun: “If I ever got into hotel management, you can bet your bottom dollar there’d be a really dramatic room option called the Planets Suite.”

When Em responded “I want the Jupiter room!” it spawned all manner of thoughts.  Mainly: what if, instead of a hotel suite, this were a house Imagine a house featuring:

Mars, Bringer of War – Entryway / bathroom / bedroom closet – It’s where you suit up for the day and prepare to go out and take on the world.  Hidden speakers blare forth the exhortation of drums and trumpets.  Featuring red colors, iron hooks or handles or accents, and a coat of arms on the foyer wall.  Be sure to get some coffee before you start a war.
Mars bathtub Mars Foyer Stairwell

Venus, Bringer of Peace – Kitchen / bedroom – Bringing peace can be done by foodstuffs…or by sleep et cetera.  Copper accents, a Botticelli print or two, windowboxes of plants, maybe green paint or flowered wallpaper.
Venus kitchen fresh pale Venus kitchen green cabinets Venus kitchen pale greenVenus kitchen wheat

Venus green country Venus Mint Bedroom

Mercury, the Winged Messenger – Living Room – Here, like quicksilver, we meet and we part.  Here, we practice the counterpoint of the mind, and words fly about like birds.  This is the place to sit and talk, read, or perhaps go online to read or write.  There should be a lot of words or stories within arm’s reach.  Mirrors, corresponding colors, and symmetry in the decoration would be appropriate; these echo the same-but-sundered nature of mercury.

Beach Style with accents birds and fluff pillows mercuryyyyy

Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity – Dining room – For those of us without a throne room, the dining room is probably the next best place to sit in tranquility and resplendence (though a den or family room may also suit).  Here may we sit and let our hearts be eased after the weary winter of our work.  Let the room be well-lit, the chairs comfortable, and fear not if anyone happens to spill a bit of wine, for it is but the wound of King Pelles.  Oak furniture, emblems of eagles or lions, ruddy walls or fabric are all appropriate here.

dining room with wine cabinet Dining room golden lit dining area green but good

Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age – Office / study / library – Traditionally, Saturn is associated with philosophy and other such weighty matters.  Here you can also keep your tax returns filed, plan for retirement, and prepare your last will and testament.  It’s the place for any globes, maps, and hourglasses.  Lead-colored walls with a stripey accent.
Saturn Home Library Saturn home office

Uranus, the Magician – Basement or garage workroom / Craft room – Astrologically, Uranus is associated with ingenuity, invention, and radical new ideas.  So this is where some kind of magic is worked, be it ever so tangible in nature.  Blue-gray walls.

Uranus Workshop Uranus Craft Room Uranus sewing room Uranus workroom

Neptune, the Mystic – Garden / in-house chapel / attic – I don’t know where you keep your mystics and mysticism, but if you don’t have a handy tower, hermitage, or folly…I…guess the attic is the place?  I don’t know, I’m picturing Trelawney and her room full of poufs and tea cups.  Or, at the least, blue walls and wind-chimes hung out the window.

Hermit caveIn home chapelIcons in home attic

An Invitation to Introspection

When I was a senior in high school – 11 years ago (?!!?!??!  What weeping angels just stole a decade of my life?) – I took Psychology, since it was available and intriguing and, though I didn’t know it at the time, would fulfill one of Hillsdale’s core requirements when I aced the AP test.

In lieu of a final exam for the fall semester, our teacher gave us a list of prompts.  We were to choose a selection of them (though some were mandatory), practice the art of introspection for some weeks, and assemble a binder or album for her perusal with our answers – effectively, a scrapbook.

It’s not unfair to say that I learned much more about the practice of scrapbook assembly than I did about myself.  That said, it provides a better snapshot of my identity at that point than other keepsakes.

996.JPG

We were required to have a title page, and this was mine.  11 years to the *day.*

So.  Flash forward to this year, the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  I was visiting Ryan, my friend for some 13 years now and a fellow member of this psych class.  He pulled out his scrapbook, which is about 6 inches thick on account of the fact that he fashioned pop-ups on every single page.  It’s a behemoth of a book, and testament to his creativity and diligence where projects are concerned.

While a few of us gathered around to peruse it (look at how he fashioned his own paper clarinet and bassoon!  Look at these 5 doors that all open at once when you pull this string!), we wondered “What if we answered those questions again, today?”  What would change?  What wouldn’t?

So I tracked down the sheet of prompts to share.  No one needs to share their answers – I have found that I’ve grown a bit more circumspect with age, and perhaps a bit more honest with the unpleasant facets of my own character – but y’all are free to, if’n you like.  How much has changed in the past 11 years?  How much would your answers shift from year to year?

  1. Five words that describe me
  2. Three things I really like about myself
  3. Skills and behaviors I need to learn
  4. Two things I would like to change in myself
  5. My top values in life are:
  6. Two of my special abilities or talents are
  7. The happiest moment of my life
  8. The most unhappy moment in my life
  9. Tomorrow I would like to be
  10. The two deepest concerns I have right now
  11. The best advice I ever received
  12. If I were anyone else I would be
  13. The most important person in my life
  14. Ranked in order, this is who I am
  15. My close friends see me as (have them write a narrative and place that in your packet)  [This prompt was the BEST.  Especially delightful years later to have a bit of your friends’ handwriting.]
  16. My really close friends are
  17. Five things I like about my family
  18. Two major events in my family’s history that made an impression on me
  19. Two people that affected my lifeLHWL
  20. I will remember Lutheran High Westland as
  21. Two experiences that affected me in a personal way
  22. I will never forget the following people
  23. My biggest fear
  24. I would like to be remembered as
  25. 10 experiences I would like to experience

Optional: We had to choose at least 15 of the following:

  1.  My most embarrassing moment
  2.  The funniest moment I experienced
  3.  One moment that I will never forget
  4.  If you own or drive a car, describe it
  5.  I see my girlfriend/boyfriend as (also, an experience that you have shared and you will never forget)
  6.  It’s the year 2004 2015 and my favorite song is

    1012

    Ohhh dear, high school boyfriend. Ironic that he featured so prominently when we broke up a year and a day later.

  7.  It’s the year 2004 2015 and my favorite movie is
  8.  It’s the year 2004 2015 and my favorite book is
  9.  Favorite article of clothing
  10.  Favorite sport/hobby
  11.  Favorite place to hang out
  12.  One year from now I see myself
  13.  Ten years from now I see myself
  14.  The greatest compliment I ever received
  15.  Two things I would change about my family
  16.  My favorite time of year
  17.  My family sees me as
  18.  If I had a million dollars, I would
  19.  One thing that makes me unique
  20.  My room is
  21.  I see my brothers/sisters as
  22.  I see my parent(s) as
  23.  One place I want to go
  24.  My favorite thing to do when I am alone
  25.  If I could change one thing in the world, I would
  26.  My pet
  27.  My favorite class in school (any year)
  28.  My best childhood memory
  29.  “When I grow up” I want to
  30.  I get most frustrated when
  31.  My favorite thing to do on the weekend
  32.  My most nerve-racking moment

    1027

    I like The Princess Bride, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and Harry Potter.  Color everyone SHOCKED.

  33.  My favorite teacher
  34.  If I could re-live one high school moment (repeat or change)
  35.  The place where I live
  36.  The best choice I have made
  37.  The worst choice I have made
  38.  My greatest accomplishment
  39.  My greatest failure
  40.  The way I have changed the most in the last four years
  41.  My nickname is (and how I got it)

An Open Letter to Scott H

Dear Scott,

It’s performance week of Handel’s Messiah. It’s crunch time; little, if any, can be changed about the choir’s rendering of the oratorio in these final hours. You know this. It’s too late to change the past, but I hope with a bit of constructive criticism to improve the future.

In short, I have some bones to pick.

Perhaps this seems unfair. You are not Jerry Blackstone, and one can’t expect all the same things of you. His are huge shoes: everyone said it when he stepped back from conducting CU, everyone said it as we auditioned 6 potential conductors, everyone keeps thinking it this season.

We understand that you aren’t Jerry. Given that fact, here’s how to make the best of it.

I.  Understand that you have limited rehearsal time, given several performances.

As conductor, you have had about 47 hours of rehearsal time with us this semester. That is not a lot of hours, especially considering that 5 rehearsals were mostly devoted to the Beethoven Choral Fantasy; 5 rehearsals were half-devoted to the Halftime show; and there are only 9 rehearsals devoted to Messiah, including the dress rehearsals this week.

You do not have the time, nor the necessity, to teach us this music. Consider how often most of us have performed this piece: the only thing you need to do is determine how best to polish it, how to set it as a gem for the audience’s delight. You do not have time to run each movement, start to finish, several times. You do not have time for dumb jokes, or for long extraneous asides, or for wondering at the noise in the hallway. There are opportunities for wit, but keep it relevant. Don’t break the mood when we’re all focused. Over 200 adults have offered up their time to you; for pity’s sake, use it well.

How best to do that? Plan. Do the markings in advance, and get them to us in advance, so we have time to put them in before Monday evening rehearsals. Anticipate and identify problem spots; if you know that the basses always scoop here, the sopranos always go flat there, the tenors sound weak in this movement, and the altos sound like children during that movement…why would you not work to change it? What do you observe? If you don’t know what goes wrong and where – or need to hear it several times to discern mistakes – record the first few rehearsals for analysis, and send us all your notes.  Consult with the section leaders.  Mark the especially problematic sections with Post-It Notes. Start and stop each movement, polish our entrance notes and cutoffs and very particular vowels in between: short chunks, which can be smoothed out until excellence is not a fluke, but a habit.

Likewise, be sure that each movement gets attention. Rehearse the movements in reverse order half the time, so we know we’ve sung “Worthy is the Lamb” and “Since by man came death” with as much energy and attention as we’ve sung “And the glory of the Lord.”  This is especially beneficial for Handel newbies; give them a chance to grow as familiar with the end as with the beginning.

II.  Look at your life; look at your choices.

I know you wanted us all to have a fresh score, with fresh markings. None of us want to be the odd man out, sustaining a note which is meant to have an earlier cutoff, or singing marcato where everyone else sings legato. That said, the Bärenreiter score is nearly a pound heavier than the Watkins-Shaw edition (why?! For the love of God, Montresor!); it cost us all twice as much as a fresh Watkins-Shaw would have; it leaves out the scriptural references and is thus an inferior resource; and its musical changes are so minor that I cannot understand how you think it worth the trouble.

Nor can I understand why you would encourage us to de-emphasize consonants, “except for d sounds…and the K of king…and two t’s here…” Those consonants took ages to put in, and now we’re all singing “All we lie she” instead of a phrase that makes any sense. To quote Jerry, “The words will never get to the ends of the world without enunciation!” De-emphasizing sibilants makes sense (such hissing), but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater there.

Lastly, I don’t understand how you relate to the work as a whole. You downplay its religious significance as if it doesn’t matter. Perhaps it doesn’t, to you; perhaps you have worked at churches and cathedrals ironically. The fact is, the dogma is the drama: we are telling a hall full of people how God became man, suffered, died, was resurrected, and intercedes for us. The realities behind this music are the biggest and most significant drama that has ever existed.

That should be obvious from the text. That should be obvious in how you conduct it, and how we sing it. Why doesn’t this come through in how you talk about the music? Sometimes you treat Handel as though he’s cheap. This music doesn’t matter simply because it’s a venerable tradition, in Ann Arbor and elsewhere, but because of what it says about the Incarnate Word of God.  Jennens himself prefaced the libretto with 1 Timothy 3:16 and Colossians 2:3, saying “Let us sing of great things!”

III. Expect More.

This isn’t a singalong, but a work of musicianship.  We may be volunteers, but by golly, we have a tradition of excellence.  That excellence is not spontaneously generated. It doesn’t just happen…but it CAN happen. You have to request and require it. Call for our attention, call for our energy, call for our eyes until we lift them to you. Conduct each of us, so that there’s some point to looking at you. Call us on our bullshit, on our muddled melismas, on our failure to sit in the woodshed with the tricky sections. Put us on the spot as voice parts. Use our pride. Suggest the altos join the tenors if the men sound wimpy. Suggest the sopranos who can’t avoid screechiness sit out for a few notes. Work on articulation and cull the bits where individuals bring us down. Point out what the MUSIC emphasizes.  Trust us to follow where you lead, and start as you mean to go on, because practice makes permanent.  We will only ever be as good as you expect and rehearse us to be.

Throughout the season and throughout the piece, demand beauty and we will provide it.

Not without reason is “beauty” scrawled in my old orange Watkins-Shaw score over and over. Beautiful notes, beautiful shaping, never louder than is beautiful: the beauty of the music was always at the fore. Identify the singing that isn’t beautiful. Call attention to it. Demonstrate what’s gone wrong (to your credit, you do this on occasion), and show us how to make it right, because we can make it right. You may have to learn to sing better to do this effectively. Use every tool in your arsenal. Ponder your metaphors in advance so that you can draw forth the desired pitch, tone, or vowel. We are a vast organ; pull the proper stops.

This is, I think, the most important point to get across. No one hears a note out of you, yet you are the conductor of this whole work. Demand more of yourself. You are our general, our coach, our fearless leader, our pickiest critic, our constant exhorter. You are Henry V, urging us on to glory. You are Jim Harbaugh, screaming in our face when needed.  You are the sun, and we a congregation of moons reflecting what you shine forth (be it bright or dim).  You are our witch doctor and our energy drink. This might well wring you dry. Singing is mental, not merely physical; lead us so that our minds join our mouths in the process. Every limb of your body, every line of your face, should display to us what ought to be happening at any given moment, tugging the music forth from us. Be the most fascinating thing on the stage, and you can bet that our eyes will be fixed on you.

Do not harp on the difficulty of the task before us so much as you emphasize how worthwhile the effort, how excellent a thing this music is in itself. Remind us what we’re doing here. Remember it yourself: that this grand work builds and builds in tension until that very last page of climactic, cathartic, resplendent “Amens.” Relish it. Cherish it, as so many looking on cherish it. Let the music thrill you! Let yourself be transported by it; in doing so, you will transport us, and thus every person in attendance.

Cordially,
A soprano

PS – Talk faster. Get some caffeine if you need it.
PPS – It takes more effort for you to conduct our standing and sitting. It will take more time, and frankly, sounds like a power trip. Just don’t.
PPPS – On the biggest movements, JB emphasized that we not oversing – not to be “louder than lovely.” The fastest movements, he urged us not to rush; there’s always a danger of some dragging on the melismas, but possibly other voices with simpler notes are rushing ahead. Or perhaps everyone is singing a melisma, and the hasty singers are keeping us from lining up properly.
PPPPS – You’ve told us a couple times to raise our faces from our scores.  It might also behoove you to ask us to hold our scores high and flat, lest they block our mouths, and to turn pages as quietly as possible.  I don’t believe you’ve mentioned either yet.
PPPPPS – Per Jerry: “Perhaps you’ve sung this a million times. But it has to sound like the first time it’s ever happened.”
“SAY Something! Don’t just repeat nonsense phrases!”
“You would sing that differently if you were thinking ‘First Noel’ instead of ‘This is the end of the fugue; I can rest now.'”
“Now put all that in a smaller, more beautiful box.”
“Don’t be safe! Be beautiful!”

Devonian Corals

petoskey collection

A friend recommended the poetry of Robert Hass to me, which is why I spent half of a weekend this summer in the library reading his Time and Materials cover to cover. This might not be the best method for poetic appreciation – rather like a boa constrictor swallowing its prey whole for later digestion – but it proves more effective than returning the book unread.

One poem in particular, “State of the Planet,” arrested me mid-read. Composed for a conference of the same name, it meditates on Earth’s history and considers man’s place within it.  The principle focus is certain environmental problems: polluted, overfished, carrying on nonetheless. Hass imagines a Californian schoolgirl, both as an allusion to future generations of stewards, and to ruminate on how one learns about the world. There are friendly textbooks and voices of authority instructing her about the cosmos, as well as the informative delights of experience: raindrops pelting her crimson backpack, copper-colored Japanese plums, leaning into the face of the wind, the possibility of Petoskeys.

That last was what made me pause, the fifth section in:

If she lived in Michigan or the Ukraine,
She’d find, washed up on the beach in a storm like this
Limestone fossils of Devonian coral. She could study
The faint white markings: she might have to lick the stone
To see them if the wind was drying the pale surface
Even as she held it, to bring back the picture of what life
Looked like forty millions years ago: a honeycomb with mouths.

It grabbed me, but oddly: no one ever bothers calling a Petoskey stone a fossil of Devonian coral. Possibly it was his way of including Charlevoix stones, or whatever folks in the Ukraine call their particular coral fossils; theirs wouldn’t be named for Chief Petosogay like ours are.

More than the mention of Michigan, I was caught by she might lick the stone, which squares up so neatly with reality.

Dry petoskeys Wet Petoskeys

However lovely it is to walk a Michigan beach – or swim, or read, or watch a sunset – the rocks are my greatest lure. Peering at them, poring over them, eyes peeled for that particular array of hexagons, those faint lines made distinct by the wash of a wave.

As Hass notes, it’s more difficult when the stones are dry. Licking the stone is the quickest test if you’ve stepped away from the shore.

I love this about them: that they hide, even as you look at them, especially when you take them further from the water. That mute honeycomb cries out, long after the coral has died, to be returned to the sea.

Petoskey stones

Things My Father Taught Me

Earlier today, the pastor of my parents’ church asked Facebook, “What’s the best thing your father taught you?”

I found that I was hard-pressed to give one solitary item, since my dad has taught me so much: in words, by his example, and by virtue of what he emphasized in day-to-day life.  He catechized me well, taught me the principles of being a good student, and gave lots of other pieces of practical advice:

  • Ask interesting questions!
  • Call the city when you see a water main break.
  • Use a tape measure beforehand to be sure the furniture/ item will fit.
  • Learn how to type (this one not by example, but by making each of us kids practice 5 minutes with FastType for every 20 minutes of computer games).
  • There’s no such thing as a garment with too many pockets (this by the example of having our mother add a second breast pocket to several of his shirts). There’s also no such thing as too many flashlights.
  • Try to buy American when you can.
  • Wear shoes in places like the garage or the basement, where there might be nails or live wires afoot.
  • “Don’t watch the ads, children.” Also: look away from violent TV shows. Don’t put the television in the middle of family life; if you must have one, keep it in the basement.
  • Honor the cook by being seated when he/she brings the food. Clearly address someone by name when you want him/her to pass you food. “When you have eaten and are satisfied, return thanks to the Lord for the good land he has given you.”
  • “Is there a way to graduate early?”
  • “If you borrow a woodsman’s axe, you are borrowing his livelihood. If you borrow my pen, you’re borrowing my livelihood. So make sure to return the pen to my hand, where you got it.” The same goes for his Swiss army knife.
  • “What have you learned from this?” Usually asked at the very moment we realized that a bad situation was at least partly our own fault.
  • “When you leave a house, wish God’s peace upon it.”

I’ve recently come to appreciate that it isn’t always the case that a man with three sons and one daughter treat them alike in dignity. From the time I was young, Dad told me that I could be at the top of the class or be the “head of the company.” Thus Dad taught me that, though I am different from my brothers, neither my thoughts nor my person are worth less than they are.

He taught me that memorization of Scripture is important; invoices are also important; writing the date on things is useful; the items you own require maintenance; the items you buy represent a certain amount of time invested to earn the money so be sure it’s worth it; and that strawberries demonstrate that our God loves making beautiful things.

Last (and probably best), Dad always told me “I love you, but Jesus loves you even more!

What did your dad teach you?