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 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!”

Yogh and Ash and Thorn

Last week Back in May, I shared Peter Bellamy’s setting of Rudyard Kipling, noting that I’d stumbled over it thanks to the glory and munificence of the internet.

More specifically, I was contemplating Anglo-Saxon words that start with an ash or a thorn, and came across this parody by Catherine Faber:

Yogh and Ash and Thorn

Some time between the year fourteen-ought-five and -fifty-one
There was a strange and radical change in spoken English done.
These letters all but past recall should not be held in scorn;
The rose in May must go the way of yogh and ash and thorn.

Yogh and ash and thorn good sirs, mouldering vellum adorn;
Here do we see mortality in yogh and ash and thorn.

Yogh to me resembles a three a little bit flattened above
And sound denotes so low in the throat as only the Dutch could love
Yet now is found both letter and sound discarded and forlorn;
Remember you are mortal too, like yogh and ash and thorn.

A “b” with a tail, thorn didn’t prevail, but though it lost the race
It takes a pair of letters to wear the shoes to take its place,
And a and e an ash will be when back to back they are bourne;
Into dark the passing mark of yogh and ash and thorn.

“Vowel shift” said somebody miffed, “It’s more like a hey or a bransle
“Letter and sound keep swapping around and ‘hands about go all!'”
Some were stored and some ignored and some were mangled and torn,
Caught up in the rout as vowels fell out with yogh and ash and thorn.

Time must be an enemy that ever ending brings–
Even word-fame cannot be heard when words are mortal things.
Some clever cuss in studying us some distant future morn
Will find us surely strange to her as yogh and ash and thorn.

Rich and strangely words will change in warpage under use
But why in past it happened so fast Gude Godde only knoos.**
We work the sum of what we become from where and how we are born.
And hold these three in memory: yogh and ash and thorn!

A Tree Song

Through the glorious bounty of the internet, I stumbled upon this poem by Rudyard Kipling today.  It’s not yet midsummer, but it seems appropriate anyway when the weather is so lovely and I am longing to go back to England.

Of all the trees that grow so fair,
Old England to adorn,
Greater are none beneath the Sun,
Than Oak and Ash and Thorn.
Sing Oak and Ash and Thorn, good Sirs
(All of a Midsummer’s morn)!
Surely we sing of no little thing,
In Oak and Ash and Thorn!

Oak of the Clay lived many a day,
Or ever Aeneas began;
Ash of the Loam was a lady at home,
When Brut was an outlaw man;
Thorn of the Down saw New Troy Town
(From which was London born);
Witness hereby the ancientry
Of Oak and Ash and Thorn!

Yew that is old in churchyard mould,
He breedeth a mighty bow;
Alder for shoes do wise men choose,
And beech for cups also.
But when ye have killed, and your bowl is spilled,
Your shoes are clean outworn,
Back ye must speed for all that ye need,
To Oak and Ash and Thorn!

Ellum she hateth mankind, and waiteth
Till every gust be laid,
To drop a limb on the head of him
That anyway trusts her shade:
But whether a lad be sober or sad,
Or mellow with ale from the horn,
He’ll take no wrong when he lieth along
‘Neath Oak and Ash and Thorn!

Oh, do not tell the Priest our plight,
Or he would call it a sin;
But—we have been out in the woods all night,
A-conjuring Summer in!
And we bring you news by word of mouth—
Good news for cattle and corn—
Now is the Sun come up from the South,
With Oak and Ash and Thorn!

Sing Oak and Ash and Thorn, good Sirs
(All of a Midsummer’s morn)!
England shall bide till Judgement Tide,
By Oak and Ash and Thorn!

All About Those As

 

Hi, my name is Melpomene, and I am a pop addict.

I love pop music. Happy, peppy, boppy, poppy pop music. But only the ones that have a hint of old fashioned swing rhythms. (Eliza Doolittle, anyone?)

And my most recent earworm is a chipper, confidant, swaggering number by the rising British pop singer Meghan Trainor, “All About That Bass”. It explores the omnipulchritude of all people, reaffirming the age old concern over the beauty of cures and confidence. It is absurd. And delightful.

And listening to it during one fateful grading session, I was struck with an inspiration: this song would make a great Teacher Anthem.

So I made the thing. I (and my sweet teacher friend Katey) parodied the lyrics, and now we give you, “All About Those As”. Turn on the video, and scroll down to read the lyrics with the music.

 

“All About Those As”

Because you know
I’m all about those As
‘Bout those As, no trouble
I’m all about those As
‘Bout those As, no trouble
I’m all about those As
‘Bout those As, no trouble
I’m all about those As
‘Bout those As

Yeah, it’s pretty clear, it ain’t no easy A,
‘cause I can grade it, grade it
Like I’m supposed to do
But I got those good grades that all the kids chase
And all the red pens in all the right places

I see the homework fakin’, workin’ sparknotes
We know that it ain’t real
C’mon now, make it stop
If you got questions, answers, just raise ’em up
‘Cause every one of you’s engaged
From the back row to the front

Yeah, your mama she told you to be in bed at nine
She says, “you can’t play video games on a school night .”
You know I won’t be too easy, don’t even bother to cry.
But if that’s what you’re into then just go ahead and try.

Because you know I’m
All about those As
‘Bout those As, no trouble
I’m all about those As
‘Bout those As, no trouble
I’m all about those As
‘Bout those As, no trouble
I’m all about those As
‘Bout those As
Hey!

We’re bringing brainy back
Go ahead and tell the common core that.
No we’re not playing. I know you can do it
So I’m here to make sure
Every one of you’s engaged from the back row to the front.

Yeah, your mama she told you to be in bed at nine
She says, “you will not play video games on a school night .”
You know I won’t be too easy, don’t even bother to cry.
But if that’s what you’re into please just go ahead and try.

Because you know I’m
All about those As
‘Bout those As, no trouble
I’m all about those As
‘Bout those As, no trouble
I’m all about those As
‘Bout those As, no trouble
I’m all about those As
‘Bout those As

Because you know I’m
All about those As
‘Bout those As, no trouble
I’m all about those As
‘Bout those As, no trouble
I’m all about those As
‘Bout those As, no trouble
I’m all about those As
‘Bout those As

Because you know I’m
All about those As
‘Bout those As, no trouble
I’m all about those As
‘Bout those As, no trouble
I’m all about those As
‘Bout those As, no trouble
I’m all about those As
‘Bout those As
‘Bout those As, ’bout those As
Hey, hey, ooh
You know you like this A

 

My teacher friends and I want to make a video of this, but we are unsure of how. Does anyone have recommendations on how to make a video?

Pipes Up!

I came home to an empty driveway and darkened house tonight.  This did not alarm me overmuch, but I did wonder where my housemates might be spending their Friday evening.  Annnnd then I went inside and got on Facebook, which reminded me that ah yes, they have made their way to Mackinac Island for the weekend.  Which prompts the question: what to do with an empty house?

Obvious, really: listen to really, really loud music!  And maybe vacuum up cobwebs at midnight because I can.  Mix up some really weird drinks.  Do some utterly tragic dancing.  Shower with the bathroom door open.  What can I say?  I live dangerously.

So dangerously, a thought struck.

Why just listen to really loud music when I could make it?

I don’t mean singing at the top of my lungs, nor playing the piano exceptionally ill.  No, this goes further back, back to college days and a rickety old house.

I headed down to the basement and retrieved my bagpipes.

It’s been years since I’ve even touched them.  Hillsdale had a ramshackle house for the pipers, back in the day, such that one could go and practice at any hour without disturbing anyone (much).  Whether one sounded like Donald MacLeod or a dying cat, the Pipe House was there, a judgment-free zone that mostly muffled the sounds from the neighbors.  There’s been nothing like that since – not at my parents’ house, certainly not in the apartment I shared with Thalia, not at my current home.  Not until this moment.

Down the Bagpipe diagramstairs I went to fetch the silver case.  It’s been waiting patiently for me.  I opened the case, took the pipes gently upstairs, and hunted down my water traps (which protect the reeds from getting too wet and mouldering).  There are four, but I could only find the three for the drones; in my eagerness to play, my attempts to find the fourth were half-hearted at best.  I fixed them into place, attached the dangling top joint of the long bass drone, carefully put the chanter in without disturbing the reed, zipped the bag shut, stood and blew.

The bag didn’t inflate and the chanter didn’t sound, but the noise that came out the drones vindicated every joke comparing the sound of the Highland pipes to the shrieks of a thousand tortured souls.

My kneejerk thought was Oh no.  I’ve lost all strength in my diaphragm, so much so that I can’t keep the bag inflated.  But that didn’t make sense – partly because singing ought to have kept my diaphragm strong enough; partly because the bag is meant to serve as a reservoir, pressured by the left arm to press air through the chanter and drone reeds.  So the second thought was Oh no.  I haven’t played it in years, and the seasoning wore off so the bag’s no longer airtight.  That seemed likely enough, but some examination revealed that oh hey!  I failed to zip the bag completely shut.  No wonder the chanter wasn’t sounding!

Scotty...you must have known this wasn't going to work...

Scotty…you must have known this wasn’t going to work…

Zipped properly, the bag inflated and the drones…well.  The drones still sounded bad.  But then I adjusted the second tenor drone and voila: the golden ringing tone of drones which might, just possibly, be in tune.  Sure, the stock needs new hemp wound around it to keep the reed in place, but it can be tuned!

My fingers still remember Bonny Galloway, Abide With Me, and Amazing Grace.  I got out my binders of pipe music, and it’s amazing what comes back: the hornpipes that I loved despite their being too fast for me (Honey in the Bag!); the numbers we rehearsed so much that it’s abhorrent merely to set eyes on them (ugggggh, Mull of Kintyre); the songs that accelerate like a train; and the piobaireachd with its elaborate ornamentation.

So housemates, be prepared: my pipes are up, and I don’t think I’ll put them back down.

…well, okay, except for right now, because my lips just gave out.

Joyrides

I took a different road to choir the other night, since rehearsal was on north campus instead of our usual room in Palmer Commons. Huron River Drive took me through the woods, around the river, away from all the shoppers and students and sidewalks of my normal route down Washtenaw Avenue. The windows were down, the air gently breezy and free from summer’s mugginess. Not too hot, not too cold, no bugs, as my uncle always describes a perfect day.

Zipping about with Carbon Leaf blaring filled me with a quietly piercing sort of contentment, the music underscoring the freedom and possibility inherent in the spring. It all struck me as so appropriate: the alternately intense and mellow music, the car, the weather, the drive. I felt the right age, for once. Not too old to discover new things, not too young to do something of consequence.

The delight spreads out like a vapor to fill the heart it’s in, leaving me ready to face the formidable, ready to rejoice.

*

I took a different road to work yesterday morning, since Ruby was due for her three-month checkup and my father graciously allowed me the use of his vehicle once more. I-96, my typical freeway from Detroit to Plymouth, has been ripped up for replacement, and traffic has been shunted to the parallel roads. So I headed down Fenkell, which was livelier than I’ve seen it quite some time, trying to hit the green lights as ZZ Top sang about cheap sunglasses on 94.7.

I had already forgotten, for the most part, what it’s like to drive a big boat of a Buick: the wide circle of the thin steering wheel, the weight of the car and resulting momentum, the noise of the engine, the raspy speakers. This, too, felt appropriate. Like Fenkell and classic rock and a Buick Century were meant to be together.

The delight rumbles and burns, a Motor City jalopy that keeps on keeping on.