P Stands for Paddy, I Suppose

It is St. Patrick’s Day!

So it’s the official day of reading, praying, or singing The Lorica of St. Patrick.

It is, somewhat less officially, the day of wearing the green, pledging with the claddaugh, listening to uilleann pipes, watching step dancers, drinking beer, sipping whiskey, eating potatoes and corned beef, etc., etc.

Reveling in some W. B. Yeats is a delicious part of this balanced breakfast celebration of Eire.  Here are a few poems of his:

The Wheel

Through winter-time we call on spring,
And through the spring on summer call,
And when abounding hedges ring
Declare that winter’s best of all;
And after that there s nothing good
Because the spring-time has not come -
Nor know that what disturbs our blood
Is but its longing for the tomb.

Into the Twilight

Out-worn heart, in a time out-worn,
Come clear of the nets of wrong and right;
Laugh, heart, again in the grey twilight,
Sigh, heart, again in the dew of the morn.

Your mother Eire is always young,
Dew ever shining and twilight grey;
Though hope fall from you and love decay,
Burning in fires of a slanderous tongue.

Come, heart, where hill is heaped upon hill:
For there the mystical brotherhood
Of sun and moon and hollow and wood
And river and stream work out their will;

And God stands winding His lonely horn,
And time and the world are ever in flight;
And love is less kind than the grey twilight,
And hope is less dear than the dew of the morn.

The Song of Wandering Aengus

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

Listening to The Sound of Silence

Originally I was going to muse in a distressingly solipsistic fashion about writing and reality.  I might do so yet, but Internetland has informed me that it’s the fiftieth anniversary of the release of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel’s tune “The Sound of Silence,” so.  Priorities.

My brother Mark and I reckoned it was a fine time to listen to that song, and (despite its later debut date) the Sounds of Silence album.  Sitting wrapped up in afghans in the basement, we sang the first few songs with our mum: the most appropriate company and atmosphere, outside a family road trip.  Having loved every single one of them for some 15 years, I relished harmonizing during each song.

Halfway through “Blessed,” Mum headed upstairs to fetch her original-issue LP*: one of the first albums she owned, she told us.  The sides are taped, but the record’s in good shape by the look of it.  For those of us unaccustomed to records, it might be strange to recall that they have sides, and the first side ends with “Angie” (a guitar piece riffing on “Somewhere They Can’t Find Me”), and the second side starts with “Richard Cory.”

Listening to the album straight through is lovely, and a bit curious: I loved the songs before I was quite old enough to catch all the subtext, so it took me years to recognize how melancholy it all is.  It manages to be rather upbeat, considering it treats the passage of time, the underprivileged, a robbery and the attendant flight from justice, a suicide, a different suicide, an April-September relationship, and a man determined to be an unfeeling island.  It’s not quite Old Blind Dogs level-buoyancy – they can sing about syphilis and the gallows and make it sound cheerful – but there’s a lovely pensiveness to Sounds of Silence which reminded me of Chesterton’s line about the Irish: All their wars are merry, and all their songs are sad.

I’m left wondering whether I would have delighted in the melancholy regardless, or if my listening habits in younger days shaped me to it.  But either way, we’ve got a groovey thing goin’, baby.

Sounds of Silence
*A note on the back of the album cover says “This Columbia high fidelity monaural recording is scientifically designed to play with the highest quality of reproduction on the phonograph of your choice, new or old.  If you are the owner of a new stereophonic system, this record will play with even more brilliant true-to-life fidelity.  In short, you can purchase this record with no fear of its becoming obsolete in the future.”  What a claim!  I admire your pluck, Columbia.

A Quick and Dirty Guide to Carmina Burana

It’s concert week once again!  For the next four days, the Choral Union is performing Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, so it’s looming large in my mind.  Last night, as we went to dress rehearsal, I read the translation of the Latin and Middle High German choruses to my brother.  Wouldn’t you know it: I then had an easier time singing the words, knowing more or less what they meant.  So I thought I’d share.

Go here to see the live-stream of the performance, 7:30 PM Eastern TONIGHT!

When I was in college and our choir director announced that we’d perform Carmina Burana, I was nonplussed as I’d never heard of it before.  But, as he then pointed out, every single one of us had probably heard its first movement, “O Fortuna,” at least once.  It’s very popular for any given Moment of Epic Import, so much so that it’s a bit cliché.  Typically the folks using it ignore the fact that it’s crying out at Fortune, lamenting and snarling in anger at the whims of cruel Fate.  This is how Carmina Burana begins, and it’s also how it ends – angrier than ever at the Wheel of Fortune for spinning onward.

But what about the other 23 movements?

Well.  That’s why I’m here. Continue reading

Rhyme Schemes Send Me Silly Places

Merry 6th day of Christmas!  I hope your home is not overrun by poultry sent by your true love.  In lieu of six geese a’laying and a summation of other bird-gifts, I have some exploration of a hymn for you.  Just what you always wanted, right?  I know, I know, I shouldn’t have.

Yesterday at church, we sang “From East to West.”  I’d call it a run-of-the-mill Christmas hymn and forget about it, but it struck my ear with a thing I call Éponine rhymes – so called because of a section of Les Miserables that always stuck in my brain:

Marius:   Get out before the trouble starts!
Get out, ‘Ponine, you might get shot!
Éponine: I’ve got you worried now, I have.
That shows you like me quite a lot!

If you don’t know that “quite a lot” is coming, you sit there wondering why Éponine would fail so badly at rhyming with the fellow she adores.  How else to prove you were made to finish his duet?

Taking a musket ball for him is not conducive to singing duets with him, I'm afraid.

Taking a musket ball for him is not conducive to singing duets with him, I’m afraid.

It’s not unrhymed; the rhyme just takes longer than expected to show up.  Thus with “From East to West”: it’s an ABAB rhyme scheme, but was set to a tune more frequently employed for “From Heav’n Above to Earth I Come,” which has an AABB scheme.  The ear expects a rhyme immediately, and is startled by the wait.

I contemplated sending a note to Thalia, saying Thought of you this morning whilst singing LSB 385.  The power of rhyme, it is not strong with Mr. Ellerton.  But John Ellerton, as it happens, was but translating the words of 5th century poet Coelius Sedulius.

Obviously I had to see what sort of rhyming Coelius Sedulius did or didn’t do.  This is what I found: “A Solis Ortus Cardine,” or “From the point of the rising of the sun,” is an acrostic with twenty-three verses about Christ’s birth, his ministry, his miracles, his betrayal, his death, and his resurrection.  Coelius Sedulius used every letter of the Roman alphabet to start the verses, which calls for some creativity: not only does he juggle different rhyme schemes (ABBA, ABCB, AABB, AABA, etc.), but he had to be extra inventive when he reached the letter X.  So far as I can determine, “xeromurram” is a hapax legomenon referring to myrrh (myrrham, rendered as murram for postclassical vulgar Latinate Reasons) intended to anoint the body of Christ, whose name is alluded to via a spelled-out Chi Rho.

Since it’s not always practical to sing all 23 verses, the church used the first 7 (plus a doxology) as a Christmas hymn, and 4 of the later verses (plus a doxology) as an Epiphany hymn.  Luther translated these two hymns into German (with an AABB scheme throughout), and later on Ellerton translated the Christmas hymn into “From East to West” as we sing it today.

Admittedly, these renditions do not necessarily reflect how we sing it today.  I thought they were interesting, though, and wanted to share them:

Gregorian plainchant hymn adapted to English by St. Meinrad Benedictine Archabbey in Indiana

Alan Charlton’s Advent motet, sung by the Meridian Singers

Guillaume Dufay, or so it says, alternating polyphony and chant.

All glory for this blessed morn
To God the Father ever be;
All praise to You, O Virgin-born,
And Holy Ghost eternally.

Review Part 1: Disney’s Frozen

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Did you read The Snow Queen? It is my favorite Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales. And I grew up on fairy tales: Andrew Lang’s books, many beautiful picture books, and sundry collections of various folklore! (For some reason, Grimm’s fairy tales were not so big in my home. It might have been the R rating most of the originals have.)

Andersen’s “The Snow Queen”, is a tale of true love saving an icy heart through hard work and sacrifice. I loved the edition my family had, as it was gorgeously illustrated, highlighting the sharp, biting beauty of Ice and Snow.

 

When I heard that Disney was “reimagining” Andersen’s tale, I was both worried and intrigued. Frozen premiered yesterday, and my housemate and I went to see it.

And I like it. Maybe more than “like”. The more I think about it, it gets higher on my list of favorite movies. I want to share it with people I love.  Starting with you. You should go see Frozen.

It is not perfect by any means, so I am wary of overselling.  But I need to talk about it! My compromise is to make a list of pros and cons for the movie. (If you are fearful of spoilers, read carefully. A few might slip in.)

 

The Story

Cons: It is not the original Andersen story. There are significant changes, mainly shifting the focus from a boy-girl pair to a pair of sisters.

Pros: It works. The heart of the story is figuring out what True Love is, and removing the possibility of romantic mushy feelings from the central pair certainly crystallizes our definition. 

 

The Plot

Cons: There are a few holes. Mainly, the sudden ability to control magical icy powers.

Pros: The holes are not in important parts. The magical abilities are a part of the setting, not the focus. And the story telling does a good job of making that clear.

 

The Art

Cons: It is a cartoon. Which means round faces and unlikely body proportions for all living things. Maybe I am spoiled, but I expect animated characters to make better use of  facial expressions.

Pros: It is a cartoon. Which means stunning closeups of snowflakes an ice and an ICE PALACE that will take away your breath. (Not to mention an ice dress.) And there are a few good faces. Also, there is a pretty scene of Anna imitating classical works of art that are hung around her palace.

 

 

The Music

Cons: It is not the Lion King. Or Prince of Egypt.

Pros: HARMONY! CHOIRS! SOARING NOTES! Songs than capture the moment and plot and emotions! Background music that works with the story so well I barely noticed it! Melodies that work with the lyrics, lyrics that appreciate pretty words! (“Frozen fractals”!!!)  But seriously, how long has it been since Disney actually used harmony and choirs? And lyrics that have united and developed the narrative themes and motifs? You can listen for yourself, if you wish.

 

Our Protagonist Sisters

Cons:  . . . . None

Pros: SISTERS! Their relationship is the center of the story, and . . . I can’t say more without spoilers. I really want my own sisters now.

 

The Side Characters

Cons: There is an annoying talking snowman named Olaf.

Pros: Other than Olaf, all the side characters are excellently crafted, acted, and used. Each has a purpose AND a personality. Even the snowman. (Supposedly he is the personification of the sisterly bond. But he is still annoying.)

The Wit

Cons: Not so witty. There is a tad bit of mild potty humor. And the kind of things that 5-year-olds find funny.

Pros: Fortunately, it has enough substance that it doesn’t need wit.

 

The Villain

Cons: There is no villain! There is a cad, but he is easily spotted, serves an important narrative purpose, and get his boring comeuppance.

Pros: There is no villain! Our two protagonist sisters face a true battle against FEAR. Yes, the real opposite of love is not hate, but fear. And this movie states that baldly. Which brings us to . . .

 

The Subtlety

Cons: Frozen has the subtlety of a sledgehammer. The themes, motifs and morals are so obvious, a five-year-old can identify them. Even the humor has big, blinking arrows pointing to it. (Not literally. But it may as have have.)

Pros: A five-year-old can identify the themes. Does a good fairy tale need subtlety? I have spent years looking at the art of literature, savoring the delicate images and tastes of humanity and truth. I appreciate those, but I recognize that sometimes bluntness is needed.

It is almost as if Disney is trying to reverse years of overly mushy ideas of romance and impractical ideas of love in one movie. It has the same theme as all real, important, fairy tales: True Love. It even correctly identifies the true opposite of love as fear! (I really can’t get over that.) The motifs (storms, doors, creation vs. control, etc.) are well chosen and well used.

To be fair, our modern society has stopped using or understanding  subtlety well. Those who do look for subtlety are the academics, most of whom tend to read their own insane symbols and agendas into the work. The frankness of Frozen does forestall this misunderstanding or misinterpretations.

While Frozen might have appealed to a more adult audience had it used subtlety, it adheres to the structure of old fairy tales and is accessible to all ages. It is blunt, but I can forgive that when it is blunt about Truth and gives the theological definition of love.

The Theology

Cons: Shockingly, there are no cons. There was a moment when I thought there might be, but then the characters very helpfully and carefully explained themselves, and all was well.

Pros: There must have been a solid Christian crafting this story. It is possible for  clever and thoughtful agnostic to have written it, but my instinct says otherwise. This movie not dares to ask and answer the question “what is love?” Their answer (as closely as I can remember) is “Love is wanting what is good for another person, and acting on it no matter what the cost for another person“. What does the Catholic Catechism say about love?  “To love is to will the good of another.’” Brilliant.

And because there is no subtlety, they even point out the in-movie examples. Just in case we missed them. But the examples are good, realistic, and, like all good theology, filled with common sense.

 

Conclusion

In his chapter, the Ethics of Elfland, G.K. Chesterton describes a fairy tale as being built on common sense and the ideals of eternal Truth and Reality. Frozen does fit this definition: it adhere to its internal logic, and is surprisingly well rooted in common sense. The characters ring true as portraits of humanity. The story is well crafted, if obvious, and holds fast to the heart of all good stories: love and sacrifice.

In short, go see Frozen.

And then come back and discuss it with me! When I have had time to percolate ideas, I will come back and expand on the themes and story telling. As obvious as it is, it might be a good teaching tool to point all those literary devices!

 

Earworm Alleluia

It’s that time of year when Choral Union prepares for Handel’s Messiah, which always confuses the inner calendar.  We skate from Isaiah’s prophecies to Luke 2 fulfillment, from Lenten sorrow to resurrection triumph, to judgment, and then back in reverse order because that’s how rehearsal works.  Truly, it is a glorious liturgical muddle.

This week, we ran through the happier movements of part 2 (“Lift up your heads, O ye gates” and the choruses following) and all the choruses of part 3.  Instead of picky melismata, there’s more emphasis on dynamic contrast and fugal exposition.  The music rises in one great crescendo, such that I left practice with “Worthy is the Lamb” resounding in my head.  There is such a fierce joy in proclaiming Christ’s victory over sin and death, a taste of what is to come.

That vehement delight also accounts for my aural addiction to Anuna’s “Dicant Nunc,” a new setting of an old Easter antiphon:

Christus resurgens ex mortuis          Christ, being raised from the dead,
iam non moritur:                         dies no more;
mors illi ultra non dominabitur.        Death hath no more dominion over him.
Quod enim vivit, vivit Deo.              For in that He lives, He lives to God.
Alleluia.                                    Alleluia!
Dicant nunc Iudaei,                      Let the Jews now say
quomodo milites custodientes            how the soldiers guarding
sepulchrum perdiderunt Regem         the sepulchre lost the King
ad lapidis positionem.                    sealed with a stone.
Quare non servabant                    Why did they not watch
petram iustitiae?                          the rock of justice?
Aut sepultum reddant,                  Let them either return him buried,
aut resurgentem adorent nobiscum    or with us worship him risen,
dicentes Alleluia.                         saying Alleluia.

This whole text makes me waggle my fingers in exultation.  Death has no mastery over Him!!  In the same way, we may count ourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

What welcome news at any and all times of year.  Alleluia indeed!

Autumnal Song

October has finally reached its sullen stage, and is turned damp, grey, and chilly. The sky right now is a dull, milky shroud, which is rather startling after the bright blue of the weekend. It is drizzling, showering, and  misting in turns, and everything is permeated by the smell of rain on the dry earth. (Or, in awesome words, petrichor!)

I love it.

Autumn rain in Michigan

Continue reading

Seeking Song and Story

Once upon a time, I read this guest post by Briana of Pages Unbound.  I put in my two cents about sidekick protagonists, carried on with my reading, and proceeded not to think about it further for four months.  But that post has been bouncing about my mind of late, for a couple of reasons.

The first is that Briana sought something that might not have existed.  She wasn’t looking for help remembering that one book she read in seventh grade that focused on the sidekick for a change and also it involved the Brooklyn skyline somehow. Had none of us readers had any volume to suggest, we might have taken it as a request to create such a narrative for her.

The second reason I’ve been thinking about it is that this post highlights the benefit of human eyes and human minds when one is on the hunt.  Google and other search engines do their very best to help one find a particular item or passage, and there have often been times when I could use such tools to find a song, a movie, a book of which I only recalled the haziest details.  But if you don’t come up with the right search terms, or if your query gets too lengthy, it can impede rather than assist your progress.

Therefore, dear readers, I bring my concerns to you, and hope that you can help with one or the other of these things I seek.

I’m looking for…

…a piece of music. 

I sang it in June 2001, at the Illinois Summer Youth Music choir camp.  It is called “Canticle,” and I sang it as part of an all-girl ensemble led by some Canadian lady whose name eludes me.  Tragically, I supposed that remembering all the words and most all of the notes would help me to find it again.  I was mistaken.  The text is Psalm 89:1 (or Psalm 88:2 for the Douay-Rheims folk) in Latin: Misericordias Domini in æternum cantabo; in generationem et generationem annuntiabo veritatem tuam in ore meo.  No idea who composed it.  No idea if it’s a setting of some earlier composer’s work or chant.  Someone, for the love of my sanity, tell me this rings a bell for you.

UPDATE: I ask, and Jenna delivers!!  Michael Levi’s Canticle!  MY HEART IS FULL OF SONG.

…an explanation for why “capital” should be different from “capitol.” 

Evidently I completely forgot this distinction in the years since my elementary spelling classes, but “capital” refers to the city or town which serves as the seat of government, while “capitol” refers to the building in which the legislature gathers.  Typically heterographs don’t bother me, but I just. don’t. understand.  Someone call the Inky Fool.

UPDATE: I have been informed that the legislative building was named, per Jefferson, for the Roman temple of Jupiter on Capitoline Hill.  Thus far I am satisfied that the difference stems from an existing difference between the words in Rome, but there has been no further illumination of the difference between Latin suffixes or whatnot.  Do feel free to ring up Inky anyway and see what capital he can make of it.

…a less-typical narrative. 

This one’s a bit tricky to explain.  Earlier today, I read this post (which, briefly, is the story of Susan Isaacs looking for love online, getting rejected from eHarmony because she didn’t fit into their algorithm, and eventually finding The Man on Christian Cafe).  I’m not 41, and my fortnight on OkCupid is nothing compared to Susan’s litany of dating site attempts.  When I reached the end, I was glad for her: she seems to have found what she was looking for, and it rounded out the story quite neatly.  But it also rang a bit hollow because it rounded out the story so neatly.

    "The artistic flaw is inaccuracy, specifically a violation of the canons of reality. Things don’t happen that neatly. It’s an upward slope, finally plateauing into a straight line. Which…when that happens on your heart monitor, it’s a bad thing." Oh, Dr. Whalen. How illuminating you are.

“The artistic flaw is inaccuracy, specifically a violation of the canons of reality. Things don’t happen that neatly. It’s an upward slope, finally plateauing into a straight line. Which…when that happens on your heart monitor, it’s a bad thing.” Oh, Dr. Whalen. How illuminating you are.

This isn’t normally a criticism I raise, because I appreciate both romance and happy, tidy endings.  I don’t recall ever complaining about the Prince marrying The Girl in any given fairy tale, or how relationships (and events more generally) shake out in Austen, Harry Potter, Stardust, or the Lord Peter stories.  I don’t whinge about Dune ending with “History will call us wives,” or the end of That Hideous Strength.  I don’t consider myself a feminist, and have never evaluated books on the basis of whether or not they pass the Bechdel Test.

But Susan’s story (and Hannah Coulter, and The Princess Bride, and any given article on Boundless) suggests that there is no other narrative, that no lady can ever be happy without The One, that the only ending possible is marriage.  This ground has been trod by a lot of women in tiresome family-vs-career arguments, but the fact remains that I want a story: a different story than my usual fare, something involving a woman who is content with a different sort of happy ending.  I’m looking for a female character who is content to live her life on her own, if only to show me that it is possible.

Surely one must exist; for all I know, there are dozens, hundreds, thousands of such stories that I’ve completely missed.  And if not, my dears, please help me write one.