Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A seasonal quote from Charlotte Mason

"A girl who knows something about wildflowers, for example, will be a popular walking companion with all kinds of people in various circumstances." ~Home Education in Modern English: Volume 1 of Charlotte Mason's Series
Love it! Thanks to the Hearts and Trees newsletter for the quote. A new blog entry at the Hearts and Trees blog titled A Few Spring Nature Study Ideas is worth checking out!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Music Monday - Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

I'm having a black cloud day. Today I'll blame it on the nasty weather we're having--forty degrees and raining. Blech. But a perfect composer to listen to when I want to revel in melancholy is Brahms--such wonderful, passionate music carefully crafted around a sound technical structure (and often in a minor key, which fits the bill perfectly today)!

Johannes Brahms was born in Hamburg, Germany, on May 7, 1833 to a double-bass playing father and seamstress mother. At about age ten, he began formally studying piano and music theory with Eduard Marxsen, a noted pianist and composer of the day whose main claim to fame today is that he was the teacher of Brahms. In 1853, Brahms's compositions began being published, and he began a close friendship with composers Robert and Clara Schumann. From 1862 until his death 1897 from liver cancer, he lived in Vienna, working as composer, performer, and conductor.

Brahms wasn't as prolific a composer, as, say, Mozart, but he did write thirteen major orchestral compositions as well as many chamber works for various combinations of instruments. In addition, his oeuvre includes about fifty pieces for solo piano, about two hundred art songs, about sixty for vocal quartet, and some choral music.

Two of my favorite violin compositions by this composer are the Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Orchestra, Op. 102 and the Sonata in G Major for Violin and Piano, Op.78.

The sonata may be in a major key, but doesn't mean it doesn't have some real heart-breaking passages. You can hear the longing right at the opening of the piece in the first theme played by the violin:

Played here by Maxim Vengerov. Unfortunately the pianist didn't get billed (nor did the all-important page turner, for that matter) and I have no idea who it might be. The second half of the first movement is here.

To my knowledge Vengerov hasn't yet released a CD of this sonata, though he does have recordings of Brahms's second and third sonatas. The one I've heard most often is Itzahk Perlman's recording with the legendary Vladimir Ashkenazy on piano, but it's not angsty enough for my taste!

The double concerto--for violin, cello, and orchestra--now, that one has all the angst one could ask for built right in to every line from the dramatic opening bars played by the orchestra:

Young though they may be (perhaps because they are closer to those uneasy, angst-ridden teen years?), Julia Fischer and especially Daniel Müller-Schott do a stupendous job of bringing this gorgeous piece of music to life. The rest of the first movement is here, and the reflective second and fiery third movement can be found here and here, respectively.

Fischer and Müller-Schott have a recording of the concerto with the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Yakov Kreizberg.

Wishing you plenty of Brahms on any black cloud days you may have.
"It is not hard to compose, but it is wonderfully hard to let the superfluous notes fall under the table." ~Johannes Brahms

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Poetry Friday - John David (b.1946)

"You Are the New Day"
by John David

I will love you more than me
and more than yesterday
if you can but prove to me
you are the new day.

Send the sun in time for dawn,
let the birds all hail the morning.
Love of life will urge me say,
you are the new day.

When I lay me down at night
knowing we must pay,
thoughts occur that this night might
stay yesterday.

Thoughts that we as humans small
could slow worlds and end it all
lie around me where they fall
before the new day.

One more day when time is running out
for ev'ryone,
like a breath I knew would come
I reach for a new day

Hope is my philosophy,
just needs days in which to be,
love of life means hope for me,
born on a new day.

Well, I don't know if it stands alone enough as a poem, but Welsh songwriter John David's song is very moving, especially as sung by The King's Singers (try to ignore Barney and the Teletubbies--I do):

The local community chorus with which I sing is singing an SATB arrangement (by former King's Singers member Peter Knight) of this song in our upcoming spring concert, along with some other lovely choices.

Poetry Friday is being hosted today by children's book author Julie Larios over at The Drift Record.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Good find of the week: Hark I Hear the Harps Eternal - the Parker version

I admit I did not just find this song this week. The touring chamber choir I sang with as an undergraduate sang this piece one of the years I was in the group, and I loved it then. But it had totally slipped to the recesses of my mind until this week at the first rehearsal for my community choir's spring concert, where it appeared in the stack of sheet music I was handed as I walked in the door.

"Hark I Hear the Harps Eternal" is a shape-note hymn. In mid-eighteenth century America, shape-note singing originated out of a desire to assist people who were largely musically illiterate in singing music on sight. The basic idea was to give people a visual cue as to the note of the scale they were singing (based on four-syllable solfege):

Shape-note singing sessions still exist around this country, many of which work out of the Sacred Harp tradition.

The rousing arrangement of "Hark I Hear the Harps Eternal" I sang years ago and will be spending the next few Monday nights singing is by choral music legend, Alice Parker. Here is an excerpt--I couldn't find a YouTube recording with the audio clarity I wanted so that you would be able to hear the crisp articulation of the lower voices. I love the rhythms Parker uses--it takes the song to a whole new level.

This recording is by the San Francisco Symphony Chorus under the direction of Vance George from the CD, 1900-2000--a Choral Journey through the 20th Century.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Simply enchanting

On Morning Edition, this morning:
It was 3 o'clock one morning in 1964, on the eve of the highest holiday in the Tibetan calendar, when renowned religion scholar Huston Smith awoke in a monastery in the Himalayas to experience something transcendent.

"There fell upon my ear the holiest sound I have ever heard," says Smith, who was raised in China by missionaries and wrote the classic textbook, The World's Religions.

Smith was so moved by the sound that he decided to record it, eventually bringing it back to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. There, he played it for a colleague, an ethnomusicologist, who was similarly flabbergasted.

"Why, the man just paced the floor in excitement," recalls Smith. "And at one point, he clapped his palm to his forehead, and he said, 'My God, I am hearing nine overtones!' "

To read the rest of the transcript or to listen to the story, and to hear some excerpts of Tibetan chant, go here.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Music Monday - George Gershwin (1898-1937)

George Gershwin is way up there on my mental list of favorite American composers. From Rhapsody in Blue to the many wonderful songs ("Summertime," "Someone to Watch over Me," "Embraceable You," and "I Got Rhythm," just to name a very small portion of the man's output), his music bridges the gap between the Broadway stage and the classical concert hall.

Gershwin was the son of poor Russian emigrants who arrived in the U.S. a few years before he was born in 1898. At age twelve, he began to play the piano, and by age fifteen, had dropped out of school to hold down a job as a song-plugger in Tin Pan Alley. It was here that he became well-known among singers and other song-writers. His first song ("Swanee") was published less than two years later, and singer Al Jolson's recording of the song in 1920 received great acclaim.

With his brother Ira, George wrote many successful songs and musical comedies throughout his life. The now-famous songwriter sought out well-known composers for instruction in harmony and composition, and took sporadic lessons with musicians such as Rubin Goldmark and Henry Cowell. Besides the well-known Rhapsody in Blue (1924) and opera, Porgy and Bess (1935), Gershwin's classical works include a piano concerto (1925), a set of variations for piano and orchestra based on his song, "I Got Rhythm" (1934) and Cuban Overture (1932), along with several other pieces.

Anna Harwell Celenza has a perfectly lovely book featuring the story of how the composer came to write his first major classical orchestral composition: Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. In it she mentions some of the influences on Gershwin's compositions, including ragtime and Klezmer. The book includes a CD of the piece, as well, as played by the composer himself on a piano roll.

I have two favorites of Gershwin's that are among his lesser known classical pieces: Lullaby for Strings, and Prelude No. 2 from a set of three Preludes for Piano (1926). There is a YouTube video of a string quartet playing the Lullaby in its entirety here. The video quality isn't great, but the audio quality is pretty good, and the quartet is decent, even if they play the piece too fast for my taste (faster than I played it back in my wedding gig-playing days, anyway). Here it is (in Amazon exerpt form) at the "right" speed, which makes it just, well, dreamy:

Recording by Vesko Eschkenazy "and friends" on the CD, The Fascinating George Gershwin.

And my other favorite, another somnolent selection--the second of three Preludes for Piano:

as played by the equally delightful Michael Tilson Thomas (one of my heroes) on the CD, Classic Gershwin.

Pleasant dreams!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Celebrate spring - Hector Berlioz (1803-1869)

In celebration of the vernal equinox, here is a bit of "Villanelle," from Les Nuits d'Ete, by Hector Berlioz, as sung by Veronique Gens:

From the cd, Berlioz - Les Nuits d'été · La mort de Cléopatre (2002), on the EMI label. A very thorough site about Berlioz can be found here.

Translation of the French text by Isabella G. Parker

When shall come Spring's delightful weather,
When bleak Winter hath passed away,
Then, my love, we will go together,
Gath'ring lilies in the woodland gay.
Pearls of dew from our footsteps flinging,
Trembling bright in the morning ray,
Then will we hear the blackbirds singing,
Then will we hear the blackbirds singing,
All day!

Spring is come, O my love, so brightly;
'Tis the month for all lovers blest:
Birdling, poised on his wing so lightly,
Singeth songs by his downy nest.
Oh, come. On mossy bank reposing,
We will talk of our love today,
Thy gentle voice thy love disclosing:
Thy gentle voice thy love disclosing:

Far away through the wood we'll wander,
Fright the hare, hiding as we pass,
Where the deer sees his antlers yonder,
Mirrored fair in the Spring's clear glass;
Then alone in our sylvan pleasures,
Fingures twining, the while we roam,
We'll from the wood its fruity treasures,
We'll from the wood its fruity treasures
Bring home.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

What's in your TBR stack?

Melissa of Here in the Bonny Glen posted a picture of her TBR stack, and I thought it would make a nice meme to get others to share what is in theirs. Here's a pile of my TBRs:

What's in yours?

Hey--I just noticed that if you click on the photo the picture gets bigger and the titles are actually legible!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Music Monday - Solas

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

"The Coconut Dog/Morning Dew," as performed by American Celtic band Solas on their cd, Waiting for an Echo (2005).

Saturday, March 07, 2009

And they're off. . .

The ceremonial start of Iditarod XXXVII was yesterday. I watched some of it with my Iditarod Insider subscription, but still shots and some video are also available via the blogs listed in my sidebar, plus I've included a video from Alaska Daily News below.

The real race begins today in Willow. The reason behind the restart, as best I can tell, is firstly, an attempt to allow more people in on the fun (Anchorage being more populated and easier to get to), and secondly, to create the best trail conditions for the dogs and their mushers. Lack of snow and more roads and driveways crossing the trail have pushed the trail north to Wasilla since 1995, and, for many if not most of those years, to Willow Lake. Here's a bit from Lisa Maloney of Alaska Outdoor Recreation Examiner and the Anchorage Press:
The Iditarod's ceremonial start in downtown Anchorage has become more of a carnival than a racing start, with mushers saving their teams' strength for the real race. Look for higher tension and more game faces at the official Iditarod restart at Willow Lake in Willow, Alaska.

The ceremonial start used to be the real deal, but the always-open waters of the Matanuska River meant that teams had to run on the highway bridges if they wanted to run all the way from Anchorage to Nome. Increased highway development means this option is no longer feasible, so instead the teams run as far as Eagle River and are then trucked to Willow for the restart.

So there is still some time to join in on the fun!

Friday, March 06, 2009

2009 Iditarod starts tomorrow

Just a reminder that the ceremonial start of the Iditarod is tomorrow, Saturday, at 10 a.m. Alaska time (2 p.m. EST). The restart from Willow is on Sunday at 2 p.m., Alaska time (6 p.m., EDT). Most of Alaska does observe Daylight Savings Time (the exception being the western most Aleutian Islands which are in their own time zone, the Alaska-Aleutian time zone), so the four hour delay between the race and those of us here on the East coast will stay the same after our clocks "spring forward" early Sunday morning.

Poetry Friday - Nancy White Carlstrom

Today, in honor of Alaska's Last Great Race, the 2009 Iditarod, which begins tomorrow at 10 a.m. Alaska time (2 p.m. EST), I am posting the "spring" part of a poem celebrating the four seasons by Nancy White Carlstrom, from her book, Midnight Dance of the Snowshoe Hare--Poems of Alaska (1998), with the author's permission. The book's lovely illustrations are by Ken Kuroi.

from "Raven Cries River"
by Nancy White Carlstrom

Snowshoe Hare, white on light,
Sled Dog dreaming big race
Grouse family comic
Roosting tree like joke
Red Squirrel carries sunshine.
Gangly Moose
Dangling new buds
Stamping mud from snowmelt.

And Raven,
Bold rascal Raven
Cries River
Ice chunks crashing
Water rushing
Spring breakup!

The rest of the poem tells of each of the other three seasons from the animals' perspectives. The other poems in the book are also told in the voices of various Snowshoe Hare--young ones, wise grandfather hare, and others. Carlstrom's usually spare verse doesn't verge into cutesieness, so, although this book is likely aimed at the four to eight crowd, older readers will also enjoy it.

We've read the Jesse Bear books by Carlstrom, and have copies of Who Said BOO? Halloween Poems for the Very Young and Thanksgiving Day at Our House--Thanksgiving Poems forthe Very Young that we get out each fall. The author has a website, with a list of the Jesse Bear books, plus a list of all of her other books to date.

For more of my posts about the Iditarod, including lists of books, dvds, and other resources concerning the race, Alaska, and the Arctic, visit one of my other blogs, Rockhound Place.

Poetry Friday is being hosted today at Picture Book of the Day. Check it out!

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Good find of the week

We had Chicken with Saffron Rice last night. I tell you this not to toot my own horn (it feels like I've been making the same seven recipes for ten years), but to urge you to check out the recipe. I made it almost exactly as the Williams-Sonoma website told me to, though I did substitute a dry Marsala wine for the sherry, as I forgot to put that on last weekend's shopping list. The medium grain (Arborio) rice made the dish, and there wasn't much clean-up, as this is a one-pot meal. Delicious!

Music post coming soon!

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Snow day

Yesterday was a "day off" from homeschooling--I've tried, but whenever school is canceled for the neighborhood kids, it's nearly impossible for us to get anything done. While the day brought enough snow to make spring seem very far away, we had some cheery daffodils indoors to remind us that spring would eventually arrive:

And the kids spent the afternoon making cookies, thanks to a quick-and-easy shortbread mix that my friend Barb created and gave to us. Her Raventree Studio blog is here.

Stay cozy!