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cathedral choirGreetings, my fellow port swillers!

As I mentioned in one of the posts below, this past weekend Mrs. R and I went down the Washington National Cathedral to hear its combined choirs (including the Middle Gel, in her first year as a senior chorister) and orchestra serve up Handel’s Messiah.  Oddly enough, although I have heard the piece many, many times in various recordings and have seen live performances of parts of it, this was the first time I’d seen it live all the way through.

Well, it was glorious.  No other word.  Canon Michael McCarthy, who helmed the thing, is a veteran of John Eliot Gardiner’s Monteverdi Choir and of The Sixteen and knows his period performance stuff from soup to nuts, and it definitely showed in the snappy tempi, the crisp sound and the subtlety and intimacy that can be found even in such a big piece.  (My introduction to Messiah was an old record of a performance from some time in the early 60’s by some big Irish orchestra and choir that the Old Gentleman would play for us every Christmas season.  It was a super-sized dirge compared to this and other more recent historically-informed recordings and performances.)  Of the professional soloists, I didn’t care all that much for the soprano but the other three were quite solid.  And the professional men – who take the counter-tenor, tenor and bass parts of the choruses – were as reliable as they always are.  (They regularly sing with the girls for Sunday services and weekday Evensong.)

But the focus for me, of course, was on the boys and girls who handled the soprano part of the choruses and on the Middle Gel in particular.

We sat four rows back from the stage and on the Gel’s side, so I could see her quite clearly behind the bassist.  And I was enchanted.

I had already noticed this fall that, after a couple years’ experience at the Cathedral, the Gel was really beginning to step up, to transition from just getting through without audibly screwing up to really beginning to make her presence felt.  Her performance here did nothing but confirm this impression to me.  She positively radiated confidence and engagement, and I could distinctly pick out her voice more than once.  And on top of all that, she was obviously enjoying herself.  Indeed, at the end of many of the choruses, our eyes would lock, I would nod and she would grin.

All in all, a wonderful thing.

On a somewhat unexpectedly bittersweet note, from time to time during the performance I found myself regretting that the Old Gentleman didn’t live long enough to see his grand-daughter blossoming in this way.  (Friends from the old Llama days** may recall that he commented there under the tag “O.F.” and that he had much to say on musickal topics.)  I get most of my own musickal talent from him and I’m sure that a substantial part of that flowed down to the Gel.  I’m sure he would have been beside himself with pride in her, as was I.

Oh, and to give you an idea of how much I enjoyed it?  The performance ran about three hours altogether.  To me, it felt more like around twenty minutes.  That’s how much.

 

*  I hope that friends of the decanter know ol’ Robbo well enough to understand that this post has nothing to do with pretentious, inside-the-Imperial-Beltway-Bubble sticking on side, but is solely concerned with musick in general and teh Gel’s achievements therein in particular.   Pretentious? Moi?

**  I see that Pixy has returned the old Llama Butchers Moo Knew site to the primordial ooze and therefore that all that was written there is gone.  Same deal with the earlier Blogsplat version.  Pity.  I had often thought of printing out each entry and all its attached comments for the sake of posterity.

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

I think I might have seen this one before, but it still makes me laugh:

st nick

I love these memes.  Why not use the tools available to wrestle back images co-opted by the popular culture?

And speaking of the holidays, Mrs. Robbo and I are off later today to the Cathedral to hear the Middle Gel and her mates sing Handel’s Messiah.  Watch this space for my review.

UPDATE:  Sigh…..Have I mentioned lately what it is like to live in a house with three teenaged daughters, especially for someone like ol’ Robbo who values peace, calm and order very highly?

Yes, it’s an open question whether my liver is going to last until we can get them all packed off to college.  And after breaking up an apocalyptic cat-fight over a pair of shoes a while ago (shoes, for all love!), my thought on this Feast of St. Nicholas was RELEASE THE KRAMPUS!

krampus and NicholasWho?

In Germanic countries, St. Nicholas is accompanied by Krampus, an evil spirit or little devil, usually dressed in fur or black with a long tail, and carries a rattling chain, birch branches and a big black bag. In Holland Sinterklass or Sinterklaus leaves from Spain on a boat, accompanied by Black Peter (Piet), his Moor servant. Peter wears animal skins or the traditional medieval Moorish colorful clothing. M December 5, St. Nicholas Eve, is known in some rural areas of Austria as “Krampus Day.” Children and adults go to the village square to throw snowballs and try to chase off Krampus. Other Krampuses lie in wait, rattling their chains and threatening to carry off naughty children in their black bags, or to punish them with their birch branches. All this is done in fun; Krampus’ main purpose is remind the children to be good.

Yes, carrot and stick.  But of course, by today’s standards of raising the precious little snowflakes, it’s almost a hate crime to even hint to them that their bad behavior might have, well, bad consequences.

Grrrrr….

 

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

And so it begins.  Every year come the day after Thanksgiving,  the local classickal station begins firing up its rotation of Christmas “holiday” musick.

They start mildly enough, slipping the odd carol or tune in just before the top or bottom of the hour nooz blurb from Nihilist Propaganda Radio, but in short order the mix becomes more and more “seasonally” oriented.  By Christmas Eve itself, the theme has taken over completely.  Of course by then, when, you know, Christmas actually starts, one is utterly sick of the stuff.

Along those lines, Ol’ Robbo likes to play a masochistic little game with himself this time of year, seeing just how long he can go on listening to endless repetitions of “Deck the Halls” and “The Holly and The Ivy” plus pure abominations like “If Bach Had Written ‘Jingle Bells'” before he starts frantically clawing through his drawer for a screwdriver with which to puncture his own eardrums.

I usually hold out until about a week before Christmas itself.  At that point, unable to stand any more “I Wonder As I Wander” and “The Dreidel Song”, I start listening exclusively to CDs until it’s all over.

Which it is, with the suddenness of the Last Trump.  Come December 26, again, the second day of the actual twelve day celebration, not a single note of “holiday” musick will you hear on the station.

Which in a way is a relief, but is infuriating because of why it’s such a relief.

Sigh.

Speaking of which, this year I am going to try more than ever to use the word “X-mas” whenever I am discussing the warped, secularized, bowdlerized, hyper-consumerist “holiday” that most people “celebrate” these days and reserve the word “Christmas” for its proper place.  I’m sure lots of folks won’t understand me but I don’t care.

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo is loitering around this Saturday morning, drinking coffee and waiting for the temperature to get up over the freezing mark before he goes out and deals with the leaves.  As regular friends of the decanter may have read here previously, there are three big silver maples and an oak between the street and the sidewalk in front of Port Swiller Manor.  I have found over the years that it’s best to clean up under them in four stages – a preliminary sweep after the initial drop, usually at the end of October/beginning of November; a second sweep the week before Thanksgiving; a third sweep either  Thanksgiving weekend or the next one following; and a final sweep once the oak finishes shedding (it’s always last).

In the meantime, since I’ve been on my anti-“holiday” hype jag recently, I thought I would share one thing I do enjoy about this time of year, and that is hearing the Salvation Army bells ringing at the local groc store.  Especially after dark, for some reason.  I don’t really have an articulate explanation for this, but that tinkling presses a certain button of satisfaction somewhere within ol’ Robbo’s soul.

So there you are.  Regular ranting will resume almost immediately.

Did Bach’s wife write his finest works?

Well, how do I put this subtly?  No.

I vaguely recall reading something about this theory a couple years ago.  Although it got laughed at, it seems to have raised its head once again.

At least according to the article, the only “proof” that Anna Magdalena Bach, a known copiest and musically intelligent herself, is that (get this) some of Bach’s manuscripts appear in her hand and at certain points she seems to have fiddled with them a bit. 

Iron. Clad. Case.

Not.

But of course, in the world of modern academics, which thrives on adolescent-level emotion, sensationalism and identity-driven politicks, inconveniences such as the need for objectivity and lack of proof simply get tossed aside.

Then there is the “impact” of this supposed revelation:

[Sally] Beamish [a British composer who will be presenting a documentary on this “discovery” in the near future] said the theory raised important questions about female composers, and had huge implications that could “transform” the confidence of young women hoping to make it today.

“What I found fascinating is the questions it raises about the assumptions we make: that music is always written by one person and all the great masters were male by definition,” she said.

I simply cannot conceive how wretched it must be to have a mind that occupies itself with such hobgoblins.  Is Mizz Beamish really so insecure that she can’t contemplate the transcendence of musick by, for example, Bach and Mozart without worrying about such “assumptions”?  Can she not appreciate said musick for what it is in itself without raising such questions?

Cor lumme, stone the crows.

And as for “huge implications”, as regular friends of the decanter will know, teh Middle Gel is a young woman who has very real aspirations to “make it” in the musick business some day.  I can promise Mizz Beamish that teh gel has no need of such half-penny sociological twaddle in order to achieve the confidence that she has.  Instead, she’s got to where she is through talent, dedication and hard work.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo has duly noted all day that today is the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, one of the most decisive engagements of the Napoleonic Wars.  Obligatory  illustration:

J.M.W Turner, "The Battle of Trafalgar, as seen from the starboard mizzen shrouds of the Victory"

J.M.W Turner, “The Battle of Trafalgar, as seen from the starboard mizzen shrouds of the Victory”

 

I’ve not much to say this year except to urge my fellow port swillers to raise your glasses to Lord Nelson and the stout British Tars who believed in him.  Three times three and no heel taps, Ladies and Gentlemen!

And for those of you of a somewhat more pious bent, I give you Papa Haydn’s “Nelson Mass“:

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Teh Middle Gel mentioned this evening the fun she and her choir mates have in singing an 8-voice setting of the “Ave Maria” by Gustav Holst.   Ol’ Robbo had had no idea that Holst, who is a bit out of his normal musickal grazing grounds, had ever done such a setting.  Indeed, beyond “The Planets”, I’m not sure I would know a work by Holst if I tripped over it.   So I of course had to dial the thing up and listen.   Here you go.  It certainly will never replace my favorite Renaissance and Baroque settings, but it is pleasant.  And I can understand why a bevy of young singers would enjoy it:

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Surrender_of_General_BurgoynePray allow ol’ Robbo to draw the attention of all you Revolutionary War geeks out there to the fact that on this date in 1777, British General Burgoyne surrendered to American General Gates after the Battle of Saratoga, and on this same date in 1781 Lord Cornwallis surrendered to Washington at teh Siege of YorktownSurrender_of_Lord_Cornwallis

I don’t have much specifically to say about either fight, really.  I just like the coincidence.  Plus, I’m a fan of the works of John Trumbull and like having an excuse for putting up a couple of them.

Oh, and just to add a bit more, it is said that at Yorktown the Brit fifers played a tune called “The World Turned Upside Down” to show what they thought of the biznay.  Here’s a rendition snapped up more or less at random:

 

When ol’ Robbo was a lad, his grandmother gave him a collection of Revolutionary War songs put out by, I think, National Geographic.  (I still sing a few of them in the shower.)  One was a more folksy version of TWTUD (in point of fact, it was a different tune altogether from this) and had lyrics that went, IIRC:

“If buttercups buzzed after the bees/If boats were on land and churches on seas/If ponies road men and the grass ate the cows/If cats should be chased into holes by the mouz/If mammas sold their babies to gypsies for half a crown/If summer were spring, t’other way round/Then all the world would be upside down.”

I know nothing about these lyrics except they were what the man sang on the record.

*Verified by the CDC.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Late last Saturday afternoon, as ol’ Robbo drove teh Middle Gel to a friend’s house downtown for a birthday party sleepover, he found himself listening to an excruciatingly beautiful performance of one of Vivaldi’s Opus I trio sonatas on teh local classickal station.   (The fact that Robbo drives a Wrangler while listening to classickal musick, by the bye, will tell you much about what a weirdo he really is.)

vivaldi trio sonatas opus 1Anyhoo, so moved was I – Baroque trio sonatas are perhaps my very favorite form of art musick – that this evening I hunted up the playlist from that afternoon and tracked down the CD from which the election came.  It’s Vivaldi’s Sonate Da Camera a Tre Opus 1, performed by L’Estravagante, a fairly new group which, it would seem, has not yet recorded very much.  (Yes, the cover art on the CD is somewhat cheesy, but I’m afraid that’s a reality of modern marketing, even for high art.)  Of course I nipped over to the devil’s website and bought a copy for myself.

This is a perfect example of what I was on about the other day regarding the glorious Golden Age of historically-informed performances in which we are fortunate to live.   It may not seem like much when one considers all the signs of the intellectual, spiritual and moral collapse of Western Civilisation that  dominate the headlines these days, but it is at least something.

You can insert a “fiddling while Rome burns” joke here if you like, but I prefer to think of it as lighting a single candle instead of cursing the Darkness.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Waiting around for the dew to dry up a bit before mowing the lawn this morning, ol’ Robbo finds himself sampling a track recommended by the Middle Gel, who is a huge fan of the Piano Guys.

“Evolution”  – There’s that word again.  Just the other day I believe I was ranting here about the whiggish implication in its use that Newer means Better.  When teh Gel told me about this video,  which (if you aren’t going to click it) is a mash up of the principle Batman themes going back to the old 60’s teevee series, I could not resist pointing out that the only real Batman among them all was, of course, the legendary Adam West.  (Okay, I’ll also give you Olan Soule, who voiced Batman on the old Super Friends cartoons.  BTW, did you know that Ted Knight was the narrator for those shows?)  In my opinion, once an actor and a role have reached a certain level of association, it becomes downright heretical to let somebody else play the part.  See Kirk, James Tiberius.

Not that I’ve really paid any attention to Batman’s later manifestations – I never saw any of the Dark Knight movies, for instance.  All of this fantasy/sooperhero stuff that seems so en vogue these days strikes me as extremely juvenile.  (Ducks.)

As for the musick?  Eh, it’s a nice sound and I can see why teh Gel likes these guys.  At her age, I probably would have, too.  But you know what Paul says about thinking as a child.**  These days, the stuff is really too fluffy for my taste.  (Ducks again.)

 

** [Ed. – Um, you put up a picture of a guy sitting on a potty in the post just below this one.]

UPDATE:  Aaaaand, in before the rain!

 

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