Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

I mentioned in a post below the Middle Gel’s upcoming fall concert.  Well, that concert was this evening.

The Gel, who is now a HS junior, made it into Madrigals this year – what amounts to Varsity Choir at her school – which, if I may say so, has a reputation for one of the best musick programs in the Great Commonwealth of Virginny.

At any event, their portion of the evening’s offerings was as follows:

  • A Cantate Domino by Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)
  • Je ne L’ose Dire” by Pierre Certon (d. 1572)
  • “I Love, Alas, I Love Thee” by Thomas Morley (1557-1603)
  • “Jungfrau, dein schöne Gestalt  by Hans Leo Hassler (1564-1612)
  • “Fair Phyllis I Saw” by John Farmer (1570-1601)

I mean to say, what?  Ol’ Robbo does love him some closely-reasoned Renaissance polyphony, especially if it is well done, as was this evening’s selection.

After the Madrigals did their stuff, they were joined on stage for the finale by the rest of the Concert Choir, of which they are the hub.  The final three selections were:

  • The beginning and concluding sections of the Gloria from a Mass setting by Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
  • “My Flight For Heaven” by some contemporary fellah named Blake Henson and based on a poem to Musick by the great Cavalier poet Robert Herrick
  • “Let Everything That Hath Breath”, a modern setting of Psalm 150:6 by some fellah named Jeffrey Ames.

You will notice in these lists a healthy amount of religious musick.  The same was generally true of the selections served up by the junior choirs as well.  I swear that I heard an older man sitting behind me exclaim to his wife, “So many Christian pieces? By Allah!”

A close friend of the Port Swiller Family (ex-Catholic, but I’m hoping to turn her back) came to see the Gel sing, and also remarked to me her surprise at the distinctly Christian flavor of the program, given that this is a public school.

Shh!” I said, “Don’t give anyone any ideas……”


Oh, and here for your enjoyment is a YooToob of the Morley, a distinctly secular piece – apparently with all five parts sung by the same fellah:


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Well, with last week’s unseasonable heat round here, ol’ Robbo found himself out this morning mowing the Port Swiller Manor lawn, hopefully  for the last time this year.  (In what may be a little bit of wishful thinking, I let the mower run down to empty the gas tank at any rate.)  The grass, in addition to being fairly high, also had a layer of early leaves covering part of it.  Why is there so much pleasure in running a mower over leaves?  Is it the smell (especially when the fragments start to singe on the inside of the blade chamber)?  Is it the visual pleasure of cutting a nice, sharp, green path through the sea of yellows and oranges?  Maybe it’s both.  In any event, I most definitely enjoy it.

Yes, the leaves are starting to fall, and I had to haul one load down from the end of the driveway today, but we really haven’t got started yet.  As regular friends of the decanter may recall, my main autumnal task is dealing with a row of three silver maples and an oak (all about 40 ft tall) that overshadow the sidewalk fronting P.S.M.  The row runs from northwest to southeast and the maples never drop all their leaves at the same time, but rather in order from NW to SE.  I think it has something to do with exposure – as one tree denudes, the next in line is subject to more wind.  The oak spreads out the cleanup job even longer, because it won’t drop all at once, but instead takes its sweet, sweet, time, often several weeks longer than the maples.  Generally, it takes me about four Saturdays through November and early December to finally get things squared away.

Anyhoo, this year we did a goodish bit of landscaping out front which is going to have an impact on make more laborious the way I go about moving all those leaves (a process that involves rake, blower, wheelbarrow and tarp).  I find the technical questions of the most efficient way to compensate to be interesting and challenging, but nobody else around here seems to have much sympathy:  Yard work (and things like trash removal) is strictly Ol’ Dad’s problem because Ol’ Dad is a man, and only men should have to do it.  (Yes, Mrs. R taught the gels that.  It was the same thing in my own misspent yoot:  My brother and I were out slaving away for the Old Gentleman every weekend, while Sistah spent all her time in her room listening to Adam Ant records.  It was (and is) infuriating.)

Speaking of technical questions, I went ahead and ordered rolls of burlap and bubble wrap from the devil’s website pursuant to the plan to winterize the boxwood urns I mentioned a couple weeks ago.  Between the random items and the eccentric assortment of books and musick I get from those people, I’m hoping one day to cause their marketing algorithms to suffer a complete nervous breakdown.  (I don’t doubt, though, that when I go check my Facebook feed, ads for wrapping materials will already be there.  This, I don’t like.)

I mentioned the heat up above.  It was 85 degrees here on Thursday.  Today we’ll top out in the mid-50’s with a strong NW wind.  I love this sort of thing.  Curiously, it’s autumn days like these that always make me want to reread Tolkien, especially the Fellowship of the Ring, since Frodo and his party set out on their adventure about this time of year and Tolkien pays such close attention to the shifting weather as they travel from the Shire to Rivendell.  Years ago I read a paper somewhere on the innertoobs that presented a meteorological analysis of Tolkien’s weather pattern descriptions for this trip and found that they were absolutely sound for the time of year and the part of England with which Tolkien was most familiar.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Whelp, today was the kickoff of the annual fall membership marathon pledge drive at the local classickal radio station.

On the one hand, Ol’ Robbo was little surprised to hear the same canned fundraising rhetoric about “community” and “one pledge at a time” and “do your part” that he’s heard for many, many years before.  After all, That’s What You Do with fundraisers, right? Blah, blah, blah.

On the other hand,  I can’t help noticing that, at least apparently to dweebs like me, this approach has been something of a  failure in recent years.   Why? Because the station seems gradually to have been throwing things overboard in order to lighten the financial load.  Last year, it summarily cancelled its bottom-of-the-hour morning drive-time NPR nooz updates.  This year, it also chucked the afternoon drive-time bottom-of-the-hour local nooz updates.  Also, it chucked all of its half-hour drive-time traffic updates.  (This didn’t bother me so much, as years of bitter experience had already convinced me that there was very little correspondence between what the radio was telling me about teh road and what I could actually see outside my own windscreen.)  Finally, I’ve noticed that the usual DJs have been absent a great deal, suggesting to me that they are no longer full-time employees, but have been reduced to part-time status.

Anyhoo, this whole biznay got me thinking about how the station could improve its finances.

One idea I had was to play the pathos card:  “Oh, Lordy!   If you don’t cough up, we’ll have no choice but to lease the transponder to ISIS and eat the sound engineer!”

But then, I realized that Monty Python (as so often was the case) had the real angle on how it should be done:


And in these pastures? Cor lumme, stone the crows! Croesus ain’t in it.  Thank me later.

(And yes, in case you’re wondering, ol’ Robbo actually tosses in his monthly offering, since he listens so much on his commutes back and forth, and down the office.)




Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

One of Ol’ Robbo’s long-term (i.e., post-retirement) goals is to get back into serious keyboard work.  You see, I took piano lessons all the way up through the end of high school – indeed, my long-term instructor suggested that I might consider applying to a conservatory – but never did much beyond that other than sight-reading (primarily Bach, Handel, Haydn and Mozart).  I can hack along well enough in this practice to (at times) amuse myself, but increasingly I long for the satisfaction to really nail a piece, working it up to performance calibre.  (Part of my motivation, I’ll grant, is the fact that the Middle Gel – an astonishingly lovely soprano – has already sung Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, the Washington National Cathedral, Notre Dame, Chartres, and other pro venues, but another part is the pure desire for myself to produce real Art.)

Anyhoo, two works currently on my radar are both by Johann Sebastian “Johnny” Bach.  One is his 13th Sinfonia in A-minor:



The other is the rayther nightmarishly chromatic Gigue from his 5th English Suite:

I only have the time to run through these (0r any other pieces) a couple times per week these days years.  Sometimes my efforts are truly gratifying – in the “any landing you can walk away from is a good one” sense.  Sometimes, they leave me swearing heavily  .  (One never knows whether Terpsichore is in the house or not.)  But someday I would like to be able to sit down and toss them off for pure pleasure.

UPDATE:  First, mea culpa about my description of Middle Gel’s achievements.  On re-reading, it sounds a bit too much like Braggy McBragFace who Brags.  That was certainly not my intention.  I just love the musick so much and am in such awe of the Gel’s achievements.  Indeed, just before writing, I had been talking with her about next week’s fall concert, something to which I am much looking forward.  She mentioned that her madrigal group would be doing some Renaissance works by Claudio Monteverdi and Thomas Morley, among others, and then she started quoting some German text.  I suppose I got a bit overwhelmed by teh awesome.

Second, I forgot to mention the surprising development that the Eldest Gel has suddenly become interested in singing herself.  She’s always had musickal talent, but also is a natural alto (voices run fairly deep among the wimmins in Mrs. Robbo’s family), but had always shied away before.  However, she signed up for her college choir and has been enjoying it immensely.  (We got to see them in action this past weekend.)  Indeed, although she’s only in the lowest, all voices welcome, group this year, she is talking of taking voice lessons in order to advance to the upper echelons.



Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Well, ol’ Robbo just got back from visiting the Eldest Gel for Parents’ Weekend at SBC.  All in all, quite the interesting experience.

The other day, the Gel requested and required, in her straightforward way, that Mrs. R and I try not to make conspicuous fools of ourselves while visiting.  Overall?  I’d say we were roughly 60% compliant with that request order.  (At least we didn’t bring baby photos to show the Gel’s friends.)  Our first fault – which I should have spotted and more forcefully deterred – was that Mrs. R kept forgetting that she was a visiting parent and not a visiting alumna, so she spent large amounts of time glad-handing faculty, administration, and other students, trying to set up networks, offer suggestions, and generally rallying to the flag.  All worthy endeavors, of course, but there’s a time and a place for everything.  When Mrs. R was going at Maximum Shmooze, I could see faint puffs of smoke coming out of the Gel’s ears.  (Not just because Mom Wouldn’t Stop Yakking, but also, I believe, because there’s a kind of territorial thing developing here:  The Gel has so quickly taken to the place that she now assumes it’s her turf and that Mrs. R is an intruder.)

Also, Mrs. R indulged in her favorite pastime of trying to jam Too Many Events into Too Little Time (something which has driven me absolutely batty the last quarter century).  This culminated in an ill-advised late movie date with the Gel after her theatre production was finished last evening, leaving the Gel an extremely irritable zombie this morning.   I’m not so sure it wouldn’t have been better for all involved if we hadn’t simply slipped off for home after the show instead of staying for brunch today.  (The production of “The Trojan Women” was, by the bye, quite well done for all my critique in the linked post.  Great leads, well-staged, and pretty gruesome all around.)

Ah, well.

A few other things:

The Gel may have been an irritable zombie this morning, but so was Ol’ Robbo.  This was because last night was the second night in a row in which I got virtually no rest.  Now, long-time friends of the decanter may recall that Ol’ Robbo does not do well sleeping in beds other than his own in the first place (e.g., on travel), but this was somewhat worse.  For one thing, there was something going on with the pipes at the inn where we stayed.  Do you remember that sound the sabotaged reactor plant made in “The Hunt For Red October” that forced the crew of the October to shut it  down? That metallic ka-clang! ka-clang! ka-clang!?  We got that, off and on, all night.  For another, this weekend happens to have been Homecoming at the Younger Gels’ high school.  We had allowed them to stay and go to the game and dance provided that  they stayed with approved friends and that we worked out security understandings and arrangements with said friends’ parents ahead of time.  So last evening, we couldn’t even think about going to bed until we had received confirmation from home that the Younger Gels were safe, sound, and not in requirement of bail money.

(The above paragraph is, by the bye, an apologetic explanation to long-time friend of the decanter Old Dominion Tory for why I didn’t appear at his church for Mass this morning.  I had thought to tool over the mountains, in part because ODT’s church was one of the nearer available options, in part because we’ve been blog-friends for years on end but had never met in person.   But I was so wiped out that I simply couldn’t get myself up in time.  Mea culpa!)

The Gel’s operating procedure during most of our visit was to deal with us until she’d had about enough and then dismiss us until she was ready to reengage.  This left some time on our hands, so yesterday Mrs. R and I decided to walk round the campus on the traditional loop known as “The Dairy”.  It’s a farm road that, starting behind the performing arts theater, passes over some fields, climbs up the backside of Monument Hill, passes through the stables, and then dips down into the dell where the graphic arts program is housed in the buildings and barn that used to hold the working dairy back in the day – hence the name – before climbing back up toward the main campus.  (The Dairy – which supplied fresh milk and ice cream to the dining hall when Mrs. R was there – was forced to close in the early 90’s because of the added costs associated with complying with strict new EPA regulations championed by AlGore.  Of course, Big Dairy – cosy with the gubmint – could afford to swallow such regs while all the little operations like SBC’s were run out of the market, so from the point of view of both the Bureaucracy and the Major Players, everybody won.  And that, boys and girls, is what we call Crony Capitalism or, to put it more succinctly, Fascism.)  The loop is something in the neighborhood of three miles all the way around.  (The Gel walks it at least twice a day.)

Anyhoo, as we tramped along outbound across the fields, I suddenly stopped.

“What is it?” said Mrs. Robbo.

“You’re going to think I’m completely mad,” I replied, “But I’d swear I heard the skirl of bagpipes coming down the wind.”

We continued walking.  A few moments later, I stopped again.

“Yes?” said Mrs. R.

“I heard it again!” I answered.  “Are the Campbells coming?”

A few more yards and there could be no doubt:  Somewhere up ahead, a piper was doing his thing.

As we tramped along up the hill and the musick got clearer, I couldn’t help feeling a certain chill, even a romantic urge.  (My father’s family is almost purebred Scots, you know.  It must be something in the blood.)

Eventually, we tramped up to the top of Monument Hill and there he was, a Lone Piper (albeit in t-shirt and jeans) solemnly striding back and forth and puffing away.  At first I had thought it was some kind of honorary tribute to the spirit of the school embodied in the Monument.  However, as the fellah kept starting and stopping and repeating certain phrases, I realized he was just practicing, and probably doing so at such a remote location because he couldna’ do it anywheer else fer yon dozy knippits who dinnah unnerstan teh pipes!

Made my day, however.

The other get-rid-of-parents activity in which Ol’ Robbo participated was the fly-casting clinic held by a couple of profs down by the boat house.  Now, the Old Gentleman taught me how to fly-fish when I was a kid, but I haven’t picked up a fly-rod in twenty years and wanted to see if I still have the touch.  Well, my friends, it seems that I do.  However, I also have something that I didn’t have back in the day:  A maximum pitch-count.

So there you have it.  Mrs. Robbo and I are home again after a reasonably entertaining weekend, the Younger Gels are safe and sound, and the Eldest can breath a sigh of relief and unclench.

UPDATE:  For your delectation:


Although I’m mighty-near purebred Scots on my father’s side, my family were not true Highlanders, having held lands primarily slightly south of the line between Glasgow and Edinburgh, so I dinna know where we stood re pacification and relations with the Brits.  But I know ye ne kin trust the bludy Campbells!

Nats HatGreetings, my fellow port swillers!

As you might imagine, ol’ Robbo is shaking his fists at the Heavens this morning.  Of course, after my commenting below that we had an advantage going into last night’s game because of No Kershaw?  We got Kershaw. 

The Baseball Gods are cruel.

Oh, well.  It was fun to watch with the Gels and at least we didn’t disgrace ourselves.  (I mean the Nats didn’t.  I don’t think Mrs. R was too keen on the way I was yelling at the teevee.)  One can’t help wondering whether the big bat of Wilson Ramos might have made the difference in such tight games.

As for going forward, I have no deep preferences.  A Cubs/Indians series would be sweet, of course, and I think I’d wind up rooting for the Tribe, if for no other reason than that the Mothe is from Cleveland and she’s been talking about 1948 and Satchel Paige a lot recently.  OTOH, something in me thinks the Cubbies are finally going to break the Curse of the Billy Goat this year.

We shall see.

troy_sack_19232_mdGreetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo may or may not have mentioned it here already, but Eldest Gel is participating in her school’s fall theatre production (which we will be going to see in the near future).  They’re doing “The Trojan Women” by Euripides.  The Gel is one of the Chorus, so she spends the entire production on stage.

It so happens that Ol’ Robbo read this particular play many years ago, and that it stuck somewhat to his braims because it was Euripides’s commentary on Athens’ savage treatment of the little colony of Melos in the run up to the Peloponnesian War.  (The Melian Dialogue, as set out by ol’ Thick-Sides, was a study of mine several times during the course of my undergrad and graduate education.  The last time was in a rhetoric class I took my third year of law school.  For the final, I argued that the episode illustrated the limitations of persuasive argument insofar as it didn’t matter buppkiss how well the Melians stated their case for being excused service in the War since the Athenians were holding a metaphorical gun to their heads.  Realpolitik, so to speak.  My prof was not amused.)

Anyhoo, in the course of a chat this afternoon, I asked the Gel something or other about the dialogue between Poseidon and Athena that opens the play.

“The what?” she said.

“Poseidon and Athena.  You know, where they discuss the appropriate punishment of the Greek army because, during the sack of Troy, Cassandra is dragged away from a statue of Athena and raped by one of the Greek commanders.”

Huh? That’s not in the play.  It’s all about Queen Hecuba of Troy and her family and what happens to them when they’re prisoners.  What are you talking about?”

“Yes, that’s the main body, but Poseidon and Athena come first.  She’s outraged over the violation of her sanctuary by the Greeks and is seeking appropriate vengeance.”

“Well, it’s not in the version we’re doing…..”

“Crimminy, it must have been cut from your script.  But that’s the whole point!  The Ancient Greeks, actually (I believe) stumbling across the Seven Deadly Sins without realizing it, were keenly aware that violation of taboos (like sanctuary) tended to bring about Divine Retribution.  Euripides was using the Greeks’ beastliness to the Trojans as a warning to his contemporaries not to let the war against Sparta get out of hand.  And later on, Thucydides and others ascribed the eventual crushing of Athens by Sparta as the Divine result of Athens’ exceeding the proper bounds of civilized warfare, specifically including its treatment of Melos.”

“Well, how was the play a warning?”

“Because a number of the Greek leaders at Troy eventually came to very nasty ends because of their behavior there, specifically including their treatment of Queen Hecuba and her surviving family.  For example, Agamemnon was murdered by his wife Clytemnestra when he returned to Mycene because he brought along Cassandra as a slave-concubine.”

“Well, there’s nothing about that in the play.”

“No, but any member of Euripides’ audience would be perfectly acquainted with Homeric tradition and would know that already.  Didn’t anyone explain any of this?”

“No.  All we know is that we’re a group of “refugees” being maltreated by the Patriarchy or someone because they’re mean.  Your explanation is a lot more interesting.”

Yeah, it is.  Sigh.  But why get into all this  yucky objective Eternal Verities and God-talk in a 2500+ year old historickal context when you can reduce the point to one about non-sectarian feelz over Hatey McHate-Hates who Hate?  And wymmyn?

Incidentally, they’re doing the show in modern dress.  The Gel also told me that her costume makes her look so much like Little Orphan Annie that she went around rehearsal this afternoon singing “It’s the Hard-Knock Life” until she was summarily told to shut it.


** Spot the quote

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo  decided to spare you his usual Columbus Day rant about the absurdity of virtue-signalling to which this day has become increasingly subject in recent years.

I will also say up front that I most emphatically did not watch the debate last night.  Nope, nope, and nope.  Instead, I got about half way through “The Longest Day” before dozing off.  (I think I may have a cold coming on.)  And as a general matter of policy, I’m not going to say a single word here about the elections until after they’re done.  (Well, okay, just one:  Yeesh!)

Instead, I’ll just toss out a couple comments on things near and dear to me at the moment.

urn-1First, I may have mentioned it here before a week or two ago, but I sat down this morning to try and puzzle out what to do about winterizing the two boxwood urns out on the Port Swiller patio.  (This is a picture of the one.  And the other is like unto it.)  It would seem that my idea of wrapping them in some kind of insulation has some merit to it.  So my plan is, in the next couple weeks, to drag them into a corner out of the wind and surround them with a double layer of bubblewrap and burlap.

Nats HatSecond, how about ol’ Robbo’s beloved Nats?  Ladies and Gentlemen, we’ve got ourselves a series now!  The Family Robbo will be glued to Game 3 later on this afternoon, praying that Gio can keep it together and that Jayson Werth is right about the monkey.

What else is there to say except:


UPDATE: FWAAAAAH!!  A hellevah good game! Two shots to go to make it to the NLS.  What possibly else is there to say but:



Saul, Saul, was verfolgst du mich? from the Symphoniae sacrae III by Heinrich Schutz (1585-1672).

(“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?
It will become hard for you
to kick against the thorns.” – Acts 9:4-5)

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

A cool and rainy Saturday here at Port Swiller Manor means ol’ Robbo really can’t hide in the yard as usual, but instead has been dragooned into getting the house cleaned up for a stay by the Former Llama Military Correspondent, who will be in town this weekend for the Army Ten-Miler.  (At the moment, I’m waiting on the sheets in the washing machine.)

Anyhoo, I first heard this piece thirty-mumble years ago in a college musick class and was deeply impressed by it.  Unfortunately, at the time I didn’t take in the compositional facts of the piece and somehow got it into my head that it was something out of Handel.  After that, I lost touch with it completely.

However, I am currently reading Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven by John Eliot Gardiner and came across a discussion of Schutz’s influence on Bach that contained a detailed description of this piece.  I immediately recognized it and happily scurried off to yootoobz to indulge myself.  It’s far more moving  – and indeed, awe-inspiring – than I remember even from back in the day.  (Well, it ought to be, oughten it?  Something wrong with me otherwise.)

I haven’t made up my mind about whether or not I like Gardiner’s book yet, by the bye.  It is very informative about Bach’s life and influences, but so far the narrative has a somewhat uneven quality about it, with a tendency to go back and forth between dense analysis and flighty by-the-ways.  Also, Gardiner’s ego keeps bubbling up – we don’t refer to him ’round here as “John Eliot Full-Of-Himself” for nothing, you know.


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Filched from Wiki

Filched from Wiki

As I’m sure some of the more history-nerdy friends of the decanter are aware, today is the 445th anniversary of the Battle of Lepanto, the pivotal Renaissance sea battle in which a combined fleet of Spanish, Venitian, and Papal warships beat the living daylights out of a far larger Ottoman fleet, thereby saving the Med from a Muslim takeover.

In honor of the day, I recently started reading Niccolo Capponi’s Victory of the West: The Great Christian-Muslim Clash at the Battle of Lepanto.  These days, most people (who have actually even heard of the battle, that is)  seem to believe that the “miracle” associated with Lepanto was the actual victory itself.  Me?  Reading this book about the hot mess that was 16th Century European politicks, I think the real miracle was that the Spanish, the Venitians, the Genoans, and the Holy See managed to cobble together a fleet in teh first place, and that said fleet was able to operate efficiently and cooperatively. (Capponi is very cynical about the horse-trading surrounding this combination.  To his credit, though, he is unflinching in his respect for St. Pius V, the Pope who put it all together.)

And largely based on this victory, today is also the Feast of the Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  On his lunchtime walk, ol’ Robbo stumbled across a group of somewhere between 150 and 175 people praying the Rosary.  It was gratifying to toss in a couple decades myself as I circled round them.


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