Awake Thou Wintry Earth

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Chives growing in my garden, February 12, 2016

Awake, Thou Wintry Earth is almost a life anthem. I came to Thomas Blackburn’s poem by way of Bach’s Cantata 129. When I heard it, I came to understand in a new way that spring is an annual demonstration of resurrection. Listening to this still gives me shivers. Singing it means I end up whispering to tell that dead is dead over a voice that is breaking.

I took a walk around my backyard this morning and was delighted to hear garlic and chives laughing at winter, death, decay.

Awake thou wintry earth,
fling off, fling off thy sadness;
ye vernal flowers laugh forth,
laugh forth your ancient gladness.
A new and lovely tale
through-out the land is spread;
it floats o’er hill and dale
to tell that death is dead.

Here is a joyful organ. 1 1/2 minutes that will lift your day high. Sing along! It’s pretty loud; turn your sound down. Or don’t. The organ is a dominating instrument and its volume is glorious!

Margaret and Music

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By Jim Harper

So, as you all— I am Jim, by the way, the middle brother —as you all probably know, music is very important in the Harper family.

When we were growing up, we were each either assigned or picked an instrument to play… some of us went further with this than others. (laughter) And I always sort of thought of it in my mind as the Bach Family Orchestra. I sort of thought that maybe Dad had so many kids to fill the gaps in the orchestra. But, that never panned out.

So, Margaret played the cello. That was her division, her instrument. And she also played the piano, just like Carol and Dorothy. But she also loved to sing.

She got together with Judy Petke and Rosalyn Hines at Bair Lake Bible Camp — we spent most of our summers at Bair Lake Bible Camp — and they formed a trio: The Bair Lake Lovelies. And they had wonderful harmonies.  And I think they even sang out here, in Lombard, under a different name: The Lombard Lovelies.

But I came across this quote by Garrison Keillor, who I think Margaret enjoyed listening to, from a piece he wrote, Singing with the Lutherans. And I presume by that, he meant Singing with Sanctified Brethren, because that’s who he grew up singing with.

“Lutherans are bred from childhood to sing in four-part harmony. It’s a talent that comes from sitting on the lap of someone singing alto or tenor or bass and hearing the harmonic intervals by putting your little head against that person’s rib cage. It’s natural for Lutherans to sing in harmony. We’re too modest to be soloists, too worldly to sing in unison. When you’re singing in the key of C and you slide into the A7th and D7th chords, all two hundred of you, it’s an emotionally fulfilling moment. I once sang the bass line of Children of the Heavenly Father in a room with about three thousand Lutherans in it; and when we finished, we all had tears in our eyes, partly from the promise that God will not forsake us, partly from the proximity of all those lovely voices. By our joining in harmony, we somehow promise that we will not forsake each other.”

So, when we turned off life-support for Margaret, we sang her into heaven. She lasted two songs, and her heart stopped.

::     ::     ::     ::     ::     ::     ::

Here is my playlist for the prelude with some choice lyrics. One of my favorite piano quotes is from my sister Dorothy: Play the words.

Sweet, Sweet Spirit  — Without a doubt we’ll know that we have been revived when we shall leave this place.

King Jesus — For He opens doors for me, doors I’m not able to see, That’s why I say King Jesus will roll my burdens away.

He’s Able — I know my Lord is able to carry me through.

Softly and Tenderly — You who are weary, come home.

There Is a Fountain — Redeeming love has been my theme and shall be till I die.

I Will Sing of My Redeemer — How the victory He giveth over sin and death and hell.

I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say — I came to Jesus as I was, so weary, worn, and sad. I found in Him a resting place and He has made me glad.

Wayfaring Stranger — I’m only going over Jordan; I’m only going over home.

Come Thou Fount — Tune my heart to sing Thy grace.

Abide with Me — Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee; in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

My God Is Real — [written by Mahalia!!] His love for me is just like pure gold, My God is real, for I can feel Him in my soul.

Come, Ye Disconsolate — Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.

Precious Lord, Take My Hand — At the river I stand, guide my feet, hold my hand, take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.

Blessed Assurance — Angels, descending, bring from above echoes of mercy, whispers of love.

 

 

Come Rain or Come Shine, The Book

I once prayed, Lord, please let Jan Karon live long enough to get Dooley and Lace married. The answer to that prayer was a whelming flood; I started crying on page 32 and sniffed and sobbed my way—punctuated by laughs—to the final page. Redemption, benediction, healing, holy amazement, connection. Reading this brings the satisfaction of resolution, the “two bits” after the “shave and a haircut”.

Weddings are my thing. Joyful solemnity, giving, sharing, joining, celebrating, laughing, crying, hugging, singing, dancing, rejoicing, thanksgiving. I love a good wedding and I’ve been to a few profoundly remarkable ones.

There was joy in the air; you could sniff it as plain as new-cut hay.

The focus of Come Rain or Come Shineis on the month before and the day of The Big Knot. Dooley and Lace want a small, intimate ceremony at Meadowgate Farm. Karon enjoys poking fun at the myth of a ‘simple country wedding.’  There are obstacles and annoyances. There are secrets and surprises. There is the unrelenting pressure of diminishing time to get the place wedding-ready.

DSC_0964The main character is Lace Harper. Her journals reveal her heart, her hopes, her fears, her loves. She wants to find a wedding dress for under $100; she is thankful for the callouses which document her hard work. She wants to get it—this whole starting a new family—right. I appreciated the ways Dooley and Lace honor the memory of Sadie Baxter (benefactor) and Russell Jacks (Dooley’s grandpa) in their wedding. Fun stuff: there is a Pinterest page for Lace Harper’s wedding!

Jan Karon and Wendell Berry are both skilled at portraying a community where giving, helping, and reciprocating are the norm. In their novels they don’t cover up the hurts, the anger, the tensions, the troubles. Weddings can be awkward with family drama. Karon handles the presence of Dooley’s birth mom, Pauline Leeper, in the same room as his siblings with utmost care. There is no easy resolution, no instant reconciliation, just baby steps, tiny beginnings towards the on-ramp to healing.

I connected with this book in many ways. This summer we went to a small, simple country wedding (see picture above) in a pasture. My son and daughter-in-law have a wind storm and fallen trees in their wedding story, too. I know what it is to be gob-smacked by blessings, reduced to silent tears of joy. Live music is the best for dancing the night away. I love the song in the title.

‘Why can’t life always be lived under the stars,’ she said, ‘with great music and family and friends?’

♪♫♪ Come Rain or Come Shine ♪♫♪ is a standard (music by Harold Arlen, lyrics Johnny Mercer) that has been covered by scores of recording artists. I used it ten years ago when I made a PowerPoint slideshow for Curt’s folks’ 50th wedding anniversary. In the course of my work, I listened to B.B. King and Eric Clapton on endless repetition. And I can honestly say, I never tired of it. But there are so many recordings of this song, that I put my listening of them in this post.

This book.

I finished it last night. I started it again this morning.

Fixated on A capella Hymns

corksacredharpIt was near St. Patrick’s Day. I typed “Irish sacred music” in the search engine. And I discovered Cork Sacred Harp. My husband Curt was on medical leave and we sat entranced for hours watching videos on YouTube. And now it’s become a daily habit to listen and sing along to our favorites a capella singing from Ireland.

In 2012 we rented this DVD about Sacred Harp singing from Netflix. The quote in the photo above says, “features some of the most raucous group vocals that have been recorded.” True, that. The music in the movie is primitive, unrefined, at times jarring. It is intense, heartfelt, loud. We found ourselves simultaneously compelled and repelled. And so intrigued that I bought the DVD. What is shape note singing? See this article. The shapes correspond with fa-sol-la-mi; the first swipe through a song the singers use these syllables. With several parts singing different notes, it may sound like random mish-mash to begin with.

Listen: The music is often fugal. This means that there are the melody lines enter in a staggered fashion, braiding tunes until all parts sing together. Here’s a good example, a hymn tune we regularly sing to a different text:

Why has this music captured me? I think it is the clean—yes, even sharp—edges of rhythm. It’s that the majority of the songs are in minor keys. It’s the full sound of people singing with gusto. If I had a gun to my head and had to say my favorite hymn (a funny thought experiment) I would say Come Thou Fount. Here it is to the tune I Will Rise.

I don’t like every one of the videos listed under CorkSacredHarp, but I’ve “liked” my favorites and then watch that “liked” playlist daily. I don’t get weary of them. Here is a list of my favorites. The title is name of the tune.

146 Hallelujah – might be the best known Sacred Harp song
63 Coronation – All Hail the Power. The frail woman in the inner square: priceless
30t Love Divine – Tollie Lee is the most lively, engaging leader
350 Nativity – Another example of fugal singing, one we love to sing at my church
128 Promised Land – I love Shirley! I am bound for the Promised Land.
45t New Britain – Amazing Grace done Sacred Harp style
569b Sacred Throne – I grew up singing this tune to Alas, and did my Savior bleed?
59 Holy Manna – Eimear and Sadhbh are my favorites. The song, too.
547 Granville – This gripping lament was written in 1986 by Judy Hauff
344 Rainbow – We sing this “as is” except for the solfege at the beginning.
148 Jefferson – You will never hear Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken the same again 457 Wayfaring Stranger – Another familiar song with glorious harmony
117 Babylon Is Fallen – Oh. my. I wake up with this song on my lips.
448b The Grieved Soul – What is that that casts thee down? A song for depression.

I suspect that 95% of my dear readers will not enjoy, explore, pursue this music; there is no accounting for taste. But I know there are a few of you who will become as fixated as I have become. You will lose of day of productivity soaking this music into your system. Someone said Sacred Harp is a capella Heavy Metal. (I copied it from a website in German!) This metal is embedded in me.

The Last Verse

old_handThis post is dedicated to dear Sally W.,
who is singing her last verse with grace & peace.

One of the glories of old hymns is their last verse. Singing them was a weekly reminder that death would come, that life follows death, that we have promises on which to stand. The regular drip irrigation of those last verses watered our hope and confidence.

Here’s a few that I found in my hymnal.

Great things he has taught us, great things he has done,
and great our rejoicing through Jesus the Son;
but purer and higher and greater will be
our wonder, our transport, when Jesus we see.

Through ev’ry period of my life your goodness I’ll pursue;
and after death, in distant worlds, the glorious theme renew.

E’en down to old age all my people shall prove
my sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;
and when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,
like lambs they shall still in my bosom be borne.

He will keep me till the river rolls it waters at my feet:
then he’ll bear me safely over, made by grace for glory meet.

Jesus loves me, he will stay close beside me all the way:
if I love him, when I die he will take me home on high.

Now by this I’ll overcome—nothing but the blood of Jesus;
now by this I’ll reach my home—nothing but the blood of Jesus.

He will gather, he will gather the gems for his kingdom,
all the pure ones, all the bright ones, his loved and his own.

Then he’ll call us home to heaven, at his table we’ll sit down;
Christ will gird himself and serve us with sweet manna all around.

Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes;
shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies;
heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee:
in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

And when this flesh and heart shall fail, and mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil a life of joy and peace.

While I draw this fleeting breath, when mine eyelids close in death,
when I soar to worlds unknown, see thee on thy judgment throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee.

When I tread the verge of Jordan, bid my anxious fears subside;
Death of death, and hell’s destruction, land me safe on Canaan’s side;
songs of praises, songs of praises,
I will ever give to thee, I will ever give to thee.

And when my task on earth is done, when, by thy grace, the victory’s won
e’en death’s cold wave I will not flee, since God through Jordan leadeth me.

I’ll love thee in life, I will love thee in death;
and praise thee as long as thou lendest me breath;
and say, when the deathdew lies cold on my brow;
if ever I loved thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

I’m so glad I learned to trust thee, precious Jesus, Savior, Friend;
and I know that thou art with me, will be with me to the end.

Jesus lives and death is now but my entrance into glory.
Courage, then, my soul, for thou hast a crown of life before thee;
thou shalt find thy hopes were just: Jesus is the Christian’s trust.

Remembering Glenn Gould

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My new latest ‘thing’ is Glenn Gould. My friend Terri recommended A Romance on Three Legs, I watched this video of the author discussing it, and my mind told myself, “Let the fascination begin!”

I’ve watched videos, listened to CDs, read Hafner’s book and I continue to be mesmerized. The best film so far has been the 2010 documentary, Genius Within . Gould’s music accompanies me while I chop veggies, sweep the floor, write blog posts.

Who was Glenn Gould? He was a Canadian pianist whose ability, style, precision, musicality, phrasing, was simply in a galaxy all his own. Many stories have been told about folks who, having never once listened to classical music, were stunned and converted by some piece they inadvertently listened to on the radio. His playing grabs you.

“You are one of the few authentic geniuses recording today. If you wanted to record the complete works of Alban Berg on a kazoo, I’d gladly do it.”  RCA executive to GG

Katie Hafner’s book focuses on the piano that Glenn Gould played, a Steinway CD 318. It’s a great introduction to Gould, but also a great introduction to Verne Edquist, the blind man who was Gould’s principal tuner. In the video linked above, someone has a question, Hafner can’t answer. She calls Edquist in the middle of Q and A and finds out. The Steinways, a German family who emigrated to America to build pianos, provide an engaging back story.

Gould had many eccentricities, and his life story is ultimately a sad one, leading me to the question, “Is there such a thing as a balanced genius?” He died days after his 50th birthday from a stroke. One ‘tic’ he had was humming whenever he played the piano. I remember attending a concert in 1989 with a pianist who shared this quirk. At the social hour afterwards, I remarked to some bystander what a shame it was that someone in the audience insisted on humming along. “Oh, my dear,” the lady said, “That was our own dear [insert pianist’s name]. She can’t help herself.”

I suppose it can be said that I’m an absent-minded driver. It’s true that I’ve driven through a number of red lights on occasion, but on the other hand I’ve stopped at a lot of green ones but have never gotten credit for it.  — Glenn Gould

Once in a while I try to figure out why Glenn Gould fascinates me. What keeps me looking for more to read, more to watch, more to listen? He is an enigma – charming, yet reclusive, gifted but abhorred performing, confident but lost.  I haven’t come up with an answer yet. But I know I’m not alone. His magnetic pull continues thirty-two years after his death.

The critic Tim Page said that in his last decade, Gould was “no longer just an arrogant, albeit sweet-tempered genius. He became a sweet-tempered melancholy genius.” Today, September 25th, is the anniversary of his birth. Give yourself a gift by listening to Glenn Gould. Bach’s Goldberg Variations is a good place to start.

 

Another Bathroom on the Right Moment

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Last night I was singing—sort of humming with words—Shocking Blue’s Venus.

I’m your Venus, I’m your fire, your joy, desire.

A demi-smile appeared on my man’s face. He said, Babe, it’s

I’m your Venus, I’m your fire, and your desire.

Nah, I responded. An encapsulated moment of eye contact. Full grin on the man. You wanna bet? So I Binged (Bing—as a verb—doesn’t compare with Google’s oomph, does it?) it. And the definitive lyrics are:

I’m your Venus, I’m your fire, at your desire.

We were both wrong, but I’m sticking with joy.

These moments of lyric confusion and clarification are so delicious I hope they continue to the end of my days. Just last year I realized America’s song was about Ventura Highway. I thought it was a command: Venture a highway. Go forth, young man! Funny thing, I lived an hour from Ventura, CA, when I was singing it wrong.

Before that I learned there’s a bad moon on the rise.
There’s a bathroom on the right is so much more helpful.

My friend thought Tom Petty’s solid declaration: And I won’t back down was the somewhat tepid And I walked back down.

Life is laughter.

What lyrics have you misheard?

20 Feet from Stardom

20FeetFromStardom Backup singers are like ghost writers. The invisibles.

20 Feet From Stardom tells the story of some of the legendary backup singers you’ve never heard of. It’s a poignant story, told with bursts of beguiling harmonies, of the different mindset of the backup singer who goes for the blend and the lead singer who basks in individuality. And the near impossibility to move from the back to front and center.

Where did the backup singers come from? Most of them were pastor’s daughters who grew up singing melodies, harmonies, and call-and-response, in church. Music was their oxygen. They didn’t require written music; they could hear the chords in their head and make magical tones singing together.

A few quotes:

Stay cool.
Stay humble.
Stay beautiful.
Do the work.
— Merry Clayton

It’s more than leaning on your talent. You gotta be disciplined. You gotta get up in the morning.
— Tata Vega

Real musicians—there’s a spiritual component to what they do that’s got nothing to do with worldly success. Their music is much more an inner journey. Any other success is just cream on the cake. There’s this idea that you can go on American Idol and suddenly become a star; but you may bypass the spiritual work you have to do to get there. And if you bypass that, our success will be wafer thin.

— Sting

Fun catch: Ashley Cleveland, my walking partner (by me listening to her CDs, we’ve never met) has a cameo appearance at 87:14.

Figaro, John and Abigail

marriage-of-figaro-program Mental Multivitamin calls it synthesis / serendipity / synchronicity. It’s that glorious connection between what you just read/saw/heard and—in an unexpected way—what you are currently reading/seeing/hearing.

The practice of reading (deep and wide) is in effect laying down a swath of Velcro loops. And along comes something that enhances, expands, expatiates on what you already know: those are the Velcro hooks.

That aha! moment brings me great joy. My husband wishes he had written down every hunting experience he’s had since he was seven…for the pleasure of reliving them. I wish I had noted each experience of synthesis / serendipity / synchronicity in my reading life; for there have been many and, alas, my mind grows dim.

::today’s synthesis::

For a year I have been plowing through Jacques Barzun’s From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life 1500 to the Present. It is demanding and daunting. Twenty years ago I wouldn’t have had the fortitude and background knowledge to pull through. But it is rewarding in the same way that losing thirty pounds is rewarding.

Barzun writes several pages about Beaumarchais, the author of The Marriage of Figaro, artisan, wit, pamphleteer, and secret agent. Have you heard of him? Me, neither. Barzun calls him “the most effective helper of the [American] colonists in their war.” Do you find that an arresting description?

Mozart wrote an opera based on Beaumarchais’ story which challenged the French aristocracy, making Figaro, a valet (or barber), more noble than his master.

:: Pause, Barzun. ::

When I’ve been home alone this week, I have listened to Joseph J. Ellis’ history, First Family: Abigail and John Adams. After a five year separation, Abigail and her daughter Nabby joined John and John Quincy in Paris. The Adams family “attended an early performance of The Marriage of Figaro.”  Hello! I just read about significance of Figaro!! I reveled in the realization that for a time John and Abigail Adams and Mozart were both living and breathing in relative proximity.

::Pause, Abigail and John::

Three weeks ago I visited my friend Lisa in North Carolina. She had been culling books from her shelves and gave me a quaint 1913 book called Opera Synopses. In it I found more information on The Marriage of Figaro ; I learned the story is a direct continuation of Rossini’s opera The Barber of Seville (created by Beaumarchais).

::return to Barzun::

Fascinating! I went back to Barzun’s tome and there it all was: “the man who wrote The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro before the librettists of Rossini and Mozart gave the two plays another meaning for the musical state.”

I had previously read that sentence, but because I didn’t have any Velcro loops of interest or connection, that fact just bounced off my brain. The synthesis, the recognition, made those words adhere.

So what? Although I am familiar with the overture and several arias, I have never seen the opera. I started to watch it on YouTube this morning, while I wrapped Christmas presents, but quickly realized that three hours of opera wasn’t on the agenda today. And if I’m going to be thorough (cough, cough) I should start by watching The Barber of Seville first.

So little time…

Song of Joy and Strength

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Creation begins with song. We know this because God asks Job where he was when God laid the foundations of the earth, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy.

Singing and joy go together like champagne and bubbles: they are linked in God’s Word, in our response, and particularly in your life, Joy.

Marriage is a song.

Sometimes you will sing in unison, one voice high and one low. Other times you will sing in two-part harmony. The fugue employs different voices expressing the same theme in succession, weaving in and out, finally coming together at the end.

When quarrels come there will be discordant notes, squawks, squeaks and growls. As your arguments mature, they will sound less like a cat landing on a keyboard and more like two strong notes pushing together for resolution. A song without tension would be bland, and ultimately difficult to listen to. Some marriages avoid conflict, moving apart into parallel melodies that aren’t related. The tension of sustained chords comes when notes are close together.  Tension is not bad unless it is unresolved. Think of a four-part Amen, stopping on the AH–.

The time signature determines the rhythm. One of you can’t play a waltz (3/4 time) while the other is marching to the 4/4 beat.  Curt and I tried that this summer: it led to hiccups, glitches and confusion. Follow Stephen’s lead, secure in the knowledge that different seasons of life will bring new rhythms.

You are starting your life together in a major key. Your wedding will be a minuet: a bright and cheerful celebration. But, in your life, minor keys will come; grief is a part of all of our lives. Your song can reflect glory in both major and minor keys.  Accept the minor key seasons as a gift.

In one of Anthony Trollope’s books, a wife obeys every word her husband says with a treasonous attitude. He is a piece of work, but that’s not the point. She is icy, remote, but, in her mind correct and proper. This illustrates how vital our tone is. Timbre is the musical term for tone color. When Stephen tells you something, you respond “You did?” The tone of these words could communicate scorn, apathy, delight, or shock. May the tone of your marriage be as rich and warm as a cello or a saxophone.

Beautiful music requires practice, discipline and work. When you run across a glitch in a musical piece, you know that is where you need to slow down, understand the notes and repeat it again and again and again and again! There’s not much glamor in practice, but faithful diligence brings rewards.

Do you remember the flash mob videos in a shopping mall? It is always a delight to see a bystander perk up her ears, look around in wonderment and then settle in with a smile to see what happens. People stop talking, they stop walking, they stop shopping and they watch and listen. This is what your marriage will do when you are singing in tune, making a harmonious sound.  Your song will invite others to the Music.

I began with the pairing of singing and joy. Singing and strength is another common coupling. In some cultures, singing is a necessary component of work. Think the chain gangs in O, Brother Where Art Thou?, slave ships, cotton fields. Singing keeps you in sync, it helps you work harder than you thought possible. In Estonia the folk songs liberated the country from communism. Song brings the strength of unity.

Joy, everyone agrees that you are perfectly named. And, your new last name reflects joy and strength.

Song is powerful. It reaches into the nooks and crannies of our souls. It fortifies us; it loosens us up.  It bedazzles our senses; it thrills our spirit; it expresses our worship.
It changes us.

 ~ The Lord is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation. ~