I've arrived home from this year's family jamboree and have been unpacking and doing laundry. It was a great weekend; my 25 nephews and nieces ran wild, loving every moment they spent together from the moment they woke up ('way too early) in the morning to when they were finally corralled in bed at night (where they proceeded to giggle and whisper instead of sleep). As for the adults, we attempted to keep up with the kids during the day then sat up into the early hours of the morning, talking and playing games. I'm now tired, sun burnt and itchy (if anything, the black flies were worse this year) but happy; it was a great three days. Here's one of my nephews in costume for the family talent show- he and his siblings were singing "All God's Creatures Got A Place In The Choir":
The drive from where I live to where we were staying in New Brunswick takes about three and a half hours, so I downloaded an audiobook for the trip, choosing P.G. Wodehouse's A Damsel In Distress. I had read this book before, not listened to it, but Wodehouse is always a hoot to listen to being read aloud. A Damsel In Distress is a stand-alone work, not being connected with his Jeeves or Blandings stories in any way, and it's a whole lot of fun. I'm planning to do a review of it over the next week or so and so won't get into a description of the plot right now, but I really enjoyed revisiting the witty, frothy work. More on that later. In the meantime, here's Celtic Thunder singing "All God's Creatures Got A Place In The Choir"; their production was more professional, but ours was cuter.
We had our closing dinner for the choir season last night at a local restaurant. A good time was had by all, the food was great, and I arrived home uncomfortably full, having dined not wisely but too well. During the course of the evening, the society's president gave a short speech in which he provided us with an update on the state of the choir's coffers. It turns out that this was a banner year for us; the Christmas concert is well attended every year, but frequently the spring concert is less of a draw. This spring, however, the Broadway program really packed in the crowds. Cha-ching!
"Do it big, do it right and do it with style." -Fred Astaire
Irving Berlin's was born on May 11, 1888. He lived to be 101 years old, passing away in 1989. Not only did he live through most of the 20th century, he provided a soundtrack for it. He is one of my favourite songwriters; I was extremely happy when our choir sang a medley of his music in our Christmas concert. But rather than raving on about him, I'll share the opinions of a few musical connoisseurs who are far more competent than I: "It's a rare gift which sets Irving Berlin apart from all other contemporary songwriters. It is a gift which qualifies him, along with Stephen Foster, Walt Whitman, Vachel Lindsay and Carl Sandburg, as a great American minstrel. He has caught and immortalized in his songs what we say, what we think about, and what we believe." - Douglas Moore
"Irving Berlin has no place in American music—he is American music. Emotionally, he honestly absorbs the vibrations emanating from the people, manners and life of his time and, in turn, gives these impressions back to the world—simplified, clarified and glorified." - Jerome Kern
"I want to say at once that I frankly believe that Irving Berlin is the greatest songwriter that has ever lived.... His songs are exquisite cameos of perfection, and each one of them is as beautiful as its neighbor. Irving Berlin remains, I think, America's Schubert. But apart from his genuine talent for song-writing, Irving Berlin has had a greater influence upon American music than any other one man. It was Irving Berlin who was the very first to have created a real, inherent American music.... Irving Berlin was the first to free the American song from the nauseating sentimentality which had previously characterized it, and by introducing and perfecting ragtime he had actually given us the first germ of an American musical idiom; he had sown the first seeds of an American music." - George Gershwin
We had our last concert of the season last Sunday night and it went pretty well. It was a combined concert with the Halifax All City Boys Honour Choir, the Chebucto Community Singers and our choir, the Dartmouth Choral Society. The boys sang first and were delightful and- impressively- had all of their music memorized. Chebucto went next and sang a few pieces; they were really good as well. We were on last and sang only two pieces because we did the Les Miserables medley, which is in itself seventeen minutes long. I was really worried, because I have a solo in that piece and, adding to my general nervousness, I was still recovering from my cold and was afraid my voice would crack. I was downing cough drops and water right up to when we went on. Fortunately I made it through without incident, and as it happened, the trouble came from another quarter. Our baritone soloist in Les Mis had gone to Toronto earlier in the week for work, but was supposed to be back on Saturday, a day before the concert. Unfortunately, due to bad weather, his flight was cancelled. He was then supposed to fly out on Sunday morning, but again the flight was cancelled and at concert time he was still in Toronto. One of our tenors stepped in to sing his part and did as well as could be expected on short notice, but at one point didn't come in when he was supposed to which was awkward, though we covered it up pretty well... I think. Thanks a lot, Air Canada. Chebucto then joined us on stage and we sang two pieces together, one directed by their director and one by ours. All in all, everything went well and the concert was well received by the audience, which was pretty big- thankfully, since we have to split the proceeds three ways. We're done now for the season and, though I love choir, I'm ready for a break.
"Once or twice I've been described as a light comedian. I consider this the most accurate description of my abilities I've ever seen." -Bing Crosby
Tsk... far too modest, Mr. Crosby. Bing Crosby was born on this date in 1903, and he became the best selling recording artist of the 20th century. Far from being merely a "light comedian," Bing was also a hugely popular movie star, appearing in classics such as Holiday Inn, Going My Way, The Bells of St. Mary's, and White Christmas. And of course, there were also all those Road movies with Bob Hope, which could definitely qualify as the light comedy he was talking about. Bing actually won the best actor Oscar for his role as Father O'Malley in Going My Way, which is my favourite Crosby film. I love Bing Crosby's voice- it's kind of the musical equivalent of comfort food. His rich baritone is like a warm sweater on a chilly day... which I could use right now, come to think of it. I love listening to him sing solo, but I also have his duet album, which is great, as he sings with Bob Hope, Louis Armstrong, the Andrews sisters, and many others. I wish we had a modern day equivalent to Bing, but we're stuck in what frequently seems like musical purgatory at this time. Oh well, one upside is that it's never been easier to listen to great music from the past. Happy Birthday, Mr. Crosby: wish you were here- and I mean that sincerely.
Today I'll be attending a Good Friday service and then gathering with family for dinner. Last night while I was cooking my contributions to the meal (pulled pork, biscuits, and banana loaf) I put on Handel's Messiah good and loud.
Despite the fact that Messiah is most often performed at Christmas, it was originally intended for- and performed at- Easter. It is an oratorio (a musical work written for an orchestra, choir, and soloists) which was composed in 1741 by George Frideric Handel. The text, which is written in English, was compiled by Charles Jennings and consists mostly of scripture from the King James Bible with some bits from the Book of Common Prayer included as well. The oratorio is divided into three parts; the first is a musical journey through Isaiah's prophesies about the coming Messiah, Jesus' birth and early ministry. The second part covers Christ's death, resurrection, ascension, and the early ministry of the gospel. The third part deals with eternal life, the Day of Judgement, the final defeat of sin and death, and the glorification of the Lamb of God.
Arguably one of the best-known pieces of music in the world, The Messiah was written by Handel in a staggering 24 days. He received the libretto from Jennings on July 10, 1741; beginning work on the music on August 22, he completed Part I on the 28th, Part II on September 6th, Part III by September 12, then spent two days polishing the score. It was performed for the first time April 13, 1742 at a charity concert in Dublin in front of an audience of 700. I've seen The Messiah in it's entirety several times- Symphony Nova Scotia performs it every Christmas season- but have never sung in it. I have sung in a mass choir which performed several selections from it... I confess that I teared up the first time we did the Hallelujah Chorus. It is truly an inspired composition. At the end of his manuscript, Handel wrote three letters: S.D.G., which stand for "Soli Deo Gloria" which means "To God alone the glory." I can think of no better coda. Below is a selection from Part I of The Messiah, "Comfort Ye My People," a tenor solo taken from Isaiah 40:1-5:
40 Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. 2 Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord's hand double for all her sins. 3 The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: 5 And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.
CLOUDS, lingering yet, extend in solid bars Through the grey west; and lo! these waters, steeled By breezeless air to smoothest polish, yield A vivid repetition of the stars; Jove, Venus, and the ruddy crest of Mars Amid his fellows beauteously revealed At happy distance from earth's groaning field, Where ruthless mortals wage incessant wars. Is it a mirror?--or the nether Sphere Opening to view the abyss in which she feeds Her own calm fires?--But list! a voice is near; Great Pan himself low-whispering through the reeds, 'Be thankful, thou; for, if unholy deeds Ravage the world, tranquillity is here!' -William Wordsworth
The Poet Laureate of England William Wordsworth was born on this date in 1770. Quite a few of the poems he wrote- like the one above- were inspired by Grasmere, a village in the Lake District. Wordsworth lived there for fourteen years and described the area as, "the loveliest spot that man hath ever found." He and his wife are buried in the churchyard of St. Oswald's Church in Grasmere; here's a rather blurry shot of me at his grave site:
BTW,Grasmere is also famous for its gingerbread, a special type which is kind of a cross between a cookie and cake. The recipe was developed by Sarah Nelson of Grasmere in 1854 and is trademarked. I bought some while in the village, and to be perfectly frank, I didn't like it that much. Perhaps it's an acquired taste, but it wasn't really anything to write home about, in my opinion.
Earth has not anything to show more fair: Dull would he be of soul who could pass by A sight so touching in its majesty: This City now doth, like a garment, wear The beauty of the morning: silent, bare, Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie Open unto the fields, and to the sky; All bright and glittering in the smokeless air. Never did sun more beautifully steep In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill; Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep! The river glideth at his own sweet will: Dear God! the very houses seem asleep; And all that mighty heart is lying still! -William Wordsworth
This poem was written by William Wordsworth in 1802, when he and his sister passed through London on their way to France. Wordsworth apparently wrote this sitting on top of the coach they were traveling in as they crossed Westminster Bridge early in the morning. A number of years ago on a bright summer day, I was crossing the Westminster Bridge like so many others, enjoying the amazing view of the Thames before continuing on to Westminster Palace to take photos of the parliament buildings and Big Ben. It wasn't silent and calm, as Wordsworth describes, but bustling and busy, alive with tourists and Londoners going about their business. I imagine it was a good deal like that yesterday when a terrorist drove his car into pedestrians on the bridge before driving to Parliament and stabbing people there. At this time, forty are reported injured and five are dead, including police officer Keith Palmer, a husband and father:
The terrorist was- thankfully- killed; as we remember his victims, let the name and face of their murderer go unspoken and unseen, an object of ignominious shame and disgust. In the wake of this outrage, I can't help thinking of the 2014 terrorist attack on our Parliament Hill here in Canada, in which Corporal Nathan Cirillo was killed:
It's no accident that so many of these Islamic terror attacks are directed at the edifices of western democratic government; they hate freedom and government by the people, so naturally they strike at the symbols of these things. I'm sick and tired of these interminable attacks, and yes, I'm angry. Most of all I'm angry at the barbarians who think that they are justified in trying to force their backward way of life on the rest of us. But I'm also angry at the bunch who are so quick to don their pink hats and take to the streets, "bravely" facing down imaginary fascists and protesting so-called micro-aggressions, yet fall strangely silent when faced with actual, concrete examples of oppression and violence. I'm also tired of politicians who get up and mouth the exact same platitudes after every attack then never do anything to deal with the problem. It sickens me that a place of which I have such fond memories has been the scene of carnage and murder. I would love to remember Westminster Bridge as it was on that warm day in August, or picture it as Wordsworth described it so long ago. Unfortunately, that mental image will now be tainted by the knowledge of what happened there yesterday. These fanatics poison everything they touch.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote in a post that I was watching Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers "trip the light fantastic" and afterwards I started wondering just where this expression meaning "to dance nimbly" came from. I was quoting it from the 1894 song written by Charles Lawlor (melody) and James Blake (lyrics). The song recalls the New York of their youth, and the kids named in the song were friends of Blake's when he was a child, Mamie O'Rourke being the one who taught him to dance- or rather, "trip the light fantastic." But where did James Blake pick up this phrase? As it turns out, the origins of "trip the light fantastic" can be traced back to 1386 and Geoffrey Chaucer who, in his Miller's Tale, referred to dancing as "tripping ":
"In twenty manere koude he trippe and daunce." (In twenty ways could he trip and dance.)
We can then skip ahead to -who else- Shakespeare and The Tempest (1610), in which he wrote:
Before you can say come, and goe, And breathe twice; and cry, so, so: Each one tripping on his Toe, Will be here with mop (mock), and mowe.
These examples establish the use of the word "trip" being used in relation to dancing, but the actual expression "trip the light fantastic" appears to be a phrase coined by John Milton. In his 1637 masque (pageant) Comus, he wrote: "Come, knit hands, and beat the ground, In a light fantastick round." Then, in his 1645 poem L'Allegro, he wrote: "Sport that wrinkled Care derives And Laughter holding both his sides. Come, and trip it as ye go, On the light fantastick toe."
The expression obviously caught on; it can be found in an 1803 report in the Times of London:
"A splendid ball was also given; where the Consul himself tripped it on the light fantastic toe."
And in 1843, William Makepeace Thackeray included the phrase in his work Men's Wives: "Mrs. Crump sat in a little bar, profusely ornamented with pictures of the dancers of all ages, from Hillisberg, Rose, Parisot, who plied the light fantastic toe in 1805, down to the Sylphides of our day."
So by the time Lawlor and Blake got around to writing their song in 1894, this was obviously a very familiar saying which the listeners would immediately identify and understand. It's less well-known or used today, but still a delightful and descriptive expression.
Well, I'm home from work today; the entire province is shut down due to a blizzard. A lot of snow is coming down and the wind is so high that visibility is pretty much nil. I had assumed we would be closed; the Halifax Regional Municipality announced last night that all government offices would be closed and the transit buses and ferries were being shut down in anticipation of the storm, which hit in the early hours of the morning. Even so- not gonna lie- when my boss texted me with official notification of closure, I momentarily had that remembered thrill of childhood when, getting ready for school on a snowy morning, you heard the radio announcement that all schools in the district were closed. And that reminded me of this Rick Mercer rant:
UPDATE: Family and friends all over the Maritimes have been puttting pictures on Facebook of the storm from their locations; one of my my brothers posted this one: