Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Mercoledi Musicale

I have joking said to many of my friends that I left the country in their hands for four years and its gone half-way to hell.  However in the case of the CBC Radio  its no joke.  I can't believe the shell it has become of what was once a broadcasting system that treated its audience if though they had some degree of intelligence.  Programming now talks down to the listeners, announcers mispronounce words and scripts - and I'm assuming there are still scripts - are badly written and edited.  Classical programming, where once knowledgeable hosts introduced music that they knew and understood, has been relegated to a few hours in the late morning presented by a simpering host whose inane comments would make a first year music student blush.  I've finally given up on our National Broadcaster and listen to CBC only first thing in the morning to get the traffic and weather reports.

Fortunately our friend Allan introduced me to the wonders of a little Apple gadget called Airport Express.  Basically a wireless receiver it has been hooked up to my stereo system and at its simplest using iTunes can bring some 2000-3000 radio stations into our living room.  Amongst others we have a choice of 345 Adult contemporary music stations, 195 80s Flashback streams, 317 religious stations (should that be your thing) and the list goes on: Metalica, Golden Oldies, Bluegrass, Country and - Hallelujah - 160 classical stations.  We've been listening to streams from Barcelona, Zurich, Berlin, Rome, Boston, San Fransisco, Los Angeles - now that's traffic reporting! -  and one of our favorites 90.1 University of Wyoming.  Most of the US streams are National Public Radio and though often the announcers can be a bit annoying in their gush there are a raft of good programmes that remind me of what classical radio programming can be and in Canada once was.

On Sunday afternoons American baritone Thomas Hampson, through his Hampsong Foundation and WFMT Chicago,  is presenting Song of America, a 13 part series devoted to the words and music of 250 years of American song.  This past Sunday the programme was devoted to Stephen Foster - and to his credit Hampson didn't shy away from addressing the influence of Minstrel shows on Foster and his lyrics which are now often considered racist and politically incorrect.  He also spoke of how these labels have meant only a limited number of Foster's songs are heard today.  However there is a wealth of beautiful melodies - many of them in a dialect meant to mirror the way African-Americans were said to speak at the time - that deserve to be rediscovered for the dignity and beauty they bring to their subjects.

One such song is Nelly Was A Lady - a beautiful lament of a man for his dead partner that Foster wrote in 1849 for the Christie Minstrels.   The race of the couple is of minor importance because the emotion is simple, dignified and universal and striking at the heart of his sorrow.  Yes the lyrics are filled with "da's", "tru lub's" and "jist" but it has been suggested that the "dialect" used by Foster was common all over the US at the time, and is more defined by class rather than race, or even  culture. But I'll leave that as a subject for better educated minds than mine to discuss.

Singer Tom Roush has created a series of YouTube videos of Foster songs included a lovely version of Nelly Was a Lady but unfortunately he changed the lyrics to avoid charges of racism that he often gets when he performs the song as written.  But I find even with the "santizing" Foster's words and music have a strong emotional appeal.  The tune and words have been running through my head the past few days.

The Internet Archive has an exceptionally lovely book created in 1888 with music and lyrics and a series of illustrations   "from nature" by Charles Copeland.  A left click on the cover will allow you to flip through through the original lyrics and some touching engravings that illustrate the story.

Hampson also played a song of Foster's that became popular parlor song when it was first pubished in 1854.  It was first recorded on an Edison Cylinder in 1905 and there are many versions of Hard Times Come Again No More but few strike so close to the sorrow and melancholy of the words and melody as this version by Kate & Anna McGarrigle.  Backed up by Rufus Wainwright (before he became famous for being famous), Emmylou Harris, Mary Black, Karen Matheson and Rod Paterson they seem to capture the pain and sorrow of the less fortunate.  Listening to it I'm struck by the immediacy of Foster's lyrics.  Its hard to believe this was written in 1854 - or perhaps it is just a condition of life that is always with us and applies as much to the hard times of today as it did to those of 1854.

I have every intention of following the next eleven weeks of Hampson's programme which promises Langston Hughes and the Harlem Renaissance, Songs We've Always Sung and War Cries in his survey of 250 years of American song. Now that is radio programming the way I remember it.

30 novembre/November - Sant'Andrea apostolo

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Monday, November 28, 2011

Lunedi Lunacy

Late last year and the earlier part of this year I posted a series of caricatures by the Swedish artist Einmar Nerman lining famous performers from New York, Hollywood and the West End. Many of them were well-known on both continents from their appearances on stage and screen but just many were artists who's fame rested solely in their work in England and Europe. Many of them were the stars of the hundreds of revues that filled West End theatres between the wars - shows produced by C.B. Cochrane or André Charlot with wonderful title like "London Calling", "Rats", "On With the Dance", "Queen High", "Bow Bells" or "Wake Up and Dream". Many of them features full scale production numbers with beautiful chorus girls and elaborate effects while others were small scaled and built on the abilities of multi-talented artists like Cicely Courtneidge and her husband Jack Hulbert.

Cicely was one those performers who was born in a trunk - her father Robert was a producer of theatricals from musical comedies to revivals of Shakespeare and in 1901 the 8 year old Cicely made her debut in 1901 as Peaseblossom in her father's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream in Manchester. By 16 she was playing leading roles in her father's musicals though there was some indication that her "star" status was dependent on paternal nepotism. When financial difficulties put an end to her father's days as a producer the young Cicily turned to playing the "Halls" realizing she could not be an "ingenue" forever.  And that experience with the raucous often unforgiving Music Hall audiences honed her craft as a comedienne, singers and dancer.  Her professional partnership with Jack Hulbert began in 1913 and led to a series of hit West End revues, many written by and produced by Hulbert. 

It was in one of their revues, Clowns in Clover, that she first ordered "A Dozen Double Damask Dinner Napkins" and

She first appeared on stage with Hulbert in 1913 and they married - despite her father's warning of dire things to come if she married an actor - in 1916. They were to appear on stage together until 1976 and that "undesirable" marriage was to last until Hulbert's death in 1978. Though known chiefly for her stage work Cicely appeared in several successful movies in the 1930s and 40s as a comedienne.   In this clip from Soldiers of the King, a 1933 musical,  she fills in for the missing member of an Adagio act in a - you'll never guess what??? - West End revue.  I may be missing something but I can't see where any stunt double takes over for her - the acrobatics seem to be solely Courtnedige at her comedic best.

Though she was to make marvellous cameo appearances in movies until she retired in 1977  her most memorable performance was as the elderly Lesbian actress in The L-Shaped Room in 1962.  She continued preforming  on stage and in 1971 during the run of Move Over, Mrs Markham celebrated her 70th year as a performer.  She toured this quintessential British farce throughout England and as far afield as Toronto's O'Keefe Centre.  It was the only time I saw her on stage and to be quite honest little about the play sticks in my memory.  However what happened afterwards is one of those small moments I cherish.  I went backstage afterwards clutching a copy of Robert Baral's Revue which I had bought a few weeks before.  He devoted several pages to London revues and included a picture of Cecily Courtneidge  and Jack Hulbert amongst the illustrations.  Dame Cecily - an honour she received in 1972 -  seemed a bit nonplused by this kid from the suburbs standing in the doorway of her dressing room - I'm sure there had been very few autograph seekers during the run -  but graciously invited me in.  She introduced me to an elegant gentleman who was seated in the corner but I didn't quite catch his name.  She signed my book and showed him the photo and they both chuckled.  He asked if I wanted his autograph too?  Stupidly I said no, as to be honest I've always been awkward at being an autograph hound and after mumbling my thanks I  beat an embarrassed retreat.  It was only later that I realized it was Hulbert and I missed my chance to get the two of them to sign the photo.  And am not at all sure to this day that I may not have offended his professional pride just a bit.

As a way to make up for it, here's a wonderful clip of the two of them together throughout their professional and private lives with Jack singing a song that could have been their theme:  Where There's You  There's Me.

I will always regret only getting Cecily Courtneidge's autograph when I had Jack Hulbert sitting - unrecognized - right in front of me.  Oh the foolishness of youth!

28 novembre/November - San Giacomo della Marca

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Larry's Advent Calendar

My dear friend Larry's blog has been dormant for the past few months and I was afraid that another cherished tradition may be about to fall by the wayside: his Advent Calendar.

But I'm overjoyed to report that once again this year he will be marking  the days leading to Christmas with a daily picture and verse .  In previous years he's taken us through Roman doors and gates, allowed us to gaze through Roman windows and given us glimpses of the angels that guard the city.  This year he's quenching our thirst at a few of the many fountains that are found in his - and previously my - adoptive city.

As always I will be posting a sidebar link so that you can open a window each day and share the sights and words of Advent with Larry.  Given the time change it may be a little late in the day when the window is opened but opened it shall be.  A click on the image above will take you to his posting for today - the First Sunday in Advent.

There are some traditions I'm happy to see continue and don't ever want to lose.

27 novembre/November - Prima Domenica di Avvento

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HFH Discover Winter's Wonderland

The HFH discovered the joys of the winter wonderland that will be their home for, if memory serves, at least the next six months.

And if truth be told they probably handled it better than I did.

27 novembre/November - San Primitivo

Thursday, November 24, 2011

For Those Who Gather Today

For my family and friend in the United States I wish you all the happiest of Thanksgivings as you gather with your families and friends.

This particular video is not available for embeding but is worth clicking to on YouTube for the incredible voice of Jussi Björling.

To think that there once was a time when in America - and Canada - people watched programmes like The Voice of Firestone every Sunday night and heard great classical singers in operatic arias and what is now known as cross over music.

And my wish for all those who are "gathered together" and indeed for all those I love and care for is echoed in this card from Vintage Holiday CraftsMay your joys be as countless as the golden grains.

24 novembre/November - Giorno del Ringraziamento (Festa Americana)
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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Oh Blessed Cecilia

Every year for the past few I've posted something for the feast day of Santa Cecilia - the patron saint of music. For the first few years it was part of one of the Odes or Masses composed in her honour but its also just been music that I felt celebrated the art which claimed her patronage. As I've mentioned before her connection with music is a bit tenuous to say the least. It has something to do with her hearing heavenly music either at her marriage or as she was being beheaded - the difference being????

This year's Santa Cecilia selection has a slightly stronger link to the blessed virgin (yes I know that heavenly music-marriage thing not withstanding)and martyr.  And I did say "slightly".  It is thought that perhaps the Cecilia of this song may well refer to the patron saint of music in the Catholic tradition, and thus the song might refer to the frustration of fleeting inspiration in songwriting.

Apparently the percussion track was recorded at Paul Simon's house with Paul and Art slapping their thighs, Eddie Simon thumping on a piano bench and a friend strumming a guitar with string slackened to the point of that they were almost out of tune. What ever the inspiration or scoring it proved to be one of Simon and Garfunkel's biggest hits.

And as always as well as tribute to the blessed Cecilia of saintly fame I'm dedicated this to my own bright Cecilia.

22 novembre/November - Santa Cecilia

Sunday, November 20, 2011

HFH - Updated Gratuitous Puppy Pictures

Settled into their new home the HFH seem quite happy in the one chair they are allowed to be up on in the living room.
Its been a long while since I've posted photos, let alone any news, of the HFH. Actually its been a long time since I've posted anything regularly, this working for a living is interfering with my living but I keep meaning to remedy that - the posting thing I mean.

Nick and Nora have adapted fairly quickly to their new home - perhaps more readily than the humans in the family. Fortunately we found a very pet friendly building - there are two other dogs on our floor alone - plus at least 10 others in the building including a snappy schnauzer and two pugnacious pugs that even I won't ride in the elevator with.  So far no one has complained about the odd barking or even a occasional ruckus in the hallway.

Nora has always had that thoughtful side to her
- or perhaps she is just annoyed about that flashy thing going off again!
Though here she does seem to be "at one" with herself,
almost as if she is taking her inspiration from my little Buddha.
Nora has discovered squirrels and they are the enemy! She's also discovered and seems quite captivated by Toby the Portuguese water dog who lives across the hallway. Unfortunately her reaction to him is almost the same as her reaction to the squirrels - full hunting howl! Neither the squirrels nor Toby seem impressed by this display of interest. The former run like mad chattering excitedly and poor Toby just wants to get away from this mad little creature as fast as he can. This ear piercing howl which no doubt serves her mother well when hunting boar in Tuscany has led to several embarrassing incidents in the boarless environs of Ottawa.   One peaceful Sunday morning around 0700 just after we moved in she and I were walking along the Rideau Canal and a squirrel was sighted. The Sunday calm was shattered and the air rent with a series of high pitched bays which echoed across the water - a noisy concerned jogger stopped in his tracks, ran back and indignantly demanded to know what I was doing to that poor dog! And just last week we encountered Toby coming in from his walk early morning walk as we were leaving for ours. Its odd how an apartment hallway amplifies sound - almost every door on the floor opened and be-housecoated occupants poked their heads out to see who was being murdered! Well at least I know that I live amongst concerned neighbours.

Nicky is proud of his Italian heritage but the idea of wearing an Italia jersey doesn't seem to appeal all that much.  We'll see how he feels when it drops to -30c, the display of patriotism may be welcomed at that point.
Our Nicky is another story - as he always has been. He's an extremely timid little fellow at heart and responds to people cautiously. Unfortunately that shyness turns to aggression on occasion so we have to be very careful with him in the elevator and on our walks. He looks so sweet as he trots along the Canal with that "I'm a sexy little Italian stud on the catwalk" strut of his that everyone wants to pet him. Fortunately the schools seem to be teaching kids that it is always best to ask first before petting a strange dog - it saved us some possibly sticky situations. In an attempt to avoid trouble we brought in Barkbusters and he has responded to their system remarkably well. As their Uncle Pervy said the other day - Nicky's the perfect pack dog he actually wants to follow orders. Nora however is a little less willing to follow anything but her hunter instincts... or poor Toby. But we're working on it and us - as the Barkbuster motto, rather snidely to my way of thinking, puts it: Dogs are great trainers of people!
Nora - ever the instigator - to Nick:  Okay we're not suppose to be up here but its sunny, its soft and its warm.  Don't move and old what's-his-name won't even notice us - we'll just blend in.

Though I'm not looking forward to Ottawa's famous snow days - normally from sometime in late November until sometime in late May as I recall - I'm anticipating the HFH's reaction to their first encounter with snow. I have a feeling Nicky will look at it as an insult to his dignity and Nora will revel in it. What ever it will be I want to have the camera at hand to record the event!

20 novembre/November - I Santi Avventore, Ottavio e Solutore

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Saturday, November 19, 2011

And It Would Be .....

Well my friend Dayle got it right - though Yellowdog Granny's mind was obviously going in the same direction as a few friends who ventured a guess on Facebook and via e-mail. It is indeed a Citrus press. I will give it a try at lunch tomorrow - not that anything on the menu requires lemon juice but more because I want to try it.  And I may follow Jacques suggestion and see if it works as a funnel.

I have to admit I was rather at a loss as to what Platinum Silicone was - but a quick Google reveals its a method of curing the silicone to increase its tensile strength.  Who knew?

And Dayle as the winner you have your choice of one of these lovely fridge magnets imported from Italy at great expense.  Let me know by e-mail which one you wish to grace the door of your Kalvinator!  Or maybe you can use it on that freezer you're so fond of????

19 novembre/November - Santa Matilde di Hackeborne

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Thursday, November 17, 2011

And This Would Be???????

Gary and I have been friends for at least the past 40 years - barring the odd time when I was in a snit about something but come to think of it even then he was still my friend - and still he never fails to surprise and delight me.  Take for example the little gift we received from him today to welcome us to the new apartment.

Bright! Eye catching! And highly utilitarian! Something that no home should be without.  And I'll think of him every time I use it!

Okay so what the hell is it?  The first person who can tell me what it is will get their choice from the wonderful collection of  fridge magnets I bought back from Italy - all, I might add giving you a broad hint, food related.

Any guesses?

17 novembre/November - Gregorio il Taumaturgo

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Memories of .... Another Time

The downsizing I am currently experiencing means going through 60 years of "things" - knick-knacks, paintings, posters, books, CDs, household items, clothing and photographs. A few things have been put into the boxes for St Vincent de Paul or the consignment house without thought to where they fit in my life but more often unpacking something and simply turn it over in my hand has brought back memories of the many remarkable experiences and people that have crowded my life in the past six decades.

None more so than the photos that are neatly filed in albums or randomly piled in boxes or between book pages.   Admittedly in a few cases I'm at a loss to identify one or two people, the occasion or even the location but as I look at most of them the memories, and I will admit the tears, have come flooding back.

This photo was taken during my time at St Thomas Anglican Church on Huron Street in my Toronto days.

It was a Sunday evening choral evensong in late May and Patrick Bergin was being welcomed into our parish family.   Father Bull was officiating, the choir and acolytes guild were in full force and the church was full of family and friends of the Bergins.  It was a joyous parish event but as I think of it, just one of many joyous celebrations that I recall from my days in a place that was for a time a source of comfort, friendship and love.

16 novembre/November - Santa Gertrude di Helfta detta La Grande

Monday, November 07, 2011

Lunedi Lunacy

Just as a word of warning to a friend of mine who is talking about getting an iPhone4s or another one of those fancy-smancy does-everything smart(ass)phones.

Just saying Marco!

07 novembre/November - San Prosdocimo di Pavoda

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Mercoledi Musicale

Yesterday the Christian church celebrated "Ognissanti" - All Saint - and today "tutti i fedeli defunti" - all the faithful departed - are commemorated. I've written previously about celebrations (and that is what they are) during our time in MexicoPoland, of my own personal sense of loss on this feast day and on the music that can bring comfort in times of that loss.

Strangely I have never found the Requiem as a ritual of sorrow but one of comfort and for a believer hope.  And amongst the most beautiful setting of the gentle invocation Pie Jesu is Fauré's for his Requiem and when it is sung the way Lucia Popp does here soar as a sweet cry to heaven.

Pie Jesu Domine, dona eis requiem. 
Pie Jesu Domine, dona eis requiem sempiternam.

Gentle Lord Jesus, grant them rest.
 Gentle Lord Jesus, grant them everlasting rest.
Perhaps it is just that time of life but there seem to be even more people that I remember with a sense of loss on this day.

For Isabella, Albert, Joe, Frank, Deb, Steven, Linda, Jamie, Bill, Ryan, John, Lawrence and all those I have loved and lost.

02 novembre/November - La Commemorazione dei defunti