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Merry cupid2

Some fragments of Christmastime cheer to help you stay merry:

I was standing in line at the post office to mail a package to my nephew in Colorado. There was only one customer ahead of me—a woman with two parcels on the counter. A young girl stood next to her with two more brown-paper packages in her arms. On the side of one of the packages, in large green letters, was written: “No socks inside!”

My sister Holli got a large, real tree and set it up in the living room of her house. She filled the tree stand with water, and checked it the next day. She was pleased to find that the tree had sucked up a good bit of the water. “That’s a good sign!” she told her husband Bobby, as she added more. She added more water the next day.

On the day after that, Bobby noticed an unpleasant smell in the room and asked Holli to come smell it with him. They sniffed at the fireplace, thinking a varmint had died in the chimney. They checked under the house, but no, the smell was definitely inside. “Do you think something came in with the Christmas tree?” Holli asked. (I pictured a wee field mouse clinging to the trunk, dying of fright during the ride on top of the car, and then having tinsel and lights draped over its tiny corpse.)

They began a more careful check of the living room and soon found that the quarts of water from the tree stand had leaked out and been sucked up into the area rug. “And there I was bragging about my Christmas tree drinking so much water,” Holli said, sadly.

Well, it’s a simple fact that not everything goes smoothly during the holidays, does it? Our church Christmas program was planned for simplicity so that we could put it together in a short amount of time with a small number of people and not mess it up. The minister’s wife said, “It’s all songs that we know, with a narration of the Christmas story, and we’ll practice twice.” We practiced twice, and found that, unschooled and mostly lacking in talent, we were simply not up to the task of singing “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks” or “Angels From the Realms of Glory.” Those two songs were edited out of the program almost immediately. Anyway, angels and shepherds appeared in the lyrics of some of the other songs, so it hardly mattered. Simplicity—that was the ticket.

It came to pass that on the day of the Christmas program, the music left propped on the organ had been mysteriously scrambled. Instead of following “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” with “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” the minister’s wife began playing “We Three Kings,” which should have come nearer the end of the production. Those of us in the choir made that shift successfully, but then had no idea of what we were expected to sing next. After much rustling of song sheets and a stage-whispered consultation with the minister’s wife, we got back on track and limped to the finish in record time. I believe that in at least two cases we finished singing our song before the minister’s wife had quite finished playing it.

Afterwards the minister said, “Well, wasn’t that a lot of fun!” His wife, still seated at her instrument, shook her head no. He didn’t get a single “Amen” from the congregation, either, but with no decrease in enthusiasm he added, “And don’t you know that Jesus enjoyed it!”

Finally, from my friend Elizabeth von Arnim we get a sweet illustration of a German country Christmas, complete with three Christmas trees in the library:

It is the fashion, I believe, to regard Christmas as a bore of rather gross description, and as a time when you are invited to over-eat yourself, and pretend to be merry without just cause. As a matter of fact, it is one of the prettiest and most poetic institutions possible, if observed in the proper manner…. [F]or days beforehand, every time the three babies go into the garden they expect to meet the Christ Child with His arms full of gifts. They firmly believe that it is thus their presents are brought, and it is such a charming idea that Christmas would be worth celebrating for its sake alone.

When the trees are lighted, and stand in their radiance shining down on the happy faces, I forget all the trouble it has been, and the number of times I have had to run up and down stairs, and the various aches in head and feet, and enjoy myself as much as anybody.

(There follows a description of the singing of carols, and the distribution of gifts to all of those who work on the family’s estate, until finally the festivities come to an end.)

When [the babies] came to say good-night, they were all very pale and subdued. The April baby had an exhausted-looked Japanese doll with her, which she said she was taking to bed, not because she liked him, but because she was so sorry for him, he seemed so very tired. They kissed me absently, and went away, only the April baby glancing at the trees as she passed and making them a curtesy.

“Good-bye, trees,” I heard her say; and then she made the Japanese doll bow to them, which he did, in a very languid and blasé fashion. “You’ll never see such trees again,” she told him, giving him a vindictive shake, “for you’ll be brokened long before next time.”

She went out, but came back as though she had forgotten something.

“Thank the Christkind so much, Mummy, won’t you, for all the lovely things He brought us. I suppose you’re writing to Him now, isn’t you?”

I cannot see that there was anything gross about our Christmas, and we were perfectly merry without any need to pretend, and for at least two days it brought us a little nearer together, and made us kind.

So may we all be brought nearer together, and as we are merry we should remember also to be kind. If we chance to over-eat ourselves, let us not forget in our stupor to write our own thank-yous to those who bring us gifts—even if we find upon unwrapping the package that there are, in fact, socks inside.

 

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The Snow Maiden by Victor Vaznetsov, 1899

The Snow Maiden by Victor Vaznetsov, 1899

A nutshell story.

“I’m thirsting for a little cultural refreshment, Mel,” Daddy said. “I feel like we’ve gone through a long, hard drought with regard to the higher arts.”

Mama looked wary. “What did you have in mind, Frank?” she asked.

“A string orchestra is playing this Sunday afternoon at the Tillbury,” he said. “Why don’t we take the girls and expose them to what I feel sure will be an uplifting experience for us all?”

“They’re forecasting snow this weekend,” Mama warned, but Daddy assured her that it never snowed to amount to anything in January and anyway the car had excellent tires—as she should know, since she had insisted he buy the expensive, high-performance brand that could carry us through fire, deep water, or glacial ice without incident.

That is how we came to be sitting in the Tillbury Theatre just before 2:00 on a Sunday afternoon, with a light snow falling on a day of cold so bitter that only a clutch of folk had gathered for an afternoon of Bach and Tchaikovsky. 

“Cold and snow are ideal for Tchaikovsky,” Daddy said. “It will make us feel like we are there in Russia with him, don’t you think? We should be wearing bearskin hats and coats. Only we don’t have any. Which is just as well, because it’s hot as a match inside here.”

It was warm inside the Tillbury, which is the prettiest theatre in the world. Sitting in it is like sitting inside a red-enameled jewelry box with diamond earring chandeliers. While we waited for the concert to begin, Daddy read to us from the program. This is a habit of his, one that makes Mama clench her jaw.

“Tchaikovsky has said of this particular selection, ‘I am violently in love with it.’ He also referred to it as a ‘piece from the heart,’ and so, I venture to say, it does not lack artistic merit. Always remember, Dixie, that if it comes from your heart, it is a true and beautiful thing.”

The conductor came on stage, and soon the theatre filled with music like warm silver water, until we were all swimming in it, oblivious of the cold and the snow outside. The conductor led us through Bach, then showed us Tchaikovsky as if he were revealing a magnificent dream. Then, In the last Walzer, which was lively, the conductor lost his grip and flung his baton across the room.

Every person in that tiny audience rose, clapping with such vigor that the diamond chandeliers trembled and quaked.  “We were warned there could be violence,” Daddy whispered. “Dixie, go see if you can find that baton.” 

Mama looked as if she intended to contradict this directive, but I slipped out and went to the side of the theatre where the baton had last been seen cartwheeling over the second row. I found it against the wall—a thin gleam of light-colored wood, I thought, with a darker wooden bulb on the end. It felt alive in my hand, and I wondered if it had flown of its own will out of the conductor’s hand, a sort of magic wand.

I crept back to my seat and showed the baton to Daddy as the orchestra completed its encore, a reprise of the Walzer portion of Tchaikovsky. The tiny audience once again stood and roared its approval, as Daddy whispered that I should take the baton up to the stage and give it back to the conductor, who had turned to take his bows.  “I don’t think it’s like a foul ball that you get to keep if you catch it,” Daddy added, with an air of regret.

At first the conductor didn’t see me, and I knew that I would not be heard in the tumult of the ovation. But then he caught sight of his baton, which from his perspective must have appeared to rise from the edge of the stage on its own power, and he smiled as he reached down and took it from me. He tapped me with it, first on my left shoulder, then on my right, and we all went out into the soft white world, lifted up, and shining.

END

For more nutshell stories about Dixie and her family, see: “Father’s Day,” “A Mad Tea Party,” “Ode to Autumn,” “Bearing Witness,” “Collectors of Ice,” and “There Is No End.”

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Vilhelm_Hammershøi_-_A_Room_in_the_Artist's_Home_in_Strandgade,_Copenhagen,_with_the_Artist's_Wife_-_Google_Art_Project

Vilhelm Hammershøi: A Room in the Artist’s Home in Strandgade, Copenhagen with the Artist’s Wife – 1901

My earliest memory is really only a fragment of a memory. I was about three years old, and a realtor was showing my family a house.  We walked down a hall, where sunshine came through the doorways of adjacent rooms and fell on the hardwood floor in distorted rectangles. I walked down the hall holding one of my parent’s hands (I’m not sure which), trying to step from one block of sunshine to the next.  The sun was so bright at my feet that if I looked up to see where I was going, everything seemed dark.  So I kept looking down. It was as if nothing existed but me, those blocks of sunshine, and the hand that held mine.

Sometimes I feel as if I should be able to enter that memory into a search engine and,  after a spell of sputtering and whirring, receive links to sites that lend it a deeper meaning, or at least connect me to places that would enlighten and delight. Instead, when I type in a phrase—let’s say, “blocks of light”—I end up with a list of things available for sale. In this case the list included an iTunes app and sustainable resin building panels. So I adjusted my search and used different combinations of words:  bars of light, sunlight on the floor, shafts of light.

And slowly, I did begin to find more enlightening information.  The first satisfying stop was Parabola magazine, which had Richard Whittaker’s interview with artist Jane Rosen.  Rosen paints and sculpts nature, especially birds. Best of all, the light in her studio changed her life:

RW:  Well, I wanted to go back to where you mentioned earlier something about this bar of light that falls into your studio. Now you said that this bar of light has…

JR:  It changed my life. I always had studios where there were no bars of light coming in because that kind of light changes everything, completely washing out the pieces. And at first, I was very upset with the lighting…. All day from dawn until dusk you get extremes of light bouncing all over and it was interfering. Then, just sitting in this chair day after day, week after week… what started to happen was I started to listen to the light. I started to catch the light at various moments where the light would inform what the height of the piece needed to be, or the turn of the head. I started seeing the light as a help rather than trying to control it. Being in relation to the light was a big thing!

Jane Rosen: "Birds/Gamut" installation view, 2006Glass and marble mix

Jane Rosen: “Birds/Gamut” installation view – 2006

Being in relation to the Light is, in fact, a Quaker thing, so I went to Faith and Practice and found this from Hugh L. Doncaster:

“Each one… has the responsibility to seek, and seek, and seek again where the Light is leading.”

I was happy to continue seeking—and am marvelously glad I did, because I came across a music CD with the magnificent title He Has Left Us Alone but Shafts of Light Sometimes Grace the Corner of Our Rooms The CD is by a Canadian group called A Silver Mt. Zion, sometimes known as Thee (yes, thee) Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra and Tra-la-la Band. Now, that was interesting because my parents attend (and I grew up attending) Mt. Zion Baptist Church! I then learned that the album is lead guitarist Efrim Menuck’s tribute to his late dog, Wanda. My sister has a late dog whose name was Wanda!  Also Efrim was born two days before my 11th birthday.

The names of the songs on the Silver Mt. Zion CD are equally enchanting:  “Broken Chords Can Sing a Little,”  “Sit in the Middle of Three Galloping Dogs,” “Stumble Then Rise on Some Awkward Morning,” “Blown-Out Joy from Heaven’s Mercied Hole,” and (of course) “For Wanda.”

For a moment I thought there was another song on the CD, more prominently featured than the rest, called “Play Your Music From the Cloud.”  Then I realized that was an advertisement for the Amazon Cloud Player and nothing to do with angels at all.

Finally, another splash of light fell across my path this morning when I read the latest post by Gerry in his wonderful blog, That’s How the Light Gets In:  “Scientist reveals how the light gets in.”  Take a look. I am particularly fond of the final stanza of Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem,” which was the source of Gerry’s blog title. It seems rather Christmassy, too:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Follow your own light wherever it leads.  But try not to confuse it with the advertisements.

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