The end of the list

Every so often, I would come across a random track on Spotify that I wanted to bookmark, so to speak. I tended to add these to the end of a random playlist. Often these tracks would be quite different from the rest of the playlist. Anyway, a while back I put together a playlist made up of the tracks at the end of my playlists. This was supposed to include everything, including tracks added by my wife and children (a more dominant force as time has gone by), although I have been inconsistent about whether to add end-of-list tracks from other people’s Playlists I have followed.

Here is the first, from Sons of the Pioneers to Bryan Ferry:

A few months later I made another of tracks from lists created since the first – from Paolo Nutini (ahem) to Lisa Ekdahl (even more ahem)

And once more, from Philip Glass to Pink Floyd:

And again – from Leos Janacek to Taylor Swift:

And, the other day, from Blossom Dearie to Lost & Found Musical Studios:

What is the point of all this? I would like to say something deep and meaningful, but perhaps random juxtapositions rarely throw up that kind of meaning…

Advertisements

from “Small, Silent, Still” – Fr Paul D Scalia

Full piece here. An interesting interview with Fr Scalia – son of late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia – here

 We require that God be as we want Him: big, loud, efficient. Big and obvious, so that we can see Him and not have to walk by faith. Loud, so that we can hear Him and not be taxed by silence.  Efficient, lest we have to endure any waiting.  Our worship and culture follow suit.  Indeed, few things are more obvious than our culture’s addiction to spectacles, noise, and instant gratification.

In contrast, our Lord gives us two parables about the Kingdom of God: the seed sown in the ground and the mustard seed. (Mk 4:26-34)  These hit us where we live.  They require us to detach from the big, loud, and efficient and to accustom ourselves to the hidden, silent, and slow.

The Kingdom has, first, a silent and hidden growth.  It is like that seed scattered on the land that sprouts and grows of its own accord, and the sower knows not how.  The growth is unheard and unseen, beyond our reach and control.  It requires faith that He is indeed at work and trust that, in Romano Guardini’s words, “The silent forces are the strong forces.”

This Kingdom grows at its own pace, not the sower’s.  It calls for patience.  We cannot command it or set its schedule.  Indeed, our schedule must yield to its pace.  Further, the Kingdom is small – like that smallest of seeds that when sown, “springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.”  We prefer something more certain, something big and clearly powerful.  But here we must trust in the fruitfulness of what appears entirely insufficient.

 

“Silence is not the contrary of the Word but its guardian”

From “Lieber’s Lament”, Chapter 6, The Portage to San Cristobal of A.H., George Steiner:

As it is written in the learned Nathaniel of Mainz: there shall come upon the earth in the time of night a man surpassing eloquent. All that is God’s, hallowed be His name, must have its counterpart, its backside of evil and negation. So it is with the Word, with the gift of speech that is the glory of man and distinguishes him everlastingly from the silence or animal noises of creation. When he made the Word, God made possible also its contrary. Silence is not the contrary of the Word but its guardian. No, He created on the night-side a language a speech for hell. Whose words mean hatred and vomit of life

The sound of night – from R Murray Schafer’s “Soundscapes”

“In the special darkness of the northern winter, where life was centered in small pools of candlelight, beyond which shadows draped and flickered mysteriously, the mind explored the dark side of nature. The underworld creatures of northern mythology are always nocturnal. By candlelight the powers of sight are sharply reduced; the ear is supersensitized and the air stands poised to beat with the subtle vibrations of a strange tale or of ethereal music. …

Romanticism begins at twilight—and ends with electricity. By the era of electricity, the last romanticists had folded their wings. Music dismissed the nocturne and the Nachtstuck, and from the Impressionist salons of 1870 onward, painting emerged into twenty-four-hour daylight.

We will not expect to find striking confessions concerning the sounds of candles or torches among the ancients any more than we find elaborate descriptions among moderns of the 50- or 60-cycle hum; for although both sounds are inescapably there, they are keynotes; and, as I am taking repeated trouble to explain, keynotes are rarely listened to consciously by those who live among them, for they are the ground over which the figure of signals becomes conspicuous.

Keynote sounds are, however, noticed when they change, and when they disappear altogether, they may even be remembered with affection. Thus I recall the vivid impression made on me when I first went to Vienna in 1956 and heard the whispering gas lights on the suburban streets; or, on another occasion, the huge hiss of the Coleman lamps in the unelectrified bazaars of the Middle East—which, in the late evening, quite overpowered the bubbling of the waterpipes. Similarly, in a reverse manner, when the heroine in Doctor Zhivago first arrived in Moscow after having spent her childhood in the Urals, she was “deafened by the gaudy window displays and glaring lights, as if they too emitted sounds of their own, like the bells and the wheels.” In the country, night had been accompanied by “the faint crackling of the wax candles” (Turgenev’s phrase), and she was immediately struck by the change.

Another example: in his diary of 1919, amidst painterly thoughts, Paul Klee paused to listen when, in his Schwabing apartment, “the asthmatic gas lamp was replaced by a glaring, hissing and spitting carbide lamp.””

From “The State”, a short story by Tommy Orange

From The New Yorker, drawn from Orange’s forthcoming novel There There

Before you were born, you were a head and a tail in a milky pool—a swimmer. You were a race, a dying off, a breaking through, an arrival. Before you were born, you were an egg in your mom, who was an egg in her mom. Before you were born, you were a nested Russian doll of possibility in your mom’s ovaries. You were two halves of a million different possibilities, a billion heads or tails, flip-shine on spun coin. Before you were born, you were the idea to make it to California for gold or bust. You were white, you were brown, you were red, you were dust. You were hiding, you were seeking. Before you were born, you were chased, beaten, broken, trapped in Oklahoma. Before you were born, you were an idea your mom got into her head in the seventies, to hitchhike across the country and become a dancer in New York. You were on your way when she did not make it across the country but sputtered and spiralled and landed in Taos, New Mexico, at a peyote commune called Morning Star. Before you were born, you were your dad’s decision to move away from Oklahoma, to northern New Mexico to learn about a Pueblo guy’s fireplace. You were the light in the wet of your parents’ eyes as they met across that fireplace in ceremony. Before you were born, your halves inside them moved to Oakland. Before you were born, before your body was much more than heart, spine, bone, skin, blood, and vein, when you’d just started to build muscle, before you showed, bulged in her belly, as her belly, before your dad’s pride could belly-swell at the sight of you, your parents were in a room listening to the sound your heart made. You had an arrhythmic heartbeat. The doctor said it was normal. Your arrhythmic heart was not abnormal.

“Maybe he’s a drummer,” your dad said.

“He doesn’t even know what a drum is,” your mom said. “And the man said arrhythmic. That means no rhythm.”

“Maybe it just means he knows the rhythm so good he doesn’t always hit it when you expect him to.”

“Rhythm of what?” she said.

But, once you got big enough to make your mom feel you, she couldn’t deny it. You swam to the beat. When your dad brought out the kettledrum, you’d kick her in time with it, or in time with her heartbeat, or with one of the oldies mixtapes she’d made from records she loved and played endlessly in your Aerostar minivan. Once you were out in the world, running and jumping and climbing, you tapped your toes and fingers everywhere, all the time. On tabletops, desktops. You tapped every surface you found in front of you, listened for the sound things made back at you when you hit them. The timbre of taps, the din of dings, silverware clangs in kitchens, door knocks, knuckle cracks, head scratches. You were finding out that everything made a sound. Everything could be drumming, whether the rhythm was kept or it strayed. Even gunshots and backfire, the howl of trains at night, the wind against your windows. The world was made of sound.

But inside every kind of sound lurked a sadness. In the quiet between your parents after a fight they’d both managed to lose. Or when you and your sisters listened through the walls for the early signs of a fight about to start. For the late signs of a fight reignited. The sound of the church service, the building wail of worship, your mom speaking in tongues on the crest of that weekly Sunday wave. Sadness because you couldn’t feel any of it, though you wanted to. You felt that you needed it, that it could protect you from the dreams you had almost every night about the end of the world and the possibility of hell forever—you living there, still a boy, unable to leave or die or do anything but burn in a lake of fire. Sadness came in the sound of your dad snoring in church, even as members of the congregation, members of your family, were being slain by the Holy Ghost in the aisle right next to him. Sadness came in the quiet of the street when the days got shorter at the end of summer and the kids weren’t out anymore. In the color of that fleeting sky, sadness lurked. Sadness pounced, slid into everything it could find its way into, through anything, through sound, through you.

St Patrick’s Breastplate / The Deer’s Cry : music by Shaun Davey / Rita Connolly, Arvo Part, John Fahey, John Kenny, Melville Cook

St Patrick’s Breastplate  / The Deer’s Cry :  music by Shaun Davey / Rita Connolly, Arvo Part, John Fahey, John Kenny, Melville Cook

As a child, I was somewhat mystified why a certain hymn in our religion books was called “St Patrick’s Breastplate” but went:

Christ be beside me, Christ be before me,
Christ be behind me, King of my heart.
Christ be within me, Christ be below me,
Christ be above me, never to part.

Christ on my right hand, Christ on my left hand,
Christ all around me, shield in the strife.
Christ in my sleeping, Christ in my sitting,
Christ in my rising, light of my heart.

with no references to breastplates (or St Patrick)

Only much later did I hear a complete version and also read that this was an example of a lorica, an invocation of the divine for protection in the manner of a warrior putting on armour.

The text is first found in the Liber Hymnorum or “Book of Hymns”. It seems most dating of the hymn sets it later than the historical Patrick, who is therefore unlikely to actually be the author.

20170901_114636

Two translations are presented here. Here is the second of those translations:

I arise to-day
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.

I arise to-day
Through the strength of Christ’s birth with His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection with His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of Doom.

I arise to-day
Through the strength of the love of Cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In prayers of patriarchs,
In predictions of prophets,
In preachings of apostles,
In faiths of confessors,
In innocence of holy virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise to-day
Through the strength of heaven:
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendour of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.

I arise to day
Through God’s strength to pilot me:
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptations of vices,
From every one who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone and in a multitude.

I summon to-day all these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel merciless power that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of women and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul.

Christ to shield me to-day
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me abundance of reward.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every one who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise to-day
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.

There have been many musical settings of this text. My own memory of the Christ Be Beside me of my school days was a rather wishy washy acoustic guitar led dirge, though I did like the words. However the piece – which as the translation above reveals has a certain narrative drive and power – has lent itself to some excellent settings. Not all the text is generally set – the reference to “spells of women and smiths and druids” gets omitted. This site presents many versions and an excellent discussion on the piece as a hymn (some of the historical background given is slightly at variance with that above) with a helpful account of the musical background.

“This hymn can be a chall­enge to sing with­out see­ing the words matched to the notes,” observe the editors of the Cyberhymnal (linked below), “but it is a mas­ter­piece ne­ver­the­less.”

They’re correct on both counts.

The hymn is complex musically. As Wikipedia notes, “In many churches it is unique among standard hymns because the variations in length and metre of verses mean that at least three different tunes must be used – different in the melody sung by the congregation.”

wp-image-918046756jpg.jpg

Here is one of the most powerful versions from Shaun Davey’s “The Pilgrim” with vocals by Davey’s wife, Rita Connolly:

Many contemporary versions seem to owe quite a debt to Davey’s, although few come close to its power.

Here is a photo from the CD sleeve of “The Pilgrim” of Shaun Davey with some piper. I am not sure why I find this a wonderful photo, but I do:

wp-image--286508959

Here is an austere, haunting Arvo Part setting:


The eclectic, eccentric American folk guitarist John Fahey
made an arrangement called “St Patrick’s Hymn” which sounds like an off-kilter Renaissance Fayre soundtrack:

https://open.spotify.com/embed/track/2Sw8D1YGU0bjWVHt3k5nzv

This isn’t on YouTube as far as I can find, but here is someone else playing the arrangement:

Finally, here is something very different… and perhaps for those who find all the above a little too pious / inspirational / hymn-y this is a very different version by the British composer John Kenny sung by the choir of Gonville and Caius College Cambridge. Some interesting background from the John Kenny article linked to above:

At the point we actually had the three Celtic instruments – the great horns of the ancient Celtic world – reconstructed, I thought ‘yeah’, there is only one poem that I know that could combine these three cultures for real, and that’s possibly the oldest poem in old Irish that has come down to us.

The poem is called the Lorica, or ‘the Deer’s Cry’ – attributed to St Patrick himself. I’ve set the text in three languages; old Irish, ancient Celtic Latin and a wonderful English translation.

The piece features two ancient instruments – the Lochnashade horn, representing Irish culture and the Deskford Carnyx representing where St Patrick originally came from. It seemed appropriate to set with these instruments – this is a poem from the transitional period between Paganism and Christianity, between Roman culture and the hinterland culture of the Celtic Church.

Here is a whole Spotify playlist full of versions:

https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/aoifenichorcorain/playlist/07QE6H6nzmahWpCt233clF

One of my favourites of these is the Rites Reserved version (first on the Spotify playlist above) – cannot find a YouTube link. While the arrangement is rather familiar, there is something in the instrumentation and vocals reminiscent of Judee Sill

Finally to end with a more “traditional” choral setting, firmly in the Anglican choral tradition. Charles Villiers Stanford’s setting seems to be the canonical hymnal one, but I somewhat prefer this by the organist and composer Melville Cook. As per the info on the YouTube video below:

During his service as Organist and Choirmaster of Leeds Parish Church (as it was then known) from 1937 to 1946, Melville Cook left a number of craftsmanly hymn settings for posterity, most of which survive in manuscript in the Leeds Minster Choir Library. At least one was published and printed locally – a large-scale score of the traditional Irish hymn known as ‘St Patrick’s Breastplate’. Dr Cook’s setting is a real gem, with an organ part of considerably more interest than the ‘standard’ version by Stanford


Poetry is Beauty’s Voice

I had a copy of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s “Wherever You Go, There You Are” for a long time… before mindfulness was as trendy as it is now. Recently I opened it again and was struck the meditation highlighted here. Watts and Hillman are not familiar to me. This post resonated with me with its discussion of the non-correspondence of language with absolute reality, and the poetry of living:

“I think we’ve spent so much of history arguing over the critique of good written poetic form, high art that carries us on the lofty tailwinds of meaning, that we’ve lost our ability to see poetry in its seed form and the many ways we live it daily. We’ve in some ways deeroticized it, made it too narrow, made people think it doesn’t apply to them. If we could recover this sense of poetries of living, it might help more people appreciate the high poetic craft again, as but one expression of the seed poem’s transfigurative power”

Signs of Life

“Words and measures do not give life; they merely symbolize it” (Alan Watts, The Wisdom of Insecurity 48).

For any kind of beauty there is, there is a form of poetry to give it voice.  We think of poetry often as involving meter, verse, stanza, rhyme, prosody–pricking the senses through artfully arranged language. However, I’ve experienced, and I know others have too, poetry that transcends or seems to happen prior to language, and, while the purist poets may object, that’s the topic of this blog.

Jon Kabat-Zinn gives a great example in his book Wherever You Go, There You Are of such language-less poetry when he writes of geese flying overhead:

“As I pull into the parking lot of the hospital, several hundred geese pass overhead…. Hundreds are in V’s, but many are in more complex arrangements. Everything is in motion.  Their lines dip and ascend with grace and harmony…

View original post 1,582 more words