More on the Parker-Morrell-Dana House

Stone building 1865

When I wrote about our most distinguished neighborhood house, the Parker-Morrell-Dana house, I compared a modern day photo to an 1865 one from Lexington’s Cary Library and evinced surprise at the large number of alterations, including changing Doric to Ionic columns and changing the shape of the parapet windows. How, I asked, had the local historic district permitted such alterations?

Of course, they didn’t. The library had mislabled a photo of the Stone Building as being the Parker-Morell-Dana house. In retrospect, the giveaways were obvious, and I probably would have caught it myself if I had used the modern day shot of the Stone Building below, rather than the front facade shot that I used instead.

Stone building 3

But that’s the Stone Building. The Parker-Morrell-Dana House is something else again. Here’s an undated print of the front of the house, courtesy the Cary Library (again).

Dana house

In this picture — probably not from 1865 — you can see all the features that were present in my modern day photo, including the Ionic portico, the conventional square windows, and even the brick sides of the house (if you look very closely. You can also see one of my favorite features: the elongated window frames, made to look as if the facade had triple sashed windows like the ones on Jefferson’s Pavilions at the University of Virginia. But the bottom third inside the frame is just regular siding.

So anyway, that’s the story of how a mislabeled photograph led me astray. As they say, we regret the error.

The historic survey form from the 1970s has more information about the house and its history.

Update: Just heard from the library and they’re correcting the exhibit.

New house, new neighborhood

One of the big surprises of our new place (well, not so new any more — we’ve been here almost three months) was that it was in a neighborhood. A very old neighborhood, established almost 200 years ago. As I wrote in my last post about the house, there’s been a house in this location for almost 300 years. There was building all around this area then, but it really got going in the early 19th century.

Follen Church

Follen church

About 120 years after the old Robbins house was built where our place now stands, the Follen Church Society called their first minister, and built their unique octagonal church building four years later, in 1839. The Follen Church feels like the center of this little village here in East Lexington. The bells chime every hour. And all the other civic buildings are spread out around it.

Yes, civic buildings. And the Follen Church isn’t even the second oldest one. There are a little cluster of them here, or not far from here. Fire station, a little further up the road. Then there’s…

The Waldorf School

Adams school

Originally the Adams School, this is the second school building in and around this site. The original Adams School building, dating to 1890, was just across the street where a parking lot now stands. The “new” building, constructed in 1912, has been home to the Waldorf School of Lexington since 1980. The school stands far back from Massachusetts Avenue, just south of the Follen Church. It’s got a town park behind it with a playground, soccer field, tennis and basketball courts too.

The Stone Building

Lecture hall

The Stone Building is not to be confused with a stone building. It’s a fantastic Greek Revival building that is the second oldest civic building in the cluster. Built in 1833 by Eli Robbins as a lyceum, it housed quite a few notable speakers over the years, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Wendell Phillips, Charles Sumner, and Josiah Quincy, Jr. It was used as a branch library until a burst pipe in 2007 caused significant damage, causing the structure to close. It’s still closed, though some repairs were done to contain the damage; plaster was stripped from the entire ceiling and some walls in the first floor, but carved decorative lintels around the windows are still intact, as visible in a video shot inside the building in 2008. You can read the architectural recommendations made five years ago.

“Brick Store”

General store

Now owned by the Waldorf School, the “Brick Store” was the original East Lexington post office. Built in 1828, it’s the oldest of the civic buildings in the East Lexington area. It’s also the building that abuts our property, though we’re separated by a parking lot and a stone wall.

Parker – Morrell – Dana House

Parker morrell dana house

This last stop on our tour is the first building I noticed in our neighborhood, and the oldest of the buildings on this tour — but it’s not a civic building, it’s a private residence. Abutting the house on the other side of the cul-de-sac from ours, this fairly magnificent Greek Revival home dating from the early 19th century has apparently always been a pillar of the surrounding community. Built around 1800 for Obadiah Parker, it was converted into its current temple form in 1839 for furrier Ambrose Morrell, who was Eli Robbins’ neighbor and business rival. It’s worth noting that it has undergone some changes over the years; while it currently sports Ionic order capitals on its front porch columns, a photo from 1865 shows a plainer order — maybe Doric — as well as other alterations that have been made, such as the removal of a side entrance and the removal of clapboards on the sides to show the original Federal brick façade. Even more striking is the removal of the quarter-lune windows in the triglyph. I’d love to find the meetings of the historical committee meeting that let that one go down. (Update: Of course the historical committee didn’t allow such a change. See my next post for an explanation of the confusion.)

So yes, our little cluster of buildings on the side of Mass Ave is architecturally delightful and complex—and fun. And that’s even before we talk about the bike trail, the Great Meadows, Wilson Farm…

The Brahms Requiem at 41

Symphony Hall, orchestra rehearsal for the Brahms Requiem.

Symphony Hall, orchestra rehearsal for the Brahms Requiem.

(By which I mean, of course, my age, not the age of the work.)

I last wrote about Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem in 2009, at the end of a run in which we performed the work in Symphony Hall, issued an official recording, and reprised it at Tanglewood. It was a different time: James Levine was at the relative height of his powers and I was singing more regularly with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus.

We reprised the work a few years later under Christoph von Dohnányi, in a totally different performance. By that time I wasn’t blogging as regularly so I don’t have any notes from that run. I remember a few things, though: his tempi were brisk, his interpretation totally unsentimental, and his demands on the chorus’s diction were fierce.

This run, which concluded a week ago, was to have been conducted by the great Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, with whom I was fortunate to sing a few times. But he passed away this summer, and the task of filling his shoes went to Bramwell Tovey. The chorus had sung with him before, but I had not, and had heard about his affability but not much about his musicianship. He turns out to be, at least with the Requiem, a conductor concerned not so much with putting an individual stamp on the work than with seeking how the text determines the flow of the piece. To that end he, like Dohnányi, asked the highest level of diction and pitch precision from the chorus. Our chorus conductor, Bill Cutter, helped with that, pitilessly letting us know when we could be doing better.

For this performance, my third time through the work, I had a pretty good idea of what some of the major challenges would be for me. I wrote about some of them in the post from Tanglewood:

I found what may be the real culprit of the sixth movement, for me at least. It’s not just the overall arc of the piece, but specifically the tenor part immediately preceding the fugue, where all choral voices respond… And the text is sung at absolutely full volume over some of the thickest orchestration in the work, and in the high part of the tenor range.

This is the rub, at least for me. The need to support the voice is strong, but at that volume and emotional fervor it’s very easy to tip over from supporting to tightening, and then the battle is lost and the voice closes progressively until it is difficult to get any sound out at all. Once that happens the following fugue is unsingable.

Well, friends, I’m here to tell you that I had the right problem area, but the solution was both easier and harder than I thought.

The hard part was in placing my voice properly. I have never had more than a few hours of formal voice instruction since I got my full instrument, and so it takes me a while to learn things that I suppose most voice majors know inherently. (The hazards of being a sciences major and not taking advantage of the meager vocal instruction offerings at my undergrad, among other things.) Sometime over the past few years, though, I managed to learn about two important concepts in voice placement: singing toward and through the mask, and keeping the ceiling of the vocal chamber high. What follows is an embarrassing amateur’s assessment of how this works; I welcome correction.

The “mask,” or the frontal bones of the face, is where a good portion of the resonant overtones of the voice develop, due in no small part to vibrations through the sinus cavities (yes, they’re good for something besides infections). But the voice must be directed through this part rather than being allowed to linger in the back of the vocal chamber for the resonance to take effect. Once it does, the difference is startling: a brightness and sharpness to the sound that cuts through surrounding noise for far less vocal effort. The challenges are in keeping the sinuses clear (no small task thanks to the common cold) and managing the position of the facial muscles that support singing so that the placement happens properly.

The full vocal chamber, otherwise known as the front of the face, the cavity of the mouth, and the back of the throat, is important in developing the fullness of the sound. Again, my amateur guess is that this has something to do with developing the right resonant frequencies. It turns out that for me, one of the most important parts of this process, in addition to the mask, is keeping the soft palate, which forms the ceiling of the vocal chamber, high and out of the way. If it comes down, producing sound on pitch is much harder, the sound is muddied, and if you’re singing through the mask and not taking advantage of the full chamber you get a sharp thin sound rather than a penetrating fuller sound.

This leads me to the other thing that was much easier in solving the problem. One of the things that makes keeping the soft palate in the proper place extremely hard is not being prepared for the next vowel sound that is being produced. If you are unsure about whether an e or an ah is coming next, the palate doesn’t know where to go, and producing any sort of sound at all becomes a challenge of brute force.

In this context, my prior problem about my voice “tightening” had a simple diagnosis: I was not comfortable with the text. By that point in movement six my memory was generally unreliable so I couldn’t anchor the Den es wird die Pasaune schallen. I finally figured out what was going on in one of our rehearsals when we started on the second repetition, Der Tod is verschlungen in den Sieg, sung on virtually the same tune, and I had no difficulty in keeping the voice from tightening. Why? I knew the words better! I didn’t have to force the sound, and that meant I could keep the palate high and the muscles in the proper place! All I had to do to make this a general solution was focus on ensuring that I had the right words!

So for this run I managed, most of the time, to keep the apparatus such that I was producing the right sort of sound throughout, and it made all the difference in the world. I even sang in my church choir the following morning; usually after a Brahms Requiem run I’m a ragged baritone for at least a week.

Lessons learned?

  1. Stay conscious of the mask and the ceiling of the chamber.
  2. Learn the damned text. First, if possible.

This should be fun as we head into the Rachmaninoff that we’ll sing next. It’s been a long time since I’ve had to learn that much Russian.

Symphony Hall, 2014

Symphony Hall, 2014

Fresh From delicious today

Senate Control Could Come Down To Whole Foods vs. Cracker Barrel | FiveThirtyEight
Entertaining analysis showing, perhaps, only that marketers are better at understanding the country’s political segmentation than political campaign planners are.

Aunt Maria’s Vermont Maple Sugar Pie, 1945 – A Vintage Pie Recipe Test – The Mid-Century Menu

The Questa Project | I Love Typography
Seriously cool new font family, worth checking out.

Powered by Fresh From

New house, new history

The fence in front of our house is more than 150 years old, but the house itself is only 67 years old.

That was one of the surprises I had when researching the history of our new house. It sits on a main thoroughfare of Lexington, down the street from a church, meeting hall, and old village grocery store, and I always wondered how it was that there was relatively new construction here. It turns out the answer was simple: they moved the old house.

On our lot in 1716, Stephen Robbins built his homestead, and the Robbins family lived here through the mid-19th century. Around 1850, his family built the fence in front of the house, the one historical structure on the property. It’s sturdy, built of wrought iron and granite posts, and it isn’t going anywhere.

Unlike the Robbins house. After a long history (among other things, the house was apparently a station on the Underground Railway), the house moved on—literally. In the 1940s, Helen Potter bought the place for $500, then spent more than $3,000 to move it up the street, where it still stands today. In its place, the Cataldo family built our brick Colonial, completing it in 1947.

The Cataldos have been in town since the early 20th century. There’s a good oral history by one of the brothers that talks about the early days of the family, including Anthony Cataldo, who founded the Depository Trust Company of Medford and who purchased the depot building for a bank branch when the Lexington West Cambridge Railroad stopped running.

At some point before 1993 the property changed hands, and the biggest alteration was made: a subdivision of the property (and maybe the adjacent property) resulted in the creation of a cul-de-sac and three old-looking modern Colonial houses that surrounded it. Aside from the demolition of an old barn that once stood on a corner of our property, the biggest change to our house was a remodel that left us with gold fixtures in the bathrooms. 

Fast forward twenty years. After a few owners, the house was purchased by a nearby school eight years ago and became a rental property. When they realized they needed cash for renovation projects, the house went on the market and we snapped it up. Now comes the fun part of its history: making it ours.

New house, new start

lexingtonHouse.jpg

The Jarrett House North has moved. I don’t mean this blog, though given my relative silence here for the last too-long-to-count you’d be forgiven for thinking all the action was going on elsewhere. No, I mean our physical house. Ten years to the day after buying our first Massachusetts home, we became the owners of this 1947 Colonial in Lexington. After ten years in a Cape, I still can’t get over all the space. I mean, we certainly made that little Cape as spacious as we could. But it’s no match for center hall, full second floor, full attic. Even with only a half-finished basement it’s still a lot of room. So of course, we’re still in boxes despite having moved six weeks ago. But we’re getting used to the place and the neighborhood. And what a neighborhood! East Lexington was a separate village once upon a time and we’re right at the center of it all. I’ll post a little about our neighboring architecture soon. And the grounds are astonishing — after having to cut down a bunch of diseased trees at the old house, to have a bunch of healthy horse chestnut trees, maples, a gorgeous plane tree, and even what I think might be an apple tree is a fantastic blessing. So even on a rainy day, I can sit here and look out the window and say: we lucked out.

Fresh From delicious today

Doom & Gloom From The Tomb — "Guilty" – Lou Reed / Ornette Coleman When Lou…
Yes please.

Fresh From delicious today

Tweet of the Month @rohinivibha
Pointer to a good article about product management.

Fresh From delicious today

Lou Reed leaves $30m fortune | Music | theguardian.com
Lou was pretty good at getting paid, it turns out.

Share extensions in iOS 8: Explained | iMore
The how of getting your app onto the iOS 8 "Share" menu.

How to Avoid Lowering Your Prices | SiriusDecisions
Sound strategies for avoiding pricing messes in the field. I’ll add another vote for offering a longer contract rather than lowering price. The big secret here is that it’s very hard to change the price at which a subscription is established, so don’t lock in a low rate to win a customer; give free months of service instead.

Fresh From delicious today

Sasha Frere-Jones: The working life of Brian Eno.
Nice midlength article on Eno and his work.

1895 Map of the University of Virginia Grounds

1895 map of the University of Virginia from the YMCA Student Handbook

1895 map of the University of Virginia from the YMCA Student Handbook

It’s not every day that you get to see a picture of the world just before it changed. But that’s what I found in my latest eBay finding, a copy of the Y.M.C.A. Student’s Hand Book to the University of Virginia, 1895–’96. Inside the book, after the title page and opposite the calendar of the year (more on that in a second), is a fold-out map of the University as it existed at the beginning of the 1895 school year.

It’s literally a peek backwards in time. The infirmary (now Varsity Hall) is on the map where it was built and stood until its move in 2005 to make way for the expansion of Rouss Hall for the McIntire School of Commerce (and Rouss, Cocke, and Cabell are not on the map at all). The original Dawson’s Row buildings dot the map in an arc leading away from Monroe Hill. The lost Jefferson Anatomical Building, here labeled “Biological Laboratory,” stands on the map alongside a pair of more modern buildings for Anatomy and Chemistry, both now lost to time. Memorial Gym is still the skating pond. Carr’s Hill is a set of wooden dwellings, with no sign of the president’s home that Stanford White built — of course, this was before the University had a president. Madison Bowl, and the original Madison House building, are just the “YMCA Campus.”

And of course, the Rotunda only has one set of east-west wings, and it has a big Annex.

It’s all poised on the brink of a monumental event: the destruction of the Rotunda Annex and the burning out of Jefferson’s Rotunda on October 27, 1895. In a day the University was turned upside down. Two years later the Rotunda would be rebuilt in a grand style, three academic buildings would close off Mr. Jefferson’s Lawn, and the unprecedented fundraising challenge would prove the last straw for the old faculty government model. Within ten years the University’s first president would take office. It’s a fascinating look back into a lost world.

Fresh From delicious today

roio » Blog Archive » NICK DRAKE – A DAY GONE BY
Track 226

Eight Terminal Utilities Every OS X Command Line User Should Know
A few interesting goodies here.

Fresh From delicious today

Scoop: A Glimpse Into the NYTimes CMS
Makes me want to work at the Times.

2014 UVA Reunion, Part III: The people

Diane, Lara, Julianne, Don, Erika, and myself

Diane, Lara, Julianne, Don, Erika, and myself

The best part of any reunion is the people, and I’ve learned an important lesson this time: get here early. I was never rushed, had enough time to spend with everyone, and lowered my blood pressure probably 20 or so points.

The shenanigans of our group of friends shall mostly be lost to the mists of time (or behind private walls on Facebook), but a few things stand out:

After Saturday’s banquet, I had reached my quota of extroversion, and my claustrophobia kicked in. So I took my leave of my friends and walked up East Lawn, then cut across to West. As I passed Pavilion V, I was hailed by strangers sitting outside one of the Lawn Rooms, who pointed out my absence of beverage and rectified same; we exchanged pleasantries and University personal histories. Walking back down East Lawn again, I was stopped by alumni of the class of 1974, sitting outside another Lawn room drinking bourbon and smoking cigars. They pointed to my orange and blue bow tie and said, “Now that’s how it’s supposed to be done!”

Photos from the Grounds are on Flickr.

2014 UVA Reunions, Part II: The Rotunda

Rotunda Capital

Rotunda Capital

I got a special behind-the-scenes tour of the Rotunda on Saturday. The Rotunda, Jefferson’s library and the centerpiece of his Academical Village, just got done with a roof replacement and now enters the second, more extensive phase of its renovations as they redo the mechanical systems and get ready to return it to a building more integrated with student life. The guide said that they were inspired by the way students took to the McGregor Room in Alderman when it was turned into study space after Special Collections moved into its new dedicated building, and hope to recreate that effect in the oval room across from the Board of Visitors meeting room on the second floor. I can’t think of anything better.

The tour itself was fascinating. We stood in the lower oval rooms on the ground floor and learned what they’ve reconstructed about the larger role of the chemistry labs in the earliest days of the university, when the Rotunda was not just library but also science classroom. We marveled at the graffiti left by builders in the portland cement  lining the cistern buried in the east courtyard, long hidden under a fountain. And we got to ascend both tiers of balcony above the Dome Room floor, which have long been off limits to regular tours.

The last part was the most special. Behind an opened panel on the north wall was a small chamber housing the machinery for the north clock. There was a 1970s era unfinished wood structure around the clock mechanism. And the wood structure was covered by signatures of probationary classes of the University Guide Service. The Guides’ secret hideaway had long been a legend, and seeing it in broad daylight was surprising at first. But as I wrote to a friend, I felt that the Guides found a way to become part of the historic fabric of the building in an intimately familiar and ultimately respectful way, just like the builders who left their names in the cement of the cistern. Seeing the signatures meant that my friends had found a way to become a deep part of the history of the University.

Check the Flickr photoset for more.