It can get a little maddening being cooped up. Work, teach the Boy, cook, sleep, repeat. April – er, May – showers added to the mix make it harder since you can’t even take a breath of fresh air in between.
But sometimes the rain lifts for a few minutes, and you can go outside. And you walk down the street toward the park, and you think, what on earth is that sound? It’s not a leaf blower or a motorbike, but it’s loud.
And you get to the pond and you realize two things: first, the swan couple on the pond have hatched this year’s crop of cygnets, and they are remarkable.
And second, that noise is the peepers. Saying, hey. The winter is over. I’m not hibernating in the mud any more. Hey, cutie!
In these days of confinement, I’ve taken to occasionally grabbing a little fresh air in our extended backyard. Certainly around the house—though after Monday’s windstorm, most of my efforts there are around picking up fallen tree limbs—but also in the fringes of the park behind our street, and in Arlington’s Great Meadows.
The meadows are wetlands, fed by Mill Creek, which passes down from Moon Hill, through the fields of Wilson Farm, and under Massachusetts Ave, stopping long enough behind the Parker-Morell-Dana house to form a pond that swans (above) nest and swim in every spring through fall. The friends association has built a series of trails around the edges of the wetlands, and you can explore through the woods and across a few boardwalks that span the wetlands.
Of course, this is more challenging in our social distancing time, so I’ve taken to exploring secondary trails that lead to random interesting points: an old sewer system manhole, a patch of solid land around the roots of birch trees surrounded by slightly marshy grass, and of course lots of birds.
It can be downright peaceful, if you get far enough away from the Minuteman Trail that you don’t hear the bicycles going past. So sometimes I can forget everything that’s going on and just watch spring arrive.
And yes, the above (Creative Commons licensed) photos are not bad as Zoom backgrounds. 😊
It feels a little early to be writing about Advent. It’s a week past Thanksgiving but — thanks to the funny gap in the calendar this year between that moveable feast and the end of the month — Christmas seems like it’s still far away. And yet: we will put up a Christmas tree Saturday, Holiday Pops starts next week… and Sunday is Manger Sunday at Hancock Church.
There are so many things about joining a new church family that feel like learning to speak a foreign language. I remember listening to the pastors talk about Manger Sunday in our first full year of attendance, over ten years ago, and wondering what all the fuss was about. “Manger Sunday” seemed like another one of those magical words or phrases. You know the ones, if you’ve been in a church any time in the past forty years. The words that someone says, and you just know they’re freighted with all sorts of history and baggage, and that there are probably perfectly good English synonyms for them but that the preacher won’t ever use them. (“Covenant” and “stewardship,” for me, are in danger of being some of those words. It’s not just in churches, either; at my kids’ schools, I hear an awful lot of “growth mindset” uttered in much the same hushed tones as “covenant.” Or “lift up our joys.”)
So, Manger Sunday. I thought, It’s a bazaar. Or, It’s … stewardship? No, we did that already. Is it mission work? Well, kind of. What is it?
Manger Sunday has been observed in this way, for the past 149 years, at Hancock Church in Lexington: You bring an item that someone less fortunate than you might need—warm clothes, a coat, socks, mittens, gift cards, toys, books games—and you get up with the whole rest of the congregation, from four year olds to 94 year olds, and you walk down the aisle and around the pews while singing Christmas carols and you bring your gift and you add it to the pile in the unlovely but sturdy twelve foot by four foot by three foot wooden “manger.” By the end of the procession, which lasts for about six hymns (each sung with all the verses), the manger is so full that there are secondary and tertiary and quaternary piles all around it on the floor. The gifts are given to families in need through the City Mission Christmas Shop.
It sounds so simple. It really is simple. But it makes a powerful impact. In 2017 City Mission, through Hancock and other churches, distributed 5,000 gifts to families through their partner agencies. That’s 5,000 happier Christmases right there.
And the impact doesn’t stop there; in fact, I’m not sure who makes out better, the recipient or the giver. There’s a world of difference between supporting “charity” by check and credit card, and going shopping for something that someone—granted, someone you’ll probably never know, but some one—will wear to keep warm, or find joy in playing with during an otherwise bleak winter, and taking it with your own hands and carrying it down the aisle. All, mind you, while singing about God’s magnificent leap of faith in our worthiness to receive his gift to us.
I don’t know what being a Christian means. But sometimes I feel like Manger Sunday is a pretty good answer.
Election Day 2018 has come and gone. And while no one got everything they wanted, I can reflect on two things in particular that give me some comfort.
First, one-party rule in Washington is over. The Senate races in Florida and Texas were heartbreaking, but no legislation will be passed in the next two years without coming to terms with the new Democratic majority in the House. That’s a big deal.
So it felt good last night to be on stage for Tech Tackles Cancer, singing “Pride (In the Name of Love)” and knowing we had collectively raised almost (as of 11/5) a quarter of a million dollars for pediatric cancer research and care. And knowing that there is always hope for the future, even if you have to make your own.
I got a bunch of Boston Pops records from the 1960s and 1970s. This is one in a series of blog posts about them.
In yesterday’s review of American Salute, we started to see the Boston Pops crossover machine in full swing as Chet Atkins joined the Pops and Arthur Fiedler for a few tracks on this album of Americana. Today’s 1972 record—a recent eBay find for me—is deep in the heart of crossover-land: it’s a document from a 1971 performance of Evening at Pops with a headliner celebrity narrator—the inimitable Julia Child, no less—and a bunch of lowercase-p pop songs, alongside the lightest of light classics.
Let’s start with Evening at Pops. Most modern audiences outside the Boston area probably trace their knowledge of the Boston Pops to this television program, which aired over PBS from 1970 to 2005 (that this is the year I joined the Tanglewood Festival Chorus can only be ironic coincidence). Wikipedia calls the program “the public television version of a variety show,” and this is a fair description, judging both from the contents of this record and the curiously wistful timeline captured on the program’s last website.
(Aside: I remember watching with my parents when I was a kid. It was one of a handful of true “hi-fi” TV experiences I had as a kid; since the program was often simulcast on both public television and public radio, my dad would turn down the TV volume and turn up the radio volume so we could get the program in full stereo accompanying the cramped visuals on our little 19″ TV. Ah, those were the days…)
In terms of programming, there are a few surprises here. The opening is a full-orchestra arrangement of John Morris’s great (second) theme song for The French Chef, Julia Child’s breakthrough PBS cooking show. I don’t know how many times the Pops performed the kids’ classic “Tubby the Tuba,” but Julia makes a hysterically sympathetic narrator in her trademark burbling tones—and adds a unique punchline all her own at the end. The Sesame Street gang also appeared in the 1971 Evening at Pops lineup, so an arrangement of the theme song follows “Tubby.” It’s in turn followed by “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing,” in an incredibly timely arrangement of the November 1971 hit based on a Coke jingle.
The second half of the record is more familiar Pops fare: we get two Leroy Anderson numbers (“Bugler’s Holiday” and “A Trumpeter’s Lullaby”), “Jalousie,” two Tchaikovsky movements from the Nutcracker (“Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” and “Dance of the Toy Flutes”), and as a closer, “76 Trombones.” Almost all this fare could be found on earlier Pops recordings like Pops Festival.
So if you look at the overall program, it’s really a standard Pops program, with the celebrity narrator guest elevated to headliner. But by this time “standard Pops” was only about 50% light classics and was relying increasingly on pop songs and other pop-crossover fare. We’ll see that in tomorrow’s record as well.
Here’s Julia Child reading “Tubby the Tuba” from the TV broadcast. Enjoy!
One of the comforting things in my life right now is that, no matter how much things change, music remains a constant. On Friday and Saturday I am lucky enough to be able to take my place with the men of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus in a rare performance of the Busoni Piano Concerto, whose “everything and the kitchen sink” approach to orchestration includes a men’s chorus part in the final movement.
The choral writing in the work is interesting, anticipating modern harmonies in several places, and our guest conductor Lidiya Yankovskaya has drawn some rich sonority out of the ensemble. I’ve enjoyed preparing the work, which has involved sitting “hashed” so that we can all hear all the other parts and blend our sound and pitches more effectively.
I’ve got a new health benefit from the Apple Watch to tout: it deflects canine teeth.
Our old neighbor hosted a garden party on Saturday, and one of the guests brought their dog, a rescue who is devoted to the family. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enjoying the chaos (eight kids, almost all under the age of 10) and was a bit jumpy. I thought it was trying to sniff me, so I put a hand out, and next thing you know it was trying to bite me. Not a play bite either.
I retrieved my now-tattered sleeve from its jaw, talked to the owner to make sure the dog had its vaccinations, and cleaned up. When I looked at my arm, I realized I had gotten lucky; the “milanese loop” band of my watch had slightly deformed under the pressure of the dog’s teeth. If not for the watch, I would have been far worse off than the slight scrape I got.
It was an unusual treat to spend so much time in Memorial Hall and Sanders Theater this week. The high Gothic style of the building and the sombreness of the memorial hall proper was a good preparation for the work we were there to sing.
Coming back from Tanglewood is always challenging, and doubly so after a weekend like the one we had August 19 and 20. As I told a co-worker, it feels weird to walk into our office and not hear the magnificent Aida trumpets heralding our approach.
I go back out tomorrow for a Prelude concert (music set to the words of Shakespeare, mostly by British composers) and the Beethoven 9. Before I lose the music in my head, here are a few reviews that came in.
Rossini Stabat Mater with Charles Dutoit: I had never sung this piece before, and surprisingly the BSO had never played it at Tanglewood, and had only played it twice before, in 1974 and 2010. It turns out to be a fairly monumental work that blends sacred and operatic choral traditions, with some seriously intense solo writing (the tenor’s high note in the second movement comes to mind) along with choral writing that runs the gamut from amazingly delicate pianissimi to operatic descending lines. The fifth and ninth movements, sung a cappella, might have been my favorites.
Boston Classical Review (Lawrence Budmen): Dutoit, BSO serve up a Rossini rarity along with a heartening solo appearance at Tanglewood. “Under guest choral director James Burton, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus brought gleaming vocal sonority and subtly terraced dynamics to their a capella voicings of the ‘Eeia, mater’ and the lamentations in ‘Quando corpus morietur.’ Dutoit skillfully blended both chorus and vocal soloists with the orchestra’s highly charged playing.”
Boston Musical Intelligencer (James Prichard): Stabat Mattered at Tanglewood. “The choral work that opens the masterpiece (Stabat mater dolorosa) immediately established the high standard that was to prevail throughout the performance. Prepared by guest chorus director James Burton, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus once again displayed the smooth voice blending and comfortable control over a wide dynamic range that Boston audiences came to expect from them during the long tenure of founding director John Oliver.”
Verdi, Aida (Acts I and II) with Andris Nelsons: This was an astonishing piece even in performance of only half the opera, with a huge chorus and orchestra supplemented by offstage banda and, of course, the Aida trumpets. We were with a stellar crew of soloists including the stentorian Morris Robinson and Met soprano Kristine Opolais, who happens to be conductor Andris Nelsons’ wife. (The performance featured a total of 17 married couples among the soloists, orchestra and chorus, a fact which did not go unremarked-upon.)
Boston Classical Review (Lawrence Budmen): Uneven singing but thrilling moments in Verdi’s “Aida” at Tanglewood. “For the second night in a row (following a strong showing in Rossini’s Stabat Mater), the Tanglewood Festival Chorus was a tower of strength. The sumptuous sound of the female voices was particularly outstanding in a splendidly coordinated ensemble under guest choral director James Burton.”
Albany Times-Union (Joseph Dalton): A marriage of mighty forces for ‘Aida.’ “…as can often happen in a concert performance of opera, the inner workings of the score, especially the orchestration, were revealed as fresh wonders. Examples were the use of harps with the chorus, and an extended passage of dancing and swaying lines that started in the flutes and expanded into the entire woodwind section.”
Boston Globe (Jeremy Eichler): At Tanglewood, an ‘Aida’ both intimate and grand. “Bethany Worrell, a TFC member, did the chorus proud in her solo turn. Overall the TFC, this time prepared by James Burton, sang with a nuance and confidence that lifted its work notably above the level of other recent outings.”
Boston Musical Intelligencer (James Prichard): Celeste Nelsons, Opolais, Verdi, BSO, et alia. “Special mention is due soprano Bethany Worrell, a TFC member whose ethereal tone as the High Priestess enriched the texture of the production beyond the few measures of music in which we heard it.”
It’s entering the busy season of my summer, though in reality the whole summer feels both jam-packed and oddly relaxed. Last week: mid-year team offsite. This week: mid-year sales training. Next week: hacker summer camp.
Then there are rehearsals. In late August there’s Rossini, and Aida, and a Prelude concert and Beethoven’s 9th. So of course we’re in high rehearsal mode. I think I’ll have had over 18 hours of rehearsal in the last couple weeks of July by the time all is done.
But right now all I can think about is how much fun it was taking my kids around the Museum of Science on Sunday and watching the Tesla coils make music with The Girl. Turns out that you can translate AC frequencies directly into musical tones.
I met some work colleagues at Bukowski’s in Inman Square last night. Generally when I’ve been there in the past it’s been to go to HellNight, which is a pretty all-consuming experience in itself. Last night I was able to soak in a little more of the ambience.
Like Lilypad, a jazz club that’s only about half a block away from Bukowski’s. As I walked by last night to go to the bar, there was a pretty hot sounding quartet going (Tetraptych, if their calendar is right), but by the time we got back to the club KGB was playing. This trio (Ethan K. on guitars, Patrick Gaulin on drums, Rich Greenblatt on vibes) was sounding pretty good, playing a variety of originals, some standards (a Gershwin tune floated past at one point) and some post-bop stuff.
The last tune was “Eighty-One,” the Ron Carter/Miles Davis standard that he premiered on E.S.P. Here Ethan K. played the melodic line as Greenblatt provided chordal backup, with Gaulin providing elliptical drums underneath. I loved it, but the interpretation was a little different than what I think of as the core of the song, and it got me thinking about what that means.
In the original recording, by the second great Miles quintet on their first album, the essence of the song is the strong central bassline centered on the relationship between F (the tonic) and B-flat and providing rhythmic drive, while the horns play the melody complete with the leap up the octave and into a moment of silence, followed by sustained chords. The same players, with Wallace Roney filling in for Miles on the 1991 A Tribute to Miles, begins with a minute of free playing by Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter before going to the melody, and plays up the pause dramatically, with everyone but Carter and Tony Williams dropping out for a whole measure before the tune continues. I’ve heard some live Herbie recordings that do the same trick, with different players spotlighted in the gap, including his V.S.O.P. quintetlive recordings from the 1970s. I’ve come to love this interpretation.
Last night, the gap wasn’t there–each player drove ahead into the space, letting the groove take them. It was a great version, but I missed that pause. It clues you in to listen to what’s happening underneath—the groove, the drive, the breakneck craziness at drums and bass that was Carter and Tony Williams at their best.
Reentering after a week-plus of travel and family time is a little challenging, but I’m managing it. This morning was, of course, errandsville: getting shoes fixed, getting a tire ordered for the car, voting.
It strikes me as unlikely that the profession of cobbler still exists, given the increasingly disposable nature of shoes. But I’m glad it does; I’d much rather spend tens of dollars to fix a pair than $200 to replace them. The cobbler in Arlington, around the corner from my son’s old preschool, works in a cluttered shop on a cash only basis but does phenomenal work. I don’t know who’ll take his place when he’s gone
And voting: my son will enter kindergarten in the fall, in (redistricting willing) an extremely crowded elementary school. So it’s time for our town to deal with Proposition 2 1/2. Fortunately, our town seems pretty rational about the whole thing, recognizing that the high quality of the schools is what makes our homes worth something. So I’ll pay a little more for the privilege of sending my son to one of the finest public school systems in the country. Seems like a fair trade.
It’s April 4, the day on which we remember the passing of Martin Luther King, Jr. So of course it’s snowing.
This has been a weird winter—very little precipitation, freezing days and 70° days. And now that spring is (calendrically) here, the weather is determined to make up for it. It snowed four inches before noon yesterday, then the sun came out and melted most of it. Now it’s snowing again, hard, and will for most of the day.
I’m having a hard time getting in the mood for spring. Even the thought of going to Charlottesville in a little over three weeks to celebrate the Glee Club’s 145th doesn’t cheer me up. Well, much. I need this snow to be done.