Monday, August 31, 2009

"Sink Under, World!"

I've been reading an article about Schubert's virtuosic song "Auflösung" (Dissolution), an 1824 setting of a poem by his at-one-time close friend Johann Mayrhofer, which has prompted me to revisit the song.

Schubert shared his great thematic concerns -- the landscape, the wanderer, and the suffering caused by memory -- with his Romantic contemporaries in the German-speaking lands, but Mayrhofer's poem speaks to another theme, no less Romantic, that would find further exposition later in the century: the idea of renunciation of the external world in favor of the internal powers of the soul. It is a decadent theme, and yet the song is full of primordial energy. The repeated command "Geh' unter, Welt!" -- "Sink under, world!" -- would be more disturbing were the final statement not resolved in major. Perhaps it's not surprising that Mayrhofer met his death in a typical Romantic fashion -- by his own hand.

Here is a translation of Mayrhofer's poem by George Bird and Richard Stokes.

Conceal yourself, sun,
for the fires of delight
are singeing my bones;
fall silent, sounds,
spring beauty, flee,
and leave me alone.

There flows from every recess
of my soul loving powers
which embrace me,
celestially singing.
Founder, world,
and disturb never more
the sweet celestial choirs.

And here is Schubert's remarkable song, sung by the incomparable Dame Janet Baker. Though the pianist is unattributed, I'm pretty sure it's Graham Johnson.

Above: Mayrhofer and Schubert.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"Beautiful city, we must part," part 2: The Groans of August

It's time for my yearly post on the month that obsesses my imagination.

This is the first time I've spent my favorite month outside of New York City in many years, and August in Appalachia, at least in my corner of it, has nothing at all in common with August in New York City. Back home in the city, the alert observer could perceive the shift in the position of sunlight and the not-unpleasant burning smell in the air that marked the change from high summer to summer's end, and all the uncertainty and the promise of newness that this strange, shifting time -- the real start of the New Year in New York -- brought with it. Here, there's no sense of change apparent, at least to my senses, which were developed and trained under a different set of circumstances: except for the mist rising from the mountains in the early morning, high summer continues.

I'm still walking around in heartbroken longing for my old city and for many parts of the life I once lived there, but it occurs to me more and more that walking around in heartbroken longing has been a constant in my life at least since adolescence. And the truth is that August, far from being a month worthy of commemoration, has traditionally been for me a month of awful loss and absurd failure. This brings me back to my old dilemma: does God want us to be happy? Or does he perhaps ask those of us who are inclined to grief to suffer it for Him, offering that suffering up for others in the expectant hope that He, in the strange efficacy of His economy of mercy, will use it for their healing and their joy? I know, in spite of all the self-esteem propaganda and New Age relativism I absorbed that told me I was essentially a good person, that I am not in fact a person who deserves joy, and the individuals for whom I most often consciously choose to offer my grief are probably not either. But I think some people need joy in order to live and heal, and I pray that God will give it to them, because He loves them so much.

As anyone who's read this blog for a time knows, I'm a pretty egregious sinner who's made some irrevocably bad decisions that have had dire consequences on the lives of others, as well as on my own. Every day upon waking, the prayer comes to my mind that God might use me for good. But how might He do this? Can the leopard change its spots? I am still that person, that egregious sinner, that, for want of a better word, raging diva. But somehow, since the moment of metanoia that changed my heart in 2002, I'm also a different person. I want to trust that God will find a way to use the raging diva that He saw fit to reform for the purpose of demonstrating His unfathomable mercy to other egregious-sinner chicks like myself. Hopefully He'll make His ways somewhat clearer to me as I walk around, hearbroken with longing in August in Appalachia.

Above: "Dining Room Overlooking the Garden" by Pierre Bonnard, an image that has always looked like August to me.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Long Black Veil

There's a long tradition in both high art and folk poetry of the song sung from beyond the grave. Tennyson wrote:

Come not, when I am dead,
To drop thy foolish tears upon my grave,
To trample round my fallen head,
And vex the unhappy dust thou wouldst not save.
There let the wind sweep and the plover cry;
But thou, go by.

Child, if it were thine error or thy crime
I care no longer, being all unblest:
Wed whom thou wilt, but I am sick of Time,
And I desire to rest.
Pass on, weak heart, and leave me where I lie:
Go by, go by.

The 1959 song "The Long Black Veil," by Lefty Frizzell, has one foot in that tradition, and the other in the equally long tradition of crime balladry. Here is a wonderful performance of the song as a duet sung by Johnny Cash and Joni Mitchell, from Cash's short-running television show at the end of the 1960s.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

"Singing is for Suckers"

I read an article today in my rather embarrassingly flimsy local paper about aspiring local opera singers. There's an apprentice program at a small opera company in the region, and, as with all such programs, young singers relocate from far and wide to participate in it. During the off-season, they continue to meet three times a week to workshop their repertoire; in the meantime, like singers everywhere, they work bread gigs, also known as day jobs. One is a receptionist at a local law firm; one stocks shelves at a liquor store; one, who had the unusual perspicacity to gain skills in another field, is a certified ESOL teacher and is able to work in area schools. They have come from Texas, Wisconsin, and Virginia, among other places, and during the fall-winter audition season, they also travel to New York City, which my new home town is nowhere near, at least once a week when other regional companies are hearing auditions there.

Some commenters on this blog have suggested that success in the arts (such as it is) is evidence of talent, and that "unsuccess," as one commenter dubbed it (referring to my life and career), is evidence of its absence. I don't know this commenter personally, and I don't believe she's heard me sing, but the truth is that I had a lot more "success" during my more active performing life than many singers who probably deserved it more. One year I made $16,000 from singing -- a record for me, and, though it may be a paltry sum to you, is princely to most of us (most years it was about half that). But people, let me tell you, if you don't know it already: there is essentially no work in classical music, and yet the market is flooded with applicants. This isn't just true for opera. If a regional orchestra has an opening, say, in the clarinet section (and vacancies in orchestras are extremely rare, in spite of low job satisfaction among orchestral players), every clarinetist of a certain caliber in America spends his or her own cash to fly there to audition for it. This adds up to hundreds of people auditioning for one spot, and then flying back home to face once more the frustrations particular to workers who are highly trained in a specialized field in which they may never hope to find paid work.

Poking around the web a bit, I found that the young Canadian bass Campbell Vertesi had summed it up succinctly: "Singing is for suckers." I remember making a vow with my friend Soprannie to never say die, but both she and I, for many reasons and like so many others, eventually retreated from the wearying uncertainties of an opera career. As longtime readers of this blog know, I went back to school and got my doctorate in voice, finishing just this year, though now I can't find a teaching job. I'm currently turning my dissertation into a book and, ironically, have some singing jobs, including a rather high-profile one, booked for next year. Right now, however, I just don't have the drive that kept me, as a young singer, practicing until 10 PM every night (the unwritten cut-off time for musicians to stop making their infernal racket in New York apartments), spending every dollar that came in on coachings, and eventually switching bread gigs to work at night so that I could give my best energies to my singing during the day.

A few years ago a book was published that explored these subjects, and in the process stirred up a lot of controversy in the New York City classical music world: Mozart in the Jungle, by oboist-turned-journalist Blair Tindall. The book is one-half (actually, the weaker half) racy memoir-cum-exposé -- its subtitle is "Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music" -- and one half well-researched analysis of the demise of classical music in America. Tindall was vilified by many in the classical music community when the book came out, with some of her former colleagues calling her abilities as a musician into question (I don't know Tindall or her playing, but a friend of mine does, and was in the string section on almost every gig she describes in the book; he calls her "an awesome player"). For anyone interested in these things, her book goes a long way towards explaining why classical musicians can't make a living at music (and, pace my commenters, it's not because they lack talent).

What it does not explain, however, is why anyone becomes a classical musician in the first place. I think I speak for many when I say that it's because we fall in love with beauty, we perceive that music begins to speak the truth where ordinary language falters and fails, and we want to share its message with others: the message that God's world is beautiful, and that it's yet only a dim reflection of the beauty of God.

Above: Soprano-comedienne Anna Russell.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Wild Mountain Thyme

As I've written here before, I have mixed feelings about the artistry of Joan Baez, but this is lovely and refreshing on a scorching day like today. Enjoy.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Assumption

Clear the way for the entrance
of the bold adventuress
who undoes injustice,
who smashes insults.

The sun’s rays are her
resplendent armor;
the stars her helmet,
the moon her boots.

On her shining shield
with which she dazzles hell,
a mountain is emblazoned
and golden letters: Tota Pulchra.

Celebrated for her beauty,
feared for her ferocity,
she is jaunty and valiant,
and angelic in her beauty …

She dispelled the charms
of the ancient serpent
whose conspiracy
set us under slavery’s yoke.

She avenges wrongs,
and annuls unjust laws,
gives refuge to orphans
and shelter to widows.

She liberated prisoners
from that prison where,
were it not for her daring spirit,
still they’d await their release.

All hell trembles at the mere
mention of her name.
and they say its very kings
fast on her vigil.

She is the one whose tread
no demon can endure.
When he sees her feet,
he takes to his heels.

Crowned with glory and honor,
the deeds that brought her fame,
since they cannot be contained on earth,
send her riding out of this world.

As knight errant of the spheres
on a new adventure,
she find the hidden treasure
sought by so many.

-- Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Living My Whole Life in One Night

I used to date a guy who worked in the financial industry and was frequently sent by his firm to various industry conferences. The conferences were hosted in nice locations – Arizona or Florida, say, in the wintertime – at well-appointed hotels, and he told me of having witnessed many colleagues who, at the close of a day of official conference business, tried valiantly -- perhaps even desperately -- “to live their whole lives in a single night.”

I had business out of town yesterday, and I put up for the night at a hotel in another city in another state. After checking in, I made my way to the bar, where a lone accoustic guitarist in a cowboy hat was playing Elton John covers for a small, almost completely unresponsive crowd. I took a seat near him out of sympathy, and, while I was able to fend off the advances of a traveling salesman who was unfazed by my mention of my husband and son, I soon found myself, glass in hand, sharing the mic with the guitarist in a rendition of “Sweet Baby James.” As the friend of a friend said to herself as she rode the city bus to the New York State Theater to make her début as Carmen at New York City Opera, “This is not as I had pictured it.”

Above: Bill Murray in his iconic turn as Nick the Lounge Singer on Saturday Night Live.

Shattering Solidarity: Once More the Single Mother

Law professor Richard Stith has an article at First Things which, while primarily about abortion, suggests an explanation for the more-or-less open scorn for single mothers professed by some devout Catholic women bloggers (an attitude, it goes without saying, that circumvents God's explicit instructions not only to have mercy on others but also to defend the widow and the orphan). Because abortion is legal, Stith posits, it has become a default solution to a problem pregnancy, and its legality has changed the ways we think about women and maternity in stark and basic ways. “When birth was the result of passion and bad luck,” he writes,

some people could sympathize with a young woman who was going to need help with her baby, though the stigma of bastardry was genuine. If money or a larger place to live were going to be necessary for her to stay in school, a sense of solidarity would likely lead friends and family to offer assistance. The father would feel strong pressure as well, for he was as responsible as she for the child. He might offer to get a second job or otherwise shoulder some of the burdens of parenting.
But once continuing a pregnancy to birth is the result neither of passion nor of luck but only of [the unexpectedly pregnant woman’s] deliberate choice, sympathy weakens. After all, the pregnant woman can avoid all her problems by choosing abortion. So if she decides to take those difficulties on, she must think she can handle them.

Birth itself may be followed by blame rather than support. Since only the mother has the right to decide whether to let the child be born, the father may easily conclude that she bears sole responsibility for caring for the child. The baby is her fault.

Stith suggests that before the option of legal abortion existed, families and communities rose to meet the challenges presented by the single mother. This was true for my own mother, who, though she had to drop out of high school when she became pregnant, later moved in with her father and her toddler son so she could go to college at night (she got a full fellowship to graduate school, where she met my father).

It would appear, though, that the existence of legal abortion has affected the thinking even of those who oppose it, to the point that “we make [the unexpectedly pregnant woman] alone to blame for how she exercises her power [to bear the child or not].” This unequal apportioning of blame for bearing a child that no one, including some devout Catholic women bloggers, seems to welcome would explain these bloggers’ virtual silence on the responsibility of single fathers. “Nothing,” Stith asserts, “can alter the solidarity-shattering impact” of legal abortion. When the acceptance of abortion has turned even devout Catholic women away from seeking solidarity with their single mother sisters, more’s the tragedy.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Saint Edith Stein

a.k.a. Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, whom Pope John Paul II called "an outstanding daughter of Israel and at the same time a daughter of the Carmelite Order . . . a personality who united within her rich life a dramatic synthesis of our century. It was the synthesis of a history full of deep wounds that are still hurting ... and also the synthesis of the full truth about man. All this came together in a single heart that remained restless and unfulfilled until it finally found rest in God."

On August 7, 1942, Edith Stein and her sister Rosa, also a Catholic convert and a Carmelite nun, were rounded up from their convent and deported to Auschwitz, where they were killed two days later. When the two sisters were arrested, Edith said to Rosa, "Come, we are going for our people."

May Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross intercede for us on her feast day.

UPDATE: Elena Maria Vidal has a comprehensive post about Saint Teresa Benedicta's life at Tea at Trianon. I did not know before reading it that Edith Stein was born on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, surely a very auspicious day for the birth of a great saint.

Breaking Dawn

I'm pretty sure that I will never own an iPod, in spite of the offer my Music 101 students made last year to buy me one if they all got A's (they didn't, and they didn't). The truth is that the technology doesn't attract me. The idea of walking around in the big world while cocooned in your own predetermined soundscape strikes me not only as personally isolating but even as potentially dangerous, and I'm sure it's not what Saint Paul had in mind when he set forth his injunction to be in the world but not of it.

On the other hand, I love the technology of radio. Quite the opposite of iPod-inspired isolation, radio gives the listener a thrilling, tenuous connection to a whole secret society of fellow-listeners. The ineffable sensation of being up late at night and turning on the radio to encounter an unexpectedly profound musical experience has given me some of the best moments of my life. It's been both profoundly comforting and wildly exciting to imagine a hidden community listening along with me in those dark hours; it's given me a delicious sense of shared struggle, of silent companionship -- the feeling that, as poet Elizabeth Bishop wrote, "Somebody loves us all." I remember waking in the middle of the night once in Brooklyn and switching on my lo-fi clock radio to hear the beautiful soprano-alto duet “Weg der Liebe II” from Brahms's Opus 20 duets, a piece I knew and loved well. That was twenty years ago, and it still stands out as one of the most beautiful moments of my life (and, if you want to know what beauty is, go here and download the piece for free right now in the version I heard that night, with soprano Judith Blegen, mezzo Frederica von Stade, and pianist Charles Wadsworth. And then, if you want to have a good cry, go here to read the translation). As George at the excellent music-and-culture blog The Big City writes: "There’s a lot of recordings I hear on the radio that I also own, but it’s special to hear them being broadcast, with that extra helping of serendipity and the feeling that you’re sharing your pleasures with others."

So it was with a thrill that I switched on the kitchen radio this morning to hear the opening chords of my favorite Schubert song -- and one that has deep personal meaning for me -- "Im Frühling," played by a pianist who masterfully evoked the music's tension between tender hope and melancholy resignation (the text is here). But when the voice entered, I was confused. I've heard many of the great singers who are currently active, and I'm quite skilled at recognizing voices, but this one sounded unfamiliar. I noticed that, although the singer was a soprano, she was singing the song in the low key, and it didn't sound quite right to me. There was a slight but telltale American accent in the delivery of the German, a distinctive conversational way with the text that I thought was a little overdone, and vibrato added only at the ends of phrases, as a nightclub singer would do. It took me until the third stanza to realize that the singer was Dawn Upshaw.

I'd always felt ambivalent about Ms. Upshaw's work. I had great admiration for her musicianship, her commitment to new composers and new works, and her ability to shape a unique, non-operatic career path as a classical singer. I had seen her début at the Met as Barbarina in Le Nozze di Figaro in my teens, and, as an aspiring singer, was impressed with her youth, the directness of her expression, and the sweetness of her voice. But I had always found her vocal resources somewhat limited, and had disliked her habit of compensating for their limitations by an attention to the text that bordered on mannerism. Stanislavski is reputed to have told a young actor: "You must love the art in yourself, not yourself in the art," and I had never been quite sure where Upshaw's true love lay.

And, frankly, I was jealous. Dawn Upshaw was having the career that I and a couple of my friends aspired to. We didn't really want to sing opera. We wanted to sing new music -- contemporary, untried, or forgotten repertoires -- but we'd been told that American singers couldn't have careers as recitalists, and that we'd have to make a name for ourselves in opera in order to be able to perform what we really wanted (I came to personal grief doing as I was told, but one friend was able to mostly circumvent the opera world and become well-known as a specialist in twentieth-century music).

I was up in arms when I heard Dawn sing George Crumb's iconic ensemble piece Ancient Voices of Children at her Carnegie Hall début in the late 1990s, for she didn't just sing; she also did some sort of interpretive dance during the instrumental interludes, which struck me as sacrilege. Then, in the last half of the recital, she sang folk songs with a microphone and some banjo pickers accompanying her, which struck me as smarmy.

Still, the fact was that the enigmatic Upshaw -- was she supremely talented or unjustly promoted? my friends and I could never quite decide -- was having the career we all wanted. A college friend went to a prominent music festival one summer, and when the new semester started, I wanted to know all about her experiences there. "Who were the guest teachers?" I asked her. "Oh . . . Dawn," she said airily, and I ground my teeth in envy at her first-name relationship with La Upshaw. Another friend, also a soprano, used letterhead from the law firm where she temped as a secretary to write to the Metropolitan Opera management, charging them with deception because she was convinced that they used a body mic for the slender-voiced Upshaw. Dawn seemed like a genuinely nice person, but we heard rumors about her ruthless ambition. "She lies about her age," someone whispered, as if everyone else in opera didn't. One friend, a pianist who was a great Upshaw admirer, was disappointed when he worked as the rehearsal pianist for an opera in which she was cast. She didn't really talk about anything except her kids, he said, and he concluded, therefore, that his idol was "a very boring lady."

But later, when I served as a graduate teaching assistant in the music department in one of my university's senior colleges, I was in the women's bathroom one day talking with my accompanist about an upcoming performance, when a stall door swung open, and out came . . . Dawn Upshaw. She was much taller than I'd imagined, and was dressed in a simple black dress with an old red cardigan half-buttoned over it. She came right over to us and asked me about my performance with unfeigned interest. It turned out she was adjudicating an audition for an opera training program that had rented one of my university's recital halls for the purpose. I managed to stay on my feet and stammer out the truth: that I had admired her and her work greatly, and for many years.

Not long after that, Upshaw was diagnosed with breast cancer, the disease that was soon to take her great colleague and friend Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, (you can see them together in a radiant performance by Upshaw of "Angels ever bright and fair" from Handel's Theodora, an oratorio about early Christian martyrs, here in an updated production directed by Peter Sellars), and she did a recital tour without bothering to cover the baldness that resulted from her chemotherapy treatment. She was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2007, the first singer to be so honored, and became the director of the vocal arts program at Bard College's new conservatory. After my son was born, I used to take him to a playground in a posh suburb north of New York City that was a quick train ride from where we lived in the Bronx. I knew that Dawn Upshaw lived there, and I always hoped I'd run into her again, but I never did.

The last time I saw Upshaw was exactly a year ago, when my dear friend Really Rosie and I went to see the New York premiere of La Passion de Simone, Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho's oratorio about Simone Weil (Upshaw is shown as Simone above, with dance Michael Schumacher; the production was also directed by Sellars). The performance made me critical of Dawn for all the reasons I always had been, and made me love her for all the reasons that I always have.

The radio program I had flipped onto by chance this morning turned out to be a rebroadcast of a Saint Paul Sunday show from 2006, with Upshaw accompanied by the great American pianist Gilbert Kalish. You can listen to it here.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Mr. B.

This is the fourth movement, the famous "Rondò alla Zingarese," or Gypsy Rondo, from Brahms's Piano Quartet op. 25 in G Minor. I've been listening to it in ecstasy on an old recording by Artur Rubinstein and the Guarneri Quartet, but his version is pretty darned good, and I love seeing the trams go by in the background.

The best part of this for me is the way that the piano plays the phrase of the opening theme a measure behind the strings; it's ver exciting.

There and Back, Part 6: The Desire for Hermitage

Seven years ago, my sister took vows as a Buddhist. She had watched the planes destroy the World Trade Center from her office window. Her friend's fiancé was killed that day; they were able to identify him from a severed arm bearing a distinctive tattoo. Shortly thereafter, she began attending a Buddhist meditation center with a friend, and then with her boyfriend. Though at one point she'd been a daily Mass-goer, she, along with her boyfriend, took Buddhist refuge vows in a public ceremony on Mother's Day, 2002, a clear, cool day. I attended the ceremony, in which she was given a dharma name that translated as "the turquoise light of liberation," which struck me as very beautiful. I remember distinctly that I closed the street door of the building where the ceremony was held on my foot, and that it hurt like hell.

My sister, a brilliant, beautiful, and kind young woman, had a troubled adolescence, during which she had to contend with some truly frightful events and experiences particular to her life. After many years of difficulty and sadness, she found peace and a certain measure of personal transformation in her meditation practice. She and her boyfriend married and moved across the country. She advanced in her Buddhist practice, took more vows, and is now a meditation instructor and a mother.

During the time that she was beginning her Buddhist practice, my sister tried to persuade me to take it up with her (I had not yet come back to the Catholic Church; that would happen later that year). I went to one of the public meditation and lecture sessions at the Buddhist center with her, and was vaguely annoyed to discover, while looking around at the other attendees, that they were a suprisingly homogeneous and self-selected group. All were white, dressed in expensive artsy-casual attire, and were incredibly good-, as well as successful-, looking. I don't remember what the talk was about, beyond that it was generally an exhortation to the acolytes to practice Buddhist meditation because it was the right thing to do.

Despite my cynicism and misgivings about all of this, I thought a lot about my sister's invitation to join her on her path. It really seemed to be working for her; her wild and suffering heart appeared to be almost tamed. And the aesthetic sensibility of Buddhism was extremely attractive to me. I had visions of utter simplicity: a clean-swept bare floor; a room with white walls, interrupted only by a framed print of a single black-inked brushstroke; a window opening onto a maple tree, whose leaves I would contemplate with detached reverence as they changed from green to red to gold and then dropped, reminding me of the transience of all things. But most of all, I was attracted to the feeling of emptiness, the feeling of peace, that seemed to arise from accepting all phenomenona exactly as they were, without attachment, without hope.

Then, at my brother's urging -- he positively raved about it -- I attended the Renaissance Tapestry exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum on the day that it closed. The galleries were quiet and nearly empty that day in the middle of the week, and I walked through the darkened rooms in a slowly awakening sense of astonishment at the beauty and richness of the tapestries, almost of them illustrations of passages fromt the Bible, that almost drove me to my knees. The tapestry that affected me the most was Raphael's "Miraculous Draught of Fishes," above. I felt quite the opposite of emptiness when I looked at it. I felt like I was drinking great drafts of life that were filling me up. It dawned on me then that this was my tradition and the tradition of my forebears, this aesthetic of fullness, of joy in the created world, made possible by the certainty that the world was, after all, created by a God who loves it and us. At that moment, though I had not fully come back into the Catholic Church, I knew I could never definitively leave it. Here was my tradition -- Italian, Catholic, humanist -- and I could not successfully supplant it with another, no matter how attractive.

A priest once told me that it's better to be without peace and with God than to be at peace without God. On this, the sixty-fourth anniversary of the destruction of Hiroshima by the atomic bomb, I am reminded of the different sorts of peace offered by two different cultures, faiths, and traditions. I pray that my sister will find the lasting peace that she seeks. Although I don't want to see her relatively recent peace destroyed, however, I hope even more that she will find the truth in the faith and tradition of her childhood and her heritage.

There is a sensibility shared by both Christianity and Buddhism, however: that of the longing for hermitage, the notion of an encounter with the Truth that can take place only in solitude. Here is a musical example that beautifully expresses this longing, shared across traditions: "The Desire for Hermitage," the last song in Samuel Barber's 1953 song cycle Hermit Songs, written for Leontyne Price. Though I can't vouch for the dance interpretation or the recording quality, the vocal performance is outstanding, and the soprano -- who appears to be quite a fascinating person -- has a quality in her voice that is reminiscent of the great Price. The texts of the Hermit Songs are taken from marginalia scribbled by medieval Irish monks in the corners of the manuscripts they were illuminating; this excerpt was translated by Seán Ó Faoláin.

Ah! To be all alone in a little cell
with nobody near me;
beloved that pilgrimage before the last pilgrimage to death.
Singing the passing hours to cloudy Heaven;
Feeding upon dry bread and water from the cold spring.
That will be an end to evil when I am alone
in a lovely little corner among tombs
far from the houses of the great.
Ah! To be all alone in a littie cell, to be alone, all alone:
Alone I came into the world
alone I shall go from it.

May God grant us His peace on the anniversary of the tragic bombing of Hiroshima.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Longfellow Serenade

If we could read the secret history of our enemies we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.
— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Work of Beauty, Part 2: All the Freaky People

Today, in the traditionally hippie part of town, I saw a bumper sticker on a custom-painted car which read: "All the Freaky People Make the Beauty of the World," and decided that, when I've learned how to drive, I would stick one on my own car. I went online to find out where I could purchase one, and discovered that the text is a line from a song by Michael Franti and Spearhead called "Stay Human." When I read the lyrics and heard the song, I wanted the bumper sticker even more.

Above: Harry Partch, a freaky person who contributed to the beauty of the world.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Evviva il ritorno!

I just read a definition of religious reverts as "ethnics returning to the depths of Tradition." I had never thought of religious reversion, nor myself as a revert, in quite those terms, but I suppose there's a lot of truth to it.