Sunday, March 30, 2008

Netrebko Sings Rachmaninov, and Pushkin

Dear Deb,

Thank you for the wonderful Christmas gift. It is Anna Netrebko in perfect form. I have been enamoured with her voice for about a year now, ever since I heard her sing I Puritani. She is the perfect diva!

But this recording is perfectly perfect with the Russian singer singing Russian songs. It feels like she is at home in the living room back in Krasnodar wearing slippers and performing not for an audience of critics but for Aunt Tanya, or her father (who, she says she chats with everyday), or Erwin.

Perhaps this is so good, so удобный, because she is working with Valery Gergiev, the conductor she looks upon as a godfather. I'm not sure why, but this album really works. Thank you for discovering it for me.

My favorite on the album (The Russian Album) is the Rachmaninov setting of Pushkin's "Don't Sing to Me." It is moving.

Ne poy, krasavica op. 4, no. 4

My beauty, do not sing for me
The songs of Georgia, of grievance:
My thoughts immediately flee
To another life and shores in distance.

They bring to me -- your cruel tunes --
Alas, the sad and clear vision:
The steppe, the night -- under the moon,
The poor and very distant virgin.

While seeing you, I could forget
The image so sad and fair,
But, look, you sing -- and it is set
Again before my eyes in air.

My beauty, do not sing for me
The songs of Georgia, of grievance:
My thoughts immediately flee
To another life and shores in distance.

-A. Pushkin

By the way, did you know that Anna's been cancelling shows lately? She's pregnant. You know I like that.

I love you darling. And thanks again.


Saturday, March 29, 2008

Starbuck, A Cup of Courage

Dear Herman Melville,

There are some human characteristics that seem to be falling away in this modern world . It's not so much that we don't need them any more, but that we have been insulated from the practice of the real stuff, the rehearsal of the scales and triads, so much that when time comes for the center stage performance we find ourselves shuffling through our sheets.

Musing over a cup of Starbucks, est. just 1971, I've been thinking about courage. And, as I think, it seems like it's about 50% opaque. It's fading and I'm not sure what to do about it.

Now, foolhardy, we've got that, with skateboarders jumping and sliding down railings, with universities investing, not so much in the education of philosophers, but in the pummeling of orange and white clad gents against blue and silver ones. Foolhardy we've got. But courageous? Sipping my cupajo, I'm not sure.

I like the description of the first mate in Moby Dick. Now that is about courage. "I will have no man in my boat who is not afraid of a whale," he says, with Ishmael noting that "The most reliable and useful courage arises from a fair estimate of the encountered peril." But we here in 2008 have so been insulated from certain kinds of perils, that we haven't played our scales in the practice of building our repetoire of courage. We haven't even sailed a skiff in anything but virtual waters, so how could we ever properly turn our faces into the typhoon if encountering a whale of a perilous moment. We wouldn't know what to fear and what to courageously stand against.

An "utterly fearless man is a far more dangerous comrade than a coward," you say during your description of life with the first mate of the Pequod, who considered courage to be one of the great staple outfits, hauled on board with salt pork and tobacco for a long, hazardous voyage; a staple to be used with discretion so that the barrel containing it will not be found sparse when it is most needed. When I think of a coffee urn run dry, I find myself a bit nervous. Avast, what would I do on shipboard?

"The chief mate of the Pequod was Starbuck, a native of Nantucket, and a Quaker by descent. He was a long, earnest man, and though born on an icy coast, seemed well adapted to endure hot latitudes, his flesh being hard as twice-baked biscuit." The "welded iron of his soul" addressed the "wild, watery, loneliness" of his life with a conscientious courage, and one that we might well model ourselves after, (I with cup in hand rather than harpoon.)

To Starbuck, "courage was not a sentiment; but a thing simply useful to him, and always at hand upon all mortally practical occasions." But, it was a thing that he had refined through practice over the years. Perhaps, we moderns need to spend a little more time on whalers to get ourselves practiced up in courage.


Friday, March 21, 2008

Maundy Thursday

created at

Dear Kind Jesus,

It's like any other Thursday, really, except for this, and these songs we sing, and the story we remember, and the sacred act we commemorate by stripping the altars of our lives and draping them with black.

O sacred head, sore wounded,
defiled and put to scorn;
O kingly head surrounded
with mocking crown of thorn: What sorrow mars thy grandeur?
Can death thy bloom deflower?
O countenance whose splendor
the hosts of heaven adore!

Thy beauty, long-desirèd,
hath vanished from our sight; thy power is all expirèd,
and quenched the light of light.
Ah me! for whom thou diest,
hide not so far thy grace:
show me, O Love most highest,
the brightness of thy face.

I pray thee, Jesus, own me,
me, Shepherd good, for thine; who to thy fold hast won me,
and fed with truth divine.
Me guilty, me refuse not,
incline thy face to me,
this comfort that I lose not,
on earth to comfort thee.

In thy most bitter passion
my heart to share doth cry,
with thee for my salvation
upon the cross to die.
Ah, keep my heart thus moved
to stand thy cross beneath,
to mourn thee, well-beloved,
yet thank thee for thy death.

My days are few, O fail not,
with thine immortal power,
to hold me that I quail not
in death's most fearful hour;
that I may fight befriended,
and see in my last strife
to me thine arms extended
upon the cross of life.

Text: Robert Bridges, 1899
Music: Passion Chorale (Herzlich thut mich verlangen), St. Christopher

Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended,
that we to judge thee have in hate pretended?
By foes derided, by thine own rejected,
O most afflicted!

Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee!
'Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee;
I crucified thee.

Lo, the Good Shepherd for the sheep is offered;
the slave hath sinned, and the Son hath suffered.
For our atonement, while we nothing heeded,
God interceded.

For me, kind Jesus, was thy incarnation,
thy mortal sorrow, and thy life's oblation;
thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion,
for my salvation.

Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay thee,
I do adore thee, and will ever pray thee,
think on thy pity and thy love unswerving,
not my deserving.

Text: Johann Heermann, 1585-1647; trans. by Robert S. Bridges, 1844-1930
Music: Johann Cruger, 1598-1662


Just me

Monday, March 17, 2008

Does Naomi Judd Love Rooster Fries?

Dear Naomi,

I see that you and I are both fans of the same eating establishments in the hinterlands of Nashville. You have just got to love this place, don't you? Sunday noon's "meat plus three" can't be beat, except by the Saturday night menu, but that later. I walked into Netts and there you were, right on the counter next to the cash register that really goes ca-ching, with a personal Sharpie message written with high regards to Annette.

When I stop by Netts Country Store and Deli, I have to wait in line like everyone, rubbing shoulders with locals who are dressed in either Sunday best or hunting gear, or last week, bicycle helmets. But I suppose you are ushered straight to the head of the cafeteria serving cart, aren't you? And that is how it should be, because the folks in Santa Fe and Netts Store love the Judds. Over fried chicken and catfish, they talk about the weekend entertainment, a concert to benefit the victims of the tornadoes that ripped through the area several weeks previously. "Wynonna sang, Hagraaaydoware. Oh, honey, that was good!" It took some cogitation on my part before I could conjure the excitement she must have felt, to hear dear Wynonna Judd sing those sweet words, "Then sings my soul, my Savior God to thee. How great thou art. How great thou art."

These are good people here along the stretch of country from Leiper's Fork, through Santa Fe, and down to Columbia. Cyclists geared up in Lazer cockscombs and Pearl Izumi Attack shorts descended on the store while we sat eating. And as these bikers, pedaling through from Franklin, complain that the store doesn't carry the right Red Bull concoction, the locals are planning the next community center event, or figuring out how to pay the church electric bill since everyone decided it was important to send that check for $180.00 to tornado relief.

Meanwhile, I'm enjoying the home-cooked green beans and cole slaw, served by a young and friendly girl from up Skelly Hollow. When I asked if, as I suspected, the trophy deer, sporting the St. Patrick's Day get-up, did indeed speak, a momentary shadow passed almost imperceptibly across her face. Yes, he does speak. I judged from the stretch of her neck that it would be impertinent to ask for a demonstration, so I fell silent. Yet my waitress, ever a member of this kind community, could not forget my curiosity, and before my plate was empty, Buck spoke, remotely animated, by my hesitantly accommodating waitress from behind the deli cooler.

There is no smoking here at Netts any longer. I know, for there is a no smoking sign next to the Newport clock. But you can still get all the supplies you need for a day in the field. It wasn't until I paid my check at the front counter, there where you smile at all the customers, that I considered the breadth of the variety of products available from Netts. Behind the coolers is a smaller refrigerator, dorm-sized. On it's door is a hand written sign offering Nightcrawlers—$3.99 and 100% Doe in Estrus—$11.99. Of course, I know nightcrawlers, big, juicy, and easy to slip onto a fishing hook, but the Doe in Estrus was a new concept for me. What? It wasn't until I consulted with my friends at Arkansas Duck Hunter that I understood the import of this product. Rather than having to hunt for a buck in the wilderness, the product known as "100% Doe in Estrus" promises that Buck will be hunting for you!

There's something for everyone at Nett's, but I'm thinking that for you, it must be the Saturday night specials, Frog's Legs and Rooster Fries. I've talked to others before about the quality legs that are one offering, but yum, I think it's the Rooster Fries that have to take the Gourmet Grammy for this menu. Succulent.

Are they your favorite, too?

I know your schedule is always tight, but let's meet, you and I, some Saturday night real soon and have Annette fix us up some of those Rooster Fries.

Be seeing you.



Friday, March 14, 2008

Dear Paterson Project

Dear Paterson Project,

Some of us already knew how wonderful this poetry is, but nice to see the recognition grow!

The Chapbook Poets Online



Saturday, March 01, 2008

Requiem vs Requiem Mass

Dear Terry Riley,

I have been wondering about myself and my musical passion for the Requiem form. I could be wondering whether I am obsessed with death and why in the world I'm fascinated with music that celebrates passings, but no, nothing so psychologically mature as that. I was wondering if I like just Requiem masses, you know, the full-blown form based on Latin texts and lux aeterna, or whether my interest extends beyond that to, well, all things requiemesque. I tested my ponderings by listening to a few things including your Requiem for Adam and Toru Takemitsu's Requiem for Strings.
My first listen of your work was captivated by the initial movement Ascending the Heavenly Ladder and the note pattern that rungs its way in different harmonic arrangements right up to heaven. But after that I started thinking just about your title reference to Adam and that took me on a detour of the mind. If someone uses the name Adam, people automatically assume universality. Requiem for Adam. "Oh," we say, "it is a requiem for humankind." But suppose one tipsy afternoon you decided to do a Requiem for Eve. That would be a different matter. Since she is mother to the race, we could assume the universal, but we don't, unless our minds stray to the universality of evil. Is not that the worst of the curse of Eve? She bears that universal ignominy of inescapable symbollic association with universal evil.

What burden would a requiem for Eve be forced to bear? Could it begin with ascending scales of a heavenly ladder or would it dive with Mozartian immediacy into the wrath of God.

Fool Eve, perhaps she would be well characterized by something like Takemitsu's Requiem with hardly a glance at eternal delight and just the one recurring convulsive motif. Three steps up the dreamy Jacobian ladder before convulsive precipitation and a fall far beyond the degree of ascent.

I remember one New Year's Eve long, long ago. (Where could we, my husband and me, have been going? Home after a Christmas visit?) The radio station of our choice must have rewarded its station crew with a party and us with a repetition, over and over and over again, of the Zeppelin classic, Stairway to Heaven. Now there, is a requiem for Eve, isn't it? Our lady grabbing the golden apple, not totally without hope, but "Oh, it makes me wonder."
Want to hear a midi of this?

Oh well, my mind travels don't really have anything to do at all with your requiem for young Adam Harrington, do they? And isn't that the way, death is universal, but I'll be switched if we pay much attention until it touches the son of our violinist friend, or our mother, or our seat mate, and then the specter before us is more than we can bear, without a requiem. And that, I think is why I listen, to the formal ones and the informal ones, listen, listen, listen, listen. Listen.

All ears,