Sacred Sunday: “As One Who Has Slept,” John Tavener

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Today, in the Christian tradition, is one of the last significant days in the liturgical calendar before Ash Wednesday: Transfiguration Sunday.  This day marks the occasion that Jesus transfigured, or metamorphosed, before his disciples – upon summiting the top of a mountain, Jesus’s face and clothes shone with a white light.  While emanating this heavenly brilliance, Jesus is seen to speak with the prophets Elijah and Moses, both long since dead, about the upcoming final months of his life.  Peter asks whether he and the others should prepare three shelters for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses.  But before he finishes, the voice of God declares, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him”.  Elijah and Moses disappear.

This story is important for a few reasons.  First, it identifies Jesus as the proxy of God on earth – the people’s judge, savior, and direct link with the divine.  Second, it previews the resurrection – of Jesus himself, and of all who believe in him.  But I love this story for another reason: I love it because of the achingly human motivation behind Peter’s question.  He acts as anyone who has experienced something transformative would act: they want to freeze time.  Sailing right past the fact that Elijah and Moses are very, very dead, Peter wants to set up camp for them (They’re here now, aren’t they?).  He wants to keep them there.  This is, of course, impossible.  But, God love him for trying.

We take two-dimensional pictures of landscapes, of people, to capture their three-dimensional physicality, and the multi-dimensional feelings we felt upon seeing them.  We tattoo our skin to immortalize a meaningful time in our lives.  Even though we know, as Peter must have rationally known, it isn’t possible to suspend time and trap a moment, or a person, or a ghost, still we can’t help ourselves from trying.  The promise of Jesus is that he will connect us to the eternal.  One day, we will be able to relive these moments.  One day, we will be able to never be without someone again.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent, which leads to the retelling of the crucifixion narrative, and then onward to glorious, redemptive Easter.  I am approaching this season of Lent with more dread than in other years because I know that, this year, I have more of Peter in me than I’ve had before.  I lost a very close friend and mentor to cancer last year – my choir director.  His death comprehensively hollowed out church and sacred music, and though I have continued singing, nevertheless, that hole is still there.  And so, half of me expects his resurrection at Easter.  It’s a bafflingly irrational feeling but I can’t help myself from envisioning him conducting the timpani and brass quartet ornamenting “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today” as we all process in, and completely accepting that he’s there.  “Oh, hey – Ben’s not dead!” would be as easy to say as “Oh, hey – Ben made it back from vacation in time for the service!”  The other half of me – the sane half – knows that Easter will bring back so many happy memories, now bittersweet, that it will feel like Ben is, in fact, there in spirit.  I will want to freeze that feeling.

That, of course, will be impossible.  But, God will love me for trying.

Tavener’s piece comes from the Liturgy for Great and Holy Saturday: “As one who has slept, the Lord has risen; and rising, he has saved us.  Alleluia.”

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Salubrious Saturday: “Dirty Water,” The Standells

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I know this “ode” is tongue-in-cheek at best, but I still grew up listening to it and still mean it when I sing out the chorus.  Given I’m planning a trip home next month, I have to post some home-town love.

And, hey – do you like apples?  On this day in 1788, Massachusetts became the sixth state to ratify the new constitution.  How d’you like them apples?

Funk Friday: “Rhythm Nation,” Janet Jackson

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I could be wrong about this, but I feel like Janet Jackson is one of the most under-appreciated feminists in pop music.  This song, off of her “Rhythm Nation 1814” album, proceeded her musical “coming out” of sorts, her album “Control,” which announced her emancipation from her father and manager.  That record was such a success that she was counseled to make a kind of “Control 2.”  Instead, she made an album whose focal point was social injustice, racism, sexism, and the state of the world.  Proving wrong those who said that such a heavy topic would tank , “Rhythm Nation 1814” generated seven Top Five singles – a record-breaking number at the time – and the record as whole ended up going sextuple platinum.

So, y’know, trust your instincts, or something.

 

Throwback Thursday: String Quartet No. 12 in F Major, Op. 96, “American,” Antonin Dvorak

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On this day 227 years ago, George Washington was elected the first president of the United States of America.  About a century later, a man from Nelahozeves, a town in the Austrian Empire, wrote a piece of music about the country.  Clearly, the American experiment was somewhat of a success.

I don’t tend to like string quartets, but this is one of the loveliest and more fun pieces of classical music I came across last year.  The first movement’s first 12 notes will get stuck in your head for days.  The second movement (09:08) is a prime example of how to write a heartbreaking melody: keep it simple.  The third and fourth movements are cheerful and lively.  Whereas string quartets tend to make me feel claustrophobic, this string quartet feels like someone threw open all the windows on a spring afternoon.

 

 

Worldly Wednesday: “Traveller,” Baaba Maal

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Oh man – when the song fully kicks in at 1:55, I just can’t help myself.  I wish I knew Pulaar so I could sing along.  Maal, who is a genius musician and composer from Senegal, writes some of my favorite west African music of all time.  This is one of my favorite tracks of his.  This is guaranteed to turn any day into a good one.

Maal worked on this album with Winston Marshall, of Mumford & Sons, and Johan Hugo, of The Very Best.  Appropriately, this is what Maal said is the main message of the album:  “Life is travel. You are born, you come to the world, and you are traveling until the end. You never know what you’re going to get. When you travel you see that the world is quite interesting—all the different faces, all the different cultures, all the different food, all the different types of music. But it’s all human beings, and it’s all connected.”

A sentiment to remember, surely.

Termagant Tuesday: “Jumpin’ At The Woodside,” Count Basie vs. Oscar Peterson

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Welp, last night was the Iowa Caucuses.  Or, as we say in our household, “Involuntary Nap Night.”  Honest to God – we had at least 10 browsers open full of different polling data, plus NPR on the radio.  We were on it.  Tracking.  …Until I fell asleep in the leather chair.  And by 11pm I couldn’t hit the refresh button any more so I went to sleep.

But today is a new day, Tune-Up Nation, and I for one want to see another kind of battle than the one between Clinton and Cruz, or Clinton and Sanders, or Trump and the collective knowledge of mankind.  So behold the glory of Count Basie and Oscar Peterson doubling up on that old swing classic, “Jumpin’ At The Woodside.”  They’ve got my vote.

Modernism Monday: “Din Daa Daa” The Roots

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The exceptionally funky band The Roots cover the exceptionally cool George Kranz.  This track is basically a vehicle to showcase Questlove’s amazing drumming and general rhythm skills.  But I love it for its spare modernism.  It reminds me a lot of what would happen if Bobby McFerrin and Laurie Anderson got together.  It’s an amazing and fun soundscape until 3:20 when the rest of the song drops.