FRIEND WEEK! Sacred Sunday: “And I Saw A New Heaven,” Edgar Bainton. Submitted by Sara.

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Yankette’s Reaction:

Oh, stick a fork in me.  This piece might – might – be more fun to sing than listen to, but nevertheless, it’s a sucker-punch.  It starts so mildly, but by the end, you’re completely wrung out.  It’s a masterwork.

Shameless friend promotion!  Sara is the best singer I have ever sung with, in my life, ever, and probably always will be.  She also happens to be an astoundingly cool person.  So listen to her singing and then put her in any and every musical production you have going.  Trust me.

Sara’s Justification:

Here is Edgar Bainton’s “And I saw a new heaven.” If you’re Anglican you’ve probably heard it; if you’ve been involved in church music at all you’ve most likely sung it. I am of the opinion that most British choral music that has stood the test of time is pretty darn good, but I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that this anthem might be the best one ever. It’s written in the same lush late-romantic style as pieces by Bainton’s better-known contemporaries, like Vaughan Williams, but what I think makes this one so special is that it doesn’t draw on any of Vaughan Williams’ sensible British folksiness. There is a sense throughout the anthem – in both its dynamic and textual heights and most hushed moments – of an otherworldly ecstasy that cannot be matched in the rest of the choral repertoire from this period. Listening bliss. Enjoy!

FRIEND WEEK! Throwback Thursday: “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis,” Ralph Vaughan Williams. Submitted by Karl.

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Yankette’s Reaction:

Oh boy oh boy oh boy.  I am such a RVW fangirl.  The chord progressions he wrote open up a new dimension for me.  It’s like the voice of the divine.  It sounds very, very old but still vibrant.  The “Fantasia” is the quintessential example of this. I will never forget the first time I heard it.  I was driving in the car with one of my parents, probably my Dad, and it came on the radio.  I was so entranced it was like I could see the music.  It was so beautiful, it hurt.  This is another one of those pieces that, for me, identifies and magnifies whatever mood I’m in.  It is a magical piece.

Karl’s Justification:

Most classical music enthusiasts, or so I imagine, carry around in their heads at least a few names on a list of favorite composers who we believe are not as widely appreciated as they deserve to be. (If you are fortunate, this is balanced by a list of composers who aren’t as great as everyone else seems to think, since shunning the overrated ones helps offset the expense of buying CDs of the works by the people in the underappreciated group.) My roster for the first category is alas much longer than for the second, and right at the top sits Ralph (remember it rhymes with “safe”) Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), Britain’s greatest symphonist.

Vaughan Williams wrote a plethora of wonderful music over the course of more than sixty years, but among it all his most enduringly beloved work is this one. There are very few compositions anywhere in the vast Western concert repertoire that surpass the sublime Tallis Fantasia for sheer beauty. It is neither ornamental nor ramblingly mystical, but both transcendental and sensible in a way that C. S. Lewis might be able to describe. Even after having sifted through dozens of renditions of this piece over the past few days while selecting a video for this post, when played well it still gives me chills.

This performance, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis, was recorded in Gloucester Cathedral, the location for which the young RVW composed the Fantasia and where he conducted the premiere of the original version in 1910 (though they presumably didn’t play it in the dark on that occasion). While the direction of this video brings to mind Fred Astaire’s declaration early in his film career that “either the camera will dance or I will,” it aptly demonstrates the peculiar ensemble called for by the composition: a string orchestra, a quartet, and an additional group of players ideally to be seated well away from the others (often positioned in an upper gallery in performances in churches or halls so equipped). If the incessant crane and dolly shots in this video drive you crazy, there are literally hundreds of other recordings of the piece on YouTube, thanks in part to its popularity among high school and university orchestra directors.

The theme of the Fantasia comes from this tune by the incomparable Thomas Tallis, which appeared in Archbishop Parker’s Psalter of 1567

Sacred Sunday: “I’m Building Me A Home,” Traditional Spiritual

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I know it’s a bit outré to use a video clip from a TV show, but hear me out.  Click the second link below first before you watch the clip.  The Morehouse College Glee Club sings the song masterfully.  The harmonies are tight and the dynamics are powerful.

Now click on the video clip.  It’s an entirely different song now.  Using it as the song the railroad workers sing as they hammer the nails into the track – singing a song about building a home as they’re building the railroad – is genius, and very moving.  The clip is from the TV show, “Hell on Wheels,” which is about the creation of the Union Pacific railroad after the Civil War.  By and large, the men working on the railroad are (very recently) freed slaves.  The rest are immigrants from Ireland and settlers from the rest of the country.  Together they are building the railroad that will knit the country, torn in two by the war, back into one nation – a new home for everyone.  The first sharp clang of the hammer on the nail is a wonderful moment.  The rest of the scene shows the protagonist of the story, Cullen Bohannon, a former soldier in the Confederate army who has sought a kind of redemption in spearheading the construction of the Union Pacific, being led to a Mormon camp to answer for a crime he committed.  The Mormons, too, are building a home for themselves in the new country.  To have this song running through this scene that shows all of these different groups joined by the same goal…it’s pretty powerful.

 

 

Modernism Monday: “Money Made,” AC/DC

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This is your intrepid Yankette, coming to you from lovely Los Angeles.  I managed to get a wicked cold in Hawaii so I’m more or less running on fumes, caffeine, and Tylenol this week.  But with the help of my buddies AC/DC, I’ll get it done.

Termagant Tuesday: “Don’t Panic,” The Quintet of the Hot Club of San Francisco

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So, get this, Tune Sharks.  I have to figure out how to pack for an almost three-week-long trip that will involve three stops, three states, three entirely different climates, two conferences, one week-long meeting, and…a rodeo.

HOW DO I PACK FOR THAT.

Beyond that ridiculous question, how do I ready my house for that absence?  Do I really have to eat all of my yogurt?  How about my granola?  Do I have to Lysol my baseboards or can I just do my countertops?  What about moths?  What about the ghost who opens my cabinets – should I duct tape them closed?  Can ghosts peel off duct tape?  What about the slight gap between my air conditioner and the world outside?  Should I plug that with socks?  Will I have enough socks left over after I pack my rodeo socks?  Do I even own rodeo socks? What the hell are rodeo socks?  Do hotels have dry cleaning or will I have to bring every suit I own?  And when did I lose the international traveller part of myself for whom a 19-day trip would be child’s play?  But seriously – moths?

Balls.

Modernism Monday: “Learn Me Right,” Birdy, Feat. Mumford & Sons

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When in the course of a human’s events it becomes necessary to assess the path one is on, and one finds that one is in a bit of limbo, it can be a bit disheartening.  A wise woman once wrote that, really, you should take heart during stages like this.  “What is happening is that your old self no longer fits with who are you are becoming. What seems to be a state of limbo, is, in actuality, a spiritual journey, and it can only be navigated by surrendering into the ‘not knowing.’ It’s about learning to be ok with vulnerability, letting go of control, and trusting your interior guide.”

Who has two thumbs and is really super bad at this?  Me!  Hooray!  But who has two thumbs and tremendous friends who know me well enough to keep me together?  Also me.  Suddenly, limbo doesn’t seem so bad.

WALK-UP WEEK! Throwback Thursday: “The Great Gate at Kiev,” Modest Mussorgsky

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You’ve been playing baseball since you were 20.  This is your last season before you retire; your knees and shoulder can’t take any more punishment.  Your team has finally made it into the World Series.  Tonight is the deciding game.  The bases are loaded.  You’re up.  You put on your helmet and walk to the plate.  This is your song.

WALK-UP WEEK! Worldly Wednesday: “Dougou Badia (feat. Santigold),” Amadou and Mariam

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Of all the songs on Walk-Up Week, this would be my own personal song.  I’ve used this song to push me through long runs and long rows.  I see no reason why it wouldn’t pump me up enough to clock one out of the park.