Sunday, December 9, 2018

Hark! A madrigal or two.

One of the joys of the holiday season for us is taking in a performance of the Christmas Revels. There are a number of Revels organizations around the country -- our local branch is the Washington Revels -- but in all of them, everyone involved is a volunteer, and every year they put on a holiday show that features a different historical era or nation or both.

In DC, this year's show is set in Elizabethan England. There's a very loose storyline -- Elizabeth I travels to the town of Norwich to celebrate Yule with the country folk, and there runs into Will Kemp, a former member of Shakespeare's theater troupe. Kemp has just completed a marketing stunt: he has Morris danced the 100 miles from London to Norwich (which really happened, just not at Yule). Anyway, the point of a Revels show is the music; the storyline is a convenient scaffolding on which to hang a bunch of songs and dances. And they make the audience get up and sing, too. (One of these years I'm going to nail the arpeggio in the third part of "Dona Nobis Pacem," I swear it.)

Fun fact to know and tell: I went off to college intending to major in music. My first semester disabused me of the idea pretty rapidly, but I did gain a few things, among them an appreciation for Renaissance music. So I was pleased, but not really surprised, during yesterday's show when I found myself fa-la-la'ing along to a song I recognized because I have a recording of it.

I couldn't have told you the name of the tune, however; I had to look it up. It's a madrigal called "Hark all ye lovely saints above" by Thomas Weelkes. Wikipedia says Weelkes was the organist at Winchester College around 1600. Then he moved to Chichester Cathedral after earning a music degree from Oxford. He is best known for writing vocal music -- madrigals as well as music for Anglican services. He also apparently had a drinking problem and was a "notorious swearer and blasphemer." That last bit endears him to me, but apparently not to the church elders, as eventually he was fired. He died in London at the age of 47.

Okay, so what's a madrigal? It's a type of secular choral music developed in the Renaissance and featuring up to eight people singing in harmony. The part about harmony is important. Until medieval times, every piece of music was monophonic -- in other words, it had a melody and that was it. Gregorian chant, for example, is monophonic. But in the Middle Ages, composers began introducing a second melodic line as a counterpoint. By Weelkes' time, 400 or so years later, things had gotten crazy. In fact, the Elizabethan age is considered to be the greatest era for music in English history. (Until the Beatles, I guess.)

The thing about Weelkes is that he created moods with his music. Here's "Hark all ye lovely saints above" with the lyrics so you can follow along. The song is in a major key, but when he gets to "why weep ye?" it switches to a minor key. The same thing happens later, on "ere ladies mourn." It's a little like a tone poem. (Think of the fa-la-las as the Renaissance version of shoo-be-doo-wop and they won't seem so weird.)

This is not the recording I own, by the way. Mine is on Welcome Sweet Pleasure by the Waverly Consort, an album that was never released on CD. As it happens, the title tune from that album is another madrigal by Weelkes. Here's a version of it. (Fair warning: More fa-la-las ahead...)

On that happy note, have a great week!

These moments of polyphonic blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Welcome, Yule!

Sunday, December 2, 2018

All I want for Christmas.

You may have seen the meme that's begun floating around Facebook about the difference in the nature of holiday wish lists. Here's the version I saw today:
Christmas is so much worse as you get older. It's like, "What do you want?"
"Financial security. A career. A sense of purpose. A nap would be nice."
I can relate.

When my daughters were small, the rule was that they had to make their holiday wish lists when the TV was turned off. The idea was to have them put down things they actually wanted, and not whatever new shiny thing was featured in whatever commercial they happened to be watching at the time. It wasn't that they never asked for a thing they'd seen advertised on TV, but at least the desire for it had stuck with them after the show was over.

Then they wanted a list from me. I had several problems with this request:
  • I knew how big their allowances were.
  • I was doing the "simple living" thing, or trying to, so I didn't want to encourage anyone to buy me a bunch of stuff I didn't need and wouldn't use -- least of all my kids, in whom I was supposed to be instilling values and whatnot.
  • The stuff I actually needed -- grownup things like a new car or enough money pay off a credit card -- I knew they couldn't afford to get me.
  • And to make things even more complicated, my birthday is a little over two weeks before Christmas, so I had to come up with enough realistic gift ideas for both occasions.
So I would compromise. I would list a few things I could use that I knew they could afford, and then I'd add some ringers. World peace made the list every year. "An end to hunger" did, too. Sadly, I never got either one.

Now that the girls are much older, we still exchange wish lists -- but these days, filling them out is usually a matter of poking around on Amazon plus a hobby-specific website or two. Too, we try to buy local and support small businesses. And as I head closer to retirement, I'm once again considering stuff with an eye toward whether I'll want to move it in a couple of years -- not to mention whether I'll have space for it when I downsize.

But two things will always make my list: world peace and an end to hunger. Who knows? Maybe some day I'll get 'em.

A nap would be nice, too, though. Too bad Amazon doesn't sell them.

Speaking of holidays, Hanukkah starts tonight. We here at hearth/myth wish peace, joy and love to those who celebrate it -- and everybody else, too, for that matter.

Oh, by the way, I won NaNaWriMo. And the book has a name at last. The series title is Elemental Keys and the title of the first book is Rivers Run. I've already started writing book two, which shall remain nameless for now, mostly because I came up with the title before I wrote the book outline and now I'm thinking I might change it. Stay tuned...

These moments of bloggy generosity have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

The cost of border wars.

We're wrapping up a lovely, restful, four-day Thanksgiving weekend here at La Casa Cantwell. On Thursday, I made turkey with all the trimmings and we ate ourselves into oblivion. I've spent the rest of the time alternately working on the NaNo novel (the WIP is finished -- yay! -- but I have another 8,000-ish words to write before I can claim victory this year) and picking out decorations for the balcony that we didn't have last December but we do now.

As always, though, the respite is coming to a close. Some returns to reality are harsher than others, and this weekend's seems to be among the more brutal variety.

News reached us last week that a Christian missionary named John Allen Chau had broken the law by trying to land on North Sentinel Island off the coast of India and convert the members of the last pre-Neolithic tribe in the world. It's illegal to get within three nautical miles of the coastline. The regulation is there to protect both the Sentinelese and outsiders: Indian authorities fear that contact with modern people would transmit diseases that the tribal members have no immunity to, and the tribe itself has communicated its desire to be left alone -- its members shoot arrows at anyone who gets close.

Apparently none of that mattered to Chau, who was so bent on spreading the gospel to people who clearly didn't want to hear it that he paid some local fishermen to take him to the island. That was on November 14th. Chau reportedly spent two days shouting verses from Genesis at the islanders from a kayak. On the morning of the 17th -- just over a week ago -- the fishermen saw the Sentinelese dragging Chau's body along the beach. No one's seen him since. And the Indian authorities have been unable to retrieve the body because the Sentinelese won't let them onto the island.

Chau was 26 years old and a graduate of Oral Roberts University. By all accounts, he had his whole life in front of him. He told friends that he was willing to risk his life to bring Christianity to the Sentinelese. Looks like his God took him at his word.

Then this afternoon, word came from San Diego that U.S. border agents had fired tear gas on hundreds of migrants as they protested near the border between Mexico and the United States. More than 8,000 migrants from Central America are waiting in Baja California to cross, but processing has slowed to a crawl and the official border crossing was closed today because of the protest. While the march itself was peaceful, some of the migrants tried to breach the concertina wire at the border and others threw rocks at border personnel. That gave the agents the excuse they needed to open fire with tear gas. No one was reported hurt, and the border crossing has since been reopened.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said the tear gas was used "because of the risk to agents' safety." Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen said, "DHS will not tolerate this type of lawlessness."

Except the "lawlessness" was minor: Rock throwing.

On the surface, these two incidents are similar only in that they both involve defense of a border. But they rhyme for me in another way.

Here in the United States, we have prided ourselves for generations on being a haven for all those who have been oppressed -- and yet we have a history of suspicion and outright hatred of those who come to America from other lands. The Chinese and the Irish were among the first targets of distrust. Then it was the Japanese during World War Two. More recently it's been Muslims and anybody who's brown -- even Native Americans, which is particularly laughable when you realize that for them, whites are the interlopers.

And as for these latest waves of Central American migrants, they're coming here because the United States has long worked to destabilize the governments in their home countries. Why? Because it was helpful for U.S. companies doing business in Central America if dictators were in charge. We are responsible for the migrants' plight -- and now that they've come to us for sanctuary, we're turning them away.

This isn't a Democrat-vs.-Republican thing. The clandestine effort to stick our noses into Central American politics has been going on at least since the end of the Cold War. Administrations of both political parties have been complicit.

I'm ashamed at the way we've treated these people and at the way we continue to abuse them.

And that's where I see an intersection between the migrants at our border and the Sentinelese. John Chau had no thought for the people he wanted to convert beyond his own personal interest. Just as the United States has used the people of Central American as economic cannon fodder, Chau was determined to sacrifice the Sentinelese in service to his God -- even if it killed them.

May the gods forgive us for what we have done.

These moments of borderline blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Weaving, or: another crafty distraction.

For starters, I want to reassure you all that I am making steady progress on this year's NaNo novel. In fact, I'm right where the NaNo folks say I should be -- 30,000 words today. Together with the 12,000-ish words I wrote for this book prior to the start of NaNo, I'm basically at the point in the narrative where things should begin hurtling toward the denouement -- and they have.

Neither the book nor the series has a title yet, but I'm sure that will fix itself by and by. It always has before.

I'm saying this upfront because I didn't want to scare y'all by telling you I'm picking up another hobby: weaving.

The term "fiber arts" encompasses a multitude of disciplines, and aside from creating my own fiber from scratch (as in raising sheep or cotton or something), I've tried nearly all of them at one point or another. As I kid, I learned sewing and embroidery. Crewel work was a natural outgrowth of embroidery, as it uses the same stitches. I picked up needlepoint when I was in college. Most of that stuff went by the wayside when I started raising kids. But then some years ago, I decided I wanted to learn to knit, so I got a book and taught myself. 

Some fiber arts I've taken to more than others. Crochet and I have never gotten along, despite my mother's best efforts to teach me. Then there's spinning. A couple of years ago, I learned how to spin yarn with a drop spindle, and managed to spin a whole skein of yarn myself -- but while I like collecting pretty spindles, that's probably as far as I'll go with it.

So with some trepidation, I signed up for a two-day, pre-Halloween "weaving retreat" at fibre space, our local yarn shop in Alexandria. It was an intense couple of days; our instructor, Liz Gipson, confessed on day two that she called it a retreat because if she called it "Weaving Bootcamp," nobody would come. But there was a method to her madness. On day one, we worked in pairs to warp our looms. Warping is the process of putting the long threads on the loom so that you can weave the cross threads (called the weft) through them. It's also the thing that gives most new weavers fits, so doing it twice on the first day was a genius move. Also, we started with a small project -- a 24-inch-long table runner -- which we easily finished in a day. Here's mine. I hadn't yet washed it or trimmed the fringe when I took this photo, but you get the idea.

On day two, we warped our looms again and started a new project: a scarf that incorporates colorwork in the design. The pattern called for a light main color and a contrasting accent color; I had to be different, of course, so I used a dark variegated yarn for my main color and a light gray for the contrasting color. Here's the project in progress on the loom. I'd tucked the shuttles in between the warp strings so I could take the loom home.

Both of these yarns were leftovers from earlier projects, and the scarf turned out so well that it's giving me ideas for all the leftover yarn I have from all my other projects. Plus my enthusiasm for knitting has been waning a bit lately, and weaving has the same kind of Zen appeal while using up yarn a lot faster. And you can weave more than just long, thin things; this little loom won't do rugs or tablecloths in one piece, but there's nothing saying you can't weave a bunch of strips and sew them together. Or weave your own cloth and use it to make clothing.

I haven't yet warped the loom for project number three, but that's only because of NaNo. Come the New Year, I see placemats in my future. And maybe a handwoven kimono-style jacket -- possibly even featuring that yarn I handspun.

These moments of warped blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.