Music of the Spheres

I listen to classical music quite a bit. I’m not really as knowledgeable as I’d like to be with regards to history and styles and terminology, though I’m always learning, and we’re fortunate to have a truly, truly excellent classical public radio station in Classical King FM, based in Seattle, WA. In addition to broadcasting on FM radio, they also stream on-line, in a few different flavors.

I just started listening to their Evergreen channel a few weeks ago. It’s made up of relaxing pieces, great for while you’re reading or writing or otherwise trying to focus.

Well…this one piece kept grabbing my by the heart every time it came up. Over and over. I love it so much. And then…another piece did the same thing, and it turned out to be the same composer: Ola Gjeilo, a young (only 38 *now*, and he’s been writing for some time!) Norwegian composer and pianist, now based out of New York.

I love his music so much I’ve been sharing it all over the place this week. I love it so much I had to buy his self-titled CD. But this piece is still my favorite.

Again, I don’t know the right terms, how to describe in words the way the chords shift all as one, intersected, woven together, and the way the music is at once harmonious and dissonant.

But I love the depth of it. It’s so emotional it is almost pain as well as pleasure, the kind of joy that aches.

You know what it makes me think of? Have you ever been out in the middle of nowhere on a clear, cold, winter night when the sky was lit by pinpoints of stars, and stars beyond stars until the whole of it glowed and you understood why they call it the Milky Way? And oh, the daunting timelessness of starlight: ancient light, newly arriving for our eyes, making one feel so small and yet touching eternity. This is like that put to music–there are notes behind notes, tangled, spinning around one another, pulling the listener into a spellbound dance. I’m sure the title is part of why my head goes there, but really, that’s how it feels.

And then, on top of that, we get the Kyrie Eleison. “Lord, have mercy.”

The whole thing just gives me chills.

Check it out. Do.

Beyond the glow of the city lights, a universe awaits. (9193084187)

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A Classical Soundtrack for Your Halloween

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It’s Halloween! Need some music to get you through to the evening, or to play while the little darlin’s raid your candy stash? Here are some options!

Mussorgsky, Night on Bald Mountain.

Hector Berlioz’s Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath, from his Symphonie Fantastique

Rachmaninov’s Prelude in C Sharp Minor

“Mars, the Bringer of War” from Gustav Holst’s “The Planets.”

Danse Macabre, by Camille Camille Saint-Saëns

And, of course, the grandaddy of them all, spooky power wise: Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.

Here’s a playlist of all of them, for your listening pleasure.

Do you have any additional favorites? I would love to hear them!

UJTU: Crafts, Concert, Kids, and Cats (Plus Pizza)

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This is his fixin’-to-pounce-on-sister face.

At some point in the past, one of the members of the typosphere coined the acronym UTJU: Update Just To Update. Sometimes you don’t have profound thoughts or an important topic on which to enlighten folks, but here you are anyway. So it is.

Had a very busy weekend, with more ups than downs, so that’s cool. Saturday afternoon I went to a craft fair/bazaar in the retirement community of Ryderwood, WA–a proper craft fair this time, with nothing but handmade goods of all sorts, plus a bake sale. A few of the more captivating things I didn’t buy: wind-chimes made out of bizarre conglomerations of found objects like colanders and cheese graters and flower pots all welded or glued together (I may have one of those someday), and a quilted hanging of a Christmas tree with lights woven into it. That’s probably the only kind of Christmas tree I could really get away with considering the cats, and I wanted it, but at $100 I couldn’t buy it. Would have been a lot of work to make, so I don’t question the price, but I couldn’t. Would be neat for someone, though–something you could bring out every year for years, and the kids would remember it for ages and no one else would have one quite like it.

I did buy a small assortment of items, and not all of them for me. Though, admittedly, two of them were for the cats, which I guess counts as me. There was a lady selling all sorts of felted things–hats and bowls and stuffed animals–and she had catnip stuffed felted mice. I also bought a little knotted braid of scrap material from a lady that made fleece dog beds and blankets–intended as a tug toy for dogs, but Timo thought it was pretty great. Cassia absconded with the mouse, and as of this writing, it is MIA.

Saturday evening, I saw Sierra Hull in concert at Traditions in Olympia, WA–a very small venue, probably only on their itinerary because her bass player (Ethan Jodziewicz) is a local boy. Speaking of Ethan, MAN, he’s good. I hate to say anyone is “the next so-and-so” because that implies they’re not a standout in their own right, so I won’t say he’s the next Edgar Meyer, but… Just a phenomenal musician. Used the bow quite a bit, too, and oh, bowed bass makes me weak in the knees when done right. He did it right.

Sierra has superb mandolin/octave mandolin chops (and is just so doggoned cute and endearing), and her other band member aside from Ethan (Justin Moses) can apparently play the heck out of anything with strings. And they all sing. It was a very good show. Tough in parts, for me–a lot of her recent album is about growing up and moving on and while in her case, this applies to being in her early twenties and dealing with being an adult, I’m kind of in a place like that again/still, and it almost hurt. Plus she did a song about missing your mother, and I bawled and didn’t have Kleenex and felt like a goober.

But yeah, it was a wonderful concert. And we were close enough to the stage that I could just about have kicked it. I don’t think they play places that small much these days, so that was pretty special.

Afterwards, some friends and I went out to eat at La Gitana. If you like thin crust, very fresh and flavorful Southern Italian style pizza, you must go here if you’re in town. Must. It was a little chaotic, though, being Saturday night, and a guitarist and singer were providing live music there (old jazz standards, mostly), which was great, but made it a bit loud for casual conversation.

The server was pretty patient amidst all the commotion, I thought, and made sure to check on us and was apologetic when things took awhile due to the crowd. I meant to leave a decent tip, but when I got home and started getting ready for bed, I discovered the tip money in my pocket. Apparently I absentmindedly stuffed it back in my pocket as we were picking up to go. Leaving her thinking and feeling…I don’t know what.

I felt so bad about it, I tossed and turned Saturday night, and had an odd dream in which I was a settler on a new planet, helping my brother and sister-in-law farm the land, but strangely the new town on this planet had several pizza parlors and I kept doing things that made the managers of all of them think I was an unpleasant nut case.

(Speaking of nuts, pecans grew WONDERFULLY on this new planet, and people there pronounced them peh-KAHN, as is Right and Good.)

So there was that.

After discussion with a friend, I decided to bring the accidental non-tip down to the restaurant when they opened with a note, so I spent Sunday morning writing and rewriting that note. Also drawing margins in the notebook I plan to use for NaNoWriMo. I’d planned to use some smaller notebooks, but I kept eyeing these giant notebooks I had made a few years ago, before all the office stores in town went out of business in spite of all my efforts to keep them afloat.

Seriously, this side of town lost a Staples, an Office Max, and an Office Depot, all within the span of a few years. It makes me sad.

But I do still have several of these notebooks. They’re heavy and a bit awkward to lug around, but the paper is so, so very nice for fountain pen. The one issue I ran into with them for NaNo is that, although I’m pretty good at writing in straight lines on unlined paper, I tend to write almost to the edges, and (especially for fiction), I like to have space to add notes and corrections in the margin. So I’m trying something a bit like law ruling in these, with the help of a few penciled lines, giving myself a generous space on the left to doodle or add notes.

I’ve only treated the first fifty pages, so if I find myself hating this setup, I can go back to using the full page, or experiment with different margins.

Sunday afternoon, I went up to an October festival at the parish where my nieces and nephews go to school. They had half German food and half Mexican food, and my oldest niece decided it would be a very fine thing indeed to have one parent from each country for the sake of the food. And I decided I really need to make another batch of sauerkraut.

There was also a little bit of a bazaar there, with crafts and food and some second hand items. My sister-in-law bought me a late birthday present: a Russian (?) plate with an icon of Christ calming/walking on the sea. I need to find a hanger for it so I can put it up without Cassia experimenting.

The kids got to paint pumpkins and play games and make sticky messes with caramel apples, so a highly successful day, all told!

More random kitten pictures from the weekend, just because. Though they’re almost not kittens anymore! Eight months old now, probably almost as big as they’ll get. Little Cassia is still little Cassia–she’s still under seven pounds. Timo is just about ten now.

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Cassia solemnly observing life from atop the fridge.
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Cassia “assisting” with the sweeping up of SO MUCH DOG HAIR by taking sliding leaps into the piles. Thanks, Bitty Girl.

Aaaaand that’s my update.

Hard, Soft, or Sparkly?

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I have a tendency to watch TV series after they’re long over–everyone else has moved on to new and shiny, and I’m over here SO EXCITED about something that was on “real” TV a decade or two ago. One case in point: Stargate SG-1. I finally got around to watching the first season of that in…hm, maybe 2013? It launched in 1997, so…yeah, I was a bit behind. It was kind of a shock to notice how styles had changed. Hey, wait, I had glasses a lot like Daniel Jackson’s back in 1997! Were they really that gargantuan and dorky? Holy cow.

Anyway, I enjoyed SG-1, for the most part, but I got kind of burned out on it. Didn’t finish the last few seasons. It just got to be more and more of the same things over and over, and the characters I’d first fallen for dropped out, and I just couldn’t bring myself to care anymore. I never got around to the spinoffs.

But Friday evening, I was bored, and I stumbled across Stargate SGU in the Prime free options on Amazon, and I started watching it.

So far, I like it. It’s very different in feel from the original series. That series, to me, always had a sense of being larger-than-life, like a comic book, everything just a bit skewed and exaggerated and not to be taken seriously.

SGU, on the other hand, is almost Stargate-meets-Battlestar Gallactica. It’s darker, for one. Oh, there’s a fair amount of humor. Eli’s primary role is comic relief (plus, perhaps, a that-could-be-me for all of us nerds), and there are light moments. But overall, the stakes are higher, the realism is greater.

And the threat is on-going. There is no cyclical “we go out, we face danger, we arrive home safely and triumphantly and all is well.”

But–and this is where my point finally gets thrown into this mishmash!–there is still a fair amount of what’s essentially magic.

One thing which, as a writer, I’ve always sort of envied about the Stargate universe is that you can pretty much dream up whatever sort of object with whatever sort of purpose or function you can imagine, dub it Ancient, and you don’t have to explain it. Little round stone looking things with no visible power source which somehow let you speak to someone on the other side of the universe with no time lag or distortion? Sure! How does it work? We don’t know–it’s Ancient technology, and they’re so far advanced our puny brains can’t even contain that knowledge.

It’s brilliant. You totally get to sidestep any pseudo-scientific rationalization. And you get total creative freedom.

When it comes right down to it, Stargate–like Star Wars, if you ignore (as you should) the prequels, which try to get all sciencey–is really just fantasy set in space. Oh, there’s a little bit of sci-fi, but mostly it’s jamming myths and magic into a space setting. And…I admit, I rather like that.

I do like pure sci-fi. But I admit, I tend to like the softer stuff, where technology isn’t practically a protagonist all by itself, and where aliens don’t have to have a clear evolutionary path and space travel doesn’t have to jibe with real physics. A lot of my favorites wander into this blurred territory where sci-fi and fantasy kiss. It’s kind of fun when the explanations can go by the wayside and anything goes. C.S. Lewis’s space trilogy has a lot of fantastical elements. Some Andre Norton could go here, too. I’m sure there are others that will occur to me once I’ve had a bit of time to think about it.

This year’s NaNoWriMo story may just be a sparkly sci-fi-ish fantasy-ish something. Let me let that rattle around a bit.

Wintergrass 2015 Reflections

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Been there, done that, got the T-shirt–and it’s a good’un!

Let me explain. No, there is too much–let me sum up.

The Wintergrass music festival in Bellevue is over for another year. I wish I could really convey the Wintergrass experience–days of hanging out in a big hotel with hundreds of your closest friends and favorite performers, listening and jamming and talking and learning–but you really have to be there to fully understand it. They do an incredible job.

A few highlights of the weekend, in no particular order:

1. For one thing, I strengthened my musical crush on Sarah Jarosz. I first encountered this phenomenal young woman at Wintergrass a few years back, and loved her instantly. She’s a great musician (on mandolin, guitar, clawhammer banjo, and octave mandolin), she selects and writes great songs, and her effortlessly beautiful voice just kills me. She has a knack for adapting her phrasing to fit each song (or the people she’s singing with–witness her final encore duet with Aoife O’Donovan). You can also understand every single word she sings, which may sound like an odd compliment, but…

Here’s a link to her singing “Ring Them Bells.” I highly recommend checking it out.

A funny moment: Saturday she performed a cover of The Decemberist’s “Shankill Butchers,” apologizing ahead of time for the song’s spookiness. A few verses in, just after a particularly dark line, a baby (too young to actually understand the lyrics) suddenly broke into noisy tears and had to be carried out. Without missing a beat, Sarah said, “Oh, I’m so sorry!” and then continued on with the song.

You maybe had to be there, but we all just lost it.

2. The West Coast Fiddle Summit workshop was something else: Darol Anger, Brittany Haas, Tristan and Tashina Clarridge, all just doing what they do best. They’d start with a fiddle tune–or even just a concept: the last tune started as an ode to a hardboiled egg–and morph into total improvisational craziness, then back, over and over. It was glorious. At points it was, as a friend said, like listening to a Salvador Dali painting. There were familiar elements, but reassembled in ways that made you sit up and say “Huh?” in a good way. I loved it. Toward the end, Tristan Clarridge got out an octave fiddle, so you had three fiddles dancing above a throbbing, blossoming bass line. So cool, especially their take on Midnight on the Water in the middle of it.

3. Surprise new favorites: there’s always at least one at Wintergrass! For me, it was Cahalen Morrison and Eli West. I went to see them on Thursday because they sounded vaguely interesting, and I LIKE THEM SO MUCH. Love their voices, their harmonies, their instrumentation and musicianship, love the way they blend old timey sound with poetic lyrics.

On Saturday night, I went to their live broadcast show at the Cedar Stage, which is a much smaller venue than the bigger halls. I got there fairly early, but the room was packed, and I ended up being one of the people standing in the back. But! After about the first song, someone in the very second row right on the aisle got up and left. (Whoever you are, I don’t understand you, but I do thank you.) One of the ushers spotted this and asked me if I’d like to sit there. Yessss! So I saw the rest of their set from just a few feet away. So cool.

You can hear full tracks from their album here (I’d particularly recommend James is Out, Down in the Lonesome Draw, and Off the Chama):
I’ll Swing My Hammer With Both My Hands

4. I’m not sure if this counts as a highlight, but it’s a powerful memory. We stayed late enough to catch Dale Ann Bradley‘s Sunday performance. She was great, as always. Toward the end, she performed “The Piney Rose,” and it just caught me hard. Ended up sitting there bawling my eyes out in the darkened auditorium. Without any tissues, of course.

5. Little things: morning jams with friends, one particular jam at the Washington Acoustic Music Association (WAMA) suite where I mostly made a fool of myself but still had a good time, donuts from Top Pot, many trips to Tully’s, playing fine instruments from various vendors, watching hallway jams, so many more things I just can’t name them all.

Regrets (I have a few):
1. I apparently need to go into Wintergrass training several weeks beforehand, because I had a really hard time staying up late enough for a lot of the shows. A lot of the best concerts didn’t start until well after nine or even ten or eleven, and I just wasn’t even human by then.

2. This also meant missing the showcases in the WAMA suite, since those didn’t start until after the main shows.

Then again, I’m not sure I could have handled those anyway. The cool thing about having showcases in a hotel room suite is that it’s a small space, and you can see the performers up close and personal. The downside is that it’s a small space, and small spaces (especially when filled with people) make me want to claw up over the top of everyone’s heads and flee for the mountains.

The best local jam back home (in good old Monroe, NH) was held in a small barn/workshop with a wood stove in the middle and benches set around the back and sides. On a good night, it was standing room only, with more people standing around the door or looking through the windows from outside. But there, we’d always get there early and I had a particular spot right by one of the vises on the workbench, beside an open window, so it didn’t *feel* crowded . It’s possible I just need to try to find my vise, so to speak.

3. Sadly, I did not win the Deering Goodtime raffle. I’ve been bitten rather hard by the clawhammer bug (it’s an idea that’s been long a-growing, truth be told), and I kinda hoped…. But I guess I gotta get me one the slow, honest, old fashioned way.

Listen Well

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Pau Casals
 February in Western Washington is a good time to learn to appreciate subtleties. For the most part, one grey day follows another. It can be a dark time unless one learns to pay attention and rejoice in small blessings: the slow lengthening of the days from week to week as spring approaches, the few brave sprigs of green that will become early crocuses and daffodils, a quick shaft of sunshine breaking through an otherwise dreary day.

I’ve been enjoying another exercise in the appreciation of subtleties as well: recently I’ve been really into (OK, make that obsessed with–it’s what I do, after all) Bach’s cello suites. I’d been in something of a classical music phase in general, and then a few weeks ago I had the pleasure of seeing the Goat Rodeo Sessions’ live broadcast to movie theaters around the country. At the end, Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, and Chris Thile played a few Bach pieces as one of the encores for the concert, which inspired me to seek out more Bach cello music, which led me to the full suites. Continue reading