A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.




 

Our Pseudotsuga menziesii var. menziesii & The Swingle Singers
Friday, December 19, 2014







On Saturday we will attempt to have a quiet afternoon in which our two granddaughters will decorate the tree I bought today. The tree is a nice one, very symmetrical and already our living room has the nice scent of the Pseudotsuga menziesii var. menziesii (a Douglas Fir to all those who might not know).

I remember fondly and with lots of botanical ignorance on my part how the Christmas trees we purchased in Mexico City in the early 70s were advertized as “importados del Canadá”.

Few would know that the most extensive variety of pine species is to be found in Mexico. Somehow in Spanish and particularly in some of these countries where Thuja plicata (Western Red Cedar) the Pseudotsuga menziessii and other conifers are alien and anything with a needle is simply a pino. These Canadian pinos must have been Pseudotsugas. If you must ask, the name Pseudotsuga tells us that a Douglas Fir is a quasi hemlock and the botanical name of the hemlock is Tsuga.


 

I always buy our Christmas tree late in the season. Luckily I do not go to malls or have coffee at Starbucks so I am not yet tired of Christmas carols that I have yet to listen to.

While Rosemary was stringing the lights on the tree today I wondered what would be the best music to do it by. In the end I chose my 50-year-old (1964) Argentine mono recording of the Swingle Singers. I was absolutely amazed on how a record that has traveled and been played in all sorts of unsophisticated turntables could possibly sound so good. When I first heard the Swingle Singers that year I was ignorant on all things Bach. Now as I listened to it I could recognize the program as I have heard them all played with “conventional” instruments like baroque violins, violas da gamba and baroque timpani


And anybody wondering about that turntable in the photograph. It is a Sony PS-X555ES linear tracking machine. The cartridge is a Stanton 500MkII.

 Swingle SingersSymphonia from J.S. Bach's Partita No2 BWV 286 



Ink In My Father's Hands
Thursday, December 18, 2014



Nick Rebalski - Ian Mulgrew - December 18 2014

 The English man of pink complexion was the editor-in-chief of the Buenos Aires Herald. I was in his office in the late 90s. My father had written for the paper in the late 40s. I asked the man about my father, whose sad face reminded me of the Graham Greene’s protagonist in The Honorary Consul. I wanted him to find any vestiges that my father may have left. He explained that in the 40s reporters had not bylines but he invited me to check he micro-fiches. He was right; I did not find my father. I spoke with the editor after who told me that he was about to go home to England after a longish stint in “the Argentine”. To me he seemed a lonely and alienated man in a foreign country even though his Spanish was perfect. I got the impression that as soon as he arrived home he would feel as alien and would never find his home except from a bottle.

Neither of the two men sitting with me at Trees (a coffee shop on Granville very close to the Vancouver Sun office) today in any way reminded me of the English man in Buenos Aires. They reminded me though of his sadness, perhaps a futility that whatever it was he had done for the Buenos Aires Herald was in vain.

I had looked forward to meeting up with Vancouver Sun editor Nick Rebalski and Sun Columnist Ian Mulgrew. The former is extremely serious, by nature, the latter likes to guffaw.

I had looked forward to the meeting (and I was not to be in the least disappointed) because even though I have never worked for a newspaper I have that ink in my blood that somehow transferred from my father’s hands to my face when I was a boy. I know that when asked by the publisher of the Buenos Aires Herald if he wanted to be the editor, my father (who may have been under the influence of Old Smuggler Whiskey) threw an inkwell at the man and his chance for promotion was dashed in black.

Here in Vancouver I wrote often for the Vancouver Sun and the Georgia Straight. In the early years of the internet when somehow my PC was incompatible with the Sun’s Macs I sent essays to Nick Rebalski (he was a very good and kind editor to me) in an early form of an email program called Eudora. This was just fine for Rebalski.

My favourite moment in my shadow career as a would-be newspaper man was one day, early in the morning in the late 90s when John Cruickshank was the Sun’s Editor-in-Chief. I had gone to hand in some stuff to Mix Editor David Beers (now editor of The Tyee). I ran into Cruickshank who put his arm on my shoulder and told me, “Alex come into my office.” We walked through the whole Sun newsroom. In his office Cruikshank told me, “I plan to unleash Beers on the whole paper so that he can Mix it. Mix has been a success.”

Of course that never happened. Cruickshank was sent to the Chicago Sun Times as Publisher and Beers was left to float and the Mixing of the Sun never happened.

Now at the end of 2014 I feel a nostalgia for something that I really never had. Talking to Rebalski and Mulgrew (one of if not the best tenacious columnist of the Vancouver Sun) I was jealous of that feeling, the real one of working for a big city newspaper.

No matter what eventually happens to our Vancouver Sun, Rebalski and Mulgrew will have experienced that thrill of writing today and anticipating that tomorrow. With CNN’s constant “breaking news” there will never be any more tomorrows.

After parting with Mulgrew, a laughing Mulgrew who might just take a vacation in Uruguay soon, Rebalski told me he was going to Sikora’s Classical Records to find something for his wife. I accompanied him.

At Sikora’s there were three attendants at the front counter and only one possible customer. There were now three. Rebalski found something. As he was getting ready to pay, the door opened and fine, tall gentleman that I know walked in. It was Don Stewart the owner of Macleod’s Books. I was suddenly hit by the irony that in a shop that was now stocking LP Records we had a record seller, an obsolete photographer, a journalist and a bookseller. I mentioned this. One of us then said:

We are trying to stay above water on a sinking ship that is doing so in a diagonal like the Titanic.

Fortunately all four of us have seen better times and better times can be savored and never forgotten or taken away.





Each Instant - Irrevocably Forgotten In The Next Instant
Wednesday, December 17, 2014






While reading John Eliot Gardiner’s Music in the Castle of Heaven – A Portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach I had to stop at this description (in this book) of the elusiveness of the present moment by Milan Kundera (The Art of the Novel – 1986):

There would seem to be nothing more obvious, more tangible and palpable than the present moment. And yet it eludes us completely. All the sadness of life lies in that fact. In the course of a single second, our senses of sight, of hearing, of smell, register (knowingly or not) a swarm of events and a parade of sensations and ideas passes through our head. Each instant represents a little universe, irrevocably forgotten in the next instant.

I believe that in a few cases I have been able to escape that with my Filipino titanium Timex (purchased in the middle 80s). Perhaps it’s all in my imagination but every once in a while when I stare at it in my bath I notice that the second hand stops for a bit (and I would swear it goes backwards). I am sure that the moment for me stops, too. My watch somehow stops time very much like Greek gods can mingle around people who do not notice them as they move at a different frequency of time. 

Smelling an English Rose, one of the last ones of the season I get this immediate impression that the scent, fades immediately but my memory goes forward (not backwards) into next year’s June when that rose will charm me again.

A moment can seemingly last forever if it is a boring high school class before the lunch period. In fact my religion teacher, Brother Edwin Reggio, C.S.C. told us that it was no different for souls (not quite damned) waiting in limbo for that moment of release. Will a bell ring when the gates of limbo are opened? I cannot agree with Kundera that my nose in that late in the year rose is irrevocably forgotten. After all that is what our memory is all about. I know that I can brush my female cat’s coat, she hates it and snarls at me, and yet once the torture is over she will sit on my lap in all sweetness. Is this a Kundera moment for my Plata? Or is it a case of feline forgiveness?

I don’t think that moment, or any moment that is noted, is irrevocably lost. Those good instances become laced in rosiness as time passes them by. I don’t think it has anything to do with forgetfulness but more our ability to weigh the good and the bad of the moment and simply discard the bad and keep the good.

I remember being a 29-year-old professor of Spanish at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City. It was run by Jesuits and I taught foreign students, mostly American women a bit of grammar, history and literature. I was not uncommonly handsome but some of them might have thought I was at least pleasant to look at. I seemed younger than my 29 year. One of my most pleasant moments was to show up on the first day of class, early. I would sit in the back of the class. The class would think I was just another student. Then they would talk about me, mostly nice things. It was fun. It was almost my idea of being present at my funeral looking in on the proceedings from the ceiling on the congregation and the stiff in the open casket.

You can imagine the surprise and the blushes when I went forward, turned around and said, “Buenos días, soy su profesor, el Señor Hayward.

That moment cannot be irrevocably lost. It is up front in my head and I smile every time I think about it. Of the loss I felt when my father died and when my mother died, it would seem that our body's sense of self-preservation helps us forget the anguish of those moments and helps us move forward to the new.

But of late, for almost two months, we (my wife and I) have learned to cope with living for every moment without knowing what the next one will bring. The shock of every one of those moments appears to me to be similar in nature to that of my time-stopping Timex. You see we have our 17 year old granddaughter living with us.

You would think that those moments of having teenage daughters (we had two) at home would be receding in our memory and almost (not quite!) becoming more rosy with the forgiveness of time and forgetfulness - but no. We have a teenager in our midst and every moment is loud and clear (like the accidental scratching of chalk on a blackboard). Every moment somehow brings with it an echo. Can time have an echo? Can time, present time, be extended in the same way as sound carries across the North Rim of the Grand Canyon?  If that were true, as we physically age with the tension of having our old-age routine suddenly turned up-side down, we just might experience the pleasures of an extended, almost youthful present. 

The Filipino Timex

Journey Back to the Source 




The Music in the Violin Does Not Emerge Alone
Tuesday, December 16, 2014


Emily Dickinson - P 1576 
The spirit lasts





The Spirit lasts - but in what mode -
Below, the Body speaks,
But as the Spirit furnishes -
Apart, it never talks -
The Music in the Violin
Does not emerge alone
But Arm in Arm with Touch, yet Touch
Alone - is not a Tune -
The Spirit lurks within the Flesh
Like Tides within the Sea
That make the Water live estranged
What would the Either be?
Does that know - now - or does it cease -
That which to this is done,
Resuming at a mutual date
With every future one?
Instinct pursues the Adamant,
Exacting this Reply -
Adversity if it may be, or
Wild Prosperity,
The Rumor's Gate was shut so tight
Before my Mind was sown,
Not even a Prognostic's Push
Could make a Dent thereon -


I tend my flowers for thee

Lavinia Norcross Dickinson

Pray gather me anemone! 

Ample make her bed

His caravan of red 

Me-come! My dazzled face  

Develops pearl and weed


But peers beyond her mesh

Surgeons must be very careful

Water is taught by thirst

I could not prove that years had feet

April played her fiddle

A violin in Baize replaced

I think the longest hour

The spirit lasts

http://blog.alexwaterhousehayward.com/2014/03/i-left-them-in-ground-emily-dickinson.html

 http://blog.alexwaterhousehayward.com/2014/01/i-felt-my-life-with-both-my-hands.html

http://blog.alexwaterhousehayward.com/2011/03/currer-bell-emily-dickinson-charlotte.html

























Point of Balance - Puntos de Apoyo
Monday, December 15, 2014



Cuba is on my mind and I remember a pleasant Cuban poet I met in Vancouver in 2005. His name is Pablo Medina. He gave me a book, Point of Balance – Puntos de Apoyo. It features poems in Spanish on the left hand and in English on the right. The poems are not translations, one of another but they are thematically joined. Of them Medina writes:

The fulcrum – or fulcro in Spanish – is a six-line poem divided into unrhymed couplets with a syntactic/semantic shift in the middle stanza. The structure is reminiscent of the Taoist hexagram. It is a meeting of chance and form, spontaneity and shape, movement and stasis. It combines the dialectic of the sonnet with the imagistic power of the haiku but is free of either tradition, its primary intent being the shaping of language and silence into a point of balance floating in the ocean of time.

Callao, Perú


La Ciudad y los Perros

La Ciudad y Los Perros de Homero Ardijis 



The Ornamental Twiddles Of A Baroque Orchestra
Sunday, December 14, 2014



John Eliot Gardiner - CBC Studio 1 - 1981

Below you might find relevant information on what a baroque orchestra is. It might help you enjoy more this Sunday's Early Music Vancouver production at the Chan of  Bach's Christmas Oratorio.


I distinctly remember May 13, 1980. I was at the Orpheum at noon with my two young daughters. We had brought brown bags with lunches. We were there for a program presented by the CBC Vancouver Orchestra called A Little Lunch Music. Admission was very cheap. Our host, the Musical Director of the CBC Vancouver Orchestra, was a wiry bespectacled English man called John Eliot Gardiner. He proceeded to explain to us what the baroque sound was all about. Most of it went over my head. He told us that the pitch of the orchestra had been brought down from the modern A440 Hz to A415Hz. Gardiner then demonstrated on two different violins, a modern one and a baroque one. He told us the string instruments used gut strings.

Programme designed by Ray Mah
I believe that the average person on the street here in Vancouver might not know of the difference. That day at the Orpheum, the difference in sound was clearly evident.

Wikipedia has a clear explanation of this. But let me lightly attempt to enlighten.

The violin bows and the violins of the 18th and 17th century were different from the ones that were adopted by the end of the 18th. The change came about in that music was increasingly being played for larger audiences in concert halls and not so much in the chambers of kings. The French Revolution may have been a reason. These instruments, in fact all string instruments, had to be louder. So the wonderful Stradivarius, Amati and Guarneri had to be beefed up, their necks modified to take the increased pressures applied by musicians to get that louder sound. Bows were modified for the same reason. Few original baroque instruments have remained so the paradox is that the best modern string instruments (the really valuable ones) are 17 or 18th century instruments that have been modified. A few of the, very few, were “un-beefed” to original standards. This means that in many baroque orchestras the instruments are modern reproductions.



On that day back in 1980 the sound of that baroque violin seemed to be sweeter and more subtle.

When in doubt I go to experts. Violinist Marc Destrubé (leader of the Smithsonian-based Axelrod Quartet who play with exquisite Stradivarius instruments (beefed-up) donated by the tropical fish expert Herbert R. Axelrod and for the local Microcosmos String Quartet) is an expert in all the details of his craft. He was a member and concertmaster of the now defunct (alas) CBC Vancouver Orchestra. This is further explanation on that day at the Orpheum.

He told me that besides changing the pitch he had the world-renowned violin bow maker, Ken Millard (now lives on Mayne Island) make baroque bows for the whole orchestra. The baroque violin in which Gardener demonstrated would have been his wife’s. She is Elizabeth Wilcock Gardiner. According to Destrubé she would have been invited to play that afternoon. 


The Ken Millard bows were then donated to the UBC School of Music and with joint sponsorship with Early Music Vancouver a Baroque Mentorship Orchestra is currently using those bows. While making a bow for Destrubé, Millard became allergic to the woods used and had to stop making them.

In this Sunday’s Early Music Vancouver presentation at the Chan of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio a few concertgoers might be slightly confused at what they are seeing. To begin with Musical Director Stephen Stubbs will not be playing his very large Theorbo (a baroque lute sometimes called an archlute which is a lovely sounding predecessor to the guitar). He will be standing up or perhaps sometimes sitting at a harpsichord which he is also playing. The piano, we know is a percussive instrument in which tiny hammers hit strings. In the harpsichord the strings are plucked.

The violins and violas will all be (probably) modern reproductions of baroque violins with gut strings and no chin rests. Chin rests, invented by Beethoven contemporary Louis Spohr gave the violinist more leverage and a firmer grasp. You might note that tuning seems to take longer and it happens with more frequency. Gut strings are affected by room temperature and humidity more so than the modern violin's metal strings.


The two cellos will have no spike. This means that they are indeed baroque ones. There will be another strange instrument, not quite a cello, called a violone. If you count the strings you might end up with six. The double bass and or the violone may or may not have frets.
The transverse flute (played with the instrument on the side like the modern ones) is made of wood like the oboe and a variant called oboe d’amore.

You will also note a small squarish organ, made in Quebec in the 90s. This is called a baroque-style chamber&continuo organ. That complex sounding word continue just means that in a baroque orchestra some instruments, the organ, the harpsichord, the cellos, the double bass, a bassoon (yes!) and the violone play a bass line.

Of special note will be the presence of the timpani (lots of noise in the beginning of the first Cantata and the last cantata) and three trumpets. They do not have valves but do have a few finger holes. These instruments are glorified bugles and are extremely hard to play.

While Bach's Christmas Oratorio will feature most of the musicians sitting (with the exception of the singers and in some instances Musical Director Stephen Stubbs who will play the harpsichord sitting down, I hope!) generally baroque orchestras play standing up (not the cellos, the viola da gambas, the basses,  bassoonists, etc). The only explanation for this was given to me by Marc Destrubé who told me just like in rock bands the guitarists and bassists play standing up, the string players of a baroque orchestra can interact more with an audience in this way. Judging by the way Destrubé moves when he plays his violin I would add that sitting down perhaps constricts his style. 

Some may wonder why there is this obsession for playing with period instruments. And yet we understand why vintage electric guitars and basses of the 60s and 70s are so much in demand. John Eliot Gardiner beautifully explains this in his beautiful book ( lent to me by EMV Musical Director Matthew White) Music in the Castle of Heaven – A Portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach. This happened when the young Gardiner around the late 60s was the Musical Director with the London-based Monteverdi Choir and he was experimenting with the baroque sound.

Over the next ten years (1968-1978) I was fortunate in being able to recruit a top-notch modern chamber band to work alongside the choir – the Monteverdi Orchestra – comprising some of the very best freelance chamber musicians of the London scene. The players showed me extraordinary trust through their willingness to experiment, undertaking not just travels to the wilder shores of the Baroque by means of oratorios and operas which were then virtually unknown, but also stylistic explorations involving  the use of outward-curved Baroque bows, notes inégales, mordents, inverted modents, coulés and ornamental twiddles of all sorts. Then suddenly we hit a brick wall. The fault was neither theirs nor mine, but that of the instruments we were using – the same as everyone else had been using for the past hundred and fifty years. However stylishly we played them, there was no disguising that they had been designed or adapted with a totally different sonority in mind, one closely associated with a late-nineteenth – and early-twentieth century (and therefore anachronistic) style of expression. With their wire or metal-covered strings they were simply too powerful – and yet to scale things down and hold back was the very opposite of what this music, with its burgeoning, expressive range calls for. To unlock the codes in the musical language of these Baroque masters, to close the gap between their world and ours, and to release the wellspring of their creative fantasy meant cultivating a radically different sonority. There was only one thing for it: to re-group using original (or replica) Baroque instruments. It was like learning a totally new language, or taking up a new instrument but with practically no one to teach you how to play it. It is hard to convey what ructions, disappointments and excitements this entailed. Some felt it to be a terrible betrayal; to others, including most of the singers in the Monteverdi Choir, it was an inexplicably backward step. But a few brave souls took the plunge with me: they bought, begged or borrowed Baroque instruments, and we became the English Baroque Soloists.


My friend Marc Destrubé can indeed add to that. I once asked him what he would do if he unknowingly showed up at one of his Microcosmos String Quartet concerts featuring the music of Béla Bartók with his Baroque violin. He answered, “I would have to go home to retrieve the modern violin. I simply could not play the Bartók with the other.” And in a passing note of useless but important information Destrubé informed me that known to him (he cannot prove this) violin bows are made from the tail of male horses. It seems that the urine of female horses affects the strength of the individual hairs. As for that Baroque pitch set at A415Hz Destrubé says that this is sort of a modern standard as there would not have been one during Bach's time.

There are interesting details about Bach's Christmas Oratorio written by JoAnn Taricani a scholar from the University of Washington. Taricani mentions that Bach re-worked royal cantatas composed a year before in 1733 for the royal family at Dresden. Not mentioned is the fact that Bach wrote a secular drammi per musica called Hercules at the Crossroads (BWV 213) for the son of Friedrich the Elector of Dresden. No fewer than six movements from Hercules turned up at the end of 1734 in Bach's Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248)! 

CBC Studio 1

Why Bach?  

The Spirituality of Bach - A Sermon in Music



Mixed Nuts For An Alternative Vancouver Christmas
Saturday, December 13, 2014






Vancouverites for a long time were creatures of habit. You drank your coffee at Murchie’s, bought your books at Duthie’s, went to Stanley Park, replaced your forgotten umbrellas at the Umbrella Shop and for Christmas you went to a Nutcracker and made sure you witnessed and sang along one Messiah.

Things may be changing perhaps with the demise of family-owned businesses not being able to compete with the American Big Box. Some changes are not of that ilk. Some of these changes are good.



Consider that a couple of weeks back I went to the Art Club Theatre’s anti-Christmas (but very definitely with that Christmas spirit) A Twisted Christmas Carol at the Granville Island Review Stage.

Second in this trend that I call the Alternative Vancouver Christmas was Saturday’s Arts Umbrella Dance Company’s Mixed Nuts. With an occasional nod to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Mixed Nuts is to The Nutcracker what A Twisted Christmas Carol is to Charles Dickens.


The last Nutcracker I ever saw (with both my granddaughters) was some years ago. We went because the Sugar Plum Fairy was the inimitable Sandrine Cassini who at the time was dancing (briefly) with the Alberta Ballet. I will have to be still alive and sentient in some far away future to take my great-grandchildren (none yet, thank God) to another Nutcracker.

The prospect of seeing old potentates sit on thrones to watch several dreary dances of ethnic origin (as imagined by a Russian) is enough to want me to jump into a time machine and escape December.

So I am happy to report that Artemis Gordon’s Granville Island-based Arts Umbrella has brought us Mixed Nuts (they have perfected it in a few past years) to a very fast evening (it is never dreary or slow) of non-stop dancing by the best talent the school has (they have an extremely long bench of talent) with fantastic costumes, good music (not all Tchaikovsky) that mixes the choreography of several good ones with ballet, ballroom and modern dance. The venue, the Vancouver Playhouse is perfect as it is intimate enough but has room for a larger audience.

But the best part is the sheer exuberance of the young dancers, many who graduate to go to the best dance companies of the world.


Any derivative of The Nutcracker that brings into the mix choreographer Lina Fitzner and Evan Christopher’s dynamite version of that fave of mine St. James Infirmary deserves to be our new Christmas routine (for a while at least). Pity that there are no more performances!

At age 72 I can get away with stating that I have a new fave dancer in this fine bunch that is the Arts Umbrella Dance Company. It’s Albert Galindo from the Senior Dance Company. I kept pointing to him to my granddaughter Lauren, 12, who has been dancing at Arts Umbrella for five years (Lina Fitzner is her current instructor) who was sitting next to me dead centre, front row at the Vancouver Playhouse. She kept slapping my hand so perhaps she might agree! And I cannot stop here without mentioning that after having seen Nicole Ward dance (second picture  from top in red) I would not be in the least surprised if she is not whisked away by some foreign dance company when she graduates.





























     

Previous Posts
Our Pseudotsuga menziesii var. menziesii & The Sw...

Ink In My Father's Hands

Each Instant - Irrevocably Forgotten In The Next I...

The Music in the Violin Does Not Emerge Alone

Point of Balance - Puntos de Apoyo

The Ornamental Twiddles Of A Baroque Orchestra

Mixed Nuts For An Alternative Vancouver Christmas

Music Lessoning - Gerry Gilbert

Why Bach?

¡CRUDESCENCE! - George McWhirter



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2/20/11 - 2/27/11

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