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
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
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
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
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 –
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
Point of Balance - Puntos de Apoyo
Monday, December 15, 2014
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
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.
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.
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.
|Programme designed by Ray Mah|
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.