The Epiphany Season
The cathedral holds evensong every Thursday, (well, not last Thursday, since we were all eating Thanksgiving dinner, but certainly 99% of Thursdays) and this Thursday happened to be the Feast of St. Andrew.
It also happened to be raining.
During the course of evensong it just so happens that I have to move to a different part of the church, and, since there are no hallways surrounding the nave, I actually leave the building and come in a different door.
So tonight I was confronted with a decision: do I walk outside and get wet, or do I make a nuisance of myself and tromp through the nave?
Having recently had the experience of playing in wet organ shoes, I opted for the drier route, but as I reflected upon the nature of the feast, I started second-guessing myself.
Andrew was a fisherman after all, and surely he was no stranger to water.
You can exegete today's Gospel reading yourself if you want to, but my cursory analysis leads me to believe that fishing, in the time of the apostles, was done from boats.
When Andrew, along with his brother "Simon" Peter (and later James and his brother John) leave the boat, they "immediately left their nets" to follow Jesus. If you're going to get away from your net, you have to get out of the boat. And if you get out of the boat, you have to swim.
This Gospel reading records the act common to the four apostles: swimming. Not to mention sudden abandonment of occupation and family.
And I'm afraid to walk through a little rain? What kind of Christian am I?
Clearly not a fundamentalist.
Edward Cuthbert Bairstow has a rockin' setting of "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence".
You can hear it sung by the Men and Boys of St. Thomas Church, New York City.
It's a pretty smooth ride, but watch out for those goosebumpy Alleluias.
More Bairstow: Bairstow also wrote this pretty chant.
Thanksgiving is as close as we get to a religious holiday in the United States. You might think it would be Christmas, but a lot of the religion has been dropped from this celebration.
Thanksgiving, on the other hand, manages to impress its ritualistic self on our lives every year, and has never had an association with the church.
Thanksgiving does involve a ritual: food. And the menu is the same: turkey and "all the trimmings". Usually this is stuffing (variably called "dressing"), gravy, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce. Midwesterners often like to complement this with a casserole and/or a Jello salad or two.
This ritual is national; there are very few people who don't participate. People who live most of the year alone are usually invited to participate by neighbors or a "meals on wheels" program. Thanksgiving is preceded by the busiest travel day of the year in this country. Everyone has to be with his own community, his own family. That everyone be included in this feast is an important part of a national consciousness.
Once the inclusion occurs, however, the guests tend to find fault with one another. "All the trimmings" means different things to different people, and many a disagreement has arisen over the exact contents of the stuffing. Celery? Raisins? Cranberries? Suddenly, the idea of inclusion is lost in the search for specifics.
But this is as unnecessary as it is inevitable. Everyone will be fed; that's the whole point of the feast.
What's in the stuffing is ultimately not important, but it is important that the hungry are fed, and justice is done.
But not everyone will agree with everyone else. That's part of living in community. Feasting communities in particular are prone to argument.
Just look at the church, for instance. Here's a community that's been sharing feasts with each other, weekly, for about 2000 years. The word Eucharist comes from the Greek word for "thanksgiving":
Facing the people, the Celebrant says the following Invitation
The Gifts of God for the People of God.
and may add
Take them in remembrance that Christ died for you, and feed on him in your hearts by faith, with thanksgiving.
Most of the time that the church has been feasting, it has been having one argument or another. Whether it's seen in the writings of Paul, or the Council of Nicea, Vatican II ("The Return of the Pope"), General Convention 2006 ("The Return of Gene Robinson") conflict has been a part of the gathered community. The feasting, however, continues.
And so it is with our meals. We are surprised when we argue, but this is what families do. The meal, however, is still served.
And once it is served and eaten, we are made whole. We become closer to one another, through our food, through conversation, through the inclusion of outsiders, we are all collected into one coherent national entity.
Our civil ritual gives us a glimpse of God's kingdom, even if we don't realize that's what it is that we're seeing. And then retailers capitalize on that good feeling by opening their doors and offering really low prices soon after that meal is over.
"If only we can grab on to this moment with some stuff!" Or, "All that fighting made me feel sick. This stuff will help!" Or, "This Thanksgiving didn't feel like my childhood memories. I'll have to buy some stuff so that Christmas does."
Or whatever. However it is that each of us is conditioned to do this, it seems to me that the ritual plays a large part.
After the communion meal, Christians go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
After Thanksgiving, Americans go forth, rejoicing in the power of credit.
Today the Episcopal Church celebrated the Feast of C.S. Lewis. He's a great author, and I'm not just talking about The Chronicles of Narnia. That's fun stuff, but it's mostly for kids, now isn't it? Us grown-ups should really be familiar with stuff like the Space Trilogy.
Lewis's "sanctified imagination" had trouble with belief in God, until one day he came back from the Zoo believing that Jesus was the son of God.
Lewis was a Fellow at Magdalene College, Cambridge. Composer Benjamin Britten was made an honorary Fellow there, and he is the composer of Ode to St. Cecilia. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that today is also the Feast of St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music.
What happens when an internationally loved United States President is murdered on the Feast of St. Cecilia? Another English composer, Herbert Howells, writes a beautiful ode to John F. Kennedy: Take him earth for cherishing. An excerpt:
Take, O take him, mighty Leader,
Take again thy servant's soul.
Grave his name, and pour the fragrant
Balm upon the icy stone.
Take him, Earth, for cherishing,
To they tender breast receive him.
Body of a man I bring thee,
Noble in its ruin.
By the breath of God created.
Christ the prince of all its living.
Take him earth, for cherishing.
Prudentius (348-413), from Humnus circa Exsequias Defuncti, trans. Helen Waddell
Last week I participated in a Human-Computer Interaction design class at the invitation of Indiana University informatics professor Marty Siegel. Our discussion was entitled "Human-Music Interaction"
Preparing for the session certainly got me thinking a lot about organ console design, and all of this came fresh on the heels of my discovery of a coupler on my organ at the cathedral. I've been working there for about two months and it took me that long to find this coupler.
Now, most organists are shaking their heads in disbelief at this point, so let me say a few things in my defense.
How is it that an organ console can be so poorly designed that standard feature could be hidden from it's primary user for hours of use?
Answer: organ consoles are generally poorly designed, and I think they could be a lot better.
For instance, on this organ the couplers are sort of scattered all over the place. Most of the pedal couplers are in the pedal division, but one of the pedal couplers is located in the division itself. Strange. And this is not the only instrument that is a little disorganized when it comes to the console.
To help us in our quest, I think it's important to look to organs of the past, and organs of questionable repute (theater organs) because the trajectory gives some hints as to where we might go. The theater organ, which is called on to play music of much greater complexity than the standard organ repertoire cannot afford to be poorly designed, and generally they are designed well.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth and Blockwerk, a formless void of organ sound. Organs were large and loud, and they were loud all the time. There was no control over what parts of the organ would play. The whole thing would play the whole time.
Then someone said, "Man, that high-pitched mixture sound is really annoying. I wish there were a way to stop it." And lo, stops were born.
GOOD DESIGN: Stops gave the organist control over the organ's resources. All stops operate independently of each other, and so the myriad resgistrational possibilities were born.
But organ builders were (and continue to be?) so enamored with this control, that they often fail to take into account visual and physical design aspects of the stop controls themselves.
Stops started as knobby things that could be grasped easily with the hand, and their arrangement, due to mechanical issues, generally had some connection to the divisions of the organ.
Examples in modern instruments: The Fisk organ at Old West Church, Boston, and the Jurgen Ahrend organ in the Musée des Augustins in Toulouse, France both have Positiv stops that are actually on the Positiv. While it is certainly difficult to make over the shoulder adjustments while playing, the location of the pipes controlled by these stop knobs is obvious.
Since the advent of electric stop action, however, things have changed. Stop knobs have become smaller mushroom shaped objects. They are no longer meant to be grasped with the hand, but flicked with the finger. On the other hand, multiple stops can be grasped at once. Meanwhile, stop layout has become more variable.
One might make the case that stop knob size, and the number of stops that can be engaged simultaneously with a single hand correspond to changes in historical voicing styles. North German Baroque instruments have large, widely-spaced stop knobs. These are meant to be drawn deliberately, one at a time. Large orchestrally-voiced instruments generally have small, clustered tabs. These are meant to be engaged in groups.
FUTURE DESIGN: Take a look at the Wannamaker organ in Philadelphia (pictured right). Here, the sheer number of stops (and divisions) created a serious design problem. Divisions are separated by color, rendering their contents clear to the organist. Here also, stop tabs replace knobs to save space. While this may be a step in the right direction, stops as such are not visually distinguishable within divisions.
Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, the famous French organ builder, also used color to his advantage. Spoons, mechanical controls that were operated by foot, were labeled in colors that corresponded to the divisions they affected.
For further discussion: Are stop knobs (pull to engage) preferable to stop tabs or rockers (press to engage), or is their another option that enables the organist to manually manipulate his sounds easily? Organists press the key to engage pitch. Should stops mirror this action (tabs) or should they distinguish stop selection by a pulling, gathering motion (knobs)?
Whatever mechanism is chosen to engage sounds, that stop will need to be identified in some way. This is generally done with the stop name followed by the Arabic numeral indicating pitch (ex. Principal 8').
This is a poorly conceived system, especially between organs that all have essentially the same tonal options, but with different names.
It would be much more logical to rely on the number to convey sound information. Organists don't look for a specific stop name when they sit down at an organ, they look for the 8' principal (which is usually called 8' Principal -- 8' Montre on a French organ). The design of stop labels should reflect this. The number should be the most prominent, with the name included in smaller type as a means of largely esoteric information.
With a simple short-hand, all major stop families could be codified with symbols. Principals are underlined, reeds have a degree circle, strings are italicized (maybe not a good solution, but works well on the computer). Flutes, the most ubiquitous sound family on the organ, receive no symbol. Mixtures have long been easily identifiable by their Roman numbers.
Viola da Gamba
Millenial Mixture (Y2K edition)
This is merely a sketch of a system that could certainly be expanded to designate for short resonator reeds (·), celestes (±) or horizontal reeds (). Certainly one doesn't want to go overboard with this. The goal is not to show every detail of the tonal disposition but to easily identify stop family through a series of limited symbols (maybe five or six) rather than a slew of stop names (fifty or sixty). The only example I ever recall seeing of a symbol on a stop knob is Skinner's Flute Triangulaire which is sometimes labeled with a small open triangle.
To be continued: Topics for part 2 of this article: usable registration assists, combination action, artificially intelligent combination action, sequencers, James Higdon, thinking beyond single points of contact for input controls, thumb slides
Beef jerky is one of life's great joys, but good beef jerky can be hard to come by. I remember having some really good stuff that I bought at a gas station (ok, really a small general store attached to a single gas pump) in Upstate New York. It was good. Also, I was driving in a beat up Ford pickup with an Australian. This may have something to do with my positive associations with beef jerky.
One thing I don't associate with beef jerky is Pauline scripture. So I was surprised to read the following on my package of "Grandpa Val's Hot Beef Jerky":
So let us boldly approach the throne of grace. Then we will receive mercy. We will find grace to help us when we need it. Hebrews 4:16 (NIV)
INGREDIENTS: Beef, salt sugar, monosodium glutamate, paprika, spices, garlic, sodium nitrite.
This was weird. But perhaps no more weird than the scripture verse that appears on every edition of the Indianapolis Star
"Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” II Corinthians 3:17
At least the meaning of this quotation is at least fathomable. The publishers evidently see freedom of the press as connected with liberty; therefore their periodical is imbued with the "Spirit of the Lord".
So did Grandpa Val just get some misguided inspirtation from the Star?
I don't know. But this jerky was heavenly.
Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is jerky.
Bishop Kenny players said they noticed the uncanny determination of the Chiefs. Crusaders' setter Ali Sinden said: "They were never not competing for the ball. They never let anything get them distracted from what they wanted."
Heeren, Dave. "Cardinal Gibbons volleyball nets title". South Florida Sun-Sentinel. 10 November 2006
They may have lost the tournament, but Bishop Kenny, where my cousin Ali studies, definitely wins with a nicer website.
Merton Monday, the second Monday of every month on Sinden.org, features an excerpt from the writing of Thomas Merton:
You cannot be a man of faith unless you know how to doubt. You cannot believe in God unless you are capable of questioning the authority of predjudice, even though that prejudice may seem to be religious. Faith is not blind conformity to a prejudice--a "pre-judgement." It is a decision, a judgement that is fully and deliberately taken in the light of a truth that cannot be proven. It is not merely the acceptance of a decision that has been made by somebody else.
Merton, Thomas. New Seeds of Contemplation, p. 105. New Directions Publishing.
When reading this particular passage of Merton, we cannot but help think of an organist who is facing religious-seeming prejudice in Virginia.
To our overseas readers we should point out that Virginia, while north of North Carolina, is squarely in the South, and as such, is, shall we say, not very progressive.
We've mentioned Brett before, but we don't want to make it too easy for you to pick out exactly where he works, since he hasn't named his congregation in his blog: Out and About in the South.
Labels: Thomas Merton
Previously: Finland - desire to go to
Elsewhere: Silly bible reviews on Amazon.co.uk
In the fourth season of Gilmore Girls (what? You know you watch it too) there's an episode wherein Emily and Richard Gilmore proffer marzipan which they allegedly obtain on a trip to Switzerland.
There's nothing really wrong with this, I mean I suppose one can buy marzipan in Switzerland, but if I'm remembering the episode right, they seemed to suggest it was fairly specific to that country.
That's not what I remember. When I traveled to Lübeck I remembered hearing a marzipan creation myth specific to that Hanseatic city. I think the way I heard it the city was under seige and all the Lübeckers were all like "what are we going to eat?" and someone else said, "here, lets put together all these almonds together with some sugar" and then a little girl was like "marzipan!" and there was much rejoicing.
And indeed, Lübeck is mentioned in connection with marzipan, but its origin seems not to be so simple. (Marzipan's origin, not Lübeck's. Everybody knows Lübeck and Leipzig were twins . . .) Marzipan may have come from Persia. We don't really know.
In reading up on marzipan, we found that the EU has mandated a 14% almond oil content. This is exciting because it seems that the EU is really good at mandating percentages for things with very little regard for tradition or taste.
For instance: organs. Not too long ago, the EU decided that nothing should be built with lead at all, and so good, historically-informed organs became basically impossible to build. Seeing Defending the Pipe Organ was instructive here.
And it was fun because it asked
what about the impact of the parallel WEEE Directive?
I don't think they mean a really small Scottish directive. I do think they should have spelled out this acronymn for us stupid Americans. I mean, I can barely keep up with EU (Eastern UnitedStatesofAmerica).
Those of us USA have a WEEE bit of trouble thinking of Marzipan as anything other than this lovely character.
E scale! Nice choice!
Even nicer on an organ made with 14% marzipan?
The internet is a serious place now-a-days. I only fored myself to stay away for a week -- yes, a little unannouned internet sabbatical -- and I feel like I've missed a lot. I also feel better.
Things have been said, pictures have been taken, videos hae been uploaded, and is the world a better place? Not really.
I guess the point of the internet sabbatical is that you realize that your life doesn't really change much wihtout reading those words or seeing those pictures.
And you know, a sabbatical is 7 days. Like sabbath. Rest. It's a good thing. Seven is a signifcant number. I mean, biblically, and in non-Abrahamic faiths too I think.
Anyways, the information economy is actually pretty good at getting us to buy into information. Even if we don't really buy it, we certainly spend a lot of time consuming it, and time is money right? But the internet mainly fools us into thinking that there's a lot of information that weneed to be satisfied.
Keyboard tangent: something seems to have lodged itself undermy spacebar making this sortof difficult to type at the moment.
The Wikipedia article on Internet addiction disorder describes seeral (great, it's under the "v" now) sites that ". . . occupy users for hours trying to satisfy a non specific lack of information."
You know, come to think of it, that's sort of poorly worded. Shouldn't it be more like "occupy users
for hours trying to satisfy a non-specific lack of information for hours"? I think I'll go ahead and make that chane.
Change (it's under the "g" now).
Now what does this mean? I'm not just consuming the internet. I'm trying to actively contribute to it? This is sort of the point of Sinden.org (and that silly Wikipedia contribution you just witnessed).
Does the internet have a real purpose in our development and ongoing education or is it illusor? I mean, illusory (it's crept up to the "y" now).
Do I really have any business doing this, or would my time be better spent completely outside the ether?
If it weren't for some encouraging mail I've received from some of Sinden.org's great readers, I might side with a more dramatic solution.
But my optimistic Anglicanism assures me that a more middle way is in order.
What does the internet have to do with church music? And can I really spend too much time worrying about this, or should I just keep practicing?
Well, one thing's for sure. I can't keep up with everything. I'm trying to slim down on my internet diet and just take in a little less, and do it a little less frequently.
Aha, here's something that just emerged from my 7 key.
It looks like my sanity.
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Yes, but they're not the kind you buy on Wheel of Fortune.
the owner of a bower at Bucklesfordberry?
Full daintily it is dight.
interested in touch lamps?
And fountain pens.