A cappella Friday: Bars and Feathers

em>Acappella music (without instrumental accompaniment) is particularly enjoyable for me to listen to. As a poet (and an avocational musician), I am drawn to the similarities that poems and acappella music have. Lyrical phrasing, meter, rhyming, assonance, and consonance mean so much to acappella music, because it relies so heavily on the human vocal element.

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It has been a while since I did one of these.

Partly because I hadn’t heard any new inspiring songs recently, neither was I particularly inspired to seek out any songs.

Until today.

I was wondering whether anyone had done an arrangement of Emily Dickinson poems for acappella chorus. Google. What a time waster saver. I found quite a few. And it should come as no surprise, as Ms. Dickinson is arguably the most prolific of American Poets and one of the more emotive poets (and also – to her credit – concise). These characteristics make her writing great fodder for choral literature.

The first one I noticed (and I think that I’ve sung it once) was Let down the Bars, O Death, composed by Samuel Barber, who was responsible for another haunting poem/choral selection that I discussed a while back, Louise Bogan’s To Be Sung on the Water. He wrote this piece during the same summer (1936)** as the string quartet that would eventually become Adagio for Strings.

Let down the Bars, O Death*
Emily Dickinson
Music by Samuel Barber

Let down the Bars, O Death —
The tired Flocks come in
Whose bleating ceases to repeat
Whose wandering is done —

Thine is the stillest night
Thine the securest Fold
Too near Thou art for seeking Thee
Too tender, to be told.

This setting is a simple chorale, with none of Barber’s usual complex counterpoint, but it is effective  at letting Dickinson’s text carry  the load.  Given her gift for emotionally charging phrases, it definitely works with his gift for musical conflict and resolution.  The opening of the piece sounds like a call, an invocation that begins hushed, and crescendos to the conclusion, where the opening lines are repeated/declared with emphasis.

The next piece was a bit of a surprise.  I have a soft spot for poetry that is light and hopeful (something that is not necessarily plentiful in Dickinson’s canon of writing), so when I happened upon “Hope” is the thing with feathers, I was hooked.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers*

Emily Dickinson
Music by Kenny Potter

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops – at all -

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

There are several different choral arrangements of this poem, but in my opinion, none of them capture the intention of the words like this arrangement by Dr. Kenny Potter of Wingate University. Recently composed in 2011***, this piece allows the underlying message to drive the song, with the opening lines carried through as heartbeat. A carefree melody, which breaks slightly to express the seriousness of the last line (much like Barber in the effective use of chorale style), but then returns to the patter of the “thing with feathers, and sings the tune without the words – and never stops – at all” fading to the end.

I believe he created an earworm.

The video I selected is a combined performance of several pieces. The first one is “Hope” is the thing with feathers. Have a listen. You will be humming this the next day.

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*The Poems of Emily Dickinson Edited by R. W. Franklin (Harvard University Press, 1999)
**G. Schirmer, Octavo 8907
***Published by Santa Barbara Music Publishing (SB.SBMP-1017) 2011

A Passage

All of my most
compelling photographs
have roads in them:

The lonely stretch of highway
to the left of a bittersweet sunset.
after the leaves have
all blown away.

The S-curve in a raceway,
-empty-
then full of revving vehicles
vying for the sweet spot in the turns,
to accelerate into the straightaway
that continues out of view.

The picturesque motorway,
that aligns directly with
an imposing palisade of rock and ice,
only to veer sharply
and begin mounting the range,
passing through the crags
to some apex.

The city’s avenue at dusk after
a spring shower, streetlights
glow off the pavement,
and tail lights pierce the
somberness
as if to punctuate
my transitory presence
in a moment.

A reminder
that I was there and moved on.

Berlin1.jpg

that’s a lotta somethin’

Many years ago, I lived in the Crescent City.  

fleurdelis

This was in a time of relative innocence before Katrina, before the Saints were consistently good, before Casino gambling was legal, but ….it was not a time before there was good food.  I think there has ALWAYS been good food in New Orleans. It was probably written into the Louisiana Purchase agreement.  

You can’t swing a stick in that city without hitting a restaurant or sandwich shop or street vendor selling some delicacy…that is good to eat.

While living there, I discovered many unique foods: stale pastries with little plastic figurines in them are great party foods, street vendor hot dogs at 2 AM are THE BEST, oysters and crawfish taste better when you drink cheap local beers, coffee with chicory (tree bark) is best with cheap stale pastries or deep fried donuts with powdered sugar (beignets), crawfish etouffe’, po-boys are superior to subs, hoagies, or hero sandwiches,

and the muffuletta is a big-@$$ sandwich.

The moof-fa-what-Ah?

The muffuletta (moo-foo-let-ah) is a creation of the Italian community of New Orleans. The story goes that ca. 1906, Sicilian farmers selling produce at the Farmer’s Market would stop into the nearby Central Grocery for lunch. They would order ham, salami, cheese, olive salad, and bread, and then sit out on barrels or crates with everything spread out, eating everything separately (as is typical in Sicilian culture). The proprietor of Central Grocery (Signor Lupos Salvatore) suggested that they cut open the bread and prepare everything as a sandwich, and a new sandwich was born. The muffuletta is ubiquitous in New Orleans now, but there is a sign outside Central Grocery claiming the birthright. The name was derived from the bread roll used, which was determined to be better than french bread (already in high use for po-boy sandwiches) due to its soft interior and crunchy exterior. The typical muffuletta roll is a flat-ish bread disk that is about 10 inches in diameter. So it’s a huge sandwich. That is why it is typical for sandwich shops to sell 1/4 or 1/2 muffulettas.

Too much food you say?

There is a way to bring a little of that Noo Awlins food to your kitchen.

Single Muffuletta Sandwiches*

Ham, sliced (can be traditional Italian style ham (capicola), or something like Black Forest Ham. Use salty, cured hams, not sugar-cured or sweetened)
Salami, sliced
Provolone cheese, sliced
Mozzarella cheese, sliced
Marinated olive salad (Giardiniera or similar)**
Kaiser roll or similar bread

Cut the bread roll horizontally, and dress the bottom slice with the olive salad. Add the sliced ham, cheese and salami in alternating layers to the bottom bread roll and top with more cheese. Top the sandwich with more olive salad and the top piece of bread roll. You can prepare several sandwiches this way for a family, party or to save for later.

You may eat your muffuletta cold (as is traditional), or it can be toasted for 15 minutes or so (as shown below). Serve with some good ridged/ruffled potato chips.

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*Disclaimer: This sandwich does not adhere to the strict ingredients of the muffuletta, but it is quite tasty and suitable for consumption.

**There are store brand giardiniera salad mixes that are quite good, or you can be adventurous and try to make your own. Someday, when I’m feeling more adventurous….

and isn’t it a lovely blog….

Occasionally, these award thingies pop up. The ones that ask you to share little known facts about yourself or your blog, and then nominate other blogs to do the same.

I find them interesting as a way of increasing blog fertilization, and making your blog gardens grow. I know all the writers out there see little bits of inspiration in comments, characters, people and blogs. You wouldn’t be a writer if you didn’t seek out a little ‘miracle grow’ every now and then to jump start your own creativity…what they used to call the muse (they still call it that, but in this technological world we live in now, the muse is now pixelated as well as natural, electronic as well as acoustic, and present even in other people’s work and art). I write mostly poetry, with the occasional travelogue or recipe or blah-blah piece thrown in, so a little fertilizer goes a long way with me.

growing plant

These awards are a little way of getting to know each other too, I think. Behind the curtain of the internet, we could be anybody. At least these attempts at internet small talk help us be a little more human and hopefully “real” in our discourse. Small talk is not always easy for some people, and at times we might feel a little like Cleavon Little in Blazing Saddles trying to make friends with the citizens of Rock Ridge.

what did you expect?

Well, Sarah Wesson over at Earful of Cider has nominated my blog. Thank you Sarah. I’ve never personally met Sarah, but from her blog I know Sarah is a librarian by day, and a detective noir fiction writer by nights and weekends and days off with some interesting and fun ideas about character development. Plus she wrangles a couple of kids along with her patient-sounding, saintly husband.

So the rules are:
1. Share seven (7) fact(oid)s about yourself that you haven’t already made known in your writing.
2. Nominate seven (7) bloggers you regularly follow to do the same.

Factoids up.
1. I started drinking coffee when I was 11 years old. My Dad would make me a cup to help me wake up, because Middle School started at 7:30 AM. I am now an incredibly early riser. 5:30 AM is not unusual.

2. I secretly enjoy doing yardwork (mowing, weeding, etc.). There is something sustaining about a completed task where you can look at your results from a porch swing while drinking a tall glass of iced tea.

3. I wish peanut M&Ms were healthy snacks.

4. I like surprises (good ones).

5. It is no surprise (see what I did there…) that my favorite reading genre is Mystery/Thriller. This started in my adolescent years with The Hardy Boys, and then moved to Ellery Queen, Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie, and on to P.D. James, Dan Brown, James Lee Burke, Kathy Reichs, Matthew Pearl and James Rollins.
mystery

6. If I were to become independently wealthy (almost no chance of that happening – because, hey, it’s statistics and there is always a probability, no matter how small or insignificant), I think I would still work at a job.

7. Even though I find most math tedious, I find statistics strangely exhilarating. If only there was a porch swing and a tall glass of iced tea involved.

porch swing

iced tea

And now…onto other blogs.

I am admittedly more of a blog lurker than a regular follower, and I will not impose upon other bloggers who don’t necessarily know me from Adam’s off-ox to participate. If you wish to play along, consider yourself nominated, check the rules and have at it. Otherwise, enjoy the increased traffic (maybe..no guarantees) that my link to your blog could induce.

1. Sister Madly at The Sixpence at Her Feet, wickedly sarcastic and funny observations. Also, she smells colors.

2. Charlotte Hoather at Charlotte Hoather Blog. She is an aspiring professional singer studying Soprano in Glasgow, UK. She has over 11,400 followers so she needs no boost from a lovely blog award. She posts snippets about life for her and also clips from some of her performances. She’s very good and likely will be a star in the future. Search and find her performance of Oh, Danny Boy…beautiful.

3. Shawn L. Bird at Shawnbird.com. She’s a writer, poet, teacher in Canada. She also has quite a following. I like her blog because she posts at least one poem a day…and it seems so effortless.

4. Becky is studying horticulture in the UK. She has two blogs: one for plant stuff called Life of a plant lover and one for just her creative side called this and that. She posts beautiful pictures of gardens she works in and places she visits, and explains about the different types of flowers and plants and her nature poems are very heart-felt.

5. V. C. Linde, a poet/writer at Listen for the Reverb, is a restless soul, writes very well, and is involved in different venues to make her writing accessible (something I identify with). She has an interest in many different styles. I think her found poetry is most compelling.

6. S. K. Woodiwiss, a poet/writer who writes several blogs, but I follow Poetry: Because Obscurity is a Sin. She has a brooding passionate style. Her words almost ache. It’s a style that’s not for everyone, but it’s good to feel that kind of writing sometimes.

7. Jamie Dedes, at The Poet by Day posts poems, stories, inspirational pieces, pictures….She has a great eye for poetry and the beauty in the words.

If you made it through this, thanks for reading. If you’ve been nominated, feel free to ignore or participate at your choice. If you do participate, link back to me, because as blog neighbors I’d like to know what you do and think about.

The secret’s in the sAuce

My tomato plants are slowly but surely yielding edible fractions. Last week may have been the high-water mark for yield. By Friday, I had ten tomatoes: six of them quite large (fist-size) and four reasonably mature ones (billiard ball size).

Running out of things to do with tomatoes shouldn’t really happen. There is always a need in a recipe, salad, or sandwich (BLTs anyone?). Tomatoes are rather ubiquitous in recipes, garnishes, sauces, or just eating them with salt and pepper. Given their prevalence, they don’t seem that special.

This past weekend, though, was special, because we had a house full of college kids visiting for the BIG football game. My two sons and seven friends stayed over Friday night…I had a golden opportunity to prepare something and as every good host should…we provided food.

Meatball subs – I cheated and used store bought tomato sauce… though if I had a large enough yield I would try to make my own tomato sauce.

Cheese dip with tomatoes and green chiles – again store bought and totally synthetic complete with a brick of melt-a-cheese, 2 cans of diced tomatoes and hotdog chili. No mess, no fuss. But…a family favorite.

I had that pile of tomatoes just sitting there. I decided to make salsa…from scratch.

I have an app on my phone to help learn languages. And I’ve recently been learning Spanish. One of the vocabulary words a few lessons ago was la salsa or the sauce. Language is a peculiar thing. Salsa – to me- has always been that tomato based condiment you get with chips as a free appetizer at Mexican restaurants* – And….it is that…but the word means any sauce.

We’ve come to use the word much like a brand shorthand for a product (Kleenex for tissue, for example). I found that the world of salsa (sauce) is varied and complicated.

There’s salsa roja (cooked tomato sauce), salsa verde (green sauce, made with tomatillos), salsa ranchero (ranch-style sauce cooked with peppers and roasted tomatoes), as well as mole’ and guacomole’ being classified as salsas**. All of these are generally blended or cooked.

I made a coarsely chopped mixture.

So technically I made salsa picada (chopped sauce) or pico de gallo (rooster’s beak???) -if you prefer, as follows:

4 large ripened tomatoes
1/2 yellow onion
1 bunch cilantro (12 stems or so)
1 medium serrano pepper (slightly ripened)
2 tablespoons lime juice
5 or 6 liberal dashes of garlic salt

Chop tomatoes, onion and cilantro and mix in a glass bowl. Finely chop the pepper and add to the mix. Stir and mix liberally with spatula. Add lime juice and garlic salt. Add more to adjust to taste if needed. Mix well. Cover and refrigerate for an hour before eating (if you can). Get some good sturdy corn chips to eat it.

My sons and their friends devoured it. (before I could get a picture)

I guess it was that good.

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*I recognize it is also a dance style, but I have never tried to dance the salsa. And I’m writing about food here.
**Not to mention the mango, pineapple, corn, and carrot varieties.
There might even be pumpkin or squash salsas in keeping with the autumn season.

The one perfect thing

in the corner
where the buildings meet
is where the wind dives in
to swarm
and spiral in
a reel.

you only know that
because the tattered
blue plastic
jumps and skates
to the left
and the crumpled
kraft paper skitters away
to the right,
both fettered by an unpredictable swirl.

the one perfect thing
is the tumbleweed branch
pushed along
by this dervish
and goaded into rolling away.

An essence of poems

In an extrusion

a mist of poems
read to the pink dusk
of September

-a pearlescent haze suspended-

before some fell like blooms
from a Rose of Sharon

- left to wane and decay with the days to bronze-

And some,

blossomed in full,
agape and yawning with nectar’s tumescence,

 curled tightly in a twist,
a final coalescence suspended
there and left in her mind,

deliquescent.

Rose of Sharon