30 March 2006

Of Pärt and Port II

As for sacred polyphony, there is no reason to be afraid of it.
~ Richard Morris

Yesterday's post about Sunday’s feast for ear and tastebuds was longer than I anticipated, so today I am posting the second half of my musings on that delightful evening: the St. Matthew’s Choir and Schola’s performance of Lenten vespers in general and Arvo Pärt’s Magnificat in particular.

Nobody else wanted to drive downtown and seeing as they were not aware of my great and grand ability for becoming hopelessly lost every time I drive there, we all piled into the Ukarist-mobile, with the CD player alternately blasting fado and Pärt selections. We had crossed the Potomac and were cruising down Constitution when I brought the flow of conversation to a halt with “Uh, people? We have a slight problem here…..I don’t know where we’re going!”

This announcement was followed by a chorus of “I don’t know either” and about 5 minutes driving in the general direction of K and M Streets. After expressing general dissatisfaction with every other driver on the road and the general low IQ of every pedestrian who waltzed and meandered and jay walked in front of me, I finally threw my cell phone at Sullivan and said “I know! Call information and ask for St. Matt’s.” Surprisingly, someone answered the phone and told us the cross streets. Halleluiah! (Oops! Not supposed to use that word for another 3 weeks!) Actually, I think I let fly a good Southern yeeha.

Anyway, after muttering prayers to St. Anthony for a really good, close parking space and being graced with one right behind the cathedral, the five of us walked in to St. Matthew’s and found a pew right near the front.

Now technically, to gain the full effect of a polyphonic performance in an acoustically ideal space, one should really sit in the middle, towards the rear. But Sunday night, sitting up front in no way detracted from the musical delight that awaited us.

The Choir and Schola, the men on the left and the women on the right, chanted the vespers as they are meant to be ~ alternating back and forth. The Latin was pronounced beautifully and the voices were clear and smooth. My companions and I sat back and let the peaceful rhythms and natural melody envelope our souls.

But as beautiful as the chant was, its elegant execution in no way prepared us for the ecstasy of hearing Pärt’s Magnificat.

Bill Culverhouse did an incredible job directing ~ the dynamics were breathtaking and perfectly matched to both the meaning of the words and the music. There is no other way to describe the experience: I closed my eyes and literally swooned in the pew. Sullivan later told me that he was equally moved ~ both by the piece itself and the near perfect performance of it. The only thing that was grating to the ears was Monsignor Jameson's butchering of the Latin texts. But even that could not hide the brilliant performance by Culverhouse and company.

The next time you’re in town and the St. Matthew’s Choir and Schola are performing (May 2006), definitely put it on your list of things to do.

Oremus pro invicem,

29 March 2006

Of Pärt and Port

Seating themselves on the greensward, they eat while the corks fly
and there is talk, laughter and merriment, and perfect freedom….
~ Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Sunday evening saw a feast for two of my favorite senses: taste and hearing. My good friend Janet had informed me that the St. Matthew’s Cathedral Choir and Schola were going to be performing Lenten Vespers, including a rendering of Arvo Pärt’s Magnificat.

Several of my friends are big time fans of Gregorian Chant and sacred polyphony. So we decided to gather at my house for an early pre-concert dinner and then drive across the river to the Cathedral.

Dinner was at four o’clock, and knowing I would not have much cooking time after singing at the 10:45 low Mass, I enlisted the talents of both Janet and another friend, Leslie, one to bring salad and the other to bring dessert. A housemate was in charge of the green vegetable. I then went to work on the entrée: Roast Chicken with Maple Soy Glaze.

With my great love of cooking and feeding people, one would think I had roasted a whole chicken before. Sadly, this was not the case. The first task was to “Run hands under chicken skin to loosen.” You have got to be joking. I stared at the chicken. And stared at it some more. And then got out a thin, sharp knife.

The skin was now loosened. Also sliced through in a couple of places, but at least I did not have to actually touch the chicken. This bliss was not to last very long.

My next task was to take butter and rub it all over the chicken, including under the now loosened skin. Honestly, I do not know what it is about raw chicken that grosses me out. Red meat, bleeding all over the place doesn’t make me bat an eye. But raw chicken seems so….I don’t know….RAW.

Once my hand was lathered in sweet cream butter (margarine ~ so wrong on so many levels!) I was focused more how juicy and tender this would make the bird and not on the fact that I was touching raw chicken. I smashed fresh garlic and ginger and stuffed them into the cavity, then squeezed fresh orange over the outside and stuffed the pieces in as well. Next came my favorite part: adding the alcohol.

Cooking with alcohol adds so many wonderful flavors, depending on the recipe. This one called for sherry. I happily went down to the basement where I keep all my wines and spirits. Happily that is until I realized that I only thought I had sherry in stock. It was too late to run out and buy a bottle. There was no one left to call and the bird need to be doused and put in the oven soon or dinner would consist of salad, asparagus and dessert!
I searched among the bottles looking for a good substitute for sherry. My hand grasped a bottle of port. If my palate remembered correctly, port is sweet like sherry, and it was the same colour as sherry. Good enough for me! :-)

Placing the chicken in the roasting pan (after making it dance a jig – what?! Ok, so I also have a weird sense of humour!), and pouring port over it liberally, I popped it in the oven and turned my attention to making fresh French bread.

The recipe is an excellent one, straight out of Southern Living. I had made bread from that recipe several times before with glorious results. Sunday, something did not cooperate. The yeast expanded beautifully in the right temperature of water, the dough came together nicely in the mixer. But when it came time to knead it, it clung to my floured hands like the Swamp Thing. It had never done this before. Usually it was quite docile and smooth when I kneaded it. I finally managed to scrap most of it off my hands and placed the gooey lump in a greased bowl and set it aside to rise for an hour.

While waiting for the bread to take care of itself and get over its slump, I gathered the ingredients for the maple-soy glaze for the chicken. Generally, I have most ingredients ~ they are simply stock items that a cook always has on hand. However, I also like to cook on the fly, trying out different recipes or coming up with new ones based on the bare minimum of ingredients.

The glaze called for pure maple syrup, rice vinegar, soy sauce and hot sauce. I used soy sauce, Log Cabin syrup, apple vinegar and red pepper flakes. I basted the chicken in the glaze every few minutes. When it was done, the skin was a nice sweet crackly brown. This made up for the French bread, which never did rise, but I baked anyway and my friends declared it a success ~ not having tried my previous truly successful attempts at bread making.
A nice bottle of red wine, artful salad, tender young asparagus and a decadent chocolate mousse rounded out the gastronomic portion of the evening.

Next time: concert notes.

Oremus pro invicem,

27 March 2006

Fado Obssession

There is no doubt that the first requirement for a composer is to be dead.
~ Arthur Honegger

Call me obsessed. But when I am introduced to a new song or style of music, or when I have written a new song, that song or music style becomes my favorite and I cannot get enough of it. Of course, this is not to say that I do not have songs that never fall out of favor. But the new kid on the block is always big news for a long, long time.

The flavor of the month is fado. I am surprised the Dulce Pontes CD my friend generously lent me this weekend (after prying it from his own CD player) is not worn down already. It’s gone from car to house stereo back to car to office computer. I was playing it at home and one of my housemates who speaks Portuguese, burst into my room and said “Hey, that sounds like fado!” I said, “It is! Can you translate?” She could not. Not a big surprise, considering that like most English songs, you cannot always tell what the singer is singing. Unfortunate, because if you’re like me (and I know I am!) the lyrics are the most important element of the music.

Anyway, I have become so enthralled with the style, that when I sat down Saturday evening to compose Song Two of the MacBeth Project, I ended up with a tribute to fado instead. No title yet, and it is by no means the real deal. But the Portuguese-speaking housemate heard it and said that I had captured the feeling that fado conveys: waiting, loneliness, deep, soul sadness and melancholy.

Sullivan was over on Sunday and paid me a great compliment when he heard the new piece: “You just keep getting better! Every new song you compose is better than the last.”

Which proves Honegger correct: by the time I am dead, my music should be perfect. ;-)

Oremus pro invicem,

24 March 2006


It is cruel, you know, that music should be so beautiful. It has the beauty of loneliness & of pain: of strength & freedom. The beauty of disappointment & never-satisfied love. The cruel beauty of nature, & everlasting beauty of monotony.
~ Benjamin Britten

It is said of writers that the greatest part of their time is spent reading other books. It is part of what makes a talented writer ~ knowing where we have been literarily before being able to make a lasting mark on the literary future.

The same can be said of music. A musician is constantly adding to his music library and experimenting with different styles and forms of music.

This week, I added another style to my collection of favorite music to listen to: Portuguese fado. Listen once to this haunting, sea-inspired music and you will know why I have fallen in love with it: it is an earthy, dark and melancholic music, full of longing and “the beauty of loneliness & of pain.” As one article states: “a fado performance is not successful if an audience is not moved to tears.”

My appreciation for this form of music is still new and so far, I have only listened to three albums by one artist: Dulce Pontes. I already had a great respect for her talent when she teamed up with Andrea Bocelli for O Mare e Tu on Sogno. And she was recommended to me as the best intro to fado.

My personal favorites:
1. Cancao Do Mar (Song Of The Sea)
2. Lagrima
3. Fado Portugues
4. Povo Que Lavas No Rio

As a musician, I am always looking for new melodies that touch the listener deep in their soul and elicit intense emotion. At a performance I gave in while I was in college, I remember telling the audience that I wanted them to sit back, relax and just feel. Fado does that ~ you can’t express it, you just feel it.

Here’s to moving more audiences to tears.

Oremus pro invicem,

23 March 2006

Expressing MacBeth

After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.
~ Aldous Huxley

A break through!

After months of racking my brain, pounding the keys, walking away from it for awhile and vacilitating between looks of anguished pleading and dark frustration, the Muse finally relented. Sullivan and I resurrected the MacBeth Project last night and worked on Song One. In roughly an hour and a half, we had a completed piece. Amazing! We were both floored. I think that is the fastest I have written any music.

Sullivan had already done an excellent job of writing the lyrics and he had some idea of what he wanted the piece to feel like. Once he walked me through it, I tried to execute that feeling. I must have succeeded for he declared it better than the last project, until I started playing the beginning notes of Song Three of the LOLAL. Then he groaned and said that perhaps this new one was a very close second as his favorite song. It certainly is much darker than any other songs I have composed. But then go figure, MacBeth is the subject material. :-)

One thing this song definitely needs is a cello. Anybody out there interested?

Oremus pro invicem,

21 March 2006

Not Your Ordinary Post

3/23/06 ~ I have revised some passages on this post, since some were not worded clearly. ~ MD

I do not usually post on politics, church or otherwise, not because I do not feel passionately about such things, rather I bow to other bloggers who are more eloquent or more learned about such things. This however, is occurring in my own backyard and therefore, I feel I must throw in my two cents….

The liturgical shot heard ‘round the world…..

Well, maybe the vibrations from today’s annual Bishop’s meeting with the priests of the Arlington Diocese here in Virginia will not reverberate quite as loudly as perhaps SF Catholic Charities faux pas, or the ongoing talks in Rome about liturgical reform; nonetheless for the faithful here the impact will be great.

A great divide that is. Bishop Loverde, wishing to appear truly liberal (i.e. do whatever you want, be it progressive or traditional) has stated that “Effective immediately, pastors in the diocese, after consultation with their parochial vicars, deacons and the parish pastoral councils, may decide on a parish-by-parish basis to include women and girls as altar servers.” and at the same time has designated two parishes (at either end of the beltway, I might add) as “indult parishes”, i.e. parishes were the Mass according to the 1962 Missal, or Tridentine Mass, may be celebrated.

For the most part, I believe things will remain status quo. Parishes such as St. John’s in McLean, St. Rita’s in Alexandria, and St. Andrew’s in Clifton, will opt to keep male-only acolytes. Queen of Peace, Nativity Parish and St. Thomas More Cathedral will opt to introduce them. But this should come as no surprise to anyone as the three former are all known to be more traditional and the three latter more progressive.

As I heard one local priest say, “This will only serve to further divide the clergy. And good people in the crazy parishes will leave and go to the more solid parishes. So if I get assigned to one of the whacko parishes, I won’t have the support of good, solid families, because they won’t be there!”

He has a point. And while I feel badly about it on the one hand, that very thing has been happening throughout the diocese way before this decision. This issue, however, will only serve to bleed more of the solid, traditional parishioners to other parishes. One fellow Catholic said that he had always stayed at his local parish (meaning he lived within its geographic boundaries) because he felt it was better to try and make a difference locally. Now?

I think Loverde, and other Princes of the church of his persuasion, will find that in trying to appease both sides, he will succeed. But at the end of the day, his pocket book will either stay at the same level or shrink. The Roman Catholic Church is not a democracy, but the laity are the ones who keep it running financially. And those who give generously over time are more likely to be traditional. And some have already told me, 1962 Missal or not, their money is not going to the annual Lenten appeal nor anywhere near the Chancery, but to those priests and Bishops who uphold all truth and not just parts of it.

Oremus pro invicem,

P.S. No worries, Padre ~ if you get sent to the wacky boons, there will always be a place set at our table for you.

13 March 2006

MacBeth Update

Like stones, words are laborious and unforgiving, and the fitting of them together, like the fitting of stones, demands great patience and strength of purpose and particular skill.
~ Edmund Morrison
Perhaps it is spring fever. Perhaps the Muse has caught it too. Whatever it is, Sullivan has done a fine job with Song One of our MacBeth Project but I on the other hand, have done absolutely nothing with it!

In the LOLAL, there is one continuous melody threaded throughout all three pieces, connecting them together for the hearer. It works beautifully (if I may say) and I considered doing something similar with the MBP. But so far, nothing. Not one single note!

A weekend in the country would stir up the senses, I thought. But although the weather was perfect, I was relaxed and I did improvise some lovely instrumentals, MacBeth lay stubbornly silent and uninspired!

I need to bounce some ideas off of my music partner ~ Sullivan! Where are you?! Come out of retirement and call me!

Oremus pro invicem,

09 March 2006

Writer's Lent

Writing, at its best, is a lonely life…. (The writer) grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.
~ Ernest Hemingway

This is most certainly the reason why I have not posted one drop of ink in quite a few days. I had extra work at my job to tend to, social functions to attend, a backache to heal, and stress to blame for it ~ I was swamped! The mere fact that I am writing now does not indicate that I am less swamped, but perhaps that it spite of being so, I have finally managed to raise my head and my hands out of the murky mess of life and grab on to a keyboard ~ both computer and piano.

Distractions are the bane of my writing existence. Actually, distractions are quite possibly the bane of my whole existence. There is always something else I could be doing, or that I am doing, or that is on my calendar to do. More to the point, there is always somewhere I could, am or will be going. Thus the quill lies forgotten, gathering dust and the pages yellow and curl and not a thought is captured for posterity.

Lent can be an ideal time then for a writer ~ at least for this writer. Days of fast and abstinence and reflection should provide ample solitude. A solitude which should hopefully result in many words upon many pages. Pray that it is so.

Oremus pro invicem,