Friday, 29 April 2016

Symmetry? Serendipity? Spooky?

Seventeen days ago, I wrote a post about the origins of my favourite Sheryl Crow song. Eight days ago, Prince died. So I was a little startled when this showed up in my Facebook feed today.

If that isn't weird enough, Sheryl Crow is wearing a David Bowie tee-shirt.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Snake hips and jelly legs

Made it through my online family history research class and language practice - elder daughter has initiated me into the very addictive language web site Duolingo and I'm attempting to learn some German and Welsh. (Ja. Diolch.) There's the small matter of getting something posted today.

How about this? This is a really recent addition to Postmodern Jukebox, the organization of talented musicians that take songs from the 80's to the present and re-imagine in styles from 1912 to the 1970s. Here we have blond bombshell Addie Hamilton tackling, of all things, "Are You Going to Be My Girl" by Australian retro-blues/metal group Jet, hauling it back from 2003 to the swing era. Along with the fabulous musicians, she's accompanied by the boneless jive of Ksenia Parkhatskaya. (Have mercy!) Don't miss either of them!

And, in case you want to compare, here's Jet appealing to their 14-to-24 male demographic:

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Yeah, that's the problem

I'm in the midst of Birthday Season. Several friends and family members - including me - have birthdays between April 22nd and May 11th). This is partly why I missed much of the festivities for the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. (Yay! Shakespeare's dead!)

Fortunately, rather a lot of the programming appears to have been put online at the BBC website, so it's just a matter of finding the time to listen and watch.

An additional complication: I foolhardily signed up for an online genealogy course as a birthday "treat". First online chat is tomorrow. Have not done a lick of homework.

Emergency measures are called for. Here's one of a series of loopy videos by a woman with the unmistakably American name of Malinda Kathleen Reese. She seems to have quite a Disney fixation, but she took a break from that to strut and fret upon the stage at the Folger Library, having run the text of Hamlet's most famous soliloquy through Google Translate. The results are mystifying and rather metaphysical.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Claiming London, Part Two

Sometimes YouTube gets a pretty loopy idea of what videos I'd like to see. If I click on something by accident, or out of curiosity, I get bombarded with offerings, some of them downright weird or disturbing. Thank goodness that this isn't usually the case. I had been exploring videos by Polly Hudson Design, because some of them illustrate changes in London over years and centuries. I posted one of them a couple of weeks ago

As a result, the video below showed up in my recommendations last week. It's a creation of Brighton animators "Persistent Peril" and is based on an essay by Peter Ackroyd. (I read his London: the Autobiography about seven years ago, if "read" is the proper word.)

The animation is delightfully detailed; watch for what happens in the insets, and pay attention to the tiny figures that scamper across both Cripplegate Without and Cripplegate Within. (You may want to view this on YouTube and enlarge it.) I particularly like the stork that drops a bundle down a chimney -- which turns out to be the infant Thomas More!

I have a connection with Cripplegate - but not in the time-frames described in detail in the video. My great-great-grandfather claimed to have been born there in his entry on the 1871 census -- his 1859 admission to the Freedom of the City showed him as being born on Hackney Road, which is considerably to the east and outside the City of London itself.
Clicking on the map should enlarge it.
However, I do know that my great-great-great-grandparents lived near where the Barbican Centre is now, and I'm including a detail of one of my family history Google Maps. They ran an inn in Bridgewater Square (the pink marker with a halo around it - you can click on the picture to make it large) in 1817. Later, they moved to Jerusalem Passage in Islington (the pink marker in the top left-hand corner), then to Butcher Hall Lane in Smithfield (pink marker just to the north of St Paul's Cathedral) in the early 1830s. I tracked them through the christenings of their children and my great-great-great-great-grandmother's 1833 will.

The Resident Fan Boy has a Barbican connection as well. The little green house with a flag denotes what I believe to be the location of the White Cross Street Prison, where one of my husband's great-great-grandfathers, a struggling solicitor, was imprisoned for debt in 1846. When a boy, he lost two young brothers, who were both buried on April 19th, 1823 at St Stephen Coleman Street, the gold house-shape on Old Jewry Street (the church was at the north end), south of London Wall. As you might expect from the video, St Stephen was destroyed, just as most of Cripplegate was, in 1940 by German bombers.

The purple marker is about where I figured Shakespeare was living during his London years, judging from books on the subject and a podcast of the Shakespeare London Walk tour. The video suggests that he lived north of the London Wall -- perhaps he moved!

At the bottom, south of Cripplegate Within, we see three blue markers and a pink one. The first blue is the location of the leather goods shop on Godliman Street, the longtime business of one of the Resident Fan Boy's great-grandfathers; he ran it until his death in 1894. Just to the east, the approximate address on Cannon Street where the same great-grandfather lived with his sister in 1861; both had just arrived from Berlin. Further along on Bucklersbury, the solicitor's office where the RFB's great-great-grandfather articled with his uncle -- some years before both went bankrupt. Finally, in the bottom right-hand corner, the Lombard Street office where my great-great-grandfather printed The Daily News from the 1850s to the 1870s. He was the one who had claimed to be born in Cripplegate -- but, in all likelihood, had not.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Musical chairs

I have to admit that Kiwanis season is not among my favourites -- particularly the Musical Theatre section.

However, younger daughter loves singing in the Kiwanis festival and she has always loved musical theatre. One of my earliest memories of her singing was when she was about eighteen months old. I was searching for something up in the stacks at the Greater Victoria Public Library when I heard her vocalizing tunefully. The tune turned out to be "Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord" from Godspell.

So, a couple of weeks ago found us on the long bus-ride out to a part of Nepean near where her school used to be. I was tense, dreading the competition, dreading having to sit through yet another production of The Sound of Music the next day -- in short, not tapping into my higher self, because both are things that younger daughter adores, in a world where her autism bars her from quite a few pleasures.

I got a grip on myself and used the long journey to focus on the best outcome. I've been back to creative visualization -- call it magical thinking if you will, but I got a bit more centred by the time we got out for the fifteen-minute walk through the suburbs to the church where this shindig is held every year.

I suppose it was a good thing I felt centred, because things almost immediately began to go sideways after our arrival. Younger daughter vanished into the washroom with ten minutes to go before her section was scheduled to start. She was the first of the competitors.

Time ticked by and when I popped my head in to remind her of this, she hollered at me to get out. I only had time to register that she was applying eye make-up. Her accompanist was enlisted to approach her -- younger daughter rarely hollers at non-family-members -- and our singer emerged with thick eye-lashes drawn in around her eyes. She reminded me of Victor Garber in the aforementioned Godspell.
"This is so I will look like a little girl for the second song," she told the Resident Fan Boy.

This is her fourth time participating in the Musical Theatre section. Up until now, she has been the only competitor to not bother with a costume change -- the other girls often do quite elaborate changes with plenty of props. This year, she and her teacher worked out a very simple change. She would be in stocking feet and wearing a sweater over her dress, presumably to look more like an auditioning chorus line dancer.

I've never been a fan of A Chorus Line, but "Nothing" is one of the better songs. It is also very wordy and quick.

Younger daughter plunged into it with admirable energy -- expressing bewilderment, anger, and the final resignation and shock quite eloquently, I thought. (I am her mother.) At Kiwanis, the adjudicators sit halfway back from the stage and all spectators are expected to sit behind them, so her make-up didn't look garish at all. I wept a bit with pride and started to relax a little.

Too soon.

Younger daughter vanished into the little change-room offstage and reappeared almost immediately, still sweatered and stocking-footed. She caught herself, disappeared, and came back with her flats on. It took her a second or two to realize that she still had to remove the sweater, so she returned to the side-room and we could hear her grunting and struggling, talking to herself. When she entered, she remembered she was supposed to change her hairband.

This all seemed to take forever, as I sweated with embarrassment, but it probably didn't take much longer than two minutes, which is a good thing, as both songs must be delivered within twelve minutes.

Younger daughter's second song was "My Party Dress" from a not-terribly-well-known musical called Henry and Mudge. It's another challenging number, with more than a hint of ADD -- the song, that is, younger daughter, as you may know from previous posts, is on the autism spectrum with a recently-diagnosed anxiety disorder -- which actually makes this a rather good fit.

Once again, she performed it flawlessly and remembered to acknowledge her excellent accompanist.

There were only two other performers in this age category. Both had the same accompanist, who sauntered up to the piano in his own time.

The first girl performed two songs from musicals I've heard of, but haven't attended. She was good, had stage presence and a strong voice.

The second girl did a charming number from The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and the famous "Adelaide's Lament" from Guys and Dolls. She did the first well, and the second competently.

Phew, I thought. We'll be home soon.

Except that the star adjudicator, the one with the lengthy CV that included the Stratford Festival, decided, as there were only three competitors, to hold a mini-workshop.

She asked younger daughter who the Chorus Line character is singing to.

Stammering and playing for time, younger daughter did what she always does when put on the spot - she tried to give the right answer. She started telling the adjudicator who Diana Morales is: "Her name's Diana, but the teacher calls her 'Morales'..."

Well, it turns out the adjudicator had an issue with all three singers, in their choice of audience, in their use of props -- very bewildering for three young women who had been coached to use props. For example, she didn't like younger daughter's using a chair because there's no chair on a stage during an audition.

Then she had all three girls sing, asking if younger daughter's accompanist were still there. (Of course she wasn't - accompanists can't hang around; they're rushing off to accompany someone else, usually in a different part of the city.) The accompanist for the other two young women said he could do it, and the adjudicator confused younger daughter further by requesting that she start with the opening monologue. There hadn't been one. The accompanist obligingly struck up in a different key than the one rehearsed, but he was playing from memory. Younger daughter managed -- and this is damned important -- she kept eye contact, as requested, with the adjudicator.

I thought of a day early last September when it took eight tries to get an ID photo because younger daughter was unable to look straight ahead, and I blessed her anxiety medication.

Afterward, we quickly repaired to the washroom to attempt to remove all that eye make-up. She hadn't brought make-up removal sheets, so I dampened toilet paper with water and tiny amounts of hand-soap.

I'm pretty sure that one of the other girls was weeping in the centre cubicle.

When we finally got home, we discovered that the written adjudication was surprisingly constructive. And the dreaded Sound of Music? Quite enjoyable, really.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Doing the subcontinental

A couple of years ago, I accidentally came across an extraordinary video. (I never actually look for these things; they always show up when I'm supposed to be doing something else.)

It's David Brubeck's "Take Five", but played on subcontinental instruments. I liked it so much that I shared it twice on Facebook.

It turns out that the viral video begat a documentary film and when it showed up on the calendar for the Bytowne Cinema, I knew I had to go!

I love that it's PG-rated for "violent images and smoking". (The violent scenes were from newscasts.)

The film opens with a man singing a haunting song, accompanying himself on a hand-pumped harmonium.  This is Nijat Ali, and the film introduces us gradually to him and several other Pakistani musicians struggling to keep their music alive in Lahore.  We learn that Lahore once had a thriving musical scene until a truly creepy guy named General Zia-ul-Haq took over and it was decreed that music was anti-Islamic.

Zia-ul-Haq eventually had his day, but it wasn't long until the Taliban stuck in their oars.  As a result, the musicians featured in this documentary were careful to play only in places with sound-proof walls.  Traditions were dying - it was hard to earn a living, and hard to train up sons (never daughters) in music.

Finally, a wealthy financier named Izzat Majeed, who remembered the "Jazz Ambassadors" visiting Pakistan when he was a young boy, made a bid to re-establish Lahore's reputation as a musical centre.  He remembered hearing Dave Brubeck all those years ago, and establishing the Sachal Studios and gathering musicians, recorded "Take Five", and put it on YouTube.  Brubeck, who heard this version before his death in 2012, sent a message expressing his admiration.

Not so long after that, they heard from Wynton Marsalis.  The second part of the film follows a select group of half a dozen musicians representing the Sachal Studio, as they make a great cultural leap in travelling to New York and performing with Marsalis and his jazz orchestra.  At Lincoln Center.  The men don't speak English nor read music.

The video below is one of the numbers they played, but is not from the film, but from a performance in Paris in August 2013.  (Which is odd, because as far as I can make out, the Lincoln Center performance took place in November 2013.)

There are three videos with the Wynton Marsalis Quintet and the Sachal Jazz Ensemble on Marsalis's YouTube station, but a fellow named Hassan Khan has a myriad of Sachal Orchestra videos, including several numbers with Marsalis, including this gem:

I was a bit worried about an aging violinist interviewed in Lahore in the first half of the film.  He wistfully tells us at the close of the documentary that the string section wasn't able to travel to New York. However, he is getting more chances to play; Sachal Orchestra has its own YouTube channel as well, and they've been recording their own versions of pop and rock tunes, among other things.

The documentary's co-director is Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, who is Pakistani herself and an Oscar-winner for her documentary Saving Face. The story of how a woman manages to make a film about an all-male group of musicians in a profession where women, if they participate at all, participate only as singers would make a documentary in itself. (You can read about the challenges here.)However, that's not just a Pakistani problem. You constantly hear Marsalis address his orchestra as "my brothers", because there's not a single female musician among them.

The music's great, all the same.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

The awful truth

I used to, thank goodness, keep journals of what the girls said when they were very young; otherwise their childhoods would have slipped away from me completely.

One morning, when elder daughter was three and a bit, she came to talk to me in my bed, as was her habit at the time. When I affectionately called her "baby", she protested: "I a girl!"
That's right, you used to be a baby, but I know you're a girl."

Thoughtful pause.

"Is you growing into a man?"
"No, I'm a woman. I'm grown. You'll grow into a woman too."
Disbelieving laughter.
"No! I a little girl!"
"Yes, but you will grow into a woman."
"No!" More laughter.
"What are you growing into, then?"
"A baby!"
"You've already been a baby, then a girl, then a woman. Daddy started out as a baby, then he was a boy, then he was a man.'

Slight pause.

"I'm going to tell him."

From the bathroom, I heard: "Is you a baby?", followed some time later by "Is you a man?" She got an affirmative answer to the second question.

During her birthday lunch today, we discussed the hurdles of her new job as communications specialist for a small but influential arts group, and told her our own work stories of eventually shedding the embarrassment of not knowing things in the beginning.

And that conversation was about growing up, too.

I'm so glad I wrote things down about the long-vanished little girl, as much as I love the woman she grew into.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Hazed and Confused

This morning, I glimpse rainbow-coloured macintoshes and arty umbrellas from the window as I sit on the bed and stretch. If I'm going to just get older, I might as well try to maintain the use of my trunk and limbs.

Younger daughter's clock radio is blaring vintage rock and pop tunes as she struggles to rise and face another school day. Enter the Resident Fan Boy in mid-rant.

"It's wall-to-wall Prince," he complains. "That's all CBC is playing downstairs and I come up here and it's 'Scuse me while I kiss this guy.'"

I peer at him from over my shoulder. I've never been all that flexible, so this isn't easy.

"Um, 'Purple Haze' isn't Prince."

The RFB doesn't register this, as he has now launched into a lecture on the laughability of eulogizing Prince's desire for privacy.

". . . he made a damn film about it!"

I straighten up from another stretch and try the other shoulder. "Yes, Purple Rain. 'Purple Haze' was Jimi Hendrix."

"What? Well, I never was a Prince fan, so I didn't keep track of his songs...."

"And it's my birthday and you're ranting," I say placidly.

He concedes my birthday and shuffles shamefacedly to the closet to change. I apply my makeup and smile out at the rain -- which isn't purple.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

The thousand natural shocks the flesh is heir to

Is it just one of those years, or the beginning of the avalanche as the boomers reach the end of the conveyer belt?

This is my favourite cover of a song by the artist now permanently known as Prince. Tom Jones was 49 when he recorded "Kiss", eight years younger than the age Prince was when he died today on the 90th birthday of the Queen.
Isn't life (and death) strange?

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Blink and you'll miss it

I was on my way to the coffee shop this morning and stopped short of the driveway. For the very first time, I saw the leave-buds starting to open.

This is a terrifyingly quick process in Hades. Once the leaves start bursting forth, the bare branches are liable to vanish by the end of the week, so I ran back into the house, grabbed my camera and set it on manual mode.

I ran back in, replaced my camera on the desk, re-alarmed the house, and set off for the coffee shop. I was wearing a warmish top, but no jacket. It was 5 degrees Celsius at 9 am, and even though I avoided the shade, my fingers began to sting a little.

The coffee shop staff had anticipated this.
Note the pale green of the grass. It was khaki a couple of days ago. Two days hence, it will likely be a poisonous green, and our brief spring will be over.

Unless it snows again.