Winter. I heard rain all night. Just before daybreak the rain stopped. Sky and earth remained gray, sodden. At midmorning I started out for a walk. Overcast sky, saturated yards, damp air. Light breeze from the south. I encountered a couple. They told me they walked four miles every morning. The man was 80; the woman was 78. I walked with them for several blocks. They told me that the lot with the circle marked by trees belonged to the church across the street. I told them I hope they didn’t plan to make a parking lot of it. They replied they didn’t think so, but last summer they parked some cars there for a big funeral. There was once a store there; when the storekeeper retired, he removed the store and sold the lot to the church. Thereafter I encountered nobody. The walk in damp coldness was good. The songs of birds served as a cheerful contrast to the grayness of the scenery.
Music for Winter. A contemporary song cycle, Sting, “If on a Winter’s Night….” 2009. Sting collects fifteen songs related to the season. Some are traditional Christmas songs: “Gabriel’s Message,” “There Is No Rose of Such Virtue,” “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming,” “Cherry Tree Carol.” The instrumentations are helpful in casting the songs in a non-traditional light. “Soul-Cake” by Stookey, Batteast, and Mezzetti, gives a rollicking and festive mood. The traditional “The Snow It Melts the Sooneth” is lovely and simple (vocal, guitar, bass).
Sting’s performance of “Cherry Tree Carol” is what a performance of a medieval ballad should be: simple (vocal and guitar), and emphasizing the lyrics by careful phrasing and vocal technique. I particularly liked the vocal slide and lift on the last word before the repeated lines.
Most of the songs are dark. “Christmas at Sea,” lyrics by Robert Louis Stevenson and music by Sting and Mary Macmaster, presents regrets of a sailor working hard in bitter cold and freezing conditions on a ship on Christmas Day, in sight of the house where he was born and where his family is celebrating. Sting includes two pieces by English composer Henry Purcell (17th century) “Cold Song” and “Now Winter Comes Slowly,” both slow and dark. He includes a lullaby, “Balulalow” by Peter Warlock. Warlock’s music often takes me to the center of the idea directly and intensely, and the result is startling. This piece is a good example. “The Burning Babe,” music by Chris Wood, lyrics by Robert Southwell, presents the image of the infant Jesus burning in agony for sinners in the middle of the winter air. Sixteenth century poetry and contemporary rock music here go well together.
Sting includes original pieces, a love song on the distresses of love, “The Hounds of Winter,” the beautiful “You Only Cross My Mind in Winter,” based on J.S. Bach’s Sarabande from the Sixth Cello suite, the “Lullaby for an Anxious Child,” with significant lines, “I can’t help the look of accusation in your eyes,” “The world is broken now, / All in sorrow, /Wise men hang their heads.” “All the strength I’ll need to fight I’ll find inside your eyes.”
The penultimate piece is included in honor of Schubert’s Winterreise, his “Hurdy-Gurdy Man.” It presents a man starving, freezing in the rain, soon to die of cold and starvation, and perhaps from the attack of hungry dogs. “Watching you, old man, / I see myself in you / One day I will play / The hurdy-gurdy too.”
This is magnificent music by a talented, knowledgeable, dedicated musician. It is for serious listening and reflection.
Non-fiction. Anne-Marie Ferguson, A Keeper of Words: The Arthurian Tarot. Ferguson has designed the traditional tarot card deck to correlate to the legends of Arthur. It is a good meditation device to look at the cards, reading both the traditional interpretations of the meanings of the card and an associated legend about the character, characters, or place on the card. I am studying three or four a day.
Fiction. Clyde Edgerton, Walking Across Egypt. I borrowed a copy from friends, but I shall buy a copy, re-read it, and place it on the shelf of books I love. The lyrics to that 1950’s song “Dear Hearts and Gentle People” come time mind. We Southerners all know women like Mattie. The humor of the characters and situations is tempered by the all-too-real situation of Mattie’s “slowing down” because of age. This is deft writing. Here is a writing I admire.
Play. Tennessee Williams, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. This was Williams’s favorite play. The disgust character Brick feels, mendacity, becomes a big theme of the play, as it affects the characters and as it relates to the them of rivalry in who will control the inheritance of lucrative property. There are Brick’s realization of his fatal failure in his relationship with his best friend, Big Daddy’s insistence on tolerance, and Maggie’s determination, rooted in her weakness, to triumph. Watching a recording of the play from “American Playhouse” with Jessica Lange, Tommy Lee Jones, Rip Torn, convinces me of the difficulty of the roles. I will budget the price of a ticket if the revival is still playing in New York City when I am there again.
Thank you for reading. I hope you are enjoying winter and other good things in your life.