Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas in Bethlehem

Some more-or-less random YouTube clips mostly of this year's news coverage ...

Thousands in Bethlehem for traditional Christmas procession. Thousands of Palestinians and tourists flock into the West Bank city of Bethlehem to mark Christmas in the "little town" where many believe Jesus Christ was born. The traditional Christmas procession headed by the Latin Patriarch Fuad Twal marched through the city, as tourists and Palestinians -- Muslims and Christians alike -- lined the route to welcome it. Duration: 00:50

Thousands flock to Bethlehem for Christmas AFP story - scout bands playing bagpipes

The scouts bands, from Ramallah and other West Bank cities as well as Bethlehem, march in parades for Christmas, Easter and the big Muslim holidays, according to a BBC News audio slideshow from March 2010: "The scouts and marching bands are a legacy of the British mandate from 1920 to 1948, but it is the Scottish cultural connection that now resonates with some Palestinians, who see historical parallels with their own struggle against Israeli occupation."

Published on Dec 24, 2012

Midnight Mass Celebrated in Bethlehem. Midnight mass was celebrated at the Church of St. Catherine, in Bethlehem, the West Bank. The church sits next to the Church of the Nativity, which is built above the grotto where tradition says Jesus was born.

Faithful in Bethlehem as Christmas mass urges peace. Thousands of people stream into the West Bank city of Bethlehem to mark Christmas, as the Latin Patriarch urges "men of good will" to seek peace in the Middle East.Duration: 00:59

General background on Bethlehem, tourism and Christmas on the Jewish News One TV channel:

Here in Bethlehem, the Christmas season is a highpoint of the year. Thousands of visitors travel to the Holy Land to celebrate the holiday in one of Christianity's most revered sites. number shrinking - iraeli military control - bleak economic prospects

Wynne Mancini of JN1 cites iraeli military control - bleak economic as reasons for exodus of Christians from Bethlehem, which is now only about 30 percent Christian.

Din klara sol går åter opp - Swedish hymn (with link to sheet music in D in an old songbook)

Nordiska psalmodikonförbundet

DrFrax | September 27, 2010

Din klara sol går åter opp ... ett smakprov från Nordiska psalmodikonförbundets CD-skiva Psalmer och visor på psalmodikon inspelad i Stjärnhov i juli 2010. Kan beställas från NPsF hemsida www.npsalmodikonforbundet.se CD-skiva Psalmer och visor på psalmodikon inspelad i Stjärnhov i juli 2010. Kan beställas från NPsF hemsida www.npsalmodikonforbundet.se

Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland has Psalmbok has text and melody line only. A PDF file is available in Projekt Runeberg from the Svensk söndagsskolsångbok för hem, skolor och barngudstjänster (1929). In four-part harmony in D.

Text, melody (in MIDI file ) and embedded YouTube video on Stora Nätpsalmboken 2012 - Soli Deo Gloria weblog.

Text (=SvPs1986 nr 176): Johan Olof Wallin 1814 (35 år), bearb.

Musik: Tysk 1710

Denna psalm var under många år på 1800- och 1900-talet förknippad med skolornas morgonböner. Dess korthet och melodins enkelhet gjorde den passande för ändamålet, men den något pliktbetonade situationen har kanske inte bidragit till att göra den helt älskad. Tredje strofen löd tidigare: O, må jag så med flit och dygd / och måtta i begär / än kunna glädjas i ditt skygd / var dag, du mig beskär. Psalmkommitténs fina bearbetning kan förhoppningsvis bidra till att psalmen fortlever och verkligen sjungs med "glädje i Gud."

English version on CyberHymnal website (at www.hymntime.com) under title "Again Thy Glorious Sun Doth Rise." First verse:
Again Thy glorious sun doth rise,
I praise Thee, O my Lord;
With courage, strength, and hope renewed,
I touch the joyful chord.
Three more verses. No. 545 in the Augustana Synod's 1925 Hymnal.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Holy Land (1 of ___): Church of the Nativity ... with tangents on Mark Twain and a Reformation-era Christmas carol

We do not think, in the holy places; we think in bed, afterwards, when the glare, and the noise, and the confusion are gone, and in fancy we resisit along, the solemn monuments of the past, and summon the phantom pageants of an age that has passed away. -- Mark Twain, "Innocents Abroad" (393).
Last month when I was in Bethlehem, I decided I'd break out in uncontrollable laughter the next time I heard the Christmas carol "O little town of Bethlehem / How still we see thee lie." Well, we sang it today in church. I was able to maintain decorum, other than a broad smile and some furtive whispering back in the choir loft. But it wasn't easy.

So, you're asking, what was so funny?

Well, this: Twenty-first-century Bethlehem is a bustling Arab city of 25,000, part of a metro area that also includes Shepherds Field or Beit Sahour (population 12,000) and the Dheisheh refugee camp (population estimated at 13,000). When I was there, Bethlehem didn't strike me as lying very still, and its "deep and dreamless sleep" was punctuated before dawn by the day's first Muslim call to prayer, followed by the nearly incessant crowing of roosters outside our hotel window until it was fully light.

"O little town of Bethlehem / How still we see thee lie"

Now I did have Christmas carols running through my head. That omes with the territory when you're in Bethlehem, especially if you write articles about hymnody and folk music. But "O Little Town of Bethlehem" wasn't one of them (even though I do like Ralph Vaughan Williams' melody FOREST GREEN that the Brits sing the text to). The song that's been running through my head instead is an old northern European carol Et barn er født i betlehem (a child is born in Bethlehem). The song is very old, with a Latin version going back to the earliest days of the Reformation in Germany. In 1820 Nicolai F.S. Grundtvig translated it into Danish, and his translation is the basis for versions in all the Scandinavian languages:

Et barn er født i Betlehem
Ti gleder seg, Jerusalem.
Alleluja, alleluja!
An English paraphrase, quite loosely translated but true to the overall sense of Grundtvig's Danish, is available on Douglas D. Anderson's Hymns and Carols of Christmas website:
1. A Child is Born in Bethlehem,
in Bethlehem;
And gladness fills Jerusalem,
Allelujah! Allelujah!

2. A lowly manger shelters Him,
This Holy Boy.
God's angels sing above with joy.
Allelujah! Allelujah!

3. We now give thanks eternally,
To God, the Holy Trinity,
Allelujah! Allelujah!

In 1993 the noted Norwegian singer Sondre Bratland included Et barn er født i betlehem on his CD Rosa fra Betlehem, recorded in the Church of the Nativity. His vocal was backed by Knut Reiersrud on synthesizer, Iver Kleive on guitar, Paolo Vinaccia on hand drums and Palestinian artist Suheil Khoury on flute. The Palestinian Boys' Choir (Palestinisk barnekor) of Ramallah sang the chorus.

But what makes the CD special is the church. Its acoustics were magnificant. Visitors have mixed feelings about the church itself. least according to the reactions posted by vistors. ""This is a tough one to rate," begins one of the reviews on the TripAdvisor.com website.

High altar with Orthodox iconostasis

The review, by JoeOB of Denver, gave it a rating of 3 oout of 5 possible. "I'd like to tell you about the great religious experience you will have but I have to tell you it's very tough to have those moments here because of the sheer mass of people moving thru," he said. "As a tourist the beauty of the church and the special chance to see the birthplace of Christ is memorable, however ..." The mass of pushing, shoving people also irritated 2007sweet16, of Orlando, who said, "I had barely one second to press my camera button to take a picture before I was summoned to "MOVE IT and to GET OUT LADY."

Most reviews mentioned the crowds. But they also mentioned what many saw as the grandeur of the place. Mark G, of Chalfont, Pa., gave it top rating (5 of 5). "Bethlehem is very poor but as you approach the Church of the Nativity you begin to feel that you're in a special place<' he said. [T]his is a very old church and not like any church you'll see as you tour European cathedrals, this is much smaller and to imagine all that has happened on this spot is mind boggling! ...

Basilica (note opening over 4th-century mosaic at left)

More than a hundred years ago Mark Twain, in "Innocents Abroad," had the same mixed reaction: "I touch, with reverent finger, the actual spot where the infant Jesus lay, but I think - nothing." He explained:

You cannot think in this place any more than you can in any other in Palestine that would be likely to inspire reflection. Beggars, cripples and monks compass you about, and make you think only of backsheesh when you would rather think of something more in keeping with the character of the spot. (392)
"Baksheesh," according to Wikipedia, is an act of charitable giving, a tip, a bribe or a combination of the three. It was much more prevalent in 1867, when Mark Twain visited the area. A few of the 21st-century tourists who posted to the Trip Advisor mentioned free-lance guides who worked for tips, but more spoke of how pleasant and knowledgeable their Palestinian tour guides were said.

Even visitors like luvs2travel_0107 of Nashville, who complained of "rude and pushy" crowds at the Church of the Nativity, added, "It is total chaos. But having said that, it is a special place. So i guess trying to put any kind of restrictions on it, would be hard."

The Church of the Nativity dates from 326 CE, and Orthodox, Armenian and Latin Catholic clergy have been have been adding devotional art ever since. It was crowded and noisy when we were there in November, and some of the art – a lot of it – seemed kitschy to our eyes, a kaleidoscope of different styles and periods.

We stood in line, five or six deep, for a good hour in the outer basilica. But it wasn't like standing in line anywhere else I've ever had that dubious privilege. The curent building was first erected in the sixth century, and has been added to or refurbished several times since then. Visible through a hole in the floor is a mosaic (see picture at left above) that belonged to the original shrine erected in the 300s by St. Helena, mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine.

In Illinois, we get excited when archeologists turn up a teacup dating from the 1830s. In the basilica of the Nativity, there were pillars, paintings and mosiacs still in use that date to the Middle Ages and the late Roman Empire. (I learned later there's even a mosaic showing St. Olav of Norway, although I didn't see it.) The sense of history in Bethlehem was palpable.

In front of us was a group of Russian or Ukranian pilgrims. At least they spoke what sounded like a Slavic language, and they kept pushing and shoving like they were elbowing onto a Moscow city bus. At the same time, you could sense in their faces they were pilgrims, not tourists, as they bought devotional candles in an alcove off the high altar (see picture at right) and prayed in the grotto beneath the high altar that marks the traditional site, marked by a silver star in the marble floor, of the manger and of Christ's birth.

Like so many of the major holy sites, the whole experience left some of our group grumbling about money-changers in the temple and feeling disappointed.

But …

But, in a word, it was magnificent. And you had a sense of the mystery of incarnation, of the divine and the temporal, the eternal and grubby day-to-day reality - of the "holy boy" sheltered in a "lowly manger" down in the grotto while "God's angels sing above with joy" that Grundtvig sang of - and a sense it's been going on for 1,500 years in that same building.

A footnote (or two). Quotations from "Innocents Abroad" are from Chapter 55 of the Wordsworth Classics edition, edited by Stuart Hutchinson (London, 2010). The song is very old, with a Latin version going back to ___th-century Germany. It is very popular in Scandinavia, and is sung to different melodies. In addition to the tune Sondre Bratland followed, by 19th-century hymnist and folk song collector Ludvig Lindeman, you commonly hear:

Saturday, December 01, 2012

"Love Cannot Be Silenced" - Catholic sisters' song and (almost but not quite yet viral) YouTube video get a plug in the New York Times

A song by Sister Kathy Sherman, CSJ, of the Congregation of St. Joseph, LaGrange Park in southwest suburban Cook County, got a boost in an article in Saturday's New York Times. The story, by Times religion correspondent Laurie Goodstein. is pretty glowing.

But, first, the song. It has a nice upbeat, post-Vatican II folk music-y feel to it. Very singable. It could easily be by Marty Haugen or the St. Louis Jesuits.

Here's the YouTube video, with this note appended: "Photos are from prayer services, vigils, peaceful demonstrations, Masses, and other gatherings in support of women religious in the United States in May and June of 2012 in response to the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith's assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and various other investigations and criticisms of Sisters in the U.S.

The Congregation of St. Joseph's Ministry of the Arts website at La Grange has Sister Kathy's most recent CD Love Cannot Be Silenced available for $12.95 (plus shipping and handling). She has several other CDs in print.

Laurie Goodstein, the Times' religion reporter, gives this account:

Last spring, when the Vatican issued a harsh assessment of the group representing a majority of American nuns accusing them of “serious doctrinal problems,” Sister Sherman, 60, said she responded the way she always does when she feels something deeply. She wrote a song.

The words popped into her head two days after the Vatican’s condemnation, as she was walking down the hallway in her order’s ministry center, feeling hurt and angry: “Love cannot be silenced,” she thought. “It never has. It never will.” She went into the center’s dining room and tried out the lyrics on some of her sisters. They liked the message.

“Love Cannot be Silenced” became an anthem, not just for the nuns but also for laypeople who turned out for vigils in front of churches and cathedrals across the country this year to support them. In a voice sweet and resolute, Sister Sherman sang, “We are faithful, loving and wise, dancing along side by side, with a Gospel vision to lead us and Holy Fire in our eyes” — a lyric that evokes the nuns’ novel forging of spirit with steel.

The lyrics, which are available with the YouTube video and several other places on the Web, are:
Love cannot be silenced. It never has. It never will. Let justice roll like a river from the oceans to the hills.

Rise up Sisters. Rise up. And stand with you your heads held high. We are faithful, loving, and wise. Dancing along side by side. With a Gospel vision to lead us. And Holy Fire in our eyes.

Sister Kathy has written a number of songs. Earlier this year, "at the height of the political vitriol in the last presidential election," she wrote a song she titled “This Is the America I Believe In.” It's also on YouTube:

Sister Kathy's note on the song:

"This Is the America I Believe In" was written in response to the great divide that presently exists in the political landscape of our country. At times, the contention between candidates is both sad and disheartening.I had been remembering my days of singing protest songs during the 1960s. Music was integral to the work of justice in those years. It was important for artists, dreamers and activists to speak up and out and to remind the country of what we hold dear-the values that gave birth to our wonderful nation. It still is. Reading the signs of the times informs my vocation as a composer and lyricist. Engaging with the world and the pain and suffering that beset it become the fertile soil for dreams and songs to emerge. We are presently enmeshed in the great American political process of choosing the president of the United States. This privilege is, perhaps, one that many of us take for granted. The seriousness of our time calls us to prayerfully discern when choosing leadership in any arena and when making important decisions that impact the common good. Our shared love for America transcends political affiliations. That is the message of "This Is the America I Believe In."
So far the New York Times story has gotten a mention in a Catholic blog in New York City under the headline "The zinging nun: sister writes anthem against Vatican rebuke." The blog, which links to the video without comment, is by Greg Kandra, a Roman Catholic deacon serving the Diocese of Brooklyn. A longtime broadcast journalist, he writes a blog called "The Deacon's Bench" on the Patheos website offering "global dialogue on religion and spirituality through responsible, moderated discussions on critical issues across religious traditions' and "commentary on current events from a wide range of viewpoints."

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

I. D. Stamper dulcimer at Berea College

Now that I've finished my article for Dulcimer Players News, I've got time to post this picture -- I've wanted to since I got home from Berea at the end of October ...

It's a dulcimer by I.D. Stamper on display in the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center at Berea College. The card on the dulcimer in the display case reads as follows:

Isaac D. Stamper. 60s ... This dulcimer seems to be the only one he made. The wide body and high narrow fretboard set this instrument apart from the typical Kentucky-style dulcimer.
That they do. It looks like some of the big, booming bass dulcimers that Don Pedi likes to play.

I'm not sure that it's the only instrument Stamper made, though. When I mentioned it to Stephen Seifert, who was also in Berea for Alan Mills' exhibit "Kentucky Made: Art and Craft of the Mountain Dulcimer," Steve recalled playing another one. In any event, Stamper made very few dulcimers, but it's clear from listening to his old cassette tape that he must have modified the instrument to get the characteristic sound of his playing.

Bonus picture. Also on display in the Loyal Jones center, placards carried by Berea College students to protest a proposed relaxation of federal strip mine regulations.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Worshiping in Arabic at Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem

When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Acts 2.6-11.

* * *

Ich verkündige euch grosse Freude. - Lucas 2.10 [stained-glass window in Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church]

The Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, worries that the Holy Land is becoming a "Christian theme park" where busloads of tourists rush through the holy sites - including those in his own city - but no Palestinian Christians remain as a living presence. On Nov. 11, shortly before the current escalation of violence in Gaza, he touched briefly on the theme.

"They run where Jesus used to walk," he said at his Sunday morning service. "By doing that, they miss what God is doing in this land today."

Christmas Evangelical Lutheran Church in downtown Bethlehem.

Certainly there were worshipers present who'd been doing their share of running from holy site to holy site. In addition to the group I accompanied from St. John's Lutheran Church in Rock Island, Illinois, there were groups from Oregon and California, and Pr. Rahrib welcomed others in German. A fourth American group, from Connecticut, was snowed in at home and unable to make a planned trip to the Holy Land.

But it was also clear God is doing a lot at Christmas Lutheran Church.

Sunday's service had the familiar ebb, flow and rhythm of what Lutherans call the liturgy of the Word.

Visitors from Illinois in the nave before Sunday's service.

But the service was in Arabic, "the language of our people," as the bulletin noted. I found it an unexpectedly moving experience as I joined in worshiping in an unfamiliar language, aided by translations and transliterations in the service bulletin. Was the first Pentecost something like this?

Sunday's service began with Psalm 90, and a sung response, in Arabic, set to a harmonized melody that wouldn't sound out of place in any of the American Lutheran hymnals. An opening hymn, "How Great Thou Art," originally Swedish but most familiar to Americans perhaps from Billy Graham's use of it during the altar call in his crusades.

The Confession of Sin, the Kyrie and the Absolution were all in Arabic. As was the Gloria, "All glory be to God on high ...," followed by the Prayer for the Day.

The service bulletin was set up so I could follow the English translations and recite the transliterated Arabic, and it all came together.

At first I tried singing the service music - the Kyrie, the Gloria and liturgical responses - in English, but I couldn't hold the cadence, so I switched to singing the Arabic transliteration and found it emotionally satisfying to be blending my voice with with the Arabic speakers in the congregation.

Again, I felt echoes of the first Pentecost.

The First Lesson from the letters of St. Paul (Romans 14-7-9) and the Gospel (Luke 17:20-24) were read by two American pastors who were present with their tour groups. When we recited the Creed, I noticed the English translation for the phrase we recite at "the holy catholic Church" was "holy uniting Church," closer to its original meaning in Latin. It was followed by another familiar American hymn, "All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name," with our English-speaking voices blending together with the Arabic speakers' and held together by the meter of the hymn supported by the organ.

The organ, by the way, is magnificant. It is German, manufactured in Berlin around 1890, and it was rebuilt recently through a fund-raising campaign in Minneapolis.

As we came to the Lord's Prayer, the service bulletin noted, "You are invited to pray in your own language." We did. And the cadence, in English and Arabic alike, blended together perfectly. I've been told that always happens, no matter what the languages, whenever the Lord's Prayer is recited. The effect, again, was profoundly moving.

So was the closing hymn. It was an English version of "Fairest Lord Jesus," best known to Scandinavian-American Lutherans in a slightly different translation from the original German (by way of the old Dano-Norwegian dialect used for books) as "Beautiful Savior."

Lutherans in Bethlehem?

Well, yes. Of the 300,000 Christians in Israel and the West Bank, more than half are Eastern Orthodox and the others belong to a broad array of mostly Eastern denominations and (Latin) Catholics. But there are seven Lutheran churches, established in the 1800s and serving indigenous Palestinian congregations. Founded in 1854 by German missionaries, Christmas Lutheran Church (Evangelisch Lutherische Weihnachtskirke) is the oldest of six Lutheran congregations around Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

The building dates from the 1890s, its theme echoed in a late Romantic stained-glass window (pictured at right above) that shows an angel with European features announcing glad tidings of

great joy to a group of shepherds in the foreground. More recent Arabic calligraphy in a cupola (at left) spells out the angel's message in Arabic.

During the mid-1900s, the church's German missionaries pastors were replaced by Palestinians who studied in Europe. (Raheb's doctorate in theology is from Phillips University in Marburg, Germany.) Its congregation numbers 250, and it has active ministries for youth and elders alike.

In addition to conducting services for the Lutheran community in Bethlehem and its nearby villages and refugee camps, Raheb has established an umbrella organization known as the Diyar Consortium that is responsible for the administration of the International Center of Bethlehem, the Dar Al-Kalima Health & Wellness Center and the Dar Al-Kalima College. (“Diyar” [Arabic: ديار‎] is the plural of “dar” [Arabic: دار‎], meaning “house” or “homeland” in Arabic), according to its profile on Wikipedia.

There's something else, too.

Raheb has long been concerned about the ongoing outmigration of Christians from the Middle East, especially Palestine. He sees the Christian churches as a bridge between East and West, and he sees the Palestinians as providing a "living witness" to Christianity at its place of origin. Let alone such mundane functions as maintaining the holy sites. In his book I Am a Palestinian Christian (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995), he writes:

If the Christians disappear from Palestine, much of the Holy Land will be transformed into ruins - churches and other buildings can be photographed but not attended as places in which to worship. They will be turned into amusement parks rather than sites of witness. For after all, the value of the land lies in its people and living stones, not ruins. The value lies in its faithful inhabitants, not tourists.

If the Christians disappear from Palestine, the legacy of 1300 years of joint Christian-Islamic heritage will be lost - a heritage of coexistence, interrelationships, and peace that we have bequeathed to the world.

Raheb wrote nearly 20 years ago, in a much more hopeful time than our own. But that hope clearly remained alive Sunday morning at Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Related? German chorale Der Tag, der ist so freudenreich and Norwegian carols I denne søde juletid and Et lidet barn så lysteligt

I know it from Bukkene Bruse's Den Fagraste Rosa / The Loveliest Rose , and they in turn got it from Kirsten Bråten Berg (see the YouTube clip posted here Oct. ___). They explain, "Melodien til denne høytidsstemte Brorson-salmen har vi etter Kirsten Bråten Berg. Den minner svært mye om den første tonen vi bruker på 'Et lidet Barn saa lystelig'." (Their translation, which omits the reference to Brorson, is, "We learned the melody for this hymn from folksinger Kirsten Bråten Berg. It is quite similar to the first melody we used in the previous tune.") The two melodies *are* similar, and I believe they must be related in oral tradition. Both would appear to be in the same tune family as Bach's organ prelude and chorale Der Tag, der ist so freudenreich (BVW 605 and 294 respectively) although I haven't found anything yet that nails down the relationship(s).

Suffice to say (for now) that the Norwegian songs go back to a very early stratum of northern European Christmas songs.

Hymnary website has lyrics at http://www.hymnary.org/hymn/ELH/150 from Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary

Author: H. A. Brorson, 1694-1764 Translator: C. Døving, 1867-1937 Tune: DER TAG, DER IST SO FREUDENREICH Arranger: C. C. N. Balle, 1806-55
First verse, in Doving's translation, is as follows:
In this our happy Christmastide
The joyful bells are ringing;
To praise be all our pow'rs applied,
God's grace and mercy singing;
In Him by whom the world was made,
Now in the lowly manger laid,
Rejoice we in the spirit;
Thy praise, O Savior, we will sound
Unto the earth's remotest bound,
That all the world shall hear it.
There are eight more verses.

Another Hymnary.org listing at http://www.hymnary.org/text/der_tag_der_ist_so_freudenreich attributes it to Martin Luther and gives several German text-only instances in PDF format. Adds: "Dies est laetitiae, In ortu regali. [Christmas.] This Christmas hymn or carol, which Luther spoke of as a work of the Holy Spirit, seems to be of German origin, and is probably not earlier than the 14th century."

Gleaned elsewhere on the Web:

I denne søde juletid (In This Our Happy Christmastide). Karaoke video med alle 7 vers med dansk og engelsk tekst spillet af Erling Jan Sørensen.

J.S. Bach - Der Tag, der ist so freudenreich. Hans-Andre Stamm performs Bach on the Trost organ of the Stadtkirche in Waltershausen.

In the Missouri Synod's 1941 hymnal as "Hail the Day So Rich in Cheer" (No. 78). Companion to the 1941 edition says the hymn - the text - comes down from the Latin Dies est laetitiae ... "James Mearns thinks it is of German origin. He further states that Luther spoke of this hymn as a work of the Holy Spirit. It is found in Latin and German versions, but the author and the original text cannot be determined" (64).

Some old notes on Brorson's Danish text reprinted in the online Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary Handbook, which translates the title as "In this our happy Christmastide":

GLORY to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14). Under the following title the hymn appeared in 1732, as the last of A Few Christmas Hymns, etc. The seventh stanza was added in the edition of Troens rare Klenodie, 1739. The hymn was included in the hymnal of Pontoppidan, but not in the Evangelisk kristelige Psalmebog. Concerning this hymn Skaar says: “It may be regarded as the best of all hymns of Brorson. In times of great trial, when the songs of joy were blended with weeping and sighing, this hymn has given expression to the innermost feelings of the heart and it has likewise been sung as the hymn of triumph upon the deathbed. A pious woman found in this hymn great comfort in the hour of death and passed through her last struggle with these words upon her lips: ‘Now Christ is mine, I can depart to be with Him for ever’” (seventh stanza). In his estimate of Brorson’s Christmas hymns, L. Maltesen says: “No one has before or since sung in such a manner concerning Christmas;” and the Swedish hymnologist Söderberg refers to it as follows: “Brorson excels especially as the Christmas psalmist, and some of his hymns to the nativity of Christ have virtually become folksongs.” Rudelbach expresses it in this manner: “Brorson’s Christmas hymns sound like heavenly music.” They are permeated with deep sincerity and holy zeal. (Notes on Brorson may be found under No. 179.) Our English translation is by Rev. Carl Døving, 1908. [Dahle, Library of Christians Hymns]

An meditation by Kirsten Weiss Mose of the diocese of Copenhagen in Kirken i København Oct. 2010 on I denne søde juletid and Brorson's text:

’I denne søde juletid’ er let at misforstå. Ikke mindst fordi den begynder, som den gør. Umiddelbart kan man nemlig så let forbinde ordene om den søde juletid og den rette fornøjelse fra salmens første linjer med en let traver. Og misforståelserne bliver ikke mindre oplagte, fordi den så ofte synges på melodien til ’Et lidet barn så lysteligt’. Men i virkeligheden giver salmen et af de fineste salmebud på en forklaring af, hvorfor vi fejrer, at Jesus blev født, og hvordan det gøres.

Monday, October 22, 2012

D R A F T - 'Kentucky Made': Celebration of historic dulcimers at Berea College

Editor's note [OK, OK, we're in a new day, so I guess it's a blogger's note]: A collection of historic dulcimers, and replicas made by Dr. Alan Mills of Berea College, is on display this month in the Doris Ulmann Gallery on campus in Berea. Sunday he gave a gallery talk to introduce the exhibition, titled “Kentucky Made: The Art and Craft of the Mountain Dulcimer.” The event was part of the college's 39th Celebration of Traditional Music, supported by the L. Allen Smith Memorial Fund.

The three-day celebration also featured performances, a live taping of a TV show and master classes by Galax-style dulcimer artist Phyllis Gaskins of Virginia, who was this year's L. Allen Smith Performer. Attending the gallery talk Sunday afternoon were 75 people, including Jean Ritchie, and Stephen Siefert demonstrated the unique sound of the instruments.

I'm drafting an article for Dulcimer Players News on Mills' exhibit and his work making replicas of historic dulcimers by "Uncle Ed" Thomas, Jethro Amburgey, John Tignor and Homer Ledford, as well as displaying dulcimers by contemporary luthier Warren May whose shop is catty-corner across the street from the college in downtown Berea. In the meantime, I'm putting some of my own pictures on line to illustrate the gallery talk. The Latin-looking gobbledygook is "lorem ipsum" dummy text used in publication design. I'm using it to separate the pictures until I get a chance to come back and write the blog post.

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Warren May and Alan Mills chat with Jean Ritchie.

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Alan Mills shows a Homer Ledford dulcimer made of wood from Berea College's Howard Hall.

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Stephen Siefert plays a dulcimer made by "Uncle Ed" Thomas.

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An overflow crowd packed into Berea's Doris Ulmann Gallery. (Pictures at left and below.)

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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Monday, October 15, 2012

Directory of mountain dulcimer tab

A dozen links at http://grandolddulcimerclub.org/ put up by Nashville Grand Old Dulcimer Club -- looks like it's been up there a while, but it's a very handy portal page, and I'm posting it here so I don't lose it.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Big band jazz arrangment of Min Kvedarlund with vocalist Kirsten Bråten Berg backed by the Arendal Big Band

An arrangement of the title track of Kirsten Bråten Berg's 1993 CD, Min Kvedarlund ("my grove of traditional songs"). A lund is a grove or garden, and kvedar were traditional singers who specialized in stev, i.e. "a type of monostrophic folk poetry in special metrical patterns sung to traditional and mostly very old tunes" (Nils Grende, A History of Norwegian Music, trans. William H. Halverson and Leland B. Sateren [Lincoln: U of Nebraska Press, 1991]: 74. There! Aren't you glad you know?) I haven't been able to find liner notes, but I think the song is is a composition of Berg's based on at least two stev songs, which are typically very short, consisting of one four-line stanza.

The YouTube clip has a pretty good translation of the title:

Setesdal, Garden of Ancient Songs, Kirsten Bråten Berg/Arendal Big Band. Uploaded by egilso on Oct 12, 2010. KBB performs with ABB in Arendal Kulturhus 14.08.10. Vocals: Kirsten Bråten Berg. Director and arranger: Fred Sturm.

Arendal Big Band's website (in Norwegian) at http://www.arendalbigband.no/. According to Wikipedia, Arendal is a city of 41,000 on the south coast of Norway. A lot of immigrants on East Coast came from Arendal, "as a great deal of Norwegian sailors, trimmers, shipbuilders and carpenters from Arendal settled in areas of New York such as Brooklyn, the Staten Island neighborhood of Port Richmond, and several industrial centers in Northern New Jersey such as Jersey City, Bayonne, Perth Amboy and Elizabeth." Kirsten Bråten Berg was born in Arendal. She now lives in Stetesdal, an inland area to the northwest.

LATER (July 19, 2015). While I was doing something else, I came across an audio file on YouTube at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iNQhDbtuKdg of the original CD track, apparently copied from a later compilation called Nordisk Sang (Nordic Song), which is where I first heard it. "Min Kverdarlund" by Ale Møller, Hallvard T. Bjørgum, Kirsten Bråten Berg & Tellef Kvifte. Haunting piece of music.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

"Star of the County Down" / KINGSFOLD - hymn tune arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams

As usual, Wikipedia has all the basics:
"Star of the County Down" is an old Irish ballad set near Banbridge in County Down, in Northern Ireland. The words are by Cathal McGarvey (1866–1927) from Ramelton, County Donegal.[1] The tune, a pentatonic melody, is similar to that of several other works, including the almost identical English tune "Kingsfold", well known from several popular hymns, such as "Led By the Spirit". The folk tune was the basis for Ralph Vaughan Williams' Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus.
It is commonly played both as a reel and a waltz. Some Irish sessions play both, "3x waltz time, followed by 3x march time in a set."

The melody is also that of "Dives and Lazarus" -- an English folksong Child ballad 56 in Francis James Childs' authoritative 19th-century collection. Some YouTube versions below: (1) the waltz; (2) two clips of "Dives and Lazarus," one by English guitarist Martin Simpson and one by Maddy Prior, formerly of Steeleye Span; (3), the hymn setting by English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams to the text "I heard the voice of Jesus say ..."; and (4) Williams' instrumental theme and variations on "Dives and Lazarus."

Karen and Cort play Star of the County Down Swannanoa. Uploaded by Poodlepups on Aug 17, 2008. Karen and Cort "Dangerman" perform at the Swannanoa open mike during dulcimer week.

Dives and Lazarus - Martin Simpson

Maddy Prior - Dives and Lazarus

I Heard The Voice Of Jesus Say. Uploaded by jamjar30002000 on May 21, 2010. Part of an afternoon of worship at Prince George Winyah Episcopal Church, Georgetown, SC. www.pgwinyah.org

Vaughan Williams "Dives and Lazarus" - Stokowski conducts. Vaughan Williams's Five Variants of "Dives and Lazarus" for Strings and Harp ... This performance also comes from New York, given by the CBS Radio Orchestra on 7 February 1954 under the direction of Leopold Stokowski. He was a fellow student of Vaughan Williams at the Royal College of Music in the 1890s and a long-time champion of the composer's music.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

I denne søte juletid (NoS 44)

Kirsten Bråten Berg - I denne søte juletid ("Julefolk", 2011)

Traditional tune with lyrics by Hans Adolph Brorson (1694-1764). The title means "In this sweet Christmas-time". Kirsten Bråtern Berg with Sigbjørn Apeland, pump organ, and Sigrid Moldestad, hardingfele (Hardanger fiddle). From the NRK Christmas programme "Julefolk" ("Christmas Folk"), Dec. 2011.

Detailed background in Brorson-bloggen til Leif Haugen. Haugen describes the blog like this: "Om den danske presten, biskopen og salmedikteren Hans Adolph Brorson." This song is perhaps Brorson's most well known. Says Haugen:

Salmen er skrevet av H. A. Brorson i 1732. Vi finner den i Landstads Kirkesalmebog som nummer 134 med tittelen I denne søde Juletid, i Landstads reviderte salmebok som nummer 21 med tittelen I denne søte juletid og i Norsk Salmebok (NoS) som nummer 44 med tittelen I denne glade juletid. På dansk står salmen i salmeboken som nummer 109 med syv strofer, mens vi i Norsk Salmebok bare har den med seks strofer.

It is also in in Den Danske Salmebog No. 109 w/ lyrics in Danish and a MIDI file - Melodi fra 15. årh./Joseph Klug 1533 [Mel.: Et lidet barn så lysteligt].

Another very old Norwegian carol in the in the NRK concert _video of a group called Kvedarkvintetten backed by lute and Middle Eastern sounding percussion - Eit barn er født i Betlehem ("Julefolk", 2011). Lyrics by Bernt Støylen to a traditional tune. The title means "A Child Is Born in Bethlehem". Kvedarkvintetten with Tore Bruvoll, lute, and Birger Mistereggen, percussion. Kvedarkvintetten are Helga Myhr, Margit Myhr, Sina Myhr, Silje Risdal Liahagen, and Tonje Risdal Liahagen. From the NRK Christmas programme "Julefolk" ("Christmas Folk"), Dec. 2011. All the music in the programme: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL7633C7B8ABD3E6F1&feature=viewall

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Psalmodikon in Steeple Building at Bishop Hill

According to information provided by the Bishop Hill Heritage Association, the psalmodikon in the Steeple Building museum was crafted about 1870 by Peter Hedlund, of Galva Township where Bishop Hill is located. I first saw it several years ago when I was visiting Bishop Hill with my wife's family, and I was struck by its resemblance to a mountain dulcimer. I'm getting a replica made, and the measurements and description here are for that purpose.

Hedlund came to the United States from Gafleborgs län as a boy in 1850, married in 1876 and farmed 115 acres in Galva Township. An independent in politics, he was a Christian ("tror på kristendomen") but was not a member of any church (tillhör ingen kyrka), according to Svenskarne i Illinois (Chicago, 1880) by Eric Johnson. [Link here for the full text at archive.org.] Judging by the instrument on display in Bishop Hill, he was an accomplished woodworker.

The fretboard is 28" in length. The frets are chromatic, but the patterns of lighter and darker wood -- white and black in the diagrams in Johan Dillner's introduction to the 1846 sifferskrift (psalmodikon tablature) edition of Johan Olof Wallin's Swedish Psalmbook of 1819 -- indicate diatonic scales. The heading in the picture at left above reads, "Om bruket af denna Psalmbok" [on the use of this psalmbook]. Basically, you would play the intervals marked by the white frets.

To change keys, you apparently retuned the instrument.

To see how Dillner's introduction to the 1846 edition compares to the Bishop Hill psalmodikon, pictured at right below, orient yourself as follows:

  • The nut and tuning peg on the left-hand end of the instrument in picture, at right below, are pictured at the bottom of the diagram, at left above; and
  • The bridge is on the right-hand end of the instrument in the picture and the top of the diagram, indicated by a line perpendicular to the playing string.
In other words, if you rotate the diagram clockwise, or to 3 o'clock, it will line up with the picture of the instrument.

Dillner doesn't call for a violin-style tailpiece like that on the Bishop Hill psalmodikon. The bridge on the Bishop Hill instrument is moveable.


I've taken pictures of the instrument twice, once in 2008 not long after I first saw it in the Steeple Building and again this year when I decided to have a replica made. I didn't want to take the instrument out of its case, since the tailpiece and bridge had fallen off in the meantime. So I photographed it in the museum case and my measurements are approximate. It is shaped like an elongated trapezoid 39" x 5.5" (at the nut end, to the left in the picture above) x 7.5" (at the bridge end, to the right). The soundbox is 2.25" deep; the nut end is roughly 5.5" x 3" (but the end piece is irregular in order to accommodate the raised fretboard). The picture at right above was taken in 2008, when the bridge and tailpiece were still attached to the instrument.

My measurements correspond very closely to those in Dillner's introduction, although the units of measurement are not exactly the same.

Dillner gives the following dimensions:

  • Length: 39 or 40 tums.
  • Breadth: 4.5 tums.
  • Height: 2/5 tums.
  • Fretboard: 30 tums.
A tum is an old Swedish unit of measurement equivalent to the width of a thumb. (The word means "thumb" in English.) It was approximately one inch in English measure, and was standardized in 1855 at 2.47cm. (An inch is 2.54cm.) Dillner's plan calls for the instrument to be rectangular, but trapezoids were not uncommon -- perhaps influenced by the hummel, a northern European box zither? -- and the psalmodikon in the museum at the Jenny Lind Chapel in Andover looks rather like a hummel with an indentation to facilitate bowing.

Construction (misc. notes)

Bridge and tailpiece are similar to a fiddle. Since 2008 when I first took pictures of the instrument, they have fallen off. But at that time the tailpiece was apparently attached to the body with string (please see picture below), and the bridge was held in place by the downward tension of the playing string, which at that time was still attached, although it appears from the picture below that the string was loose and the bridge had moved out of position.

I am not sure how the tailpiece was attached to the instrument originally, but I suspect it was more substantial than what I saw in 2008. Since that time, the string has come off that end of the psalmodikon and the nut and bridge are lying beside it in the display case.

The instrument was tuned by a peg attached to the nut end. To play in a different key, you retuned the instrument. The tunings are related to the old ecclesiastical modes -- i.e. ionian, dorian, etc. (see diagram "Tabell öfwer kyrko-tonarterna" [table of church modal scales] below. The patterns of darker and lighter wood mark off sharps and flats in much the same way as the black and white keys on a piano, and the different modes have different intervals indicated by the numbers, pluses and minuses on the table.

The soundholes are especially nice, suggesting a stylized lyre. See detail below:

No time to look this up now, but it looks interesting and I don't want to lose it. Has pix of several psalms from Wallin 1819 in sifferskrift ...

Psalmodikon var musikintrumentet i många kyrkor och skolor Infört under juli 2002 i Lysekilsposten och Stenungsunds-Posten med Orust-Tjörn

By Sven H. Gullman

Part I at http://svenhgullman.nu/oevrigt/psalmodikon1.htm and Part II at http://svenhgullman.nu/oevrigt/psalmodikon2.htm

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Bruce Springsteen, the Jewish high holy days, the possibility of atonement and connecting the dots at a concert in Washington, D.C.

Bruce Springsteen's "Wrecking Ball" tour, which I heard out my hotel window a couple of months ago in Oslo, was in Washington, D.C., this month. And I was struck by what Jeffery Goldberg, who writes for The Atlantic magazine, had to say about it on the magazine's website.

Since Springsteen's concert came just a month and a half before the presidential election, Goldberg looked for political implications. That's what he does for a living. So he noted "Springsteen didn't say much of anything about the race from the stage," but added:

... He is obviously supporting Obama, but so far he has stayed away from campaigning. The set list, though, was like an indictment of every-man-for-himself Ryanism. First he played "My Love Will Not Let You Down," and "The Ties That Bind," both of which could be heard as pleas for community, for understanding that we're all connected, and all responsible for each other (the second song more than the first). Then he wheeled into "We Take Care of Our Own," which served as a bridge to songs of economic devastation: "Wrecking Ball," "Death to My Hometown," and "My City in Ruins." It was pretty obvious to me what he was doing.
And since Springsteen's concert came on the eve of the Jewish new year, Goldberg also found a religious subtext. In fact, he headlined his piece "Darkness on the Edge of Rosh Hashanah."

I think it all fits together, but it wouldn't fit on a bumper sticker or a 30-second political spot. And we need a little translation first. Taking Rosh Hashanah, the first day of the Jewish year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, together, the high holy days of the new year are a time of atonement, repentance and new beginnings. Some of the imagery is a little dark, as Goldberg suggested, but no darker than the Christian imagery of sin, repentance, atonement and reconciliation.

This year's High Holy Days are Sept. 16-18, so they were on Goldberg's mind when he went to the Springsteen concert. And he quoted from a Sept. 4 column in Jewish Week, a newspaper in New York City, by Erica Brown titled "Born To Repent: The Boss And The Month Of Elul" (during which the high holy days fall). Brown, who is scholar-in-residence for The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, wasn't concerned with politics. Nor was she concerned with the "Wrecking Ball" album and tour. But Goldberg connected some of the dots in her essay.

Noting that "Springsteen fans, like Dylan fans, can find deep meaning in almost any song," Goldberg quoted Dr. Brown on Springsteen's battle with depression and how she believes the pain he experienced early in life is reflected in his art. Brown said:

Bruce knew what to do with the pain. He translated his struggles into music: "Those wounds stay with you, and you turn them into a language and a purpose." At one concert, he told his adoring audience: "We're repairmen -- repairmen with a toolbox." The darkness on the edge of town is sometimes so close that we can reach out and touch it. And at times, the darkness within is so palpable that we understand what it means to be born to run. We run away from the scars of difficulty and the encounter with our past and our inadequacies, even as they stare us boldly in the face.
She's quoting there from a profile in the New Yorker at the end of July. I was struck by it, too, and quoted one of the same passages when I wrote about Springsteen's appearances in Oslo in this weblog. In her Jewish Week essay, which is linked to Goldberg's blog post, Brown said this quality in Springsteen's music leads her to repentance (in Hebrew, teshuva), which is the focus of the high holy days:
So this year, in recognition of teshuva’s difficulties, I will be taking Bruce with me to shul [synagogue]. He could probably bring down the house with a moving Kol Nidrei [a traditional, and very beautiful, chant associated with the season]. It is not the music that I will think of as I open my machzor, my prayerbook. It is the man who gets up on stage and smiles widely not because he is hiding behind the pain of problems he never fixed, but because he has found a way to work through them to bring relief to himself and joy to others.
And if it works on the personal level, it might also work on a political level. Brown quoted an early 20th-century rabbi in Jerusalem who said "pain is a universal language," and those artists "who are able to harness it can bring others to a place of solace and change."

I can't be precise about how all of this works -- wouldn't even want to try, in fact -- but think it all fits together, the personal, the redemptive and the political.

When I read the New Yorker profile soon after Springsteen's appearances in Oslo, including one in which he sang "We Shall Overcome" at a memorial concert for the young people who were murdered by a right-wing terrorist the year before, I was struck by the same quote Dr. Brown cited, "we're repairmen ... with a toolbox." And seeing it again in the context of a political analyst's perceptions of a Springsteen concert in the runup to a national election in which issues of pain, atonement and redemption are hovering in the background, I was struck by it again.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

DPN stories on John Tignor, dulcimer maker of Frankfort, Ky.

Obituary article in 1982 with authoritative discussion of Tignor's place in the Thomas-Amburgey tradition by Ralph Lee Smith, "John D. Tignor and the Kentucky Dulcimer Tradition" in DPN Vol 8 No 4 (pp. 18+)

Article in 1994 on John S. Tignor, son of John D. Tignor, who was then teaching in Illinois (Quincy) and making instruments in his father's pattern (pp. 27+):

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Stephen Siefert's "Join the Jam" workshop, the Prairieland Dulcimer Strings and a way to survive your first jam sessions at upcoming fall festivals

When Stephen Siefert and I were talking last month about his upcoming workshop in Springfield, I suggested we have a lot of beginners in the Prairieland Dulcimer Strings and we have a couple of really good festivals coming up in central Illinois. So Steve decided to focus on how to "Join the Jam" (which is also the title of his series of mountain dulcimer tune books) and pitch it to players of all skill levels.

So Steve spent the evening here Aug. ___ sharing tips on how to get into the rhythm of a song, get a feel for its melodic structure and start playing the music along with other players. Except he didn't use big words like "melodic structure." Instead, he showed us where the important notes are and how to improvise harmonies and make things more interesting when we join in with other musicians.

"What really counts, with music, is that your heart is in it," he said. "Better to play something simple from the heart than live a life of frustration attempting complication."

(Full disclosure: Steve did say this, but I'm not quoting from the workshop in Springfield. I'm quoting from an article on his website. In it he asks http://stephenseifert.com/ "What Role Does Talent Play?" His answer: Not much.)

"Learn to play something ridiculously simple ridiculously well and completely from the heart," he adds. "I believe, if you CAN'T do this, you'll spend the rest of your life trying to make music and wondering why you don't have the talent."

In the meantime, with the rest of our lives before us, there are some cool opportunities coming up for beginners to start jamming:

  • Saturday, Sept. 8, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. the Traditional Music Festival at Lincoln's New Salem State Historic Site off Ill. 97 at Petersburg (20 miles northwest of Springfield). Due to state budget cuts, it's only one day this year and no dinner will be served. Our group has been playing at the "Bluegrass Festival" (as most of the musicians in our area call it) for more than 10 years. We usually gather on the hay bales next to Doctor Allen's.
  • Saturday, Sept. 8, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Old State Capitol in Springfield. I'll be demonstrating the mountain dulcimer at the Sangamon County History Through the Arts II sponsored by the Sangamon County Historical Society and the Old State Capitol Foundation. I'll have several dulcimers on display, and if you want to join me in a couple of tunes, please feel free to do so!
  • Saturday, Sept. 22, and Sunday, Sept. 23 the Clayville Fall Festival at Clayville Historic Site on Ill. 125 just east of Pleasant Plains (15 miles west of Springfield). We'll play at the Clayville Fall Festival from 1 to 4 p.m. both days. But the festival begins in the morning -- see Clayville's website at http://clayville.org/ for details -- so you'll want to come early. We played at their spring festival in May and had a wonderful time!
Sound like fun, don't they? But why do I say they're a good opportunity for beginners?

For one thing, there's a difference between jamming and performing for an audience. Here's what Wikipedia says: "A jam session is a musical act where musicians play (i.e. "jam") by improvising without extensive preparation or predefined arrangements." What could be more welcoming for beginners? Without extensive preparation ... that's me! Continues the Wikipedia article: "Jam sessions are often used by musicians to develop new material, find suitable arrangements, or simply as a social gathering and communal practice session." Social gathering and communal practice ... that's us! That, in a nutshell, is what we do at Prairieland Dulcimer sessions.

Except I think we like to take it a step beyond that, since we've made it our policy to be welcoming and beginner-friendly.

There's a group out in Denver called the Small Circle Tune Learning Session (SCTLS), "one of Colorado's most friendly sessions," that prides itself on getting beginners up to speed in Irish traditional music. One of their goals is:

One of the things that makes the SCTLS unique is that we want you to be free to make mistakes, feel your way through some of the stranger bits of session etiquette, and get comfortable with playing your instrument in public, without feeling ostracized if you inadvertently commit a faux pas or some such. Feel free to ask questions or try something new.
That's how we want new members of the Prairieland Dulcimer Strings to feel, and that's just as true at a festival as it is in our Thursday night sessions at Atonement Lutheran Church in Springfield. Here's why: At a festival, visitors will come up to us and listen for a minute or two. Then they may wander off to the next exhibit, or they may linger to talk with us between tunes. But we're not grimly marching through a predefined setlist. And we're not trying to entertain anybody. In short, we're at a social gathering (to use Wikipedia's words), and it couldn't be a better place for beginners.

Which brings us back to Steve's workshop back in August. If you're a beginner, how do you join the jam?

A lot of Steve's workshop was about that. I won't try to repeat it all, but here are a couple of things you can do from the very beginning:

Listen for the beat, and concentrate on the rhythm. In most of our tunes, it'll be on the downbeat. GO tell Aunt RHO - dy; GO tell Aunt RHO - o -dy; GO tell Aunt RHO - dy, the OLD gray goose is DEAD.

Steve said it helps us as we play the dulcimer to think of ourselves as a little one-person string band.

"Your right hand is the drummer for the band," he said.

North Carolina dulcimer player Don Pedi, who specializes in playing fiddle tunes, has another analogy. He takes it from the way southern Appalachian fiddle players set up a rhythm by rocking the bow back and forth across the strings as they play.

"[The music] is all in the bowing," he says.

And on a mountain dulcimer, the "bowing" is in the right hand strum. Don teaches a trick I like to use at jams. When we're learning a new tune, he says, we'll learn it faster and better if we dampen the strings and just play the rhythm the first few times around.

Here's how: Cup your left hand, palm and fingers down over the fretboard so you get a "whapping" sound when you strum across all three (or four) strings with your right hand. If you hear musical notes, you're pressing too hard. Ease off a little, and you'll hear the whapping sound.

Then with the strings dampened, you play the tune with your right hand. So "Go Tell Aunt Rhody" would sound like WHAP whap a WHAP whap; WHAP whap whap a WHAP whap whap; WHAP whap a WHAP whap, a WHAP a whap a WHAP.

Once you feel like you've got the rhythm, you can take your left hand off and strum the open strings. Your dulcimer is tuned in D, everybody else is playing in D -- at least 99 percent of the time in our Prairieland Strings jams -- and you'll fit right in.

If you're feeling adventurous enough to follow a chord progression, you can play a D on the open strings or the 7th fret, a G at the 3rd fret and an A at the 6th (forget about complicated stuff like A7 chords for the time being). Or you can ask a longtime Prairieland Dulcimers member about Mike Anderson's "cheap chords." (Mike has a trick that lets you play D, G and A7 chords by moving one or two fingers.) They're magical!

And when all else fails, there's something else, too.

Listening is always a good option in a jam. Sometimes it's my favorite option. "It is considered polite when first visiting a session to wait to be invited to play, if you are not an expert player," suggest the SCTLC musicians in Denver, who add, "If you are not a habitué of a [trad Irish] session, expect to spend at least half of your time listening at first." But they add of their own sessions, "This is an opportunity for you to develop and hone your skills and techniques. Usually in a session, if you don't know a tune, you should play quietly. At the SCTLS, however, we want you to play out so we know when you have the tune (and when you don't!)." So do we, but you always have the option of sitting back, listening and soaking up the music.

Jamming, even at a festival, isn't difficult. And sitting back and enjoying the music with a group of friends is always an option. Here's a good list of basic jamming etiquette do's and don'ts -- mostly do's -- from the Hills of Kentucky Dulcimers club in Covington, Ky.:

  • Keep the beat.
  • Listen carefully to the other players.
  • Do not start playing the tune until the leader has finished the lead-in phrase.

Matthew 25:31-40

Sometimes there comes a moment of clarity, even in the most convoluted of debates ...

One moment like that came Wednesday in Rich Miller's Capitol Fax.com weblog on Illinois state politics and government. It came in a twice-updated item on the lowering of Illinois' bond rating and subsequent partisan political rhetoric by the governor of an adjoining state. Under the headline "*** UPDATED x2 - Scott Walker piles on *** S&P lowers Illinois rating a notch - Quinn wants leaders meeting in early September" (in its final updated version), it reported:

... Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services lowered its rating on Illinois’ general obligation (GO) bonds to ‘A’ from ‘A+’. At the same time, Standard & Poor’s assigned its ‘A’ rating to the state’s $50 million GO bonds of September 2012. The outlook is negative.

“The downgrade reflects the state’s weak pension funding levels and lack of action on reform measures intended to improve funding levels and diminish cost pressures associated with annual contributions,” said Standard & Poor’s credit analyst Robin Prunty. “The downgrade also reflects continued financial weakness despite significant measures in the past two years to improve structural budget performance,” added Ms. Prunty.

Got that? Clear enough, especially if you've been following the Illinois Legislature this year. But the moment of real clarity came during an exchange in the comments section.

It's often like that on the Capitol Fax blog. Its readers include a lot of players in the world of legislative politics, and often they bring to their comments a perspective honed by experience.

The exchange began at 12:44 p.m. with reader "Grandson of Man," who said the state simply needs more revenue and suggested it could be raised by a "progressive income tax." He, or she, added, "I realize that income tax reform is a very steep hill to climb, but so is pension reform."

Reader "Plutocrat03" replied at 1:03 p.m.:

... It is nothing but misdirection to claim that any of the State’s fiscal problems can be solved by soaking the rich further. There are too few high earners out there to offset the loony spending the state is engaged in.
Which reader "wordslinger" quoted and answered at 1:40 p.m.:
–the loony spending the state is engaged in.– Loony schools. Loony nursing homes. Loony hospitals. Loony state troopers. Loony roads. It’s crazy. Why should I have any responsibility for any of those things? I’ve never gone to school, or a hospital or used the roads. And I don’t care if anyone else ever has use for them either. See, it’s all about me, all the time. That’s what they taught us in Sunday school.
Which of course isn't exactly isn't what I was taught in Sunday School. The irony couldn't have been clearer.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

"Alla fåglar kommit ren" - Swedish children's song to celebrate the birds in springtime

Heard on a CD of Swedish children's songs Nu ska vi sjunga (now we will sing) I picked up yesterday in the Colony Store at Bishop Hill. The melody is very familiar - but where have I heard it?

So today I've been Googling around ... still haven't figured out where I know it from ... but I've learned "Alla fåglar kommit ren" (all the birds come clean) is the Swedish translation of a German children's song Alle Vögel sind schon da (all the birds are pretty). It's widely known in northern and central Europe, and in addition to Sweden, it shows up in Norway as "Alle fugler små de er" (all the birds are small). The different lyrics in the first line appear to be for the sake of rhyme and meter in different languages - the gist of it is that it's spring and the birds have come back.

According to Wikipedia, Alle Vögel sind schon da is one of Germany's best-known children's songs celebrating spring. Lyrics in a poem by Hoffmann von Fallersleben (1798–1874), published in 1835. Since 1884 it has been sung to a traditional melody that has been traced to the 1500s. Judging by what's available on YouTube, the Germans consider it primarily a children's song.

But in Sweden, it is also associated with with May Day, or a spring celebration the night of April 30 and morning of May 1 called Walpurgisnacht in German and Valborgsmässoafton in Swedish. In much of northern Europe, this celebration derives from a very old spring ritual, and it is marked by bonfires, dancing and a lot of partying. Very similar to the traditional May Day celebrations in English-speaking countries. In Sweden, it also coincides with school graduation - an occasion for more partying as well as choral singing in university towns. There are a couple of lovely choral arrangements on YouTube.

Stämningsfull Valborgseld med Körsång i Hagaberg (a Walpurgis' fire with choral singing at Hagaberg). Stämningsfull, according to the Babylon.com translator, can mean atmospheric or well-tuned in English, and this clip qualifies on both counts.

Some more YouTube clips:

Monday, August 20, 2012

British poet analyzes, translates Pussy Riot's 'Punk Prayer' as The Guardian's poem of the week

Pussy Riot, the Russian punk rock performance artists whose members were jailed recently for "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred," have found a literary defender in Carol Rumen, professor in creative writing at Great Britain's Bangor University and poetry columnist for the Guardian. "Pussy Riot's Punk Prayer is pure protest poetry," she said in naming the lyric outburst the Guardian's "Poem of the Week," an accolade that more typically goes to writers like Whitman, Dryden, Christina Rossetti or high-minded, belle lettristic contemporary poets.

"The performance was mildly shocking, at least for any believer unused to trendy vicars putting on rock concerts," said Rumen, who clearly has heard worse in the UK. "Loud, rude, up-yours protest is what punk is all about. But the lyrics are not all raw obscenity: they have something significant to say, which the careless translations slopping around the internet tend to obscure."

Here's a YouTube video:

Pussy Riot-Punk Prayer.mp4

So, in solidarity with the Russian punkers, Rumen offers her translation. But first she offers this precis:

Punk poetry without performance is an oxymoron. Still, it was an interesting challenge to try and inject a little of Pussy Riot's performance-style into the words. The song brings together two different musical genres. It has a hymn-like opening chorus, very melodic and redolent of traditional Russian Orthodox chanting. The mood soon changes, though, and everything erupts into punk rant, a slam of hard-hitting images connected by minimal syntax. The chorus returns, exhorting the Virgin Mary to become a feminist, and finally, with its original plea for Putin's banishment, it concludes the song.
Rumen's translation begins:
Virgin Mary, Mother of God, banish Putin, banish Putin,
Virgin Mary, Mother of God, banish him, we pray thee!
I probably shouldn't admit this, but I like the Orthodox harmonies of the chorus better than the power chords and screaming that follow. (But I've never warmed up to punk.) Anyway, they power chords follow very quickly.
Congregations genuflect,
Black robes brag gilt epaulettes,
Freedom's phantom's gone to heaven,
Gay Pride's chained and in detention.
KGB's chief saint descends
To guide the punks to prison vans.
And so on ... it isn't subtle. The song continues:
Bless our festering bastard-boss.
Let black cars parade the Cross.
The Missionary's in class for cash.
Meet him there, and pay his stash.
Patriarch Gundy believes in Putin.
Better believe in God, you vermin!
A few words of explanation and/or translation are in order. "Gundy" is Kirill Gundyayev, patriarch of Moscow and primate, or spiritual leader, of the Russian Orthodox hierarchy. Putin, the "KGB's chief saint," well, everybody knows who Putin is - even if we might forget his early career in the KGB, the old name for the Soviet security apparatus. Writing in Financial Times, columnist Gideon Rachman's evaluation is typical of reaction in the West:
Pussy Riot ... has courage and a gift for performance art. Its name deftly combines two of the major preoccupations of teenage boys. And, as outspoken women, its members embody the idea of “girl power” – as lauded by the Spice Girls. The band’s trademark balaclavas also provide an easily imitated “look” that has already been emulated in demonstrations from Berlin to New York.

Yet those tempted to dismiss the three imprisoned members of Pussy Riot as simply clever marketeers should read their statements from the dock, which are intelligent, articulate and moving.

Members of the collective typically are in their 20s and graduates in literature and the arts of prestigious Russian universities. Their statements, which were read in court before sentence was pronounced, make it clear the women are not teeny-boppers. They are lengthy, fully as nuanced and thoughtful as Rachman of the Financial Times suggests, and they have gone viral. Rachman continued:
There are signs that the Kremlin realises it has made a mistake with Pussy Riot – and may seek to get the band released early. However, the damage to the president’s standing is done. Pussy Riot is going to prison. But the band still has the power to rock the Kremlin.
In the Christian Science Monitor, a thoughtful and informative profile of the band (actually more like an artists' collective) by staff writer and playwright Mark Guarino notes that Pussy Riot was influenced by American feminist punk bands of the 1990s like Riot Grrrl. "We somehow developed what they did in the 1990s, although in an absolutely different context and with an exaggerated political stance, which leads to all of our performances being illegal. We’ll never give a gig in a club or in any special musical space,” one member, only known as Garadzha, told the Monitor.

And a profile in the Guardian by Moscow correspondent Miriam Elder, the Guardian's Moscow correspondent, offers a different take, quoting a Russian critic, that somehow ends up being essentially the same:

"For all the radicalism of their actions, Pussy Riot are basically a pop crossover," said Michael Idov, the editor of Russian GQ. "They are a brilliant brand – they have a very compelling story and easily reproducible look and, let's face it, a great band name."
A great brand name, too.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Natkirken reaches out to unchurched 'seekers' in Copenhagen: 'We shall be shepherds to cats'

Lask week when Debi and I were in Copenhagen, we were able to attend Natkirken (Night Church) services at Helligaandskirken (Church of the Holy Spirit) on the Strøget and briefly look in on the service briefly at Vor Frue (Our Lady) cathedral in the old university quarter downtown.

The Friday night services we saw were simple, refreshing and sometimes moving, even though we didn't know the language. They have has spread from Denmark, where they originated, to Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh, and they could be a useful model for mainline churches in North America that want to do something about declining membership.

Natkirken is a "liturgical laboratory" of the Diocese of Copenhagen. It was initiated by the estabished Church of Denmark in 1999 at Vor Frue and other city parishes in order to reach non-churchgoers in one of Europe's most secular societies. Night church services in the 12 parishes vary from one to the other, but typically they are loosely structured, combining music, prayer and silent meditation. "Many of our visitors can be characterized as 'seekers' ... we must meet them on their own terms," concluded an initial diocesean program evaluation. Judging by what I saw, they do.

In all, it's a significant outreach in a nation where 80 percent of the population claims membership in the Lutheran church but only 2 to 3 percent attend Sunday services. On Friday nights, Night Church proclaims a very old Christian message in the heart of one of Europe’s most cosmopolitan, secular cities. And Helligaandskirken amplifies that message with CDs and social media like Facebook and YouTube.

"While the Sunday service puts the emphasis on the forgiveness of sins, we try at Night Church to preach God’s presence at the center of each human life," night church pastor Mikkel Vale told the diocesan magazine Kirken i København (the church in Copenhagen). "This is partly done by an emphasis on personal prayer in worship. It is important for us Christians to learn that God is alive and present. … God goes with us. Always. I hope we can help to convey that to people, so they too can feel it when they leave the church again."

In another Kirken i København article, Vale uses a striking metaphor. He says, "we postmodern people are both misguided sheep and independent cats" and suggests a new role for the church: "We shall be shepherds to cats."

What we experienced last Friday night in Copenhagen left this cat purring. Why wasn't anybody doing services like this when I was in my 20s and 30s?

Natkirken at Helligaandskirken begins at 7 p.m. with international evensong conducted in English and lasts till midnight, blending musical traditions ranging from Gregorian chant and the Lutheran chorale to the prayerful but very singable meditations of the contemporary Taizé and Iona communities. Last week's evensong was followed by congregational singing of familiar Danish hymns; a recital of medieval chant by Hildegard von Bingen, sung by mezzosoprano Elisabeth Ørsnes; and a lysandagt, or candlelight communion, followed by singing and prayer in the style of the Taizé community in France and a midnight service.

Part of the appeal of Night Church is that worshippers can come and go freely, and at least for us, that was part of the evenin's charm. Outside on the Strøget, a group of busking street musicians played Strauss waltzes and other light classics in the lengthening summer twilight (see picture at left). At times it almost seemed like the scene outside was playing in a kind of counterpoint with the sacred music within the church.

And I thought the contrast, the interplay between what was going on in the church and outside in the city, was utterly charming. The Scandinavians have a word for it -- hyggelig. It's pronounced sort of like "HOOG-ley," and it's usually translated as "cozy" or "comfortable" or "nice," but that doesn't begin to cover all of its meanings. Anyway, it was all hyggelig and I could have stayed there forever.

Inside the church, it seemed like there was a little something for everybody. The congregational singing was attended by 15 or 20 people, mostly middle-aged or older, while the candlelight service attracted a younger crowd. With faint echoes of the street band playing waltzes outside in the background, the celebrants and half the congregation walked down the nave of the church, holding candles and singing a processional hymn in Danish to the Irish tune we recognize in America as "Be Thou My Vision." The Danish words, I found out later, are by Pastor Vale.

The communion service followed, and the ebb, flow and cadence of the liturgy was wholly familiar even though we didn't speak the language.

(We had a service booklet, too, so we were able to follow along in Danish. We noticed parishoners were asked to hold their candles over the service booklet so they wouldn't drip on the floor. Another good idea to take back to North America!)

In all, it was moving and the familiar liturgy felt inclusive. There's something about candlelight, too, that transcends time, place and language. I wasn't about to pop a flash during the service, but the screen shot at right from Helligaandskirken's YouTube channel shows the same service and conveys some of the atmosphere.

(For another impression, link here to read San Francisco blogger "Mystic Seeker's" account in the early spring of 2007 ... and the comment below it by a hiker who was invited to take part in a communion service in Iceland without knowing the Islandic language.)

"God is a DJ" at Vor Frue. After the light service at Helligaandskirken, we headed back to our hotel on Vesterbrogade by way of Vor Frue. It's in the old university district, just a few blocks from the Strøget, and it has a different approach to Night Church. Vor Frue goes more into poetry, jazz, electronica and other contemporary forms. Taizé meditaion, for example, must take on an added dimension in what a cathedral bulletin describes as "Taizéimprovisationer." I wish I could have heard it. Jazz improv seems a perfect match for Taizé.

According to the bulletin we picked up at the door, Friday night's meditation at Vor Frue was a standing feature called "God is a DJ." It relies on recorded music, and according to the Copenhagen newspaper Politiken, the Friday-night DJ sessions appeal to an inner-city cross-section "from 20-something hipsters to lonely bag ladies."

We weren't there long enough to form a coherent impression, but the part we saw featured a light show to the soundtrack of what we gradually realized was a new age-y cover of "I Wanna Be Sedated" by punk rock icons the Ramones -- the selection wasn't announced, but it was sung in English, and it was probably by the Los Angeles electronica/trance band Superhumanoids. The interplay of lights, music and lyrics was mesmerizing.

Some Danish hymns on the Strøget. During the singing at Helligeaandskirken, which reminded me of the old-fashioned "hymn sings" in small-town American churches when I was growing up, a gentleman in the congregation realized the Americans in the third pew weren't following the numbers as they were called out in Den Danske Salmebog, the words-only hymnal they were using. So as each selection was called out, he came back and whispered the number to us in English.

With his help, I was able to follow the hymn singing fairly well even though most of the hymns -- salmer in Danish -- were new to me. They were Danish, mostly from the 19th and 20th centuries, although a couple of them were recognizable as variants of the old Lutheran chorales. A list follows:

  • DDS 441. Alle mine kilder skal være hos dig. Text: N.F.S. Grundtvig 1856-60. Mel. Thomas Laub 1922. Click here for a pop version by Danish artist Peter Belli.
  • 292. Kærligheds og sandheds Ånd. Text: Adam af St. Victor 12th c., N.F.S. Grundtvig 1837. Mel.: Christian Barnekow 1868 [same melody as Kom, Gud Helligånd, kom brat].
  • 330. Du, som ud af intet skabte. Text: Jens Rosendal 1973. Mel.: Peter Møller 1974
  • 11. Nu takker alle Gud. Text: Martin Rinckart [in German] ca. 1630. Danish 1740. 1885. 1889. 1890. Mel.: Johann Crüger 1647 [this is the Reformation chorale Now Thank We All Our God]
  • 582, At tro er at komme. Text not available on line. Mel.: Bendt Astrup 1993 [Same as Dig rummer ej himle]
  • 785. Tunge, mørke natteskyer. Text: Jakob Knudsen 1890. Mel.: Carl Nielsen 1917
  • 612. Den store mester kommer. Mel.: J.P.E. Hartmann 1873, Caspar Chr. Hoffman 1878 and Rued Langgaard 1924.
  • 787. Du, som har tændt millioner af stjerner. Text not available on line. Mel.: Erik Sommer 1981
  • 217. Min Jesus, lad mit hjerte få. Text: Biørn Christian Lund 1764, Bearbejdet 1778, N.F.S. Grundtvig 1846. Mel.: Carl Nielsen 1914 [Same as Dybt hælder året i sin gang]
Nikolaj Grundtvig, a prolific writer and educator some of whose work appears in American hymnals (and whose theories are behind the John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina), was well represented. As was early 20th-century Danish composer Carl Nielsen. I'm familiar with Nielsen's symphonies, but if I knew before that he wrote hymns, it slipped my mind. But write hymns, he did. I was told by people at Helligaandskirken that his contributions to Danish hymnody are especially beloved, and judging by the two I heard I can understand why.

Here are YouTube video clips of Neilsen's "Tunge, mørke natteskyer" (heavy, dark night clouds) as sung by the Danish Girls Choir of Copenhagen and (embedded below), by Den Danske Salmeduo in concert in 2011:

And an audio clip of the former pop/Christian contemporary band STOEW and a video (embedded below) of the Cantica Ungdomskor (Youth Choir) from Vor Frelsers (Our Savior's) Kirke, in Horsens, Jutland, singing "Min Jesus lad mit hjerte få" (my Jesus, let my heart receive), directed by Kevin Laplante

Finally, here's the official video of the Ramones' original of "I Wanna Be Sedated." I know it's heresy to say this, but I like the cover I heard at Vor Frue's "God is a DJ" meditation better!