Sunday, April 22, 2007

Heavenly harmony

I've been a busy gal these last four months. A good deal of my time has been spent in rehearsals for what I think is going to be a rather fine series of performances over the next two weeks. Two of the choirs I'm a part of are joining with a third to perform Norman Dello Joio's To Saint Cecilia. I'm kind of a muddy alto, and this has been the most intricate and challenging piece I've ever attempted singing. But it is glorious, and I'm thrilled to be a part of this massed choir. You can read more about it here.

St Cecilia is the patron saint of musicians, and Dello Joio set John Dryden's poem to music. The words are powerful, the music is enchanting and if you ever get a chance to hear it performed, do so. It's a moving tribute to the power of music.

FROM harmony, from heavenly harmony,
This universal frame began:
When nature underneath a heap
Of jarring atoms lay,
And could not heave her head,
The tuneful voice was heard from high,
'Arise, ye more than dead!'
Then cold, and hot, and moist, and dry,
In order to their stations leap,
And Music's power obey.
From harmony, from heavenly harmony,
This universal frame began:
From harmony to harmony
Through all the compass of the notes it ran,
The diapason closing full in Man.

What passion cannot Music raise and quell?
When Jubal struck the chorded shell,
His listening brethren stood around,
And, wondering, on their faces fell
To worship that celestial sound:
Less than a God they thought there could not dwell
Within the hollow of that shell,
That spoke so sweetly, and so well.
What passion cannot Music raise and quell?

The trumpet's loud clangour
Excites us to arms,
With shrill notes of anger,
And mortal alarms.
The double double double beat
Of the thundering drum
Cries Hark! the foes come;
Charge, charge, 'tis too late to retreat!

The soft complaining flute,
In dying notes, discovers
The woes of hopeless lovers,
Whose dirge is whisper'd by the warbling lute.

Sharp violins proclaim
Their jealous pangs and desperation,
Fury, frantic indignation,
Depth of pains, and height of passion,
For the fair, disdainful dame.

But O, what art can teach,
What human voice can reach,
The sacred organ's praise?
Notes inspiring holy love,
Notes that wing their heavenly ways
To mend the choirs above.

Orpheus could lead the savage race;
And trees unrooted left their place,
Sequacious of the lyre;
But bright Cecilia rais'd the wonder higher:
When to her organ vocal breath was given,
An angel heard, and straight appear'd
Mistaking Earth for Heaven.


As from the power of sacred lays
The spheres began to move,
And sung the great Creator's praise
To all the Blest above;
So when the last and dreadful hour
This crumbling pageant shall devour,
The trumpet shall be heard on high,
The dead shall live, the living die,
And Music shall untune the sky!

John Dryden

Friday, April 13, 2007


Sixty years ago this Sunday, Jackie Robinson stepped onto Ebbets Field as a Brooklyn Dodger. He was a man of extraordinary talent and extraordinary courage. In a week when we've been exposed to a glaring example of a man with neither, this Sunday's commemoration will be especially meaningful.

Last Christmas I gave my great-nephew a copy of this book:

If you want to teach your children about standing up for what is right and how a simple gesture can still have meaning sixty years later, I recommend it.

Monday, April 02, 2007

It worked so well last year...

The year's at the spring
And day's at the morn;
Morning's at seven;
The hillside's dew-pearled;
The lark's on the wing;
The snail's on the thorn:
God's in His heaven—
All's right with the world!

Robert Browning
from "Pippa Passes"