Even though we just finished up one series of concerts, there are more upcoming projects here in New York that continue the flow…
On 17 February, the Ekmeles Vocal Ensemble with Vicky Chow on piano and Ana Milosavljevic on violin will be performing a show we’re calling Songs from the River and Elsewhere on the Avant Music Festival, which is going to be a wonderful series of concerts, highly recommended.
We’ve already begun rehearsing the repertoire for the 17 February concert, and it’s really fascinating to be embedding RiverProject songs in and among songs from A Book of Days. While the journey down the river definitely changed me and my work, there are some themes that thread their way through all the pieces, and hearing them performed by these excellent musicians is really great.
Also upcoming (on 2 March) is a performance of The Sirens, or Pleasure, my Cagean (Cageish?) collaboration with Yvan Greenberg, by the duo Two Sides Sounding. come check out the bicycle roulette wheel doing its thing, you never know which crackerjack prizes it’ll choose!
Along with these performances, I’m starting work on Pump Music, a big new piece for violin, trombone quartet, and location recordings of hand pumps found in campsites along the Mississippi River, a Meet the Composer commission that will premiere later in the spring on the Tribeca New Music Festival. Stay tuned for news about date and venue, which should be firmed up very soon!
What a fun way to start the year! a series of RiverProject concerts at Abrons Arts Center, each one so different from the next, with an array of wonderful musicians, from Loadbang and the Guidonian Hand the first night, to Newspeak and Will Lang the next, and then the last night with Taylor Levine, Malcolm J. Merriweather, and special guest Ron Blessinger, who paddled all the way from Portland, OR to get here… and of course Mary Rowell with me every night, that’s a central part of the whole experience! I feel so lucky to work with all these wonderful musicians, who also happen to be excellent humans, which really makes it great!
Here are a few links to interviews and press about the festival; over the next few days and weeks we’ll be posting some live recordings and more fun stuff.
We’re hard at work getting ready for three concerts of River Project music at Abrons Arts Center in late January: wrangling rehearsal schedules for more than 25 people, making special arrangements and generating parts for River Project music for three different rosters of players, organizing tech riders, instrument movers, press releases, all that endless stuff that goes into doing shows, even before a single sound gets made. In a way I feel very far away from the river, and from the urges and pleasures that got me out there two years ago. but then I realize it’s all about the river, and the anxiety recedes and I can just keep paddling.
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01. I am really a very simple person
02. I’m worried now, but I won’t be worried long
03. Wayfaring Stranger (live recording)
04. The Flood
Eve Beglarian vocals, electronics, electric guitar, bass
Mary Rowell violin, electric violin, acoustic guitar
This one is really thoughtful, thanks so much, Brett!
Monday morning, we left Pittsburgh early in order to get to Hyden, Kentucky, where Mary had set up a school presentation for BRIM at the Kentucky School of Bluegrass and Traditional Music. Mary had been there with ETHEL before, and has worked with Dean Osborne, who’s the director of this very cool school nestled in a hollow in the Appalachians.
I was fascinated to learn that there’s a rigidity and extreme traditionalism in the bluegrass world that rivals the classical music world. Doing anything different from the established norms is frowned upon, and yet all the greats of bluegrass were of course tremendous innovators who broke all the rules, from Bill Monroe to the Osborne Brothers themselves. So the school is devoted to finding that line of respect and devotion to the excellence of the tradition, while at the same time opening up to new ideas and approaches that will keep the art form alive.
It was a really meaningful experience to perform my music for these fellow travelers, I felt like we arrived from different places to a shared path, and I’m honored to have their company. They had lots of questions about how I put my music together technically, which was a bit of a surprise to me. When I do these kinds of presentations at conservatories, I don’t generally get asked detailed compositional questions. I found the whole experience refreshing and fascinating. I think there may be something really interesting to explore at the nexus of traditional bluegrass and new musicâ€¦. Hmmmmâ€¦.
Dean Osborne generously arranged to put us up at Mary Breckinridge’s house, Wendover, which was the site of the Frontier Nursing Service she founded in the late 20s, and which is still operating today. (I had only learned about this program a few weeks earlier, when I met Mary’s cousin Kristin, a cheese-maker, at the Craftsbury Farmer’s Market up in Vermont, who had participated in the program in the late 80s.) Mary Breckinridge was this amazing person. A privileged woman, she lost both her own children at an early age, so she decided to come to deeply impoverished Leslie County and start a nursing service for mothers and children. In the years that she ran this service, both maternal and infant health improved from perhaps the worst in the nation to better than the country as a whole, and all this work was done by a combination of professional nurses on horseback traveling up and around the hollows, and by young women volunteers, who came out to join the adventure. It’s a case of those much-maligned “ladies bountiful”Â doing something really meaningful and transformative with their time and talent and energy. Dean estimates that something like a hundred thousand people today owe their existence to Mary Breckinridge and the Frontier Nursing Service.
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Saturday, we headed out in the rain and cold towards Pittsburgh, stopping at Shanksville at the newly unveiled Flight 93 memorial, which is quite well-done: tasteful and thoughtful in that National Park-ish way. It might be strange to say this, but I found the absence of any information or images of the four hijackers to be a lost opportunity, somehow. I guess I really believe that seeing the bad guys, engaging with their craziness, is a way to guard against craziness in oneself or one’s culture. I mean, isn’t that at least part of why we read and watch movies about Hitler or mass murderers or whatever? I’m not sure how that could or should be done at this memorial, but in my opinion, erasing them completely from the picture is a sanitizing that minimizes the actual authentic heroism of the forty folks who brought down the plane in this lonely field.
We arrived at my friends’ Rick and Kate’s place in time for dinner, and I could help marveling at how different our pace was from that 20 to 40 miles per day I did going down the Mississippi in 2009. No wonder I got so interested in 19th century (and earlier) history, I was traveling at a pre-20th century pace! That’s super-obvious the moment I think of it, but I only realized it fully doing that quick drive on Saturday: nothing to it to drive from New York City to Pittsburgh, it’s only a few hundred miles!
It was great to catch up with Rick and Kate. Rick is a wonderful poet, you can check out his work here and here, and Kate is a passionate birder, and I was really gratified that she liked the movie of In and Out of the Game, that really means a lot to me.
The night before heading out on our little mini-tour back to the Mississippi, I took Mary out for a sunset paddle on the Hudson River. I figured since we won’t be kayaking or biking on tour, we could at least start out with a paddle just to get off on the right foot or something.
Here are a few pictures from the paddle, which was just great. If you’re in NYC and are into paddling at all, this is an excellent little excursion, highly recommended!
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|hi my friends,I'm delighted that Robin Redbreast, my setting of Stanley Kunitz's wonderful poem, will be performed this summer at both Banglewood AND Tanglewood. How sweet is that?! But if you're not the type for woodsy climes in the summer, you can catch performances of Night Psalm and I'm Worried Now right here in NYC (at Riverside Church on 25 August.) And coming right up, my friend Despina Sarafeidou is doing a free showcase performance of her Kassandra at KGB Bar on 27 July at 7 pm. (No music by me, but definitely worth checking out!) I'll be heading back to the Mississippi River in September-October with the excellent Mary Rowell. We'll be performing my rivertrip-inspired music as BRIM. More about that very soon, I promise. Stay cool and beautiful! xoxox evb|
Something about pagan doodles on the pages of Hosea seems connected to our project in some odd way I haven't yet thought through, but I thought I'd post it here.
Holcot's Moralitates are a collection of material for the use of preachers in which the 'picture' [memory] technique is lavishly used....He places such images, in imagination, on the pages of a Scriptural text, to remind him of how he will comment on the text. On a page of the prophet Hosea he imagines the figure of Idolatry to remind him of how he will expand Hosea's mention of that sin. He even places on the text of the prophet an image of Cupid, complete with bow and arrows! The god of love and his attributes are, of course, moralised by the friar, and the 'moving' pagan image is used as a memory image for his moralising expansion of the text.
The preference of these English friars for the fables of the poets as memory images, as allowed by Albertus Magnus, suggests that the artificial memory may be a hitherto unsuspected medium through which pagan imagery survived in the Middle Ages. (pp. 98-99)
In her book â€œToo Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information Before the Modern Age,â€ [the Harvard historian Ann Blair] makes the case that what weâ€™re going through is like what others went through a very long while ago. Against the cartoon history of Shirky or Tooby, Blair argues that the sense of â€œinformation overloadâ€ was not the consequence of Gutenberg but already in place before printing began. She wants us to resist â€œtrying to reduce the complex causal nexus behind the transition from Renaissance to Enlightenment to the impact of a technology or any particular set of ideas.â€ Anyway, the crucial revolution was not of print but of paper: â€œDuring the later Middle Ages a staggering growth in the production of manuscripts, facilitated by the use of paper, accompanied a great expansion of readers outside the monastic and scholastic contexts.â€ For that matter, our minds were altered less by books than by index slips. Activities that seem quite twenty-first century, she shows, began when people cut and pasted from one manuscript to another; made aggregated news in compendiums; passed around prÃ©cis. â€œEarly modern finding devicesâ€ were forced into existence: lists of authorities, lists of headings.(my emphasis: source here)
so last week on one of my few excursions outdoors, I came upon this marvelous contraption being thrown away on 14th Street. I lugged it home because I am SURE it has something to do with the spindle of necessity that Atropos and Clotho and Lashesis help the Sirens with in the Myth of Er. it's quite beautifully made, spins very nicely. I'm thinking of adding cards perpendicularly that will make a flapping sound, like I had on my bike when I was about nine. I'm also thinking that instead of playing cards, there could be images of the sirens, and whatever card you land on will point to a particular text/music/whatever thing in our eranisteon.
what do you think? have the gods been kind or what!?!
I’ve been away for a while being sick with what felt like an endless case of bronchitis, and I am better now, for which I am totally totally grateful, but the good part is I pretty much stayed home and played around in music-land the whole month of January, which was a very fun thing to do.
So here’s a little taste: a piece I’ve made out of a recording of the sirens in Plaquemine, LA. I had heard the monthly warning siren test when I was there with Mac in December 2009, but I only caught the last bit on my recorder, so I got Bill Kelley, a fine engineer and musician based in Baton Rouge, to record it for me in December 2010, and it’s inspiring lots of siren pieces.
Some of them will be part of the Archives of Exile project with Richard Steadman-Jones that’ll be going happening in Sheffield in July, but of course they are part of the River Project as well, so I hope you enjoy this taste of The Sirens of Plaquemine.?
(I think you might want to listen to it softly: these particular sirens aren’t warning you, exactly…)
(The siren bowl pictured above is at the University of Mississippi, how cool is that?!?)
And then there's St. Murgen of Inver Ollarba, who garners a mention in the seventeenth-century Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland. Her legend is possibly the most bizarre in hagiography, surpassing even St. Christopher of the Dog's Head, St. James the Cut to Pieces or St. George of Cappadocia with his four separate martyrdoms. Murgen began life as a girl named Liban, whose background is lost in a muddle of folkloric confusion. She seems to have been either of mortal or of Daoine Sidhe parentage, and swept into the sea in the year 90 with her dog, who was transformed into an otter. At some point during her first year underwater, she was turned into a merrow or muirruhgach, the Gaelic word for siren or mermaid. She spent three hundred years with the tail of a salmon, swimming the Irish sea with her pet otter.
Around 390 (or possibly 558), a ship destined for Rome took her in from the seas, having heard her angelic singing. The cleric Beoc, a vicar of Bishop St. Comgall of Bangor, was on board, and she pleaded him to take her ashore at Inver Ollarba up the coast. On his return from Rome, after reporting to Pope Gregory of Comgall's deeds in office, he fulfilled his promise and Liban was taken ashore in a boat half-filled with water by another fellow, Beorn.
Instantly, a dispute started over who had authority over her with Beoc, Beorn and St. Comgall all pressing their case. It fell to Beoc after they placed her in a tank of water on a chariot and the chariot stopped in front of Beoc's parish church. There, she was given the choice of being baptized, after which she would die immediately and go to heaven, or living another three hundred years--the number she had spent as a mermaid--and then going on to paradise. She chose the first, was baptized by St. Comgall with the name of Murgen, or, "sea-born," and died in the odor of sanctity. Of course, this was all in the days before canonizations became the exclusive and infallible province of Rome. That being said, the Teo-da-Beoc, or, church of Beoc, was the site of many miracles wrought in her name, and paintings of this singular saint still remain there to this day.
I wish I knew what to make of all this weirdness: the Bollandists would have a hernia over it. But, se non e vero, e ben trovato, and, suffice to say, I'd like to think that St. Comgall didn't just baptize some wayward manatee.
Gotta love it, no?!?!
I’ve posted another River Project piece, this time on YouTube. It’s call In and Out of the Game, and it was inspired by my meeting with Paul in Cape Girardeau, which you can read about here.
What song the Syrens sang, or what name Achilles assumed when he hid himself among women, though puzling questions are not beyond all conjecture.Sir Thomas appends a note that says "The puzling questions of Tiberius unto Grammarians. Marcel. Donatus in Suet."
So I went to Suetonius and found the following entertaining bits about Tiberius and exile, along with the question about the sirens:
10 At the flood-tide of success, though in the prime of life and health, he suddenly decided to go into retirement and to withdraw as far as possible from the centre of the stage; perhaps from disgust at his wife, whom he dared neither accuse nor put away, though he could no longer endure her; or perhaps, avoiding the contempt born of familiarity, to keep up his prestige by absence, or even add to it, in case his country should ever need him.... At the time he asked for leave of absence on the ground of weariness of office and a desire to rest; and he would not give way either to his mother's urgent entreaties or to the complaint which his step-father openly made in the senate, that he was being forsaken. On the contrary, when they made more strenuous efforts to detain him, he refused to take food for four days. Being at last allowed to depart, he left his wife and son in Rome and went down to Ostia in haste, without saying a single word to any of those who saw him off, and kissing only a very few when he left.
11 From Ostia he coasted along the shore of Campania, and learning of an indisposition of Augustus, he stopped for a while. But since gossip was rife that he was lingering on the chance of realising his highest hopes, although the wind was all but dead ahead, he sailed directly to Rhodes, for he had been attracted by the charm and healthfulness of that island ever since the time when he put in there on his return from Armenia. Content there with a modest house and a villa in the suburbs not much more spacious, he adopted a most unassuming manner of life, at times walking in the gymnasium without a lictor or a messenger, and exchanging courtesies with the good people of Greece with almost the air of an equal.
13 He also gave up his usual exercises with horses and arms, and laying aside the garb of his country, took to the cloak and slippers; and in this state he continued for upwards of two years, becoming daily an object of greater contempt and aversion. This went so far that the citizens of Nemausus threw down his statues and busts, and when mention was once made of him at a private dinner party, a man got up and assured Gaius that if he would say the word, he would at once take ship for Rhodes and bring back the head of "the exile," as he was commonly called. It was this act especially, which made his position no longer one of mere fear but of actual peril, that drove Tiberius to sue for his recall with most urgent prayers, in which his mother joined; and he obtained it, although partly owing to a fortunate chance. Augustus had resolved to come to no decision of the question which was not agreeable to his elder son, who, as it happened, was at the time somewhat at odds with Marcus Lollius, and accordingly ready to lend an ear to his stepfather's prayers. With his consent therefore Tiberius was recalled, but on the understanding that he should take no part or active interest in public affairs.
70 He was greatly devoted to liberal studies in both languages. In his Latin oratory he followed Messala Corvinus, to whom he had given attention in his youth, when Messala was an old man. But he so obscured his style by excessive mannerisms and pedantry, that he was thought to speak much better offhand than in a prepared address. He also composed a lyric poem, entitled "A Lament for the Death of Lucius Caesar," and made Greek verses in imitation of Euphorion, Rhianus, and Parthenius, poets of whom he was very fond, placing their busts in the public libraries among those of the eminent writers of old; and on that account many learned men vied with one another in issuing commentaries on their works and dedicating them to the emperor. 3 Yet his special aim was a knowledge of mythology, which he carried to a silly and laughable extreme; for he used to test even the grammarians, a class of men in whom, as I have said, he was especially interested, by questions something like this: "Who was Hecuba's mother?" "What was the name of Achilles among the maidens?" "What were the Sirens in the habit of singing?"
[I should mention that Sir Thomas Browne is one of my favorite guys, I wrote a piece many years ago based on The Garden of Cyrus, which oddly enough happens to be being performed tonight in NYC(!)]
When the Queen of Egypt arrived for an extended visit, in 46 B.C., with a large entourage, Caesar put her up at his villa in the suburbs. Compared with gorgeous, cosmopolitan Alexandria, the filthy, ramshackle city of a million people which the Queen saw from her perch in the hills "qualified as a provincial backwater," Schiff writes. "Disdain," she observes, "is a natural condition of the mind in exile," and it came naturally to Cleopatra.
Judith Thurman quoting Stacy Schiff's "Cleopatra" in "The Cleopatriad", The New Yorker, 15 November 2010
First divesting ourselves of worldly goods, as St. Francis teaches,
in order that our souls not be distracted
by gain and loss, and in order also
that our bodies be free to move
easily at the mountain passes, we had then to discuss
whither or where we might travel, with the second question being
should we have a purpose, against which
many of us argued fiercely that such purpose
corresponded to worldly goods, meaning a limitation or constriction,
whereas others said it was by this word we were consecrated
pilgrims rather than wanderers: in our minds, the word translated as
a dream, a something-sought, so that by concentrating we might see it
glimmering among the stones, and not
pass blindly by; each
further issue we debated equally fully, the arguments going back and forth,
so that we grew, some said, less flexible and more resigned,
like soldiers in a useless war. And snow fell upon us, and wind blew,
which in time abated â€” where the snow had been, many flowers appeared,
and where the stars had shone, the sun rose over the tree line
so that we had shadows again; many times this happened.
Also rain, also flooding sometimes, also avalanches, in which
some of us were lost, and periodically we would seem
to have achieved an agreement; our canteens
hoisted upon our shoulders, but always that moment passed, so
(after many years) we were still at that first stage, still
preparing to begin a journey, but we were changed nevertheless;
we could see this in one another; we had changed although
we never moved, and one said, ah, behold how we have aged, traveling
from day to night only, neither forward nor sideward, and this seemed
in a strange way miraculous. And those who believed we should have a purpose
believed this was the purpose, and those who felt we must remain free
in order to encounter truth, felt it had been revealed.
They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.
Hebrews 11: 13-16