Although the imagery isn’t exactly appropriate for the weather, I post this verse and accompanying painting in honor of the baptismal date (his actual birthdate is unknown) of Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593), poet, playwright, freethinker, and influential contemporary of Shakespeare. Anyway, March is just around the corner, so pretty lambs and melodious birds cannot be far off.
The combination of Marlowe’s successful career, yawning gaps in the biographical record, and early mysterious death in a tavern brawl have led to much speculation about his love life, religious views, and supposed alternate career as a government spy. I can’t think why his story hasn’t yet been made into a swashbuckling PBS mini-series.
Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
That valleys, groves, hills, and fields,
Woods or steepy mountain yields.
And we will sit upon the rocks,
Seeing the shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.
And I will make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroidered all with leaves of myrtle;
A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty lambs we pull;
Fair lined slippers for the cold,
With buckles of th purest gold;
A belt of straw and ivy buds,
With coral clasps and amber studs:
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me and be my love.
The shepherds’ swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me and be my love.
The painting above was created for the cover of a CD, The Sylvan Court.
Today is the birthday of poet Robert Burns (1759-1796), and if you are a lover of his poetry perhaps you may be inspired to host a Burns Supper tonight. You will have to make your own haggis from scratch, however (good luck with that), because apparently the importation of haggis to the United States remains forbidden, as are all food products made with lungs. (Mystifyingly, Spam, although of questionable provenance, can be purchased without a special license and is consumed in this country at the rate of 3.8 cans per second.) Along with sampling haggis, you may toast the poet and each other with whiskey, and when sufficiently inspired recite some of your favorite Burns poems.
In honor of Burns’ birthday I post a song (with a helpful glossary at the end) which I have sung many a time to my children as they drifted off to sleep. (You can listen to a far lovelier rendition by singer Anne Lewis here.) The sketch is from my Ireland sketchbook. For another Burns sketch, please see Move Yer Hurdies.
Ca’ the yowes to the knowes,
Ca’ them where the heather grows,
Ca’ them where the burnie rows,
My bonnie dearie.
Hark! the mavis’ evening sang
Sounding Clouden’s woods amang,
Then a-faulding let us gang,
My bonnie dearie.
We’ll gae down by Clouden side,
Through the hazels spreading wide,
O’er the waves that sweetly glide
To the moon sae clearly.
Yonder Clouden’s silent towers,
Where at moonshine midnight hours
O’er the dewy bending flowers
Fairies dance sae cheery.
Ghaist nor bogle shalt thou fear;
Thou’rt to Love and Heaven sae dear,
Nocht of ill may come thee near,
My bonnie dearie.
Fair and lovely as thou art,
Thou hast stown my very heart;
I can die–but canna part,
My bonnie dearie.
While waters wimple to the sea;
While day blinks in the lift sae hie;
Till clay-cauld death shall blin’ my e’e,
Ye shall be my dearie.
Burnie: Small brook
Sometimes we put this piece of music on the CD player to jump-start our Saturday chores. Really, it ought to come with a warning label. I’m still singing it hours later when I’m walking the dog, or trying to write a letter.
Today is the feast day of St. Cecilia, my saint-name-day (Sheila being the Irish form of Cecilia). St. Cecilia is the patron saint of music, a fact that has always pleased me—irrationally, considering I have no musical talent beyond the ability to sing lullabies relentlessly for hours to restless children.
Anyway, in honor of St. Cecilia, I post this tribute to a wonderful holiday concert that my husband and I attend every year with a group of friends: Celtic Christmas, at Dumbarton Church in Washington, DC. This concert is difficult to describe. It takes place by candlelight in a beautiful old church in Georgetown, and includes traditional seasonal music, unusual obscure pieces, and original compositions, which vary from year to year. The incredibly diverse Linn Barnes plays lute, guitar, banjo, harp-guitar, and Uillean pipes. Allison Hampton plays Celtic harp as if descended from on high to share the music of the spheres. Their performances are heightened and deepened by those of amazing flutist Joseph Cunliffe and percussionist Steve Bloom.
Pieces are interspersed with Barnes’ anecdotes both serious and humorous providing historical background (here is a man serious about music). Other pieces are accompanied by Robert Aubry Davis reading evocative seasonal poetry and prose that he researches especially for the concert (here is a man serious about literature).
This annual event sweeps us into the spirit of a joyful yet poignant Christmas. We depart expecting to step out into softly falling snow, listening for sleigh bells, the call of the heavenly host, and the distant howl of a wolf.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy
Today is the birthday of humorous librettist, dramatist, and director W.S. (William Schwenck) Gilbert (1836-1911), a man who knew how to make a line scan perfectly. It makes singing his verses so very satisfying.
In his honor, I post these sketches from a fabulous performance of The Mikado, probably Gilbert and Sullivan’s best-known and most often performed comic opera. This one took place at the Pittsburgh Public Theater a few seasons back.
The “Japanese” names, like the nonsensical G&S plots and their occasionally offensive point of view, must be taken, like most forms of entertainment, in historical context—this one, that of a supremely confident 19th-century colonial power. It’s still fun.
Today is the birthday of passionate and controversial itinerant poet Vachel Lindsay (1879-1931), and I post in his honor this poem, along with a sketch of a lone violinist my daughter and I encountered this summer during an evening stroll through downtown Charlottesville.
Hungry for music with a desperate hunger
I prowled abroad, I threaded through the town;
The evening crowd was clamoring and drinking,
Vulgar and pitiful—my heart bowed down—
Till I remembered duller hours made noble
By strangers clad in some suprising grace.
Wait, wait, my soul, your music comes ere midnight
Appearing in some unexpected place
With quivering lips, and gleaming, moonlit face.
One of the numerous advantages of homeschooling is accompanying one’s children on field trips. Recently we attended a performance by amazing violinist Karen Briggs and her back-up combo. The concert, one of a series organized for school groups, was held in the Kennedy Center’s Jazz Club, which is set up with cafe tables and chairs rather than rows of seats, and intimate enough that Briggs could chat with us informally between pieces (and that I could see her well enough to sketch). She played for us a range of pieces, and her fiery interpretations and improvisations, drawing on classical, jazz, gospel, African, and Middle Eastern traditions, mesmerized and dazzled the audience, many of whom, it turned out, were young violinists. Briggs has played in concert halls all over the world and is probably best known for her work with keyboard artist Yanni. We all departed with stars in our eyes.
Each year the Washington Opera presents “Opera Look-In,” at the Kennedy Center Opera House to educate children about opera. The program presents opera in a highly accessible manner, combining storytelling, brief scenes in costume, and selected arias (accompanied by the full Opera House Orchestra!) with behind-the-scenes explanations of the use of lighting, music, costumes, and props. School groups attend from all over the Washington, DC area, including homeschool groups—lucky us.
Last year the program revolved around the opera Carmen, and included an exhibition of costumes created by fashion design students at Duke Ellington School for the Arts. This year’s program featured Ellington School students supposedly lost in an opera house, encountering as if by accident scenes from The Barber of Seville, Madame Butterfly, Lucia di Lammermoor, The Magic Flute, and (big crowd-pleaser) Cosi Fan Tutte. It’s not easy to sketch in the dark, and by the end I gave up and settled back to enjoy the humorous last quintet.
To engage an auditorium packed with elementary school students is no easy task, and the kids were riveted. I wonder how many go home and ask their parents to rent Cosi Fan Tutte so they can see the rest of the story.
This is a heads-up that the LAST National Zoo Sunset Serenade of the summer takes place tomorrow night—Thursday, August 5th (weather permitting), from 6:30 to 8pm. If you have never attended any of these free outdoor concerts, then this is your last chance (this summer, anyway) to pack a picnic dinner and join the fun on Lion-Tiger Hill. The evening usually ends with spontaneous barefoot dancing. According to the Zoo website, tomorrow’s group is The Grandsons, performing from their WAMMIE Roots Rock-winning albums.