Monday, May 30, 2016

The last full measure of devotion

An annual repost.

Tomb of Unknown Soldier

Know, all who see these lines,
That this man, by his appetite for honor,
By his steadfastness,
By his love for his country,
By his courage,
Was one of the miracles of the God.

-- Guy Gavriel Kay

"The Green Field of France", by Eric Bogle

Well, how do you do, young Willie McBride,
Do you mind if I sit down here by your graveside?
And rest for awhile 'neath the warm summer sun,
I've been walking all day, and I'm nearly done.
I see by your gravestone you were only 19
When you joined the great fallen in 1916,
I hope you died quick and I hope you died clean
Or, Willie McBride, was it slow and obscene?

Did they Beat the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly?
Did they sound the death-march as they lowered you down?
Did the band play The Last Post in chorus?
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?

Did you leave a wife or a sweetheart behind
In some faithful heart is your memory enshrined?
And, though you died back in 1916,
To that faithful heart are you forever 19?
Or are you a stranger without even a name,
Enshrined then, forever, behind a glass pane,
In an old photograph, torn and tattered and stained,
And faded to yellow in a brown leather frame?

Did they Beat the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly?
Did they sound the death-march as they lowered you down?
Did the band play The Last Post in chorus?
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?

The sun's shining down on these green fields of France;
The warm wind blows gently, and the red poppies dance.
The trenches have vanished long under the plow;
No gas and no barbed wire, no guns firing now.
But here in this graveyard that's still No Man's Land
The countless white crosses in stand mute in the sand
To man's blind indifference to his fellow man,
And a whole generation who were butchered and damned.

Did they Beat the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly?
Did they sound the death-march as they lowered you down?
Did the band play The Last Post in chorus?
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?

And I can't help but wonder, no Willie McBride,
Do all those who lie here know why they died?
Did they really believe when they answered the call,
Did they really believe that this war would end wars?
Well the sorrow, the suffering, the glory, the pain
The killing and dying, was all done in vain,
For young Willie McBride, it all happened again,
And again, and again, and again, and again.

Did they Beat the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly?
Did they sound the death-march as they lowered you down?
Did the band play The Last Post in chorus?
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Symphony Saturday

This work may not even actually be a symphony, but I'm featuring it nonetheless, because for a time Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov actually did consider it a symphony (his Symphony No. 2), before redubbing it a "symphonic suite", called Antar. His inspiration here was an Arabian story about a man named Antar who saves a gazelle from a bird of prey, and when the gazelle turns out to be a magical Queen, she decides to reward him by showing him the three greatest joys of life (vengeance, power, and love). Rimsky-Korsakov had a love of Asian and Eastern European myths and tales, which most notably manifested in his masterpiece Scheherazade, but Antar is also a fascinating listen, whether it's a symphony or not.

Here is what might be Rimsky-Korsakov's Symphony No. 2...or what might not be his Symphony No. 2.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Something for Thursday

A selection from Trevor Jones's score to the teevee movie Merlin. This was made when filmed fantasy was just starting to make its big comeback, a couple of years before The Lord of the Rings, and it's actually not a bad production, if a little dated in some respects. Trevor Jones's music, however, is terrific.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Tuesday, May 24, 2016


One of my more esoteric fascinations is with Toby mugs and jugs. These are mugs or pitchers or other vessels worked into the detailed likeness of a person, usually just the head if it's a mug, but featuring the entire body (usually seated and holding a pitcher or drinking vessel of their own) if it's a jug. The Wife doesn't get the appeal, but I think they're great. This falls in, of course, with my long-noted love of drinking vessels of all types, from mugs to glassware to ceramic flagons to waterskins to, well, you name it.

I first discovered the existence of Toby mugs in, of all places, a cookbook by Jeff Smith (aka, The Frugal Gourmet), which focused on cooking at Christmastime. There's a photo in that book of a table laden with Christmas fruitcakes and puddings, with a couple of Toby mugs off to one side. Presumably this is because Toby mugs originate in Victorian England, and according to Smith, heavy puddings and cakes such as are served at Christmastime (in properly Dickensian dinners, I suppose) are English in genesis. He notes in the caption that "Toby mugs traditionally held sauces for the table at Christmas." I have no idea if that's accurate or not; I just loved the visual of these head-shaped mugs on the table.

Longtime readers may remember that I bought this handsome guy some years ago, at a local antique place that has since gone out of business.

Toby mug V: I've had this guy for several years, but for completeness's sake, here he is! #antiquing

I love that guy! He makes a good place to display my pocket watch, too!

Flash-forward to the other day, when I traveled with my sister to an antique place near Rochester, NY, and there I found (among other cool things) these four mugs! In one trip, I quintupled my collection!

Robin Hood (note that the mug handle is his bow):

Toby mug II: Robin Hood. Note his drinking horn and that his bow is the mug handle! #antiquing

Don Quixote:

Toby mug I: Don Quixote. My wife makes fun of them, but I love these things. #antiquing

Then two which were not identified, both of which were marked "as is" and both of which sold for five bucks together. I don't know why; the only blemish I can find is a very small crack in the sad-looking fellow, and since I don't plan to use these as drinking or serving vessels, the crack doesn't do anything against the display qualities.

Tobh mug III: I don't know what he's supposed to be, but his handle is a key. Maybe some secretive cleric, protecting a secret? #antiquing

Toby mug IV: No idea who he is, either, but he was marked 'as is' and sold for two bucks. He has a tiny crack in his crown, but as I'm not using these for liquid distribution, I thought I'd give him a bookshelf to hang out on for two bucks. Something abou

Wow, that lower fellow is sad-looking indeed! I wonder what his story is. Anyway, it was fun to scratch that itch for a while. Will I get more? Maybe! But not for now.

(Wondering about this odd bit of drinking-vessel ephemera? Well, as further evidence that for any given thing there is a museum devoted to it somewhere, it turns out that there's an American Toby Jug Museum in Chicago! This just blows my mind.)

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Symphony Saturday

Apologies for missing this feature last week! Last Saturday was a really hectic day that didn't afford me a real chance to sit down and go Whew! until rather late, at which point I was still facing my daily writing quota, so that's what happened. But let's get back into the swing, shall we? Last time I alluded to a major Russian waiting in the wings, and here's a major Russian, just not the one I was referring to. I'm talking to day about Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, of whose symphonies I wasn't even aware until just last week.

His first symphony is a student work of sorts, and in honesty, it rather feels like a student work. He makes use of Russian folk melodies throughout, but his orchestration is right out of the German tradition, and the composer even admitted heavily relying on Berlioz's Treatise on Orchestration (one of the classic texts on the subject, to this day) and the advice of his teacher, Mily Balakirev. Of course, Rimsky-Korsakov himself would mature into one of the greatest orchestral colorists of all time, but that was still in his future.

Here is the Symphony No. 1 in E minor, by Rimsky-Korsakov.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Something for Thursday

I don't remember if I've featured this before, but it's just such a perfect piece of music that it's worth revisiting now and again. Alexander Borodin's In the Steppes of Central Asia depicts the meeting of two trade caravans, on some road in the Asian wilderness. There is no war or conflict here, just two groups coming together -- depicted by two melodies of differing character -- greeting one another and parting. This wonderful piece is so full of warmth and human optimism that it simply glows.

Here is In the Steppes of Central Asia.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Nineteen years

On May 17, 1997, I married a beautiful young woman from Iowa. Nineteen years later, here we are!

19 years, married to this amazing woman! Huzzah!!

Here's hoping for another nineteen years...and another nineteen after that...and, well...second star to the right, and straight on 'til morning!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Bad Joke Friday

An Arthurian theme this week!

What was the name of the fattest Knight of the Round Table?

Sir Cumference!

Something From Thursday

Sorry, folks, yesterday was a bit preoccupying, what with a nice visit from my old friends, the Car Repair Gods*.

Here's something fun.

Pro tip: Looking for light, fun classical music to brighten your day? Listen to the overtures of Franz von Suppe. My favorites are this one, "Light Cavalry", "Poet and Peasant", "Morning, Noon, and Night in Vienna", and "The Beautiful Galatea".

* They're not friends. They're jerks, and when they come by, well -- as Ned Flanders noted, I'm obliged to offer them a beer, but it's mostly head.

Monday, May 09, 2016

April Showers bring May...Apples?

So a few weeks ago I was hiking with The Dee-oh-gee (at Sprague Brook Park in Colden, NY) and I happened across this strange-looking plant:

All right who knows what this is? It's only about 3-inches tall. #mysteryplant #SpragueBrookPark #wny

Odd little thing, innit? I'd never seen anything like it, to my recollection.

A week or so later, I'm hiking with the Dee-oh-gee (at Knox Farm State Park in East Aurora, NY), and I happened across an entire crop of those little plants:

These odd little plants are all over Knox Farm. I wonder what they are. #knoxfarm #wny #EastAurora

And then yesterday, I'm hiking with the Dee-oh-gee (at Chestnut Ridge Park here in sunny Orchard Park), and I happened across another crop of those things, even bigger now.

I'll probably spend all summer documenting whatever these plants are. #ChestnutRidge #wny #OrchardPark

Well, a helpful Instagram user has come to my rescue! They are "May apples", or podophyllum, so named because the flower that generally blossoms from these plants in May that become fruits later on. May apples grow in large colonies, with the 'plants' actually sprouting from a single root that has spread beneath the ground. That's why I'm seeing large patches of these things, when I spot them in the WNY woods.

Wikipedia indicates that they are poisonous, but this article indicates that the fruit can be eaten, albeit with preparation and quantity in mind. I'm not sure if I'm quite that curious, but still, a bit of learning is useful -- especially when it's something that I've been observing on my own!

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Symphony Saturday

After three consecutive weeks of increasingly lengthy and heavy German symphonies, let's step back and listen to something shorter and much less dense. What's needed right now is a French composer, so this week we'll encounter Vincent d'Indy.

I have heard almost nothing by d'Indy; in fact, it's quite likely that the work featured in this post is the only work I've ever heard by d'Indy. My brief research confirms that his music is little heard today outside of the present piece, although in his Essential Canon of Classical Music, David Dubal does opine that d'Indy is a terribly underrated composer, so perhaps his work is deserving of greater exposure.

This work, the Symphony on a French Mountain Air, is unusual in a number of ways. First, it is in three movements instead of the traditional four; second, its melodic material is mostly derived from a single tune (the "mountain air" of the title, a song d'Indy heard while traveling in the mountains); and third, the work features a prominent (but not quite dominant) part for a solo piano, making it a sort of symphony-concerto hybrid, not unlike Harold in Italy, the symphony by d'Indy's fellow Frenchman Hector Berlioz, which had featured a prominent part for solo viola.

The Symphony on a French Mountain Air is, to my ears, a delightful listen that always feels fresh and light, especially after a steady diet of heavy Germanic romanticism.

Next week: Well, I haven't decided yet, but there is a big-name Russian composer knocking on the door....

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Something for Thursday

My day started annoying and spiraled from there, so no music until now. Sorry.

But here's some cheesy movie music from what may be the cheesiest sci-fi movie of all time.

Monday, May 02, 2016

National Poetry Month, day thirty

Guess what? I wrote this and forgot to publish it, until Roger goosed me. Oops.

Today ends National Poetry Month, and I considered writing some kind of summation, but I'll just leave it at this: Read poetry. It isn't hard and doesn't have to make you feel like you're back in English class. (Unless you liked English class, as I did, in which case, hey, it can totally feel like you're back in English class!)

Here is one of my favorite of Tennyson's poems, whose concluding lines are often quoted in inspirational settings. It's a wonderful paean to the eternal desire for new life and new experiences, even when we are nearing the dusk of our lives.

See you next April!

by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match'd with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy'd
Greatly, have suffer'd greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
Thro' scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour'd of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
Gleams that untravell'd world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!
As tho' to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

     This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,—
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro' soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

     There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil'd, and wrought, and thought with me—
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.