Posts Tagged ‘spring’

spring forward

March 13, 2011

Moved that clock forward an hour yet? It’s time.

Each year in March I reluctantly make the rounds to every room, changing the clocks. I never feel ready for it, lingering instead in the many happy memories of soft snowfalls, quieted landscapes and the slower days of winter. Our world is waking up.

Spring’s a time to get busy. Fix all the leaks the melting ice dams discovered. Weatherproof the deck – again. Locate the shovel and wheelbarrow in the melting snowpack next to the tool shed, oil them up and ready them for the year’s garden work. Clean the floors. Clean the floors. Clean the floors. Mud season has come.

Here’s a rare springtime song that speaks not to the usual expressions of joyous rapture and rebirth of the season, but rather to its melancholy as the world changes once again and the human spirit must adjust. No one – NO one – sings it like Ms. Betty Carter.

springing forward with the vso

March 20, 2010

Spring officially arrives around a half hour from now, at 1:32pm ET today.

Unofficially, it’s already been here for a several weeks lurking around in the wings and waiting for a proper introduction. If you’re thinking about all of the dramatic reports of heavy winter snow in the mid-Atlantic states, and all along the Eastern seaboard in the last couple of months: none of that made it to northern Vermont. In fact it never got cold again this year after the annual “January thaw”. The rivers broke up in late January and never froze again. The only significant snowstorm we’ve had this winter came in late February, and within a day or two the warm torrential rains and sunshine came and it’s been early spring mud season ever since.

Quite anti-climactic.

Along with the sagging snow pack of this winter’s whimpering conclusion, has melted away my anticipation for the ice-breaking, the sunlight-fueled springy optimism, and the visceral Rite of Spring rejuvenation that usually pulses through the landscape at this time of the year. I’m trying to get on board with the general glowing sentiment around here and join the frothing over the 60-degree days of the past week, but I keep coming back to “What’s the big deal? It’s been warm for the last two months – and we have at least five more months of this stuff coming!”

I am a diehard winter-lover – the more, the better- so it’s not surprising I’m feeling a little ambivalent about all of this. I never got cold enough, snowbound enough, winter-weary enough to accept the early spring as the kind “relief” other folks are expressing these days.

I’ll come around. But – it is abnormal.

At least a couple of the season’s transitional mile-markers are on cue this year. We reset clocks last weekend to Daylight Savings Time. The Green Mountain Film Festival is underway in Montpelier. It’s also sugar season now, with little wood houses all over the landscape puffing out clouds of steam as vats of maple sap boil away late into the night. And the Vermont Symphony Orchestra’s annual Farmer’s Night concert at the State House came right on time this past Wednesday – the “Luck of the VSO” concert, with a lovely program of faves from the British Isles for St. Patty’s Day.

Today I’ve been doing some reading and thinking about the music of springtime as I get ready to host tonight’s Musically Speaking session before the VSO Masterworks concert this evening. I’ll be talking with guest conductor Sarah Hicks and composer Richard Danielpour. Among other works, the program includes On Hearing the First Cuckoo of Spring, an optimistic work by Frederick Delius; Copland’s bouyant ballet music, Appalachian Spring; and Danielpour’s new double concerto – A Child’s Reliquary – featuring VSO conductor/violinist Jaime Laredo and his wife, cellist Sharon Robinson, as the soloists.

How I love the opportunity to refresh myself in the history of a piece like Appalachian Spring, and recall the non-intuitive nature of its title. Copland was ready to call the work “Ballet for Martha” (after Martha Graham, the choreographer who had commissioned the piece), until Graham suggested that he call it “Appalachian Spring” after a verse from The Dance, one of the fifteen poems in Hart Crane’s, The Bridge:

O Appalachian Spring! I gained the ledge;
Steep, inaccessible smile that eastward bends
And northward reaches in that violet wedge
Of Adirondacks!

The ballet itself revolves around a newly wed couple in the Pennsylvania Amish country, and the friends and neighbors who have gathered to help the couple to raise a new barn.

Interesting, that the orchestral suite made from the Copland’s original ballet music has nothing to do with either the Appalachians or the spring of “springtime”. In fact the “spring” in the title is actually a reference to the water source in Crane’s poem, which only incidentally became associated with the music through an offhand, last-minute suggestion from a friend. Yet it works. Can you even consider hearing that music now and not calling it by that name?

Looking forward to sharing (and learning, I’m sure!) more about the program in this evening’s event. I’ll hope to see you there.

And…happy springtime.

easter extremes

April 11, 2009

It’s poetic that eggs are a symbol of Easter, with so much potential for life represented in such a small package. Like springtime itself!

2009-apr07-eggses011Here in New England as the season flies by in a messy blur of everything from mud and slushy snow to songbirds, and Key West breezes – it’s less a season, really, than it is a feeling. Sure, there are snowdrops, crocus and daffodils. They bravely stick their necks out in mid-April, breaking through the icy crust of composting leaves just in time to have their blooming tops wilted when late-season snow blankets the garden at night.

But for every frozen flower, thwarted garden, and snow-covered BBQ grill..signs of life are busting through everywhere. Irrepressible, and irreversible. How else would we be able to harvest maple syrup, one of the changing season’s first harbingers? Sunlight returns, coaxing the life blood of the sugar maples to surge skyward, feed the veins of the tree, and spawn new leaves. We syphon it off midway and boil it down to its sweet, sticky life essence. Demi-glace of maple sap consommé – mmmmm. An exquisite reduction.

All of this can only happen when the conditions are just right, usually starting somewhere around mid-February, as warm days are paired with below-freezing nights.

Some of the best classical music was written for this time of the year too, in its concentrated power it beautifully echoes both the season’s vibrant lifeforce, and tendency toward extremes. Think of the ferocious thunder and pounding hailstones, in Handel’s Passover oratorio Israel in Egypt – the same composer whose Messiah offers a remarkable contrast with lovely, pastoral melodies like “Ev’ry Valley Shall Be Exalted” and “Worthy is the Lamb”.

Good Friday is my favorite day of the year to be on the air. No exceptions.

Yesterday’s show included the austerely sublime Miserere, Gregorio Allegri’s precious gift to the Sistine Chapel choir – and all of humanity.

(detail from Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling fresco)

(detail from Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling fresco)

An elegant work that defines ‘a capella’ (“of the chapel”) – pure human voices sing out, unaccompanied except for the silent witness of all of creation in Michelangelo’s surrounding frescoes.

When the male soprano hits that exquisite high ‘C’ (you know the note I’m talking about) it’s very nearly divine enough to bridge that crucial, meaningful space between God and Adam’s index fingers, as both reach out but can never quite connect.

Nearly, but not quite. Like the tallest Cathedral domes and spires and minarets, reaching heavenward: the Miserere is divinely inspired but still, ultimately, the creation of a man. It can never actually touch heaven or rise to a level higher than its humble human origins. (That doesn’t mean it’s not a masterpiece: it is.)

4/11/09-sunshine on my early spring garden

4/11/09-sunshine on my early spring garden

Dvorak’s monumental Stabat Mater is another work of singular inspiration: not only perfect for Good Friday but perfect in its deep humanity as a personal expression of parental grief.

Dvorak knew too well what it felt like to lose a child, he began work on the Stabat Mater in the aftermath of the death of his infant daughter. He got as far as beginning to orchestrate the work when he set it aside, maybe trying to move away from the pain of its association with his loss.

Two years later Dvorak’s second daughter died unexpectedly following a household accident, and then, only three weeks after that, Dvorak’s young son succumbed to smallpox. With the loss of all three children in as many years, the unimaginable tragedy left the composer and his wife childless.

That’s exactly when Dvorak revisited the sketches for his Stabat Mater.

Within a month he had finished the work, complete with fullblown choir and several soloists and orchestra. The result is huge, and profound. Musically, it resounds with the weight of emotional loss felt by a parent at a child’s death: Dvorak’s own, and Mary’s – head bent, weeping, the living embodiment of the ‘stabat mater’ (“grieving mother”) herself, at the foot of the crucifixion. Dvorak’s experience infuses his Stabat Mater with incomparable compassion and empathy. It’s his first musical setting of a religious text, and by far his most effective and meaningful.

You don’t have to suffer loss like that to write powerful music. But the effects are undeniable.

No matter your traditions of faith or observance at this time of the year, the very special music of this season transcends and speaks to open ears on a broader, human level: it’s music of redemption, hope, new life and renewal.

May your springtime be filled with all of that. Happy Easter!

—-

Recommended recordings:

Dvorak: Stabat Mater

Allegri: Miserere mei

Persian springtime

March 19, 2009

Red-wing blackbirds are making their way back into the area. This morning along Hinesburg Hollow Road I noticed the sentry’s first appearance, a lone cloaked figure waiting atop the golden tufts of roadside catttail. Seemed early (especially for the coinciding return of the mosquitos and other seasonal insects that feed these birds), but then I think of that New England saying about the annual show of autumn foliage: “whenever it gets here, it’s right on time.”  Patience…patience.

Cold or warm, birds or no birds, in a definitive downbeat for spring the vernal equinox arrives tomorrow morning at 7:44AM EDT. And with it, the start of the Persian New Year, the annual “Naw Ruz” festivities.

2009-mar15-iranflierLast Sunday, Bristol’s Holley Hall hosted “Iran Revealed“, a program sponsored by the One World Library Project. Around a hundred guests filled the space in a special celebration of the Persian holidays welcoming the onset of springtime.

The afternoon melted away in the fragrant grasp of jasmine tea, sweetly perfumed rosewater and cardamom candies, and the warm hospitality of the local Samimi family as they shared poetry readings, family photos, and many varieties of personal insight to their long-lived culture.

The second half of the festivities began with a presentation by Steve Zind, a descendent of the Zand dynasty whose many visits to Iran (both personal and professional; each type of visit characterized by its own inherent benefits and setbacks) yielded a lifetime’s journey of beautiful photos, thoughtful observations, and rich stories.      

Naw Ruz, we learned, is a celebration originating with Persia’s native Zoroastrians around 2,500 years ago. These days it’s an occasion celebrated by all Iranians, regardless of faith: Muslims, Christians, Jews and Bahá’í all come together in the 13 days of the festival’s activities. It’s a time to visit with families and friends, share traditional foods including apples (for health) and garlic (representing healing, or medicines), eggs (for fertility – it IS springtime!) and prepare the mind and spirit for the New Year. 2009-mar15-irancelebinbristol07

On the last Wednesday night before the equinox, the darkness is filled with blazing outdoor fires that celebrate the last days of winter in a joyful musical party. Zoroastrianism is, after all, a faith built around the power of earthly elements.

I thought about all of this last night, the Weds. night before the equinox, as I was driving home through the countryside – the half moon shone above and I imagined golden bursts of Naw Ruz fires punctuating the blue hill silhouettes. Not surprised to see that there were none. Unlike Iran right now, the reality of late March in Vermont is nighttime temperatures that still peak in the single numbers and teens. 

On the final day of the festival (12th day after the equinox) the celebration comes to an end in a huge outdoor picnic – with (need I mention?) more live music, singing and dancing. As the picnic closes everyone gathers with the small vases or containers of grass they’ve been growing on windowsills – wheatgrass, or lentil or mung bean – and ties the grassblades into loose knots, in the hope for good luck in the coming season and year.  

And so, grass knotted, family and friends visited, ancestors remembered and New Year’s hopes secured – Naw Ruz ends and Persians welcome the new season. As do we all – happy springtime!

From the inside of the event’s program, this verse by the 14th c. poet Hafiz:

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This Sky

This

Sky

Where We Live 

Is no place to lose your wings.

So love, love, 

Love. 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~


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