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A 2011 Teaser (Contrapuntal Platypus is Back!) December 31, 2010

Posted by contrapuntalplatypus in About Me, Human Rights, Saving the World, Social Media.
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Yes, I’m finally back…after a month of piano festival application/Christmas recital craziness, Rumikitty chaos (it seems he did eat the string and it is now, er, gradually reappearing) and a family-wide epidemic of Norovirus – aka stomach flu – perfectly timed for Christmas Eve. Yay! 😉

Thank goodness December is almost over (and I survived, if barely). Here’s to a more consistent* year of blogging!

Now for the 2011 Contrapuntal Platypus Teaser…

While thinking over my 2011 New Year’s Resolutions, I realized that I wanted to (1) post more blog entries and (2) do more for various human rights causes worldwide. So I decided to combine the two, and begin the year by posting a special Human Rights Challenge…for any who dare to take part 😀 All will be revealed tomorrow at midnight!

Until then…Happy New Year’s Eve!

– Contrapuntal Platypus

* On this topic, I was chatting with a friend online who’d been thinking of blogging for a while, but who told me he preferred to “finish what he’d started in 2010” first. (I’m bad about that too as you can probably tell if you’ve been following…)

At once this reminded me of a joke I’d seen floating around the Net:

“Dr. Neil proclaimed the way to achieve inner peace is to finish all the things you have started.  So I looked around my house to see things I had started and hadn’t finished; and, before leaving the house this morning, I finished off a bottle of Pinot Noir, a bottle of Chardonnay, a bottle of Baileys, a bottle of Kahlua, a packet of Penguins, the remainder of a bottle of Prozac, Valium prescriptions, the rest of the Cheesecake, and a box of chocolates.

You have no idea how good I feel.”


…Chaos, Thy Name is Rumikitty December 21, 2010

Posted by contrapuntalplatypus in About Me, Advent Calendar of Carols, Truth is Stranger than Fiction.
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Chaos RumikittyAnd so a week has passed since my last post..

The post when I finally got up to date with the Advent Calendar of Carols and was rejoicing that there was only 12 days left until Christmas. It had been a busy November and a chaotic December, but things were all easy from here. All I needed to do was bake some cookies, clean up, finish my last few days of teaching, record a Christmas carol or two I planned to post on my blog and then it would be Christmas break, starting with a weekend visit to some relatives in a nearby city. Simple…and with ample time for me to blog each day.

I had reckoned without my companion feline. Chaos, thy name is Rumikitty.

It was the night of the 15th, nearing 1 am last Wednesday morning, and I had just headed into the washroom to brush my teeth and – hopefully – get some sleep after another long day of last-week-before-Christmas teaching. I had just been playing chase with Rumikitty and his favorite toy and had left him – now dozing, sleepy and innocent – curled up in a little ball of golden fur on my pillow for his normal pre-bedtime snooze. Coming out of the washroom ten minutes later, I glanced over at the bed.

Then my heart nearly stopped.

Rumikitty lay directly in the middle of the bed, a deeply satisfied look upon his little kitty face, his paws clenched around the chase toy which I had, in a moment of carelessness, left on the nearby night table. A chewed half-inch of its foot-long string dangled forlornly.

The remainder of the string was nowhere to be found.

I’ll gloss over what the next hour involved…let’s just say a lot of tears, screaming, hunting for the string and chasing an increasingly-less-satisfied cat in rage around the apartment, until he hid beneath the couch and refused to budge.

I called the emergency clinic. I should monitor him, I was told, and watch for, well, any signs of the emerging string…from either end of Rumi. No pulling on it, that could damage internal organs if it had gotten tangled up somewhere. Watch for any discomfort or change in eating or bathroom habits. Take him in if things get worse.

I spent the next hour searching my room and then the apartment. As the next day. No string.

I looked everywhere…under beds, couches, tables, cushions, rugs. I even pulled out the stove and refrigerator (pulling out, I later found, the plug as well and making our fridge turn off for the next day). I have never looked behind the refrigerator. It proved to be the Graveyard of Lost Cat Toys. I found at least 20 dusty toy mice, a handful of the plastic straws he enjoys chewing, and an assortment of balls, stuffed toys and balled-up holey socks I had thrown to him to chase from time to time. But no string.

The next morning, he appeared to be having, er, litterbox issues and I thought it far better to be safe than sorry. Off to the vet.

Three hours and $200 worth of tests later, they thought it possible he might have eaten the string.

By the end of the day and $600 worth of tests later, they were fairly sure he hadn’t. They had run a barium series, which essentially consists of forcing a liquid solution of barium down his throat – barium shows up in X-rays as string itself doesn’t – and seeing if there was a blockage or obstruction anywhere along the way. Fortunately it went through with no issues.

It should also, I was told, flush out the string as it went – if there was a string to flush out. But by that evening…nothing.

“Are you sure he never ate it, then?” I asked. “Is there maybe a small possibility it could still be sitting there, not blocking anything but not moving either?”

“A small possibility. But I think we can feel pretty good about the situation here. If he does vomit, though, or stop eating, do take him back in at once.” They discharged him, swiped my credit card (ouch) and there we were, back in my apartment. Exhausted, about $700 lighter and still with no certainty as to where the string had gone.

I searched my room one last, exhaustive time. Nada.

Crossing my fingers, I entrusted him to the care of my wonderful cat-sitter and left town for the weekend. Quite fortunately, the trip went by without further incident than numerous panicked calls home on my part, only to be reassured that Rumi was doing just fine, no worries. He’s still doing fine as I write this now. But…no string.

Maybe micro black holes do exist after all? 😀

In any case, this is all by way of apology for being gone from this blog, and my Advent Calendar of Carols, and from Twitter and #iranelection for so long. Hopefully I’ll be excused this time at any rate.

To tweak the famous quote, NOTHING can upset both the best-laid plans of mice and men so much as…a cat. 😀

– Contrapuntal Platypus

December 13: The Twelve Days of Christmas December 13, 2010

Posted by contrapuntalplatypus in About Me, Advent Calendar of Carols, Just for Fun, Music.
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…And so the second half of the countdown begins. Out of the 24 days until Christmas, only twelve are left…we’re halfway there! 😀

When I was young, one of the things I enjoyed most about Christmas was singing carols. Not just because I liked the music, or the words, but because I could remember them – all the words to every carol. (I had a near-photographic memory for poetry…useless for practical purposes, but fun.) Ever year I delighted in reaming off verse after obscure verse of carol after carol, while the grownups around me gazed on in astonishment at all those words they could never remember.

All right, I admit it…I was more than a bit of a showoff. 😀

“The Twelve Days of Christmas” was one of the best carols for this purpose. It was long and went on and on and on, with every verse adding a further level of complexity. I took great pride in remembering all the drummers drumming and maids a-milking and lords a-leaping and calling birds and swans a-swimming long after all the other singers around me had given up in disgust, or boredom.

I could post a YouTube video of this, but absolutely everyone has heard the Twelve Days of Christmas (probably far more often than they would have liked to.) So instead, here’s my favorite parody, by Frank Kelly. 😀

December 12: Ihr Kinderlein Kommet December 13, 2010

Posted by contrapuntalplatypus in Advent Calendar of Carols, Christianity, Music.
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Time for another German carol…one of my all-time favorites.

Last night I turned pages for a friend’s Christmas concert at a church nearby. They were performing Joseph Martin’s “Ceremony of Candles”…a beautiful choral reworking and interweaving of traditional Christmas carols, including “In the Bleak Midwinter”,” Il est Ne Le Divin Enfant”, “Silent Night” and many others. I actually got goosebumps during the performance…not once but several times. Amazing.

My favorite movement was “Invitation to the Manger”, based on the German Christmas carol “Ihr Kinderlein Kommet” – “O Come Little Children.” Martin reworks this simple, childlike carol into a brilliant contrapuntal setting complete with ringing bell-like chords in the piano, sudden shifts of key and a brilliant, jubilant tempo. I felt utterly drawn in – my only regret was that I couldn’t sing along!

I tried to find a usable recording on Youtube, but to no avail. However, here is a beautiful choral setting of Ihr Kinderlein Kommet…a must-listen in any case. Enjoy.

Ihr Kinderlein, kommet, o kommet doch all!
Zur Krippe her kommet in Bethlehems Stall
und seht, was in dieser hochheiligen Nacht
der Vater im Himmel für Freude uns macht!

O seht in der Krippe im nächtlichen Stall,
seht hier bei des Lichtleins hell glänzendem Strahl
den reinliche Windeln, das himmlische Kind,
viel schöner und holder als Engel es sind!

Da liegt es, das Kindlein, auf Heu und auf Stroh,
Maria und Josef betrachten es froh.
Die redlichen Hirten knien betend davor,
hoch oben schwebt jubelnd der Engelein Chor.

O beugt wie die Hirten anbetend die Knie,
erhebet die Hände und danket wie sie!
Stimmt freudig, ihr Kinder, wer wollt sich nicht freun,
stimmt freudig zum Jubel der Engel mit ein!

Oh, come, little children, oh, come, one and all,
To Bethlehem’s stable, in Bethlehem’s stall.
And see with rejoicing this glorious sight,
Our Father in heaven has sent us this night.

Oh, see in the manger, in hallowèd light
A star throws its beam on this holiest sight.
In clean swaddling clothes lies the heavenly Child,
More lovely than angels, this Baby so mild.

Oh, there lies the Christ Child, on hay and on straw;
The shepherds are kneeling before Him with awe.
And Mary and Joseph smile on Him with love,
While angels are singing sweet songs from above.

December 11: Gloucestershire Wassail December 13, 2010

Posted by contrapuntalplatypus in Advent Calendar of Carols, Just for Fun, Music.
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I’ve been going to and hosting a lot of Christmas parties this past week, so I thought I’d post another party song. The “Gloucestershire Wassail” is by far my favorite traditional secular carol. Any time I turn it on it’s bound to bring a smile to my face…it so perfectly conjures up the image of a Christmas party with lots of great food, drink and good music!

This site has some great notes on the origin of wassailing, an ancient English tradition with pagan roots thought to originate between 300-500 AD; “pre-Christian fertility rites where the villagers went through orchards at mid-winter singing and shouting loudly to drive out evil spirits, and pouring cider on the roots of trees to encourage fertility…It was only later that these traditions became associated with “luck visits” made around the neighborhood, together with general merry-making…and “fortified by copious quantities of alcohol”.” 😀

As a vegan, I can’t say I’m crazy about the lyrics, which mainly refer to various animals popular for their meat in English cooking. However, I do love the last verse. Like much of the song, it has the feeling of something joyfully improvised on the spur of the moment…perhaps by a young man in the wassailing group who wished to catch the attention of the “maid in the lily white smock” he’s seen earlier that evening? 😉

…And the rollicking tune is simply irresistible.

My favorite performance is by the Baltimore Consort, but unfortunately it is completely unavailable online. Here’s a close second best, by the Waverly Consort.

Wassail, wassail all over the town
Our toast it is white and our ale it is brown
Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree
With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee

So here is to Cherry and to his right cheek
Pray God send our master a good piece of beef
And a good piece of beef that may we all see
With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee

And here is to Dobbin and to his right eye
Pray God send our master a good Christmas pie
A good Christmas pie that may we all see
With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee

So here is to Broad Mary and to her broad horn
May God send our master a good crop of corn
And a good crop of corn that may we all see
With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee

And here is to Fillpail and to her left ear
Pray God send our master a happy New Year
And a happy New Year as e’er he did see
With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee

And here is to Colly and to her long tail
Pray God send our master he never may fail
A bowl of strong beer! I pray you draw near
And our jolly wassail it’s then you shall hear

Come butler, come fill us a bowl of the best
Then we hope that your soul in heaven may rest
But if you do draw us a bowl of the small
Then down shall go butler, bowl and all

Then here’s to the maid in the lily white smock
Who tripped to the door and slipped back the lock
Who tripped to the door and pulled back the pin
For to let these jolly wassailers in.

December 10: Joseph Dearest, Joseph Mine (and Cradle Song) December 11, 2010

Posted by contrapuntalplatypus in Advent Calendar of Carols, Christianity, Music.
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Joseph Dearest, Joseph Mine” is an old German Christmas cradle song (dating back to 1500 and possibly before) whose gentle swaying motion clearly mimics the motion of Mary rocking the newborn Christ Child. Though both the song and the lyrics are simple in themselves, Brahms used the melody to create one of his most beautiful works, “Geistliches Wiegenlied” (Sacred Lullaby) – which I had the wonderful opportunity to perform a few years ago with a chamber ensemble at the university where I studied piano.

The “Geistliches Wiegenlied” is paired in Op. 91 with another song; both are written for contralto, viola, and piano. I love the story of how these works were created:

The songs bear clear relationship to the composer’s friendship with Joachim, the great violinist, and his wife, Amalie, one of the leading contraltos of her day. In September 1864, in honour of the birth of the Joachims’ first-born child, Brahms dispatched an early version of the Sacred Lullaby, a setting of a poem by Emanuel Geibel. Then in 1884, in the wake of the violinist’s unsuccessful divorce proceedings against his wife, the composer revised the old song and composed for it a companion, Quelled Longing. Both songs were published together in 1884 as Brahms’ Op. 91, and this musical pairing can only be understood as a well-meaning effort to resolve the estrangement of his two dear friends – which brought to the public two of the greatest and most powerful expressions of his lyric muse.

Tender, lyrical, gently contrapuntal and approachable to all listeners, this piece is a must-listen. You can hear the “Joseph Dearest, Joseph Mine” melody in the viola at the beginning, and subtly woven throughout the texture of the song…just another example of Brahms’ amazing genius. The performers are Janet Baker (mezzo-soprano), Cecil Aronowitz (viola) and Andre Previn (piano).

– Contrapuntal Platypus

Broccoli We Have Heard on High… December 11, 2010

Posted by contrapuntalplatypus in Advent Calendar of Carols, Just for Fun, Music, Truth is Stranger than Fiction.
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Yes, I know I’m behind on carols. Hoping to catch up tonight…but first something just for fun.

A couple days ago I posted a recording of “Angels We Have Heard on High” as part of my Advent Calendar of Carols series. Though my sister likes the song, she really wasn’t crazy about the recording…she felt it was too, well, rigid and pretentious. (Or something to that effect. :D)

So of course I challenged her to find a better one. A few minutes later she came back with this:

Honestly, I would never have thought such a beautiful tone could come from an instrument made out of a vegetable. It’s like a wooden recorder, only richer and even more soulful. This guy has a number of video clips out, each featuring an instrument made from a different fruit or vegetable. A must see! (Though the broccoli is my favorite.) 😀

– Contrapuntal Platypus

December 9: Riu, Riu, Chiu December 11, 2010

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These past few days I’ve been going to and having Christmas parties. Today (yes, December 11; excuse the late post :D) was my piano masterclass and Christmas party. Great music, great cookies and a chance for the students to meet one another – though I seemed utterly unable to persuade anyone to sing carols. Why is our culture apparently terrified of singing?

Now maybe if we lived in Spain…

“Riu, riu, chiu”, a traditional Spanish carol, is just sheer fun to sing and listen to. It’s the perfect Christmas party song. What’s ironic is that the lyrics – a rather stuffy theological metaphor comparing the Immaculate Conception to a river guarding a lamb (the Virgin Mary) from a ravenous wolf (the Devil) – aren’t exactly prime material for a party song. (The later verses do get better though – not that the meaning makes a difference to a non-Spanish speaking listener like me!)

A couple years ago I heard this song done by an all-men’s choir at a university Christmas concert. The guy who did the solo was obviously a native Spanish speaker and he did a fantastic job, rattling off verse after verse of tongue-twisting lyrics. By the look of it, he was enjoying every moment of the performance as much as we were!

I couldn’t find a performance on Youtube to match that one, but the Oxford Camerata does a pretty good job. 😀

English Translation:
Chorus: Riu, riu, chiu
The river bank protects it,
As God kept the wolf from the lamb.

The rabid wolf tried to bite her,
But God Almightly knew how to defend her,
He wished to create her impervious to sin,
Nor was this maid to embody original sin.

He comes to give life to the dead,
He comes to redeem the fall of man;
This Child is the light of day,
He is the very Lamb Saint John prophecied.

A thousand singing herons I saw passing,
Flying overhead, sounding a thousand voices,
Exulting, “Glory be in the heavens, and peace on earth,
For Jesus has been born.”


December 8: Angels We Have Heard on High December 10, 2010

Posted by contrapuntalplatypus in About Me, Advent Calendar of Carols, Christianity, Music.
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Another traditional favorite. For me this song has a special association: the December that I was in the play “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.”

For me this is one of the yearly “must-read” Christmas books. The church in a small, sleepy town prepares for the annual Christmas pageant, which never changes: the “perfect” girl is always Mary, the minister’s son always Joseph, and the little kids always get stuck in the Angel Choir. Then one year, double disaster strikes. The woman in charge of the pageant breaks her leg, and the Hurdmans – “the worst kids in town”, famous for swearing, cigar smoking and stealing – show up at church one day and take over every major role. The main character’s mother and substitute pageant director bravely declares that it will be “the best Christmas pageant ever.” But what will happen on Christmas Eve?

Much as I wanted to be one of the Hurdmans, I – like most of the children who auditioned – were assigned to the Angel Choir, with little to do until the near-final scenes when we trooped onstage singing “Angels We Have Heard on High”. The song was cut short by a fire alarm (you’ll have to read the book to find out why. :D). Fortunately, as I recall we got to sing the entire carol later. My favorite bit were the long “Gloria’s” in the chorus – so much fun to sing!

Here’s a gorgeous recording by the Robert Shaw Chamber Singers.

December 7: Candlelight Carol December 10, 2010

Posted by contrapuntalplatypus in Advent Calendar of Carols, Christianity, Music, Poetry.
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A beautiful gem of a contemporary carol composed by John Rutter. Really there’s nothing one could possibly add by talking about it…so here are two recordings. The first is by a professional ensemble, the second a high school choir – less polished perhaps, but with a certain magic that (to me) the professional recording doesn’t quite match.

Enjoy! 🙂

How do you capture the wind on the water?
How do you count all the stars in the sky?
How can you measure the love of a mother,
Or how can you write down a baby’s first cry?
Candlelight, angel light, firelight and star-glow
Shine on his cradle till breaking of dawn.
Gloria, gloria in excelsis Deo!
Angels are singing; the Christ child is born.
Shepherds and wise men will kneel and adore him,
Seraphim round him their vigil will keep;
Nations proclaim him their Lord and their Saviour,
But Mary will hold him and sing him to sleep.

Find him at Bethlehem laid in a manger:
Christ our Redeemer asleep in the hay.
Godhead incarnate and hope of salvation:
A child with his mother that first Christmas Day.