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New riddle poems! May 2, 2012

Posted by contrapuntalplatypus in Creative Writing, Just for Fun, Poetry, Riddles!, Truth is Stranger than Fiction.
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Well, summer is on its way and the bulk of my teaching year is over – leaving more time for blogging! So here’s a first installment: three new riddle poems for your guessing pleasure πŸ™‚ Enjoy!

1) A suit of circling rings I wear;
Beneath my skin my armour’s deep;
So come and strike me – if you dare!
For if you wound me, you will weep.

Answer: Onion

2) Against ten thousand flying foes I shield,
Unyielding, strong, yet light to bear and wield.
I spring to life at one wave of your hand,
Then humbly shrink away at your command.

Answer: Umbrella

3) For all who’d come and watch in awe
I give to you, my friends,
The best striptease you ever saw!
And one that never ends.

I’ll show you all my curvy bends
As round I turn and glide.
See through my act? Well, that depends –
There’s nothing I can hide.

Don’t try to find my better side,
For if you do, you’ll fail,
Tricked by, like all the rest who’ve tried,
The twist in my strange tale.

Answer: Moebius strip


Riddle poem of the day… September 23, 2011

Posted by contrapuntalplatypus in Creative Writing, Just for Fun, Poetry, Riddles!.
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Time for a new riddle poem – it’s been a while. Question mark

“I’m faithful and steadfast through twist and through turn –
Your friend in the dark without star or sun.
The Earth is my mother; for her I still yearn,
And point to the place where all times are one.”

Answer: A compass needle

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! πŸ˜€

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. πŸ˜€

“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. πŸ˜€

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”.” πŸ˜€

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? πŸ˜‰

…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.

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.) πŸ˜€

– Contrapuntal Platypus

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

Posted by contrapuntalplatypus in Advent Calendar of Carols, Christianity, Just for Fun, Music.
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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. πŸ˜€

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 6: Nikolaus, Komm In Unser Haus December 7, 2010

Posted by contrapuntalplatypus in About Me, Advent Calendar of Carols, Christianity, Just for Fun.
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…First of all, apologies for the posting delay. It’s been a crazy but rewarding 24 hours. A HUGE shout-out to all the amazing students who stood up once more against the oppressive regime in Iran to fight for freedom, and whose protests I and my friends were helping to tweet/liveblog today on Twitter and Facebook. Josh Shahryar (NiteOwl)’s excellent liveblog is here, with an extensive and very impressive collection of videos here via @homylafayette.

But now, back to the happier world of Christmas carols…

A short while ago a Twitter friend (thanks @sara055!) was telling me about the Sinterklaas tradition in Holland; one similar to (and the origin for) our own Santa Claus tradition. “St. Klaas”, known for his generosity, always gave his things away – even his only jacket in winter. He is said to come from Spain by boat every year on December 5. He is accompanied by his “black men” or “black Peters” (“zwarte pieten”), similar to Santa’s helpers, who record throughout the year which children have been good and which naughty. The good ones are given gifts, while the bad ones are supposedly stuck in a bag – and taken back to Spain! πŸ˜€

One custom is for the children to leave little “gifts” (a drawing for Sinterklaas and a carrot or hay for his white horse that he rides over the rooftops) by the fireplace. In the morning these will have vanished, to be replaced by toys. In another tradition, as the children are singing Christmas songs the evening of December 5th, a knock will come on the front door. When the door opens, candy will be thrown in by the “black men” and bags with gifts left by the front door. Sometimes people dressed up as Sinterklaus and the “black men” will even come inside!

This made me think about the similar German custom in which children set out for their shoes/boots by the front door on December 5, “Nikolausabend”. Sankt (St.) Nikolaus is said to come in the night and fill the shoes with sweets, chocolates, fruit and toys – at least for good children. Bad children will get nothing in their shoes – or even worse, a switch! πŸ˜€ Sometimes “Nikolaus” will visit in person and ask the parents if the child has been good, even looking up their yearly record in his golden book.

My family, though we kept a lot of the German traditions, never did Nikolausabend. Instead we just put out our stockings on the 24th. But both my sister and I attended German Pre-Kindergarten. If “Nikolaus” visited, I don’t remember it, but my sister sure did! In her words: “He was one scary dude. I didn’t want to get near him. I think he asked me if I was a good girl, and I nodded vehemently. We have a picture of me looking terrified and keeping my distance.”

…Apparently she wasn’t the only one to think soa kindergarten in Austria has apparently banned any in-person visits by “Nikolaus” for being too “scary”. Poor guy. πŸ˜‰

For those who enjoy history, both the Sinterklaas and Nikolaus traditions trace back to a real man, St. Nicholas of Myra, who was said to not only be generous but a miracle worker as well! So maybe flying horses and black men with magical bags of candy are not so far-fetched after all. πŸ˜€

So here, without any further ado, is my favorite “Nikolaus” German Christmas carol. (The lyrics on the video are slightly different from the ones I grew up hearing, which are listed below…I prefer them!)

Nikolaus komm in unser Haus,
pack die großen Taschen aus.
Lustig, lustig, trallerallala!
Bald ist Nikolaus abend da, Bald ist Nikolaus abend da.

(Nikolaus, come into our house,
Come unpack your great big pouch.
Merry, merry, tralalalala!
Nikolaus Eve will soon be here, Nikolaus Eve will soon be here.)

– The Contrapuntal Platypus

December 4: Hallelujah! December 4, 2010

Posted by contrapuntalplatypus in Advent Calendar of Carols, Just for Fun, Music, Through the Looking Glass, Truth is Stranger than Fiction.
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Ok, this isn’t at all the carol I’d planned to post today. But when a friend pointed me to this “Hallelujah Chorus Flash Mob” video this morning, I found it far too awesome not to post.

I sang in the Hallelujah Chorus one December with a local volunteer choir (part of the winter concert for my sister’s school) together with my dad and sister. It was a great experience and I’d love to repeat it someday. Hallelujah! πŸ™‚

No more commentary today…the video speaks for itself. Enjoy! πŸ™‚

– The Contrapuntal Platypus

An Advent Calendar of Carols November 30, 2010

Posted by contrapuntalplatypus in About Me, Advent Calendar of Carols, Christianity, Just for Fun, Music.
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It’s been a busy November, hence the lack of posts on the site. Lots of teaching. A volunteer concert for a local organization. A funeral I was asked to play for, last-minute. A great many things to blog about and no time at all to write them up…

But finally this busy month is drawing to a close, and December – that magical month – is beginning. A new month and time for new blog posts! Tonight I put some Christmas music on while making dinner, and realized how much I’d missed singing carols, together with other childhood pre-Christmas traditions. (When I was young I’d sing carols everywhere…around the house, while walking outside, in the store…does nobody sing anymore, even around Christmas??)

I have always loved the lead-up to Christmas. I come from a family of (partially) German background, and December 1 always makes me think of two traditions in particular – the first being the Adventskranz! πŸ™‚ The Advent wreath was always made out of fresh pine, spruce and cedar bows and decorated with pinecones, red ribbons and four beeswax candles – three red, the last white. Every Friday night during the three weeks before Christmas, we would light the red candles (one the first week, two the second, and all three the third) and, seated around the wreath, sing a carol together. (In later years this expanded to one carol the first week, two the second…we couldn’t get enough carols as far as my sister and I were concerned!) πŸ˜€ On Christmas Eve all four candles were lit, the white one last of all, and we would sing the special Christmas Eve carol. (You’ll have to wait to find out which one…)

The other tradition I can’t help thinking of on December 1 is, of course, the Advent calendar! There wasn’t a year when we didn’t eagerly pry open the little window each day to see what picture or chocolate lay behind. Usually we had one “North American” calendar containing chocolates and then another authentic German calendar with beautiful, intricate scenes. We would keep the most beautiful calendars from previous years and use them as Christmas decorations. My all-time favorite was a 3-D “rabbit” Christmas mansion – every window you peeked into, the rabbits would be wrapping gifts, baking cookies or hanging up stockings!

Of course, as we grew up and left home the traditions were dropped or adapted (we still have the Advent wreath, but need to confine the carol singing to the four days immediately preceding Christmas – I think we usually manage to fit them all in, though it’s often been a close call!) But I haven’t had an Advent calendar for years, and I decided it was time to remedy that omission.

This month I’ll be doing a virtual Advent Calendar of Carols on my blog. Each day I’ll post a Christmas carol which has some special meaning or association for me, and talk about why it’s a favorite. There’ll be some traditional, some modern, a number of German carols (as you might expect), some sacred, some secular – the perfect Advent mix. First installment is coming tomorrow!

Enjoy…and Frohe Weihnachten in advance! πŸ™‚

The Contrapuntal Platypus πŸ˜€

Beethoven’s Phone Number November 5, 2010

Posted by contrapuntalplatypus in Flights of Fancy, Just for Fun, Music, Teaching, Through the Looking Glass.
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Another teaching anecdote…this one’s not deep or profound, but it IS hilarious. πŸ˜€

Today one of my younger students began working on “Shepherds’ Song” from Piano Adventures Book 1. It’s an arrangement of the theme from the last movement of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony (which is one of my favorite pieces. If you haven’t ever heard it…please do take a moment and remedy this omission before going on :D)

I played the piece for him and explained it was taken from one of the symphonies of Beethoven, a very famous composer. He nodded sagely as he pointed to the words “Ludwig van Beethoven” written on the right-hand side of the page above the music.

Then he indicated Beethoven’s birth and death dates (1770-1827), printed below the name. “And here’s Beethoven’s phone number,” he proudly announced.

Okay, admit it…could you have stopped yourself from nearly falling over laughing? Didn’t think so. Me neither.

When I got a handle on myself again I explained to him that, regretfully, Beethoven had been dead for quite some time and, that even when he was alive, he was almost entirely deaf…so if telephones had been around in his time he wouldn’t have been able to use them at all.

Still, I had to admit I liked the idea – a telephone directory of Famous Composers of Western Music. Now the question is who would you call first? I’m torn between Bach (my all-time favorite) and some of the Renaissance/Baroque composers, like Josquin du Pres, whose lives we know so little about. If only…

– The Contrapuntal Platypus πŸ˜€