Monday, 19 January 2015

Off by heart - the payoff

I mentioned in my last off-by-heart update (Off by heart - halfway there) that Jim Harrison's poem Bridge presented quite a challenge to learn. My trouble with it was the lack of any rhyme or rhythm that I could discern - maybe it's not a poem at all but poetic prose? Anyway I did manage to get it in to my head, eventually, and I'm pleased about that because I really do like some of the lines:
I like it out here high above the sea bundled
up for the arctic storms of late fall,
the resounding crash and moan of the sea,
the hundred foot depth of the green troughs.
I discovered it a few years ago in an episode of the Writer's Almanac on NPR - that program is one of my secret pleasures when stuck in traffic on the way to work.

With that committed to memory I had two poems of my original six still to learn, and they were a real pleasure as I had saved two favourites for the end. Ever since I first became fluent in Swedish more than 20 years ago I've wanted to learn some Swedish poetry; it has always seemed to me a very poetic language not just in how it sounds but in how it feels in my mouth when I speak it: rich, resonant, a bit complicated and occasionally tongue-twisting. It was Seamus Heaney who led me to the poet, Tomas Tranströmer, in the tribute he made in this video:

I settled on Tranströmer's poem Romanska bågar, not least because there is a recording of the poet himself reciting it on YouTube, so I had something to aim at. Learning it was not too difficult, and my Swedish daughter Emily corrected my worst mispronunciations (the last syllable of "människa" gave some troubles as did "solsjudande" where I had my usual difficulty with the "u" sound. I have struggles with "u" in both French and in Swedish - that flat Dublin accent will out).

So with that poem off by heart I finished off the sextet with the poem I heard Clive James recite and which inspired me: The Sunlight on the Garden by Louis MacNeice.  The internal rhymes in this poem ring out as I speak it:
The sky was good for flying
Defying the church bells
And every evil iron
Siren and what it tells:
The earth compels,
We are dying, Egypt, dying
That's doom-laden and fantastic!

Thanks to Clive James for many years of inspiration and, happily, it seems his health has stabilised a bit. He gave another interview just before Christmas and he was as interesting as ever.

And I've a new list of poems learn. This is so enjoyable, I should have started years ago.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Christmas at the Maison symphonique de Montréal

Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without Handel's Messiah and The Fairytale of New York so lucky me, I experienced both of them in the acoustically perfect Maison symphonique.

The Messiah was performed by Les Violons du Roy with the choir of La Chapelle de Québec and as always they were sonically brilliant. Of the four soloists it was the two male voices that were outstanding; the tenor Allan Clayton delivered a fierce yet melodic “Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron” while bass-baritone Andrew Foster-Williams rattled the walls in “The people that walked in darkness”.

My evening was only very slightly “marred” by the usual shenanigans around the Hallelujah chorus: the should we stand or should we sit conundrum. It started well enough, the choir struck up and everyone remained calmly and attentively seated. But after a few seconds a short little lady in the front row tottered to her feet, sparking random arisings around the hall; soon it was a 50/50 split in the audience and not long afterwards I reached the “ah shag it I'll stand up too” moment myself. Honestly why all the palaver? I think some people just want to show that they are more dedicated to the Messiah than others - they remind me of the Sundays of my youth and the early kneelers during the eucharistic prayer at mass who would cough and wheeze at the back of the still-seated person in front of them. Ahem.

Anyway, a week later I was back for the Christmas party hosted by Martha and Rufus Wainwright and for the most part it was flipping brilliant, especially when either of those two were at the front. Rufus delivered a great version of Emmylou Harris' “Coat of many colours” and then an Ave Maria that had me wiping my eyes - his voice is so pure and true. Martha had many great moments and when she finished off the evening with The Fairytale of New York I jumped to my feet - no shenanigans here - and sang along at the top of my voice, probably the only Montrealer in the audience who knew every word. A great evening was had by all.