Sunday, December 13, 2009

All This Plus Internet Christmas Shopping!

Everything about today encourages you to stay indoors and take a lazy day: it's Sunday, it's December, it's a quiet gray day with a cold drizzle. I made pancakes and hot chocolate for breakfast; I'm making black-eyed peas and Brussels sprouts for dinner. I've got that Charlie Brown Christmas music in my head, although I'm in a perfectly fine mood.

It's like a muted version of a normal weekend up here. On Friday the university's Schola Cantorum sang an evening prayer performance in one of the college chapels at 5 pm. The space was apt, a 150-year-old stone chapel designed to look European and much older, like so many structures on campus. I kept dozing off to the plainchant psalm settings, then snapping to more attention for solo antiphons by Hildegard of Bingen, particularly one sung by a mysterious, silvery female voice coming from someone I couldn't see in the choir. English polyphony may be more my preference, and a Magnificat and Nunc Dimmitis (circa 1600) by Orlando Gibbons felt as sturdy, intricate, and useful as fascinating old furniture. (Orlando Gibbons, incidentally, must be the only composer whose name could plausibly be the name of a sports franchise, albeit a not very intimidating one.) It's nice to hear the familiar Doxology lyrics lashed together in unpredictable counterpoint, rather than sung out of the same old hymnal. But best of all was a precious couple minutes of Thomas Tallis at the end, for a smaller choir of voices, a Te lucis ante terminum that unwound a single austere melodic line, melted into limpid harmony for a stanza, then returned to melody and tied itself off gently. Good Tallis is, I'm convinced, like good sashimi: you have to savor it in the moment, and it doesn't last long, but the texture of the thing is something to remember.

It was a short performance, maybe 35 minutes. If going to a church was always like this, I wouldn't be so secular. A later portion of the evening was spent out at a bar up on State Street (a Mexican restaurant/bar called "C.O. Jones" -- say it out loud and their pun breaks apart). Early music and a late drink is a good Friday night combination.

Yesterday the big event was having a few friends over and watching Guys and Dolls on DVD while eating pizza and drinking wine. My friend Emily had Netflixed this before Thanksgiving, and excitingly she didn't get around to watching it till I could get on board. I've got that soft spot for Guys & Dolls that you get when you play in the pit orchestra for a high school musical, so hearing all the numbers again is a blast. And between Sinatra's good looks and Brando's singing voice, hey, that's two and a half hours of solid movie-musical entertainment. Two thumbs up!

(There was a Broadway revival of Guys and Dolls this summer that I assumed would stick around for a while, but it didn't, so I missed it. I'm also broken up about having missed, twenty or so streets up Broadway, the universally lauded production of Janacek's From the House of the Dead at the Met Opera.)

Over Thanksgiving I watched The Music Man with Mom & Dad -- I think Dad just turned it on from the streaming Neflix menu around 11 one morning, with no apparent premeditation. That's another pit-orchestra soft spot for me. Next to Guys and Dolls it's a much sharper movie adaptation, for all its corniness. Also, Shirley Jones as Marian the Librarian does a better uptight-girl-falls-for-the-cad routine than Jean Simmons as Sister Sarah. It never occurred to me that maybe I should be watching more movie musicals, but they're a lot of fun. Maybe we can all sit down for West Side Story sometime over Christmas break. But that's more planning ahead than I'm inclined to do today.


Blogger nate said...

I was only in the orchestra pit for the high school's production of "The Music Man", so that's my main musical soft spot. Other than the high quality of clarinet playing, my main memories of the show are that the musical theater budget had been completely shot in previous years (including that production of "Guys and Dolls", which had really sweet sets and fog machines and such) so that everything in "Music Man" was handmade by the tech crew, including a building in the town backdrop mislabeled until shortly before opening night as "BILLARD HALL". Also there was a small footbridge that, due to sloppy blocking, cast members kept walking behind instead of over. Also also, there was one glorious moment during a rehearsal, the first time we went through the scene where Harold and Marian kiss -- the two leads, who might even have been dating at the time, instead of discreetly turning up-stage just started fake-Frenching on the middle of that footbridge. And the husband-and-wife directing team were shouting at them from the front row of seats, "No! NOOOOO!!"

If you search YouTube for "Family Guy Shipoopi" you'll probably turn up a video someone shot off of their TV screen of that Music Man number as performed by Peter Griffin, in the episode where he's a New England Patriot, which is pretty great. Due to the aforementioned musical soft spot, nothing on Family Guy ever made me as happy as when that bit went into the instrumental bridge and I realized they were doing the unabridged song.

I respect the Charlie Brown Christmas special, too, for carrying over the mood of unrelenting melancholy from the comic strip. The instrumental version of that Vince Guaraldi theme has been on my iPod a long time; in fact for a while I figured I was the only patron of the Clarendon Gold's Gym (sign-checked in this loving tribute video to the area) who regularly included it on his workout playlist.

12/16/2009 1:20 AM  
Blogger Jack said...

And there was one performance where the kid playing Harold Hill lost his place during "Trouble in River City" and had to stand there awkwardly for part of the song while the underscore kept going, looking completely miserable. That was excruciating.

Was it in "Music Man" or "Guys and Dolls" that the tech kids very nearly dropped a light beam during rehearsal, finally putting the brakes on it when it was about five feet overhead the actors onstage?

And what year was it the directors were charged with racism after casting? Was it that same husband-wife team? And who were they, anyway, if they weren't teachers? So many questions.

12/16/2009 8:01 AM  

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