Day 76: Of Ghosts and Miracles

HaydnCD76My first destination this morning was the new Tim Horton’s near our home. I went in, sat down, remarked to myself how much fun it’ll be to listen and write from a different location (not to mention eat different food and drink different coffee).

Then, I thought, “I’d better check to see if their Wi-Fi works before I order.” I set up my laptop, searched for a signal…

And found none.

I asked the gal behind the counter if they have  Wi-Fi (since their signs indicate they do). She told me Wi-Fi wasn’t available yet.

So I packed up and left.

I’m back at Panera Bread.

But that’s okay. It’s good coffee and good food and – like Cheers – everybody knows my name.

As I listen to Haydn’s Scottish Songs for William Napier III, I gaze out the window to witness yet another blizzard. I observe the people around me (including the very animated lady ahead at a table on the left chatting about her latest Bible study) reading, eating, laughing.

A minute ago, a friend sent me the URL to this WestJet Christmas Miracle video, which I watched, tears streaming down my face.

This line was especially meaningful to me:

“A WestJetter would say it was more than mere fun. Miracles do happen when we all work as one.”


There’s a tie-in between the WestJet stunt and today’s CD of folk songs written for William Napier. Continue reading

Day 75: Half Way!

HaydnCD75Today marks the half-way point in my exploration of the music of Joseph Haydn.

Tempus fugit, eh?

The songs on Haydn CD 75 are a continuation of the ones on CD 74: Scottish Songs for William Napier. Only difference is today’s CD is titled Scottish Songs for William Napier II.

The story of what Haydn did for Mr. Napier is quite extraordinary. I wrote about it yesterday. Take a look when you get a chance.

There are 33 tracks on today’s CD. But the total running time is only about 63 minutes. I’m not math whiz. But when I cipher that ratio is comes out to less than 2 minutes per song.

Screen Shot 2013-12-14 at 7.37.47 AMTrack 1 (“Duncan Davison”), for example. At just over one minute, it’s a wee song. But a fun, bouncy way to start the CD.

“They call him Duncan Davison,” sings tenor Jamie MacDougall in a Scottish brogue so heavy you’d swear he was wearing the traditional belted plaid during his performance.

Track 2 (“Be kind to the young thing”) is another MacDougall performance, thought not as jaunty or fun.

Track 3 (“Had awa frae me, Donald”), performed by soprano Lorna Anderson, is one of the best tracks on this or any previous Scottish Songs For [fill in the blank] CD. Her voice is lilting, and poignant, and wistful all at once. So very, very pretty. This could be Anderson’s finest moment in these Scottish song CDs. Favorite!

I’m going to see what these lyrics are, what they mean. “Had awa frae me” means nothing to me at t his point, although I have an idea. To learn more, I Continue reading

Day 74: Haydn Saves the Day

HaydnCD74Today’s Haydn CD – number 74 out of 150 – changes direction again, slightly. Instead of Scottish Songs for George Thomson or William Whyte, it’s Scottish Songs for William Napier.

Once again, I turn to Google to put “William Napier” in historical context. Who was he?

According to a product listing on the AllMusic web site, William Napier was a Scottish publisher who had fallen on hard times. Haydn saved him. Here’s the story:

The first of the three volumes of 50 settings each for Napier was partly motivated by charity on Haydn’s part, as in 1791, Napier was forced into bankruptcy and looking at serving some time in debtor’s prison; for a man with 12 kids, that must’ve seemed like a raw deal. Haydn spun out the first 100 settings heard here in typically short order, and Napier was saved; a further 50 were published in 1795. Setting Scots’ popular melodies turned out to be something of a cottage industry for Haydn in his last years, as overall he produced 400 such settings for various publishing houses. It proved highly profitable for Haydn, and as he was in failing health when the final commissions for yet more came around, he was able to delegate that work to students. All of these pieces, however, are presumed to have come from the master himself.

For a very busy, getting-on-in-years master like Haydn, I think it’s quite something that he took the time to dash off a bunch of songs to get Napier out of debtor’s prison.

Here’s another article about Haydn’s folk song arrangements, which includes the ones to which I’m listening today. This article, written by Andreas Friesenhagen, reveals Continue reading

Day 73: Cold

HaydnCD73The current temperature in Grand Rapids, Michigan, at 7:30am on December 12, 2013, is 11 degrees. (Or -12 C for all of my European readers.)

That’s cold.

Typically, this kind of cold would stay away until late January or early February. This year, however, it arrived early.

It’s bad enough for a resident of Michigan in the 21st century. I wonder what Haydn did to keep warm in the late 1700s, early 1800s when he was composing the score for these folks song? Did he sit beside a roaring fire? Did he have candles blazing everywhere to give the illusion of daylight? Did he wear a coat and gloves all of the time? Did he exercise to get the blood flowing?

Did he have a daily routine?

Dickens_Gurney_headI often wonder how these creative geniuses did it under conditions we, today, would consider primitive. Charles Dickens, for example.

England in the mid 1800s couldn’t have been a picnic. Especially in the winter. It must have been so cold. And bleak. (The phrase “Dickensian” wasn’t coined for nothing.)

So how did he do it? Writers today have laptops and the Internet and central heat (or air conditioning) and electric light and the ability to travel to exotic locales to compose their novels.

Dickens had none of those things. He probably had an ink well, a quill pen, and cold fingers. (I picture Bob Cratchit huddled over a dying ember, rubbing his hands together for warmth.)

Yet, Dickens’ literary output was staggering, and remains among the most influential works in the world.

Same for Joseph Haydn. How did he do it? What were Continue reading

Day 72: Snow

HaydnCD72Winter came early this year.

I’m sure the Global Warming folks have a reason for the cold and snow that has gripped America’s Midwest. But, to my way of thinking, it has nothing to do with Global Warming.

It’s those Canadians.

It’s their fault.

We keep getting their weather streams, pushed down well into the U.S., turning Michigan into a barren, frigid wasteland in early December rather than waiting until, well, late December.

Come to think of it, Michigan is a barren wasteland most of the time.

So I guess I’ll just continue to listen to these Scottish Songs, and sip my Light Roast Coffee.

Once again, the CD sounds different today from what it sounded like yesterday. The singing is different. The songs are different. The tempo is slower.

I wonder if this was intentional on the part of Brilliant Classics, the label that produced these CDs. It can’t just be me hearing things differently every other day…can it?

After all, today’s CD features Continue reading

Day 71: Auld Lange Syne?

HaydnCD71Today’s CD is slightly different. It’s called Scottish Songs For William Whyte.

Now, to be fair, I don’t know who William Whyte is. (Or why he spells his name like that.)

I also didn’t know the song “Auld Lange Syne” was a Scottish song. Apparently, it is. Because it is the first track on the first collection of Scottish Songs for the aforementioned Mr. Whyte.

If you don’t know what “Auld Lange Syne” means, here’s its entry on Wikipedia. It’s from a poem by Robert Burns. All this time I didn’t know that.

Here’s something else I didn’t know: Robert Burns died quite young (age 37). Given his tremendous influence in the literary world, I thought he lived to be an old man. Thirty seven? Here’s what the Wiki article says:

Burns’s worldly prospects were perhaps better than they had ever been; but he had become soured, and moreover he had alienated many of his best friends by too freely expressing sympathy with the French Revolution and the then unpopular advocates of reform at home. His political views also came to the notice of his employers and in an attempt to prove his loyalty to the Crown, Burns joined the Royal Dumfries Volunteers in March 1795. As his health began to give way, he began to age prematurely and fell into fits of despondency. The habits of intemperance (alleged mainly by temperance activist James Currie) are said to have aggravated his long-standing possible rheumatic heart condition. His death followed a dental extraction in winter 1795.

On the morning of 21 July 1796 Burns died in Dumfries, at the age of 37.

This type of discovery isn’t essential to my life. But it is Continue reading