Monday, March 30, 2015

"Seward's Folly" 1867

Alaska is purchased for $7.2 million, about 2 cent/acre ($4.19/km), by United States Secretary of State William H. Seward. The news media call this Seward's Folly.

(I would say the genuine Alaskan Folly goes by the name of Sarah Palin!)

Friday, March 27, 2015

CHANTICLEER at Elizabeth Rich Bell's Memorial Service ~ 27 March 1999

My Mother, Elizabeth Rich Bell, died only three days before her 87th birthday in early March, 1999. I was able to be with her at the end, which truly was a blessing. An even more visible act of grace was Chanticleer’s singing the choral prelude before my Mother’s memorial service in my hometown, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The odds of that occurring were so remote that I hadn’t even contemplated it. After all, Chanticleer sings all over the world. And in the two weeks before my Mother’s service, the group sang in Mexico, Texas, Florida and Connecticut.

Completely by chance, I discovered that Chanticleer was to sing a concert only fifteen miles from Harrisburg the night before my Mother’s service. That was after calling the organist at Grace United Methodist Church to arrange a rehearsal for the afternoon before the service. When I was twelve years old my Mother made me promise to sing at her funeral. That’s a heavy burden to place upon a twelve-year old; but I intended to honor her request as best I could. Ron Sider mentioned in passing that he couldn’t rehearse too late on Friday afternoon because he was hosting a party for Chanticleer that night after their concert at Messiah College, where he was a professor.

Immediately I began to consider the possibilities. First I called Andrew Morgan, who sang with me in the Schola Cantorum at the Shrine of Saint Francis here in San Francisco. Since Andrew worked at the Chanticleer office, I figured he might know the tour schedule. From home late on a Friday night he didn’t recall the exact flight information; but gave me Frank Albinder’s e-mail address. Oh, the miracle of modern technology. Saturday morning the week before the service I e-mailed Frank, who responded within minutes. He wrote me that he had passed my message on to artistic administrator, Philip Wilder, and Lori Harnes, tour manager. But he cautioned that time constraints would be extremely difficult.

On Monday morning Julie in the Chanticleer office was kind enough to give me the phone number of the motel where the group was staying in Hartford, Connecticut. I must have called the motel at least thirty times trying to reach Philip or Lori. As a good tour manager, Lori was making arrangements by phone. I even became friends with the woman at the front desk, after being assured I wasn’t becoming a pest. Eventually I got through and explained to Lori that I realized it would be logistically tight with an 11:00 service and a 12:25 flight about a half hour away from the church. But it wouldn’t be necessary for the group to stay for the entire service. Chanticleer could sing before the service as part of the prelude. Lori said she would talk to the guys and that a decision would be made by vote at their business meeting. And she would give me a call later that night after their concert.

Meanwhile I was completing the final draft for the order of service to be printed here with the expert assistance of my friend, Deborah Sweeney. I was beginning to think it wouldn’t work out. But at 10:30 Monday evening (which was 1:30 AM in Hartford) Lori called me at home to say the group had agreed to sing.

I reserved five parking meters especially for Chanticleer in front of the church. Full dress wouldn’t be appropriate for late morning anyway, so the guys wore dressy casual clothes as they would to a school. Despite their dress, I suggested they sing in front. But several of them asked to sing upstairs in the rear gallery. That was a wonderful idea.

Following a Brahms chorale prelude “Herzliebster Jesu” -- at exactly seven minutes to the hour-- from the rear balcony of Grace Church below a marvelous Tiffany window of the Ascension, Chanticleer sang Franz Biebl’s “Ave Maria.”

Then quietly--unobtrusively--they descended the back steps and drove to Harrisburg/ Middletown Airport in view of Three Mile Island and made their return flight to San Francisco.

I had meditated during the Biebl by trying to control my breathing. Under even ordinary circumstances, tears well up in me at the beginning of the "Sancta Maria." I did my best to compartmentalize; for I had to sing in just a few minutes. Cynthia played “Meditation” by Massenet on her violin as Mother had requested. Then after two psalms read by my niece Morgan and nephew Matthew, I sang Gounod’s “Repentance” as Mother had made me promise when I was twelve. I got through the recitative. But when I started the main theme “Oh, Divine Redeemer,” I began to sound like Alfalfa in “The Little Rascals.” I didn’t stop singing. But there was a quiver in my voice I had never experienced before.

Chanticleer had sung the Biebl at Louis Botto’s funeral service at St. Dominic’s. That was a powerfully emotional occasion--only days before Louis’ birthday. Joseph Jennings demonstrated then what I experienced internally at my Mother’s service.

When Chanticleer undertook its second national tour, we sang at the Forum in Harrisburg. Afterwards my parents had a reception for us and Mother baked a surprise hazelnut cake for Louis’ 31st birthday on March 3, 1982.

My family and I will always be grateful to Chanticleer for playing such a significant part at my Mother’s memorial service.

Friday, March 20, 2015

King Ludwig I of Bavaria Abdicates ~ 1848

Just after I started working for Customs, Ross and I took our previously planned holiday to Germany. He had studied in Munich, and still had several good friends in the area. We were there for Oktoberfest, which –as you undoubtedly already know— is celebrated in September. That was one of the few times in my life that I have drunk beer, and half enjoyed it. Of course, Bavarian dark beer is very different from standard American varieties.

The plan was to visit all of King Ludwig II’s castles – and we nearly did. We saw Hohenschwangau, where Ludwig had spent part of his childhood, at the base of Neuschwanstein, his paean to Ricard Wagner (as well as the model for several Disney castles) and the site of Ludwig’s arrest;

[Years ago, I used to eat Sunday brunch at Café Mozart on Bush Street between services at Grace Cathedral. The owner was a Viennese named Claus. One Christmas, he made a large gingerbread castle in the shape of a familiar landmark. “Oh Claus!” I said “ What a wonderful gingerbread model of Neuschweinstein.” “Neu- SCHWEIN- stein?!!!! Don’t you know the difference between a schwein and a schwan?!!!!” Now, I do.]

Linderhof, with it’s grotto and elevated dining table; and Herrenchiemsee with its copy of the Hall of Mirrors, and two (mind you two—though only one was actually completed) Ambassadors Staircases from Versailles, where the original had been replaced. We also saw the room where Ludwig had been born at Nymphenburg, the lake where he had drowned, and the church in Munich, where he is still buried.

In June 2008 the San Francisco Opera premiered a new production of Das Rheingold, the first installment of an an American Western Ring cycle. The complete cycle will premiere summer 2011.

Did you know that there may have been a California connection to the first production of Wagner’s Ring Trilogy. (Even though it is four music dramas, it’s considered a trilogy….with a prologue) The connection was Lola Montez, a Spanish dancer, who had had an extended affair with Ludwig II’s grandfather, Ludwig I. In reality, her name was Eliza Gilbert, and she was actually Irish. But she did have an affair with that architecturally crazed monarch. Unlike his grandson, his taste favored neo-classical revival, rather than medieval and baroque. Ross and I visited his large Bavarian maiden— on the edge of the Oktoberfest grounds— which seemed to be a forerunner of the Statue of Liberty.

Ludwig the First was so enamored of Lola Montez, that he virtually turned over the state authority to her. For nearly two years, Lola was de facto ruler of Bavaria. "What Lola wants, Lola gets" was originally in reference to her. When Revolution broke out all over Europe in 1848, the people of Bavaria's main grievance against their King, was his affair with Lola. Forced to abdicate, Ludwig left the throne to his son Maximilian II. But then Max died in 1864, leaving the throne to Ludwig I's grandson, Ludwig II.

The Wagner connection is this:
Once on the throne, nineteen year old Ludwig II responded to Wagner's published plea for help from a German prince. Richard Wagner had been exiled in Switzerland, both for his 1848 political, and recurring financial, indiscretions. Ludwig paid off Wagner's creditors, welcomed him to Bavaria, and financed productions of Die Meistersinger, Tristan und Isolde, and the completion of the Ring des Nibelungen.

So what's the Lola Montez connection? Had it not been for Lola, Ludwig I, no doubt, would have remained on the throne of Bavaria. He lived until 1868— a good twenty years after his abdication. Lola Montez, meanwhile, ended up in Grass Valley, California during the Gold Rush. She died of syphilis, which Ludwig had given her along with jewels and bad poetry. Had there been no Lola Montez, Tristan and Meistersinger might not have been produced at all, and certainly not before 1868 at the earliest. The problem, of course, is when you change one fact in history, you may very well jeopardize multiple subsequent facts. But the fact remains, Ludwig II was Wagner's principal sponsor, and had it not been for him, the general operatic public would very likely never have heard of Brunnhilde.

Painting:Joseph Karl Stieler (1781-1858)

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The IDES of MARCH ~ 44 B.C.E.

The Ides of March (Latin: Idus Martias) is the name of March 15 in the Roman calendar. The term ides was used for the 15th day of the months of March, May, July, and October. The Ides of March was a festive day dedicated to the god Mars and a military parade was usually held. In modern times, the term Ides of March is best known as the date that Julius Caesar was assassinated in 709 AUC or 44 B.C.E.
In William Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar, Caesar is warned to "beware the Ides of March."

The term idūs (ides) originally referred to the day of the
full moon. The Romans considered this an auspicious day in their calendar. The word ides comes from Latin, meaning "half division" (of a month) but is probably of non-Indo-European origin.
Modern observances
The Ides of March is celebrated every year by the Rome
Hash House Harriers with a toga run in the streets of Rome, in the same place where Julius Caesar was killed.
The Atlanta Chapter of the Dagorhir Battle Games Association hosts an annual spring event at Red Horse Stables on the weekend closest to the 15th of March. The event is appropriately named "The Ides of March".
The Temple Hill Association in New Windsor, NY holds an annual dinner in honor of the Ides of March because it is also the day that General George Washington quelled a mutiny of his Officers in 1783.

Titian in the Frari (Venezia)