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Mobile Museums and Rare Books

Earlier this month Isabelle and I went to the Mobile Museum Fair at the Los Angeles Central Library downtown. The fair brought together a couple dozen exhibits and libraries, from the International Printing Museum‘s printing shop on wheels (which we’d once seen in front of our building on campus) to the Feminist Library on Wheels to a native plants pop-up seed museum. The trucks were lined up outside the library on 5th Street while other exhibits were scattered throughout the library’s halls and meeting rooms.

We’d heard there would be tours of the Rare Books Room, and we were lucky enough to snag the third and fourth spots out of twenty for the second and last tour. After signing up, we visited the Connecting Cultures Mobile Museum, which featured a large collection of masks and musical instruments from around the world. On a table in the middle of the room were a handful of instruments you could play, including a few thumb pianos, a guitar, and something Isabelle thought was a guzheng. She showed me how to pluck it. On the walls were many more instruments: balalaikas, an erhu, a kora, a hulusi, a banjo, a violin… There were also the masks, but I was more into the musical instruments.

Part of the instrument collection, including Scottish highland pipes and the violin-like hashtar from China

We checked out the museum trucks outside and visited the Department of Recreation and Parks’s eco trailer, with stuffed wildlife from the Santa Monica Mountains. Inside the library, we also saw the screen printing station in the courtyard, a couple of mobile libraries, a mastodon skull, and volunteers cuddling a tegu (a very big lizard) and a snake. Later on, after the Rare Books Room tour, we arrived in the rotunda just as the inflatable planetarium was toppled. We examined the seeds and seedpods at the seed museum and then took a quick look around the 21 Collections exhibit in the Getty Gallery.

Fox in the eco trailer

At four o’clock, those of us who had signed up for the tour were taken up in an elevator to the Rare Books Room, where we were welcomed by Xochitl Oliva, Senior Librarian of Digitization and Special Collections. Now, I received Susan Orlean’s The Library Book for Christmas, and I had finished reading it shortly before the Mobile Museum Fair. Orlean’s book is about the history of the Los Angeles Public Library and, in particular, the central library, the building that houses it, and the 1986 fire that destroyed hundreds of thousands of books there. She also writes about a number of current library staff, and Oliva is in her book! Reading it also gave me much more context for this visit to the library; the only time I’d been before was with Mike the Poet over two years ago.

Alice in Wonderland, illustrated by Salvador Dalí

Oliva oriented us to the library and then spoke about each of the pieces from the collection that had been selected and set out for display on two wooden tables in the center of the reading room. There was a large-format edition of Alice in Wonderland with illustrations by Salvador Dalí. There was the oldest book in the collection, a 13th century Latin manuscript from the priory of Nostell in England. There was a Shakespeare Fourth Folio, a page from a Gutenberg Bible, a map depicting California as an island, a Sumerian temple dedication cone with a cuneiform inscription (the oldest item in the collection), and samples from the library’s collections of menus and fruit crate labels.

The oldest book in the special collections, a 13th century Latin manuscript from England

2018 in Review

2018 has been quite a year. Do I say that every year? (I actually don’t, but I probably could.) Between the am-I-finishing-grad-school-this-year-or-not uncertainty (answer: no), the politics, the traveling, and the wonderful times with friends, it’s been a full year. Here are some highlights, not in chronological order:

In 2019, I will be dissertating and, I hope, writing and perhaps beginning a brand new adventure!

La brune habillée en soie

Towards the end of the summer, I went through another French Canadian music phase, this time focused on albums by De Temps Antan, including À l’année, Les habits de papiers, and Consolez-vous. I came across the song “La brune habillée en soie” (The brunette dressed in silk), which I quite liked and also reinforced my impression that there is really only one Québécois song, and all songs express facets of that one ur-song. Actually, the most significant overlap I can detect is between “La brune habillée en soie” and the song “Les larmes aux yeux” (With tears in (one’s) eyes) by Le Vent du Nord. Both are from the point of view of young men who are disappointed in love. Both young men say that if they’d known things weren’t going to work out, “j’aurais pas tout dépensé mon argent” (I wouldn’t have spent all my money) on frivolities (exactly which frivolities varies between the two songs). In both cases, the object of his affections replies (and here again the lyrics are extremely close) that if he spent his money, it was because he wanted to, and how many times had she told him politely to leave because he was wasting his time?!

“La brune habillée en soie” also has the line “C’est par un beau dimanche au soir” (It was on a nice Sunday in the evening). In this case, that’s when some people come tell the young man his brunette has changed lovers, but for me the line echoed “Par un dimanche au soir” (One Sunday in the evening) from Le Vent du Nord’s “Vive l’amour” (Yay, love), which is a fair bit more cheerful. I guess everything exciting always happens on Sunday evening.

“Les larmes aux yeux” and  “La brune habillée en soie” differ in that in the former the young man never seems to have gotten anywhere with the young woman (i.e. it’s all in his head, she’s already committed to a young officer) while in the latter it seems the young man and the young woman were actually together in some sense (though conceivably it could all have been in the young man’s head too, who knows) and she leaves him. That’s probably why the second young man is more bitter at the end of the song. In “Les larmes aux yeux,” he just talks about drinking to heartbreak and saying goodbye with resignation, but “La brune habilleée en soie” ends with the vindictive lines: “Un jour viendra, ta beauté s’en ira / Chère Léona t’épousera qui pourras” (One day your beauty will be gone / Dear Léona, you’ll marry who you can (then)).

Aliénor la reine

A music typewriter on display in the music building

The UCLA Early Music Ensemble’s spring concert, Ex Tempore: Improvisations on Historical Musics, was this past weekend, and Isabelle and I went. Most of the concerts of theirs I’ve attended have been in the rotunda of Powell Library, but this one was in the organ studio in the music building. It’s a very intimate space, dominated by a pipe organ that sits on a dais. The performers were right in front of the audience; no one was more than four rows away. Besides the pipe organ, there was another organ behind us, as well as an upright piano and a harpsichord in the corner. This isn’t counting the harpsichord and the small organ-on-wheels that were on stage and actually played in the concert.

There’s apparently a tuba and euphonium ensemble on campus, and they were featured in a couple of pieces. I especially liked the arrangement of Monteverdi’s “Ecco mormorar l’onde” for two euphoniums, one trombone, and two tubas. The sound made the whole studio vibrate, and it was like being enveloped in the ocean. That madrigal was one of the ones I learned for the Jouyssance singalong last year.

I also really liked “My Lief is Faren in Londe” (I was surprised by how comprehensible the rest of the text was after the fairly foreign-looking first line; it turns out the song is in Middle English). It was fun to hear Vivaldi’s Concerto in D Major for lute on classical guitar, and the modern harmonies of the arrangement of Scarborough Fair were compelling.

The most delightful piece for me, though, was “Stella splendens in monte,” from the Llibre Vermell de Montserrat, a 14th century manuscript. It began with a sort of duet for symphony (a kind of early hurdy-gurdy) and musa bagpipe. The piper is the musician who played the musette at the hurdy-gurdy concert I went to my first year of grad school. Our paths have crossed multiple times over the years because he also sings shape note and Georgian music (yes, it’s all one cult). In fact, he just started coming to Datvebis Gundi’s rehearsals, and the first time he came he had the musa bagpipe and showed it to us! This particular instrument is unusual in that the drone can change notes (just to one other note).

Anyway, as the symphony and bagpipe played, I realized I recognized the tune as the Tri Yann song “Arthur Plantagenest.” Yes, this happened the last time I went to an Early Music Ensemble concert too. “Arthur Plantagenest” is about Arthur’s untimely end, but the song begins with his grandmother, Aliénor la reine, i.e. Eleanor of Aquitaine. Here’s a version of “Stella splendens in monte,” and here’s Tri Yann’s “Arthur Plantagenest,” from the album Portraits.

Mopey Chipmunk Vol. 1

Lately I’ve been busy linguisticking and Being Cultured (I hope). In mid-April, having lived in Los Angeles for almost five years, I finally went to my first LA Philharmonic concert. It was a matinée, and beforehand I had a bowl of ramen at Daikokuya in Little Tokyo. It was the day before they closed for a weeks-long ramen study trip to Japan. After lunch I walked to Disney Hall and found my seat in Orchestra East. An older couple sat beside me, and the wife asked me whether that was an organ behind the stage. I said yes. Then she and her husband began discussing how the audience skewed old, and one of them said young people couldn’t afford to go to the orchestra. (Um, so what was I doing there? But actually I bought my ticket with a gift certificate from my parents–thanks, Mom and Dad!) Then the other said if young people could afford to go to Coachella, they could afford to go to the orchestra.

The first half of the concert was the world premiere of Pollux, by Esa-Pekka Salonen, former conductor of the LA Phil, followed by Edgard Varèse’s Amériques. I enjoyed listening to Pollux, but Amériques sometimes just sounded like…noise. There were fourteen percussionists, one or more of whom played the siren. There was also apparently a lion’s roar, and I was disappointed not to have picked it out. Also somewhere in the first half something seemed to be going on in the oboe section. Was there a reed issue…? It’s vaguely stressful to identify what you think is a musician’s minor crisis on stage during a concert. I didn’t detect any problems in the performance, though.

The second half of the concert, and the reason I’d chosen it, was Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5, a symphony I played in community orchestra in high school and with my college orchestra. I know it very well. Gustavo Dudamel conducted it without a score, and it was wonderful. After a couple of ovations, Dudamel returned and led the orchestra in an encore. As the concert hall was emptying, the woman next to me asked if I knew the piece, adding that it was so familiar. I said I didn’t know it and didn’t mention that it hadn’t even sounded familiar to me. Later, I found a concert review which identified the encore as “Liebestod” from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, which I’m pretty sure I didn’t know.

Two days later, Isabelle and I went to one of The Moth‘s live storytelling events at a nightclub in Silver Lake (I don’t think I’d ever been to a nightclub before, but also, it was only 7:00pm…). The theme of the evening was Mail. Attendees who wanted to tell a story put their names in a tote bag, and ten storytellers were drawn. Each person had five minutes (with a little grace) to tell their story. Three teams of judges were chosen from the audience, and after each story they held up placards with their score on a ten-point scale. It was like the Olympics or something.

Isabelle’s and my favorite story also garnered the highest score and therefore won the night. It was told by a writer from New York. One winter day she dropped her keys, including her mailbox key, through a subway grate. This was disastrous because it was the very day she was expecting to hear back from the second MFA program she had applied to. She had been rejected from the first one, though with a personal e-mail from Colum McCann (!), who told her her work was great and she should keep writing. She, however, believed that if she didn’t get into the other program she would give up on writing. (There was backstory on her feverishly writing weird stories in a corner of her apartment when she couldn’t sleep.) So she picked up her kids from school, and then they returned to the subway grate with bubblegum and magnets and proceeded to fish for the lost keys. And they got them back! And when she opened her mailbox, an acceptance from the MFA program was waiting for her. She told this much better than I just did, which is why she won.

So that was my cultured April. Now our feature presentation: I got my wisdom teeth out (technically two wisdom teeth and two second molars, except they left in one wisdom tooth) at the end of March, just before spring break. I had joked I was going to spend break being a mopey chipmunk. That sounded like a great zine title, which led to this:

King’s Lynn

First, I did an interview recently with blogger Melinda Brasher; you can read it here.

Second, I have another musical connection for you! A fellow grad student, who is an Orthodox Christian, lent me his newly acquired copy of the St. Ambrose Hymnal since he knows I’m interested in hymnody. As far as I understand it, this hymnal collects Western hymns (such as those I might know from my own hymn singing) for use in a particular Orthodox tradition. Because, you know, despite the Schism we still have some theology in common. The other day I was reading the hymnal on the bus, sight reading the melodies in my head, as one does. I came across a hymn whose title I’ve forgotten (I’ve since returned the hymnal) but which was set to the tune King’s Lynn, arranged by Ralph Vaughn Williams (who also arranged Kingsfold). I read the tune and thought it sounded familiar, though the tune name didn’t particularly (have I mentioned I spend a lot of time reading hymnal indices?). As I mulled it over, I wondered if the melody was one of the ones in Vaughn Williams’ Six Studies in English Folksong for cello and piano, which my mother had bought years ago for me to play with my brother accompanying me. So, I investigated, and lo, I was right! The third movement, the Larghetto, is King’s Lynn!

The following is an instrumental arrangement of King’s Lynn:

And this is the corresponding movement in Six Studies in English Folksong:

Early Spring Break

It’s not my spring break yet, but my mother was in town recently, so we went on some excursions. We heard the UCLA Early Music Ensemble’s winter concert, Bach? What Bach?: A Program of Early Music from Germany. They sang two selections from Carmina Burana, and one of them, “Bacche, bene,” was very familiar. I knew I’d heard the melody before, and I was pretty sure it had been in a Tri Yann song, but I didn’t know how I was going to figure out which one. Of course it was going to bother me until I figured it out. But it turns out Googling “Tri Yann Carmina Burana” gets you what you want! The song is “Brian Boru” from the album Portraits.

We went to the Huntington, as per tradition, and saw lots of camellias, as well as a heron, some hawks, some woodpeckers in palm trees, and other birds.

My pavilion

Heron in the Japanese Garden

Later in the week, we stopped by the ocean on the Pacific Coast Highway and watched the waves. At our first stop, I saw what I think was a seal in the water! I may have been mistaken, but I’d rather think it was actually a seal. At our second stop, we saw lots of sandpipers.

Come All You Fair…

A couple of news items: 1) The Turkish translation of Wildings appears to be out! The translator is different this time. If you read Turkish or know anyone who does, the book is available through the publisher, Kırmızı Kedi, here. 2) I’ve made my Chinese New Year zines available on my Other Writing page, if you want to print your own copy.

Recently Isabelle and I were trying to figure out if we had any more folk songs in common–something we do every so often, usually to no avail–and she asked if I knew a song that began, “Come all you fair and tender girls…” She looked up the song she knew, and it turned out to be Let No Man Steal Your Thyme. When she first described it to me, I thought the words were, “Let no man steal your time,” but no, it’s actually thyme. The song starts out as a warning to young women to guard their gardens from thieving young men, and the plant metaphors are so heavy-handed that even I get them. The song also involves rue (both kinds).

The melody was a pretty minor tune that was not familiar, and most of the words I also didn’t recognize, but the opening was reminding me of a song I’d heard before. Except I thought it began, “Come all you fair and pretty ladies…” I could hear it in my head (though I couldn’t remember the gender of the singer), and the tune was different. In fact, the tune was awfully close to that of Wayfaring Stranger, which made me think I wasn’t remembering it correctly.

Later I consulted Google and discovered that Come All You Fair and Tender Ladies is a famous enough song to have its own Wikipedia page (nothing but the finest research for this pseudo-musicology series). But the text I found was, apart from the nearly identical first line, almost completely different from the text of Let No Man Steal Your Thyme. In fact, Let No Man Steal Your Thyme is a different song with its own Wikipedia page and Roud number.

I finally figured out where I knew the first line from: “You Fair and Pretty Ladies” from Anonymous 4’s album Gloryland. And indeed it does sound like Wayfaring Stranger. But most renditions of Come All You Fair and Tender Ladies out there seem to have a different melody altogether. There’s a line in the “standard” Come All You Fair and Tender Ladies, “Then they will go and court some other” that’s almost identical to a line in Solas’s “The Silver Dagger,” a song I like very much. And actually, the more prevalent tune for Come All You Fair and Tender Ladies reminds me vaguely of The Silver Dagger, mostly rhythmically…

Then I noticed this comment on a Youtube video of Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies: “Interesting that the lyrics seem to be half what I know by this title and half what I know as ‘The Water is Wide.'” Ack! It never ends!

The Unquiet Grave

One day at the end of last year, I was exploring traditional music of the British Isles on Youtube, as one does, and I happened to click on a video of a performance of Star of the County Down, followed by Tam Lin (possibly my favorite reel, but I was surprised to find the two juxtaposed in a set). I also scrolled down to glance at the comments, which I rarely do, and someone had said that Star of the County Down and The Unquiet Grave had the same tune! What?!

Star of the County Down is a lovely song with a lovely melody that gave rise to the hymn tune Kingsfold (though Kingsfold is in 4 and the song–usually?–is in 3), which I also like very much (you might know of it with the text “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say,” though other texts also use this tune). Star of the County Down is also played as a waltz; the first time I heard this done was at a bal folk in France.

The Unquiet Grave was mentioned to me as a Kate Rusby song after I discovered Rusby’s I Am Stretched on Your Grave. I like her Unquiet Grave very much also, but it certainly isn’t Star of the County Down.

After reading that Star of the County Down and The Unquiet Grave had the same melody (something something Child ballads), I looked for other recordings of The Unquiet Grave, and lo! it was Star of the County Down! So perhaps Kate Rusby’s text is adapted and her tune is original?

If you want to listen and compare, these two sisters singing Star of the County Down are cute, but I also really like their rendition. And here is Claymore’s The Unquiet Grave, which definitely is Star of the County Down!

This post brought to you by precisely zero research.

Bernstein, Orff, Arbeau, Susato

Last week, two professors in my department were giving away their tickets to the Los Angeles Master Chorale’s Sunday concert at Disney Hall, and after wavering for an afternoon, I snagged them and invited my friend Dustin to the concert. I had been to Disney Hall in downtown LA before but had yet to hear a performance there (I’m starting my fifth year of grad school and still haven’t seen the LA Phil!). Plus the program was Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms and Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, and I liked the parts of each that I was familiar with.

Before the concert, we had ramen at Daikokuya in Little Tokyo and then went to the mochi ice cream place, where I got a scoop of red bean ice cream. Then we walked to Disney Hall. I’d never seen the inside of the concert hall, and I thought it was pretty! Mostly for the majestic pipe organ, with its pipes flaring and jutting out at many angles, all dappled in the blue and gold lighting.

Disney Hall 2

I knew the second movement of the Chichester Psalms because a countertenor at my high school sang it. Here, the soloist was a thirteen-year-old boy soprano. It was great to hear a live performance of that, and I also liked the other two movements. There was an extended cello solo (or perhaps cello ensemble?) in the third movement.

For Carmina Burana, the LA Children’s Chorus (in red vests) joined the Master Chorale, and the orchestra got bigger. Dustin and I knew the somewhat ubiquitous “O Fortuna,” but not the rest, and again, I liked all of it! Carmina Burana (maybe just “O Fortuna”?) was one of the pieces I studied in music listening, and I remembered the texts were written by medieval German monks, but I didn’t realize the themes were basically drinking and love. There were surtitles in English, and some of the translations were quite comical. There was also this tenor solo for which the text was the lament of a swan who’s been cooked and is being served up and sees the diners’ teeth approaching. The tenor really hammed it up. Also, the soprano soloist turned out to be the singer who played Daiyu in the world premiere of the opera Dream of the Red Chamber, which I saw in San Francisco just over a year ago!

It was a splendid concert, and I’m glad I’ve finally heard a performance at Disney Hall.

And since this is a music post, I’m going to squeeze in another musical connection discovery: I’ve talked about Arbeau’s pavane “Belle, qui tiens ma vie” before, and how it appears in Peter Warlock’s “Capriol Suite.” Well, the other day I was listening to a recording of Tylman Susato’s Danserye and heard something familiar in an allemande… It’s the first piece in this recording, and if you’ve listened to “Belle, qui tiens ma vie” enough you’ll recognize the first two lines. After that it’s different.