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The PDR: Samsara

Back in August, my friend Michael told me about a friend of a friend who hosted musical salons/informal concerts in her apartment. He had been persuaded to perform at the next one and was planning to sing the Iron & Wine song “Naked As We Came” while accompanying himself on guitar. He thought it was the sort of event I’d enjoy and invited me to come. A few days later, he remarked that “Naked As We Came” had a subtle harmony line on the refrain. Would I like to sing it with him at the salon? I said sure.

We had one rehearsal after Georgian chorus one day, and then that weekend was the performance. The salon (that’s what I’m calling it) is called the PDR (for Playa del Rey, where the hosts live), and each PDR has a theme. This one’s theme was samsara, the cycle of death and rebirth.

I find the concept of a salon like this really appealing. I used to host music parties for my friends where we’d get together and play strange instrumental arrangements (flute, viola, cello, piano/bells) of classical and not-so-classical pieces I liked. These days, I host singing parties where we sing shape note tunes, folksongs, and rounds in two- to four-part harmony. The PDR is more performance-oriented, and the participants are mostly fairly serious, even professional, musicians, but the host explained at the beginning of the evening how her goal was to create a low-stress performance venue where musicians could play for a friendly audience and anyone was welcome to participate.

The opener was Monti’s “Csárdás,” performed by a violinist accompanied by the host on one of her two grand pianos. When I heard the title, I wondered if it was going to be that “Csárdás,” and it was. Next a flautist played Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise,” also accompanied. I’d thought “Vocalise” had been written for cello (silly me); it turns out it was originally for soprano, with no text, and has been transcribed for every instrument imaginable. This was followed by a pair of piano pieces by Grieg, “Homesickness” and “Homeward.”

We were up next! I perched on a chair next to Michael, who was on a piano bench. “Naked As We Came” is a pretty short song, two verses, each followed by the refrain, and I only had to sing my harmony line on the refrain. Michael was doing all the rest, including the pretty guitar playing. The host thought it was the first time there’d ever been singing not accompanied by piano at the PDR, and we were also the only non-classical piece of the night. It went pretty well, and people seemed to enjoy it!

Next someone played a series of Beethoven bagatelles. In the meantime, I noticed that a musician who’d come in late had unpacked an instrument from what I’d thought was a cello case. It was not a cello but a viola da gamba! And he was next. He played “Death” and “Lyfe” by Tobias Hume, an English (Scottish, actually) composer and mercenary who wrote music for viola da gamba when he wasn’t fighting for Sweden. That’s what the viola da gambist told us, anyway. Before performing, he showed us the sheet music he was playing off of. It looked like a facsimile of the original, very old notation that vaguely resembled tablatures.

After the Hume, his girlfriend joined him with a Baroque violin to play a violin sonata by Élisabeth-Claude Jacquet de la Guerre, a composer I had in fact heard of thanks to this very nerdy activity I did in high school called music listening. (My team made it to the state championship match every year, and when I was a senior we won.) Viola da Gambist told us Jacquet de la Guerre became a musician in the court of Louis XIV at the age of five (later Wikipedia browsing suggested she performed for the king at five but became a court musician only later). Anyway, the sonata was beautiful.

Lastly, someone sang three art songs while accompanying himself on piano, which was quite impressive. He sang Schubert’s “In Frühling,” Fauré’s “Les Berceaux,” and Mozart’s “Abendempfindung”; I especially liked the Fauré (chanson over lieder, I guess).

After the concert, I went to talk to Viola da Gambist and Baroque Violinist about Jacquet de la Guerre and the violinist’s instrument. I told them I was a cellist and was envious of people who played the viola da gamba, and Viola da Gambist told me he knew where I could get a viola da gamba for free. I wasn’t sure if he was joking or not.

Later, I was talking to Baroque Violinist again. She had lived in Boston all her life, and it turned out she’d been in youth orchestra with someone I knew in college. She also told me Viola da Gambist’s sister was a fiddler, and I put two and two together and realized she was my favorite local contra dance fiddler! Small world.

By this time, some people had left, and those who remained were chatting about Handel’s operas and whether they’d been trained to be better at memorization or sight reading. Then Viola da Gambist regaled us with his take on Italian Renaissance composer Carlo Gesualdo’s life (Gesualdo was another composer I’d studied in music listening). According to Viola da Gambist, Gesualdo had discovered his wife having an affair and killed her and her lover. Thereafter, he lived under house arrest. He wrote madrigal after madrigal for his live-in singers, and because he listened to nothing but his own madrigals being performed back for him, they got weirder and weirder (chromatic and such).

Just before we left, Viola da Gambist showed me the Hume music and tried to explain to me how the tablatures worked. I asked him whether he’d been serious about the free viola da gamba, and he told me about the Viola da Gamba Society of America or somesuch, which likes getting instruments into the hands of eager would-be viola da gambists. He even said he was looking for a student…but I did not rise to the bait, however much I’d like to play viola da gamba. I have my hands pretty full with the cello, the fiddle, and the hammered dulcimer, none of which I play frequently enough.

Obon

Two weekends ago was the Sawtelle/West LA Obon Festival, hosted by the West Los Angeles Buddhist Temple. I went last year for the first time and returned this year because I’d liked it so much. Obon is a Japanese Buddhist festival for remembering the dead and celebrating with joy and gratitude because of the life they have given us. At the West LA Buddhist Temple, there are countless food stalls and carnival games. The temple itself is also open, and there are displays with many photos documenting the history of the temple in the neighborhood. I don’t know very much about the history of Japanese-American Buddhism, but last year I was struck by how much the structure and activities of temple life resembled those of American churches. (Although I’m pretty sure there was a youth accordion band, and I’m not sure how many churches have those!) I interpreted these similarities as an assimilation strategy, but I should emphasize I know very little about this.

This year, my friends and I arrived in time to snag good seats (on the asphalt) for the taiko performance. I always like watching the drummers’ movements and feeling the drumbeats in my eardrums and my chest. After the taiko, we bought bowls of udon with sliced pork and fish cake and plunked ourselves down on the end of a driveway to wait for the dancing to start. The dancing is my favorite part of the festival. The street is blocked off, and the dancers move in one big circuit following chalk lines drawn on the asphalt. In the middle of the block is a platform/tower called a yagura, where a taiko drummer plays along with the recorded songs.

The minister of the temple delivered a meditation from the yagura, and then the procession of dancers entered in from one end of the street as the first dance began. During each dance, they’re moving forward, but it takes longer than one dance to complete the circuit of the block. The dancers wear beautiful yukata (summer kimono), often with floral patterns, or happi coats representing the different area temples, or just their regular clothes. There are dancers of all ages, from toddlers to the elderly, of all genders, of all races, and it doesn’t matter how well you can do the dances. The announcer encourages anyone to join in. The reason I love the dancing at Obon is because it’s so joyful, everyone is welcome, and it looks like a diverse community and neighborhood coming together to share something on a pretty summer evening. It’s rooted in a specific religious and cultural tradition, but it embraces everyone who comes.

Next year, I’m plotting to rope my friends into going to the dance practices in the weeks leading up to the festival so we can dance too.

How Come That Blood

You might know that I’m a big fan of Tim Eriksen. Back in 2013 I heard him perform at the Ginkgo Coffeehouse in St. Paul, and he sang some songs from his new-at-the-time album, Josh Billings Voyage Or, Cosmopolite on the Cotton Road. I don’t remember for sure whether he sang “How Come That Blood” on that occasion, but this song is from the album, and I like it very much, for its melody and its sinister text. A young woman (presumably) is asking her love how came that blood on his shirt sleeve, and at first he answers that it’s the blood of his little gray hawk. She says that hawk’s blood was never so red, so he says it was his gray hound’s (greyhound’s?) blood. Same objection. So he says it’s his gray mare’s blood. Nope. Finally he reveals the blood is that of his “brother dear, whom lately I have slain.” Ahhh!

Anyway, not long ago I stumbled upon the duo The Vox Hunters and discovered that their song “Edward” is a version of “How Come That Blood.” The text is similar, but there are differences: in “Edward,” the young man kills his brother-in-law, not his brother, and their falling out was over a holly bush instead of a little nut tree (evidently some people have strong feelings about plants). And then somehow I found out that Sam Amidon, who’s sung some lovely arrangements of shape note tunes, had a version too. In his, it seems like it’s a mother questioning her son. My favorite is still Tim Eriksen’s rendition, probably in part because I heard it first.

In other musical connections news… Last year Isabelle taught me a 16th century French pavane by Thoinot Arbeau called “Belle qui tiens ma vie.” The other day, she heard it on the radio, specifically on KUSC, the classical music station out of USC (which I hadn’t heard of before this!). I was curious, and happily, KUSC posts what pieces they’ve aired, so I was able to look it up. To my surprise, what was listed wasn’t “Belle qui tiens ma vie” but something called “Capriol Suite” by Peter Warlock. Peter Warlock turns out to be a 20th century English composer who apparently chose the pseudonym Warlock because of his fascination with the occult. The movements of Capriol Suite are based on Renaissance tunes. I read that the suite can be considered an original composition, but the Pavane, the second movement, is quite recognizable as “Belle qui tiens ma vie.” I also recognized the first movement as a Susato dance.

Hmm, while writing this post I discovered that Tim Eriksen and Eliza Carthy’s “Castle by the Sea” and Annalivia’s “False Sir John” are clearly related (but it looks like there’s a whole big family for that song). Time to bring this pseudo-musicology post (brought to you in no small part by Wikipedia) to a close, I think.

July News

There’s a profile of me in the summer issue of the Swarthmore alumni magazine, which you can check out here. Lunar French and hammered dulcimers!

I’m in Minnesota at the moment. I came home just in time to protest our congressman at the 4th of July parade in my town. We were planning to stand on the parade route in matching purple t-shirts waving Healthcare is a right for all signs, but then word came that our famously absent congressman had not actually shown up to march in the parade despite being listed in the program! So instead we swarmed the street and marched in his place, in front of Keith Ellison and his supporters. I didn’t wake up on the morning of Independence Day expecting to wind up on the evening news, but sometimes it happens. I seem to be making something of a habit of this; several years ago a photo of me protesting our state senator at the 4th of July parade wound up on the front page of the Star Tribune.

Last Saturday I went to the 3rd Minnesota Shenandoah Harmony All-Day singing in Minneapolis. The Shenandoah Harmony is the newest shape note tunebook, sometimes called the wicker book for the color of its cover. I have my own copy, but I don’t know the songs well at all, so I didn’t lead. It was good to see lots of familiar faces, though (someone told me to finish my dissertation quickly so I could get back to writing children’s books), and I got recruited to be the resolutions committee, which meant at the business meeting at the end of the singing I thanked everyone who had helped organize it and “resolved” that we do it again next year. The Shenandoah Harmony has some good stuff in it, including this arrangement of “Hicks’ Farewell” that ends on glorious open fifths!

Meditation Workshop & Mixed Remixed 2017

A week ago today I happened to see a post about a meditation workshop Yumi Sakugawa was leading that very evening on campus. I looked closer and realized the workshop was happening in my building, literally just upstairs from the phonetics lab where I was sitting. As it happens, Asian American Studies and Linguistics are in the same building, so it’s not so surprising, but it felt providential. Isabelle and I decided we had to go, since Yumi Sakugawa was practically coming to us, and the stars aligned even further: our afternoon seminar ended early, allowing us to make it to the workshop on time.

The other attendees were mainly Asian American women, like at the panel with Yumi, MILCK, and Krista Suh back in May. There were a bunch of undergrads, including a film student who told us about a documentary she’s making about Yumi! I hope we’ll get to see it in the fall. There were also a couple of librarians, at least one professor, I think, and several Asian American Studies staff.

Yumi had us go around and introduce ourselves and say three words that described our current state of mind. Since it was the last week of classes, there was a lot of “stressed” and “overwhelmed.” She led us in a couple of guided meditations and read to us from some of her meditation-related comics, which I hadn’t seen before. She also talked about this taking tea and cake with your demons exercise. The idea is to face the things about yourself you’re ashamed of, or don’t like so much, or have a hard time accepting, to face them head-on and without judgment and to listen to them in personified form. While drinking tea and eating cake. So we all drew the kind of tea and cake we wanted to have with one of our demons on tissue paper. As a closing ritual, we went around the room again and said what three words we wanted to define the rest of our week and ripped up our tissue paper drawings and dropped the shreds into Yumi’s singing bowl. It was a perfect way to spend a Wednesday evening at the end of a long quarter.

On Saturday, I headed downtown for my third Mixed Remixed festival. I went in 2015 and in 2016, when I appeared on my first author panel. In the past, the festival has been at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo, but this year it moved to the Los Angeles Theatre Center, a stone’s throw from The Last Bookstore. I arrived in time for the Featured Writers reading, which featured (haha) Tanaya Winder, May-lee Chai, Tara Betts, Julian Randall, and Julie Lythcott-Haims. They all read powerful work, but I particularly liked Tanaya Winder’s spoken word poems, some of which incorporated song. I was also interested in May-lee Chai’s personal story: she wrote a memoir, Hapa Girl, about growing up with a Chinese-American father and a white mother in rural South Dakota in the 1980s. It was…not a hospitable place for her family.

Next I went to the panel The Mixed-Race Conversation: Is It a Wrap?. It was moderated by Karen Grigsby Bates of NPR’s Code Switch and featured Kayla Briët, a musician and filmmaker who’s performed at every Mixed Remixed I’ve been at; Greg Kimura, former president of the Japanese American National Museum and an Episcopal priest; Tehran, a comedian whose performance at last year’s festival I did not particularly appreciate; and Caroline Streeter, a professor at UCLA. I once again did not appreciate Tehran, but setting him aside, the panel was great. The panel was intergenerational, which brought out a diversity of perspectives and was also just nice to see. The conversation ranged from the academic to the pop cultural to the personal and even to the religious, thanks to Greg Kimura. That was a voice I hadn’t heard before at the festival. I liked what Caroline Streeter had to say about our cultural amnesia, how there have been mixed race people and communities in the United States for hundreds of years and so many of those stories are forgotten. I also liked what Greg Kimura had to say about the essential role he thinks literature and the arts will play in shaping our society’s attitudes about mixed race people (among other things). And basically everything Kayla Briët said was eloquent and inspiring.

A young hapa woman in the audience asked Greg Kimura about his strong identification with the word hapa. I think she asked if he’d faced any backlash for using it, but–and maybe I was projecting onto her–I also sensed that she was asking whether he thought it was (still) appropriate for multiracial Asian Americans to call ourselves hapa. A question in this vein is what I would’ve liked to ask the panel at the LA Times Festival of Books this spring if I hadn’t had a raging headache at that session. I was thinking about the term hapa at last year’s festival too and have written about it at other times as well. Greg Kimura basically said it’s been shown that hapa isn’t a Native Hawaiian term so it’s not appropriation to use it, and he claims his identity with this word. This argument doesn’t suffice for me though. First of all, I know hapa is Hawaiian Pidgin; just because it’s not an indigenous Hawaiian word doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a meaning and history specific to Hawaii that’s been overwritten and changed by multiracial Asian Americans on the mainland. Being hapa means something to me, but I also can’t use this term without qualms.

At the end of the panel, talk turned to Trump and how optimistic (or not) the panelists were about the future. Both Caroline Streeter, the oldest panelist, and Kayla Briët, the youngest, found they could not truthfully say they thought things were getting better. They both expressed worry about the future. I was grateful for their honesty and also…saddened, I guess. We were all at a festival celebrating our mixed race identities, but we can’t forget that this is a dark time for our country.

During the longish break between the last session and the evening program, a young woman named Laura came up to me and handed me a postcard about her oral history project Mixed Feelings. Check it out on Facebook and Tumblr; there are interviews with mixed race people of many backgrounds about their identity and experiences. If you identify as mixed race, you can participate by filling out the survey! Laura and I ended up sitting together at the evening show, and she told me her project was born in the wake of last November’s election, out of her need to do something.

Kayla Briët opened the show again; I will never get tired of watching her play the guzheng and use her loop machine. There were a couple of other acts, and then actor and producer David Oyelowo accepted the Storyteller’s Prize with a moving speech about his own interracial marriage. After the show, I caught up with Maria Leonard Olsen, one of my co-panelists in the kidlit session last year. I also said hello to two other people I recognized from the mixed and queer writing workshop in years past. The workshop did not take place this year, sadly.

After leaving the festival, I walked to The Last Bookstore, since it was literally less than half a block away. While I was contemplating all the books I wanted in the SFF section, a woman with a stroller asked me if I worked there. I wish! I picked up Becky Chambers’s The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and headed home.

Monday was the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia, which made interracial marriage legal throughout the United States. It also marked one year since the shooting at Pulse in Orlando, which I wrote about a little last year before I could write up last year’s Mixed Remixed festival. It seems a fitting time to reflect on how far our country has come and how far we have yet to go.

Yumi Sakugawa, Krista Suh, and MILCK

On Monday night Isabelle sent me a link to an Instagram post by Yumi Sakugawa announcing that she would be participating in a panel at UCLA the following evening with MILCK and Krista Suh. Yumi Sakugawa is a comic book artist and the author of, among other books, I Think I Am in Friend-Love With You. MILCK (a.k.a. Connie Lim) wrote the song “Quiet” and sang it at the January Women’s March in Washington, D.C. in a performance that immediately went viral. And Krista Suh is a screenwriter and co-creator of the Pussy Hat Project, also of Women’s March fame. (It wasn’t until days after the Women’s March that I learned that Asian American women were behind both the pussy hats and the song that was being called the anthem of the march.)

The panel was variously advertised as being about women of color, intersectional feminism, Asian American women, creativity, and mental health. I was sold. And Isabelle is a big fan of Yumi Sakugawa and MILCK. So the decision to go was easy. Plus it was on campus.

The panel was hosted by LCC Theatre Co., an Asian American theater company at UCLA that Sakugawa was involved in as a student here. The evening started off with the trailer for Krista Suh’s documentary “I AM ENOUGH/Tea with Demons,” featuring Suh, Sakugawa, and MILCK and exploring the Asian American artist experience. It looks gorgeous and kind of just made me want to run away with my friends to write and make art and music in the desert.

Then the panel got underway, moderated by an LCC member. And here’s the thing: what MILCK, Sakugawa, and Suh talked about on Tuesday evening was almost eerily relevant to my life right now. As soon as I’d heard about the panel, I’d known I didn’t want to miss it for anything, but I didn’t realize how à propos it would be. For much of the panel, I felt like the three artists were speaking directly to me.

They talked about figuring out what they wanted to do (sing, write and draw, write) and in some cases having to break it to their parents that they didn’t actually want to be pre-med/pre-law/whatever. They talked about how long it took them to accept that they knew what they really wanted to do and what obstacles (often internal) they’d had to overcome to start pursuing what they wanted. They talked about friendship, about finding your people and both supporting and seeking support from your friends when they or you are going through a hard time. As an audience member later pointed out, it was wonderful to see their friendship shining through as they interacted on the panel.

Quite early on, Suh asked how many of us knew we wanted to do something creative (she knew her audience well). Most people’s hands went up, including mine. Then she asked how many of us were afraid or ashamed of that wanting. I didn’t raise my hand that time because I remember thinking very clearly that I wasn’t ashamed of wanting to write, but later I wondered, Am I still afraid? Even though I’m already an author? Maybe.

MILCK said something later that also resonated with me. She said to ask yourself what kind of suffering you were willing to endure. What are you willing to suffer for? What is worth the suffering for you? (And the unspoken converse, at least to my ears: What isn’t worth the suffering for you?)

Before the audience Q & A, they played us MILCK’s music video for “Quiet,” which I had seen before but was perfectly happy to watch again. And after the Q & A, Isabelle and I and a bunch of other people flocked to the front of the room where the panelists were to talk to them. Sakugawa had a few books and zines and prints on hand. We talked to MILCK first; Isabelle was delighted to hear there’d be more songs from her soon. Then we talked to Sakugawa, who said she remembered Isabelle from the Little Tokyo Book Festival. Isabelle introduced me as the writer friend she’d gotten Sakugawa to sign Friend-Love for. We all talked a little more (we told MILCK and Sakugawa that we were grad students in linguistics), and then Isabelle and I headed out. Night had fallen and the full moon slid in and out of the black clouds and walking past the botanical garden the air was heavy with the scent of honeysuckle.

Science and Books and Madrigals, oh my!

I packed a lot into Earth Day weekend. Saturday morning was the March for Science. I bussed downtown with three other friends from the department. It was much less nuts getting to this protest than it was getting to the Women’s March. We actually made it into Pershing Square this time, where a button hawker greeted us with, “I’ve got you covered, nerds!” I did not buy a button. We hung out in the park reading signs as the morning speeches wrapped up. I spotted one that read: “I should be doing research right now #gradschool.” Too true.

I was glad to see this member of the clergy

We marched from Pershing Square to City Hall, just like in January. People chanted, “Science, not silence!” and when a little boy started chanting the slogan on his sign, “Science is better than Donald Trump!”, people joined in. When we reached City Hall, we stood around for a while watching the rest of the march arrive. One of our syntax professors found us, which seemed miraculous given the crowds. I later learned a bunch of other linguists from our department had been there, though we never saw them.

From the march, I headed to USC for my third LA Times Festival of Books. I wandered through the booths for a bit. I glimpsed Yumi Sakugawa at the Skylight Books booth and witnessed the eerie sight of red-clad, white-bonneted handmaids walking in pairs about campus. There had been a WriteGirl workshop at the festival earlier in the day (I finally started volunteering with them!), but I couldn’t make it because of the March for Science. I stopped by the stage where the girls were reading in the afternoon, though, and listened to some of their pieces. Then I made my way to the Big 5’s children’s book booths, and at the Penguin Young Readers booth I noticed that Julie Berry was signing. I had read The Passion of Dolssa recently and also enjoyed All the Truth That’s in Me, so when she had a free moment, I went up to talk to her. I told her I was a fellow Viking Children’s Books author, and then we chatted about grad school and Provençal.

After meeting Julie Berry, I met up with Isabelle at the Small World Books booth by the Poetry Stage, where she was about to get some poetry collections signed by Hélène Cardona. After that, we explored the festival a little more before heading to the first of the two panels I’d picked out for the afternoon. This one was a YA panel entitled Faith, Hope, and Charity: Strong Girls in Crisis, which struck me as a little dramatic, but okay. The panelists were Julie Berry, Sonya Sones (who…turns out to be someone I think I’ve contra danced with in Los Angeles–no wonder she looked so familiar!), and the person I’d been most eager to see, because I loved Cuckoo Song and The Lie Tree: Frances Hardinge. The moderator was Jonathan Hunt of SLJ’s Heavy Medal blog fame. The authors talked about the inspiration for their latest novels, mixing genres, and whether/why their protagonists are girls. Julie Berry said that since she has four sons she gets asked why she doesn’t write about boys, and she said, “I’m a girl! It’s like what you are doesn’t matter once you’ve reproduced!” Which elicited much laughter, but there’s something dismal underlying that if you think about it.

Next we went to the other panel I’d picked out: the hapa panel! I’d been excited for it because Kip Fulbeck–author of Part Asian, 100% Hapa and creator of the Hapa Project–was on it (the other two panelists were USC professors). He was indeed the highlight of the panel for me. I enjoyed his self-deprecating manner and his sort of “you do you” attitude. He’s not interested in policing hapa identity, and he told one young hapa woman in the audience that one doesn’t have to spend every minute of one’s life fighting. Taking care of oneself is important too.

On Sunday, I participated in Jouyssance’s fourth annual early music singalong. Jouyssance is a local early music ensemble whose concerts I’ve occasionally attended. I know one of the singers because she used to sing in our Georgian chorus. Anyway, I printed the scores to the nine songs on the singalong program a week in advance and made myself a Youtube playlist to sing along to. I can sightread vocal music to an extent, but I had a feeling I would be in over my head if I didn’t prepare a bit. My favorites were Orlando Gibbons’ “The Silver Swan,” Claudin de Sermisy’s “Tant que vivray,” Thomas Morley’s “April is in my mistress’s face,” and Heinrich Isaac’s “Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen.” There was also Josquin des Prez’s “El Grillo,” which I find annoying.

I arrived in the sanctuary of St. Bede’s Episcopal Church on Sunday afternoon, clutching my scores. A few singers from Jouyssance were there, but most of the participants weren’t in the ensemble. Everybody seemed to be a relatively experienced choral singer, though. The Jouyssance director complimented us on our reading of the first song and said she hoped we were all singing in choirs. The pace was relatively swift, and there wasn’t any hand holding, but everybody could handle it, and it was fun. Plus we weren’t exactly striving for perfection or speedy tempi.

My row of the alto section included our former Georgian chorister, a woman I know from shape note singing, and a French woman whom we told about shape note singing and who later told me she’d just started alto recorder. She showed me some of her music: “Pastime with good company”! “Belle, qui tiens ma vie”!

We didn’t do the Gibbons or the de Sermisy, to my chagrin. No French and too much Italian! I learned that Orlando di Lasso’s “Matona, mia cara” is not only quite vulgar but is also largely ungrammatical. After working on six of the nine songs for an hour and a half, we took a break for some treats and then sang everything in an informal “concert,” which Isabelle came to. (This concert was so informal that we occasionally started songs over again after a rocky start.) It was a lot of fun, and I hope I get to do it again next year!

I’m Back!

I passed my dissertation prospectus defense and am now a Candidate in Philosophy or somesuch.

A couple of news items:

  • ChinaInsight, a monthly Minnesota newspaper about Minnesota/U.S.-China relations, ran a profile on me and my books in their February issue.
  • In early February, I had lunch with the 5th grade book club at the Brentwood School near UCLA. I had a delightful time, and there’s a little write-up (with photo) here.

To celebrate my successful defense, I spent the weekend being excessively cultured. On Saturday, my friend Dustin and I went to the UCLA Early Music Ensemble’s winter concert, Half Empty: A Post-Valentine’s Concert. The theme seemed to be depressing love songs. The ensemble was smaller than at the fall concert. Most of the pieces were for a few singers accompanied by vielle or viol, or maybe recorder, or dulcian. A lot of the early (i.e. pre-Renaissance) stuff was not attributed to a particular composer but simply came from some manuscript or codex. The concert featured guest artist Emily Lau, a singer with a gorgeous voice. She told us Francesco Landini, composer of two of the songs on the program, was her favorite composer; I swear I studied him in music listening back in the day, but I can no longer remember any particular works of his.

The program progressed chronologically. We got to Arcadelt’s “Il bianco e dolce cigno,” and to Dowland, and Gibbons. The final song was “I’m Stretched On Your Grave”; the words are a translation of a 17th century Irish text. Emily Lau performed this accompanied by viol and violin, and I thought it was quite beautiful. I could also understand phrases here and there, which was nice after the Gibbons, which might as well not have been in English. Afterwards, I looked up the full text and decided the third verse was, uh, dubious, but I still liked the song enough that Kate Rusby’s version is my new earworm.

On Sunday, I went to the farewell reading at Alias Books, which is, alas, closing. I arrived quite early since I’d come straight from shape note singing, so I had ample time to browse. I wound up buying Edwidge Danticat’s first two books (a novel and a short story collection). Then, while waiting for the reading to begin, I continued reading the copy of Possession I’d bought the last time I was at Alias.

The reading included poems, an excerpt from a novel, and translations (from Polish, Spanish, and Italian). There were a couple of musical acts too, one of which featured a song about a sick pet tortoise who required intensive care in a bathtub. Two of the writers I’d heard at the post-election reading last fall. One of them, Deenah Vollmer, has a particular knack for expressing what I might call, for lack of a better term, millenial angst (from which I am not exempt). Afterwards, I walked home through the rainy night, my backpack full of books.

The 29th Annual All-California Sacred Harp Convention

After attending the 26th in Los Angeles and the 27th in the Bay Area, I missed last year’s All-California Sacred Harp Convention in San Diego, but the convention returned to LA this year, and I went! It was once again at Angels Gate in San Pedro, in the Friends meetinghouse-like building on the hilltop overlooking the Pacific. Saturday, the first day of the convention, was very clear, so you could see Catalina Island and what I was told was San Miguel Island, though having now looked at a map I’m not so sure. In any case, it was beautiful!

I went to my last two All-Cals with my friend Leland; this time, my friend Ames (also of the Swarthmore shape note/folk dance set) came down from Portland to go to the convention with me! He arrived in time for Datvebis Gundi’s inaugural rehearsal of 2017. Ames has in fact been on a singing trip to Georgia, so, you know, all the cults intersect.

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Ames and me on the muddy hilltop, with the ocean and the Marine Mammal Care Center (think barking sea lions) in the background

On Saturday morning, just before the singing was to begin, Elaine, a singer from San Diego, told me she was going to try to see the SpaceX rocket launch. Intrigued, I followed her outside, picking up Ames along the way. According to Elaine, the launch was scheduled for 9:54am. We positioned ourselves on the hilltop and looked northwest up the coastline toward Santa Barbara, where the rocket was launching from. At one point, I saw a small red and blue object (like a Southwest plane?) moving horizontally across the blue sky until it vanished. I mentioned this, and Elaine wondered if that was it. But then I spotted a small white object, sort of bullet-shaped, rising vertically above the land to the northwest. Its location and trajectory seemed more plausible. I pointed this out, and eventually a contrail appeared below, along the upward path the rocket had taken. Because this was definitely the rocket! It began to arc southward, and eventually I lost sight of it. But we caught the rocket launch!

On Saturday afternoon, Isabelle and Adeline from the department stopped by the singing, and Brice, also from the department, came all day on Sunday, so UCLA Linguistics was awfully well-represented at the convention. And funnily enough, who should I run into on Saturday morning but Linnea, the person who taught the Georgian yodeling workshop Isabelle and I went to at the Machine Project last summer! I didn’t know she did shape note singing too, but I was not surprised.

I’m preparing to defend my dissertation prospectus in a few weeks, so if this blog goes silent, that’s why. But hopefully I’ll be able to come up for air now and then.

2016 in Review

A lot of people have been saying that 2016 was awful, and yes, there was plenty of awful. Particularly a certain week in November. But there was a lot of wonderful too. Forthwith, my recap of my 2016.

In January, I got glasses! I also worked on Wildings copyedits and hosted a singing party.

In February, I revealed the cover for Wildings, trawled Hmong and Lao dictionaries for loanwords, and coordinated grad student Q & As with the computational linguistics job candidates.

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Celebrating Chandeleur

In March, my mother visited me for spring break, and we visited Mt. Wilson and went wildflower hunting. Then I took Trip #1 to the Bay Area to present a poster on Maragoli hiatus resolution at ACAL.

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Happy linguist amidst the echium at UCLA

In April, I went to AWP in Los Angeles, where I met Anne Ursu. I also went to the LA Times Festival of Books with Isabelle and to YALLWEST. It was a bookish month.

In May, Isabelle and I went to the magic show our conceptual artist had produced, and I spent a day shape note singing, fiddling, and stalking hurdy-gurdy players at the Topanga Banjo-Fiddle Contest. At the end of the month, I went home for my brother’s graduation from Count Olaf College, and I managed to catch my Morris dancer friends, in town for the Midwest Morris Ale, performing in a brewery!

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I also managed to catch my mother’s garden at the height of peony season!

In June, I took Trip #2 to the Bay Area, where I got to see my friends Miyuki, Andrew, Leland, and Katherine. I went to the Bay Area Book Festival and wandered around some of San Francisco with Leland. Back in Los Angeles, I attended the UCLA Linguistics Department’s 50th anniversary celebration and returned to the Mixed Remixed Festival, this time as a panelist.

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Datvebis Gundi performs before the anniversary banquet (that’s illustrious phonetician Ian Maddieson lurking in the background)

July: Did I do anything in July? In theory, I was being studious.

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There was a fire somewhere that made for interesting skies one day

In August, I went to a Georgian yodeling workshop and saw the Dunhuang cave temples exhibit at the Getty. Isabelle and I coached a tour guide in speaking our invented Martian English in our second collaboration with the conceptual artist. Martian English was featured at the Seattle Art Fair and even found its way into the New York Times, so I think we’ve made it. I returned to Minnesota, visited my friend Alex at Seed Savers in Decorah, IA, and went camping in the Boundary Waters.

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Adorable White Park calves, from a proud and ancient line of British cattle

In September, after enjoying the Minnesota State Fair, I returned to California for Trip #3 to the Bay Area. I saw the San Francisco Opera premiere Dream of the Red Chamber, visited Angel Island, Muir Woods, and Yosemite, and had all sorts of adventures, one of which involved Amtrak. I also acquired a copy of the Northern Harmony.

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In October, I went on Mike the Poet’s tour of downtown Los Angeles, which started at the LA Central Library and ended at the Last Bookstore. I started studying Manchu and presented a poster on Efik reduplication at AMP at USC.

On November 1st, Wildings came out! I had a launch party at Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul and spoke to students at my high school. Then I had a launch party at Children’s Book World in Los Angeles (which just turned 30!). In between those two parties was a devastating election. Fight on. At the end of the month, I hosted my first Friendsgiving.

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Autumn in Minnesota

In December, I had my radio debut on Minnesota Public Radio, ran an artificial language learning study, and acquired a hammered dulcimer from my friend Chase.

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Minnehaha Falls at the end of December

Happy New Year and onward!