Instrument of the week: Harpsichord!

In the comments of my Wall Song Query, astute commenter David mentioned some music I love that I hadn’t listened to in years: Les Baricades Mysterieuses by Couperin. How fortuitous! I was looking for an instrument of the week, and it may as well be the trusty harpsichord:

This piece is, in fact, the entire reason Seraphina plays keyboards at all. When I was very young I had a disastrous course of piano lessons, ending with my teacher telling my mother to stop wasting money on me. You know it’s bad when you can’t pay the teacher to teach. I still don’t like piano music to this day — with a few exceptions — but I like harpsichord, and this Couperin piece is the reason. When Seraphina says, “The timbre of [the harpsichord] is, to me, the musical equivalent of a warm bath” — that’s me, talking about this piece.

There are lots of renditions of this piece on YouTube, including some performed on guitar and (bleargh!) piano. I chose this one because I enjoyed watching this fellow play, he takes it at a humane but lively pace, and I wanted to point out the painting inside the instrument lid. Seraphina’s spinet (a related but differently oriented keyboard instrument) has kittens inside the lid. I love this stuff.

I have one more eccentric anecdote to relate about Les Barricades Mysterieuses. My sister and I used to love making mix tapes for a particular friend of ours. This was in ancient times, so we were often recording off vinyl. It was a point of pride with my sister to leave no blank space at the end of a tape, to have all the music fit perfectly (I would just let it cut off in the middle of a song, which drove her nuts). Anyway, we had just a minute or two of space at the end of our friend’s tape, and we were racking our brains trying to find a piece short enough to fit, when we lit upon this Couperin. Still, it was going to be close. We held our breaths as it recorded, and — miracle of miracles — it fit perfectly. My sister and I cheered and laughed, celebrating, and apparently we were so loud that the needle of the record player picked up the vibrations. Our friend could hear the ghostly echo of our laughter on the tape.

My sincere and humble thanks

For all those wonderful wall-song suggestions! Even the silly ones. Maybe especially the silly ones, because I can always, ALWAYS use a laugh. It’s good to have a pile of new music, and from so many different genres, too! I am a little astonished that nobody suggested “100 Bottles of Beer”, however.

I was thinking about walls, in particular, because I have been feeling like I’ve put a wall around myself, and I don’t like it at all. I had big defensive walls when I was young, but I tore them down years ago and decided I wasn’t going to live that way anymore. Somehow, though, getting published and making this transition from “Nobody You Ever Heard Of” to “Somebody a Few People Have Heard Of” has been scary and uncertain enough that the walls went back up.

Have you noticed this blog getting more boring and impersonal over time? Yup. That was the walls going up. If you read the entries sequentially, you can see it happening, like time-lapse photography. Little by little I said less and less. It got to the point where I could barely write anything here at all, where I felt the internal censor half choking me any time I tried.

The thing about my internal censor – and my defensive walls – is that they get super zealous about their jobs. They weren’t just applying themselves here on the blog, but everywhere. My “real” writing. My life. I have been cutting myself off at the knees, truncating my thoughts, boxing myself in at every corner.

And for what? Am I so scary that I need to be contained? Are my honest words such a liability that I need to keep a muzzle on?

There is nothing terrible I want to say, but I have to feel absolutely free to say something terrible or I find I can’t say anything at all. Writing – the thing I chose to do, the thing I love – has become a misery as often as not. I’m tired of that, and I’m done suffering. It’s not necessary. I can say exactly what needs to be said. I have the power, the right, and the ability to judge rightly what to say.

The first rule of shame-Grendels is never talk about shame-Grendels — but that’s their rule, invented for their own self-preservation. They know that when the sunlight hits them they will dissolve into dust. That’s why I’m saying this here, because it will help precipitate their disintegration. It is time to stop shouting at myself and enjoy my work again.

And I really, REALLY want to get to the point where I can explain to you why listening to YES is like eating an excellent sandwich. That’s a goal, perhaps. I will know the last brick has been kicked aside when I can finally be that funny and serious — together — again.


Your mission, should you choose to accept it

Hello, darlings! This is going to sound like an eccentric request – and it certainly IS – but I’m looking for songs that mention walls. Yes, like Pink Floyd’s The Wall. An excellent example, and an album I’ve been listening to a lot. Maybe that’s what’s got me thinking in this direction. I’ve found others too, such as “The Wall” by Kansas:

It doesn’t have to be the title or central obsession of the song, though! Not by any stretch. U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name” would qualify.

Why do I want songs about walls? I’m just in that kind of mood. It happens to everyone from time to time, surely. And let me just say right now: facetious suggestions, where you stick the word “wall” into a song title where it DOES NOT BELONG are… totally welcome. Because I’m in THAT kind of mood, too.

Walls! What are they good for?

Coming soon: Burnaby library event!

Mark your calendars, darlings! I’m going to be appearing at McGill library in Burnaby, Saturday April 27th at 2pm. Here’s the BPL listing for it, and they would like you to pre-register if you’re planning to come because space is limited.

This is going to be a particularly special event because we’re going to talk about Renaissance music and have some real-life examples! My fabulous madrigal-singing friends have very kindly agreed to come perform a few songs, and they will even demonstrate some Renaissance dancing and instruments. Thought the “sackbut” was something I just made up? THINK AGAIN.


Obscure early instrument of the week: the glorious crumhorn!

To be fair, crumhorns aren’t that obscure. You may not have seen one, you may not have known the name, but the distinctive buzzy timbre immediately says “Renaissance” even to people who don’t listen to much early music. It’s memorable, to say the least. The “crum” part of the name is related to the word “crumple”, implying curvature, according to the Wikipedia (here’s their article). I have several friends who play or have played crumhorn; they all agree that it takes a tremendous amount of air pressure to play. If you’re prone to headaches or face cramps, this may not be the instrument for you.

Another fine interview

This interview went up nearly a month ago, and I was so busy getting my draft of The Ominous Sequel squared away that I completely flaked on posting the link! Here it is, friends. And Katja, my apologies for being an incorrigible space-cadet, and my thanks for all your interest, enthusiasm, and patience!


Obscure Renaissance instrument of the week, the mighty theorbo:

You don’t get to see the neck in all its bizarre glory in the video. Here’s a picture. Here’s another. The idea is that it’s a lute with its own bass accompaniment, but in order to fit such a range on a single instrument, the bass strings have to be much longer than the rest. It’s a SUPER-LUTE (and not to be confused with the archlute, which is a similar idea but not as low or unwieldy).

Well look who’s here!

That would be ME, darlings. I haven’t been here in a while, and I apologize. I travelled and rested, and in the meantime my editor perused the draft and came up with twenty thousand ways I could improve it. I’ve just dipped my toe back in this week, and… well, it’s always cold at first, until you get your midriff in, and then it’s all right. In fact, I’ve found a number of things to be excited about.

So there you go. Work proceeds apace (a slow pace, maybe) and work is good.

The flowers have all come out over the last few weeks, which is helping enormously. I really ought to spend a day just photographing cherry trees and putting them up here, that I might have something lovely to look at during the long cherry-blossom-free months. They are stunning, like clouds rooted to the ground, or branches laden with barely-pink snow. The sheer decadent abundance of flowers. I walk the dog by specific routes, just so I can pass under all my favourite trees and gape up at them. Someday a blossom is going to fall into my mouth. I’ll let you know if it does.

As I gad about under the sakura, I’ve been listening to “Awaken” by YES. Also, to “Glistening Fields” by Iarla O’Lionaird.

Huh, they both start with piano solos. I hadn’t noticed until I listened to the beginning of each in close succession.