And now, a medieval drinking song…

We’re singing this in Madrigalians, and it’s totally stuck in my head:

Our version has juicier harmonies, but I’m kinda digging the crumhorn and pipes here. I’m not entirely sure why this version comes from a Christmas album, though, as this is a straight-up paean to beer, nothing Christmas-y about it.

But the best (or possibly worst) thing about this song is that you could keep on inventing new verses for it until the end of time. You just follow the pattern, “Don’t bring us X, because Y, but really bring us ale, because Z.” Maybe that’s how it pertains to the holidays: you can sing it endlessly on long car trips! Grandma and Grandpa will be so pleased when their grandchildren arrive, singing loudly about ale.

Hey, it’s better than “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.”

The Gloaming

As we were leaving the Chan Centre last night, my husband said to me, “Well, I know what you’re going to be blogging about tomorrow.”

“Nuh-uh!” I said (mature as ever). “I am not that predictable!”

But it turns out I am, especially if you’ve been married to me for like, a billion years.

So! We are huge fans of Iarla O’Lionaird, so went to see his new band, The Gloaming, last night. It is probably not quite accurate to call it his band; the other musicians, especially the fiddler Martin Hayes, are well-known and accomplished in their own right. It’s like a supergroup of Irish musicians, and they were just wonderful. They draw on the traditional repertoire of reels and the lesser-known (on this side of the pond, anyway) seannós tradition, but they also compose their own songs around old Irish poems. It was wonderfully old and startlingly new, all at once.

Here’s a (longish) bit to get you started: “The Opening Set,” with which they ended the concert, of course. It was my favourite, and it has everything, the oddball pianist (who was wonderful, and I am not a fan of piano generally), Iarla singing like an angel, and fiddling to set the roof on fire.

The second fiddler is playing an instrument called a Hardanger fiddle, which is like a combination violin, viola, and instrument of pure awesome. As a former string player myself, I was particularly enamoured of his bowing, how he wasn’t afraid to go all breathy and squeaky and light, or conversely to land hard and crunch the string.

We went early and attended an interview with Iarla O’Lionaird and Martin Hayes, which was fun. They teased each other like old friends, which gave some clue as to how they’d work together on stage. Something Hayes said really struck me: that when they were choosing their second fiddle player, it wasn’t technical brilliance they were looking for but ideas.

That’s what I look for, too, in music and in writing — the mind behind the art. I like to see the striving and trying; I like it a little bit messy, honestly. This insight gave me things to look for and think about during the concert — how the musicians responded to each other, what role each one was playing, what they were doing to the reels (unreeling them, sometimes).

They played one encore. I would have sat through ten more, but it’s probably just as well that they didn’t play that many. My son, in the absence of thrash guitar, had melted into a puddle of boredom by the end and was oozing off his chair onto the floor. So the concert was not universally beloved by our entire family. Still, if you like Irish music and have a chance to hear them, I urge you to take it. I believe I was grinning ridiculously the entire time.

This season with the Madrigalians

We have so much new music this time around! I am really going to have to practice and work hard to keep up. Let me never complain about this kind of work, though: I enjoy it immensely.

Some highlights include “La Roza Enflorese” (a love song in Ladino) and “A Little Pretty Bonny Lass” (harder than it sounds).  Here’s the one I’m most excited about, though, and I can’t even tell you why except that the recording gives me shivers every five seconds or so:

It’s by Orlando di Lasso, that sly devil. There are no bar lines; this is the hard stuff. Just listen to those chord transitions, though. It’s like water, full of motion and sunlight and refraction. I wish it were longer, but maybe it’s hard to endure any more shivers than that.

To remember:

The sky was up to all kinds of dramatic shenanigans as I was walking the dog this morning. It was overcast, as it so often is in this corner of the continent, but the sun was just rising and for a fleeting moment it found a window and shone underneath the cloud cover. It turned West Van golden, made the ships out on the water glow, and lit up the top of a single yellow tree like it was on fire.

Wow, I thought, this can’t get any lovelier, and then all of a sudden there was a rainbow right in front of me, full arc, crossing the entire sky.

Sometimes nature in Vancouver really doesn’t know when to quit. Get yer gilded lilies right here, folks!

I thought, Huh, it must be raining west of us for there to be a rainbow, and within seconds the sky opened up and it started raining on us. The rainbow and transcendent illumination vanished, and my dog – whose jacket I’d forgotten – started pulling urgently on the leash, trying to run home.

That was all par for the October morning course, though. The thing I don’t want to forget is that I was listening to “Crush” by DMB, and thinking that that’s the song my Journal of Crackpot Musicology ought to tackle next. I have anecdotes dating back to Amy Unbounded, and of course your usual delicious ration of half-baked analysis. Tune in soon*!

*”Soon” is always measured on a geologic time scale around here, of course.

Safe to Write

(Another bit of silly filking for your amusement)

You can write if you want to,
You can leave your words behind.
Jot ’em, ripe or green,
By hand or by machine,
And everything will work out fine.

You can write where you want to,
Someplace where they will never find,
Or teach yourself to fly
And write it in the sky,
And leave your critics far behind.

You can write, you can write,
It’s ok if you look like a fright
(Just look at me, now)
You can write, you can write,
Dawn or dusk, noonday or night,
It’s safe to write!


You can write what you want to,
If you don’t, nobody will.
You can coin new words
And make ’em all absurd
And then laugh like a burzbagill!

You can write if you want to,
You can read your words aloud,
You can hold it all in
Or whisper to the wind,
In any case you should be proud.

You can write, you can write,
Ponderous or silly and light
(Just look at me, now!)
You can write, you can write,
I struggle, but it’s well worth the fight.

It’s safe to write.

Rebuild the Wall

Do you like Pink Floyd? Do you like bluegrass music? Have you ever said to yourself, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if someone combined the two?”

No? Me neither. That’s why I’ve been totally surprised by the awesome that is “Rebuild the Wall” by Luther Wright and the Wrongs. Here’s one of my favourite songs (and one of the most unrecognizable, in bluegrass form) —

Covers can be hit or miss, I know. We were discussing this with friends over the weekend, how the best covers don’t just give you a new insight into the original but make you glad they exist in their own right. That’s how I feel about this album. (And those of you worried about how cringeworthy “In the Flesh Part 2” is going to sound in a southern accent, they solve that problem rather elegantly, I think, with some judicious lyric alterations.)

In the course of that discussion, our friends introduced us to the Scissors Sisters’ disco version of “Comfortably Numb,” which is also well worth your attention:


There you go. A good laugh in the morning makes the whole day worthwhile.

Shadow Scale sample chapters, and a song

Random House Kids have posted the first few chapters of Shadow Scale at Scribd, and they’re available for free! I encourage you to go check ’em out. Of course, this little taste might merely be more frustrating than anything else. It’s still a bit of a wait until the book comes out.

To help pass the time, here’s one of the bands I went to see last night:

They even played this song, which is one of my favourites. It’s in Norwegian, but the band is actually from the Faroe Islands. Sometimes they sing in Faroese. Sometimes they even wear shirts. Well, a few of them do, anyway. It’s possible the band only owns a couple between them, and they have to share.

Edited to add: Hat tip and thanks to Ms. Carina Olson, who brought the sample pages to my attention yesterday, and who has written this very nice blog post after re-reading Seraphina. She also appears to be Norwegian — that’s apparently the theme for today!