Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A Year's Music: Barbara Harbach

This year, I've been writing (very informally) about favorite musical works and discoveries. Recently, I was so grateful to discover the music of Barbara Harbach.

I actually know Dr. Harbach socially. Our spouses are heads of St. Louis-area universities, so we occasionally see each other at community events. I knew she had studied with the famous organ master Helmut Walcha, who had also been teacher of a dear friend of mine. The last time she and I chatted at a local event, she mentioned recent recording projects. So later that day, out of curiosity, I checked Amazon and realized she had ten recordings of her own compositions and several of her performing other composers.

Well, I purchased three of the CDs of her compositions, and I loved them so much that I purchased three more, and then I ordered the remaining four. I had to make a four-hour road trip this past weekend so I binge-listened to her music. I'll catch up with her other CDs later.

Dr. Harbach holds a baccalaureate degree in music from Pennsylvania State University, master of musical arts degree from Yale, Konzertdiplom from the Musikhochschule-Frankfurt, and a doctor of musical arts degree from the Eastman School of Music, plus an honorary doctorate in music from Wilmington College. In 2016, she was ranked as the number one female organist and as one of the 30 Most Innovative Women Professors Alive Today. Her website is barbaraharbach.com, and her faculty page is https://music.umsl.edu/Faculty/BarbaraHarbach.html

Untrained to write about music, I read some reviews of Harbach’s work, which helped me articulate what I love about her works. Her pieces are tonal and melodic, and beautiful, reminding me of composers like Copland (in his ballets), Harold Hansen, Ned Rorem, David Diamond, and also Ralph Vaughan Williams. It’s “sunny” music but not sweetly so, in the way I sometimes find John Rutter’s choral music (though I love his work, too). One reviewer refers to the “open-air quality” of Harbach's music, “the aural equivalent of American of the work of Grandma Moses”, with the originality but without the naivety, since (as another reviewer points out) they are skillfully-crafted and -orchestrated. The pieces are also well performed and recorded, with Harbach sometimes playing keyboards. As someone with only childhood music lessons but who has always loved to explore composers' works, I've enjoyed the music of artists like Copland, Diamond, Rorem, Ginastera, Hovhaness, Holst, Britten, Vaughan Williams, and others who appreciated in some way their own national heritage. (Bartok still lies beyond me, unfortunately.) Listening to the piece “Confluencity,” about the meeting of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, I thought of Smetana and also Ives, in the way the later depicts contrasting forces coming together.

She has written on themes important for Missouri (see my list of favorite pieces below), and she recently wrote a Symphony for Ferguson, inspired by Michael Brown's death and the accompanying events: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IjsDhOegcz0

In an interview, found here, Harbach talks about some of her influences. "I was fortunate enough to take classes with Mel Powell at Yale University as well as a semester with Sam Adler at the Eastman School of Music. From Mel I learned to appreciate improvisatory ingenuity and from Sam rhythmic athleticism. Composers often write what they like to hear, and I adore listening to Howard Hanson, Aaron Copland, Roy Harris, Mary Howe, Thea Musgrave, Gian Carlo Menotti, Adolphus Hailstork, and, of course, Ralph Vaughan Williams as well as many others. Many of the mid-twentieth century composers studied with one of my heroes Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979) in Paris. She was an outstanding pedagogue, composer, organist and pianist. Some of my favorite pieces are Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel’s Overture (c. 1830), Clara Schumann’s Piano Concerto and the operas of Ethel Smyth..."

She goes on in that interview to mention other women composers that she enjoys (and which I promise to listen to): Emma Lou Diemer, Beth Anderson, Joan Tower, Libby Larsen, Cindy McTee, Judith Statin, Shulamit Ran, Melinda Wagner, Jennifer Hidgon and Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, the first woman Pulitzer Prize winner in 1983", as well as Grace Williams, Elizabeth Maconchy, Nicola Le Fanu, and Germaine Tailleferre. "These are just a few composers whose aesthetic ideals we all share, and there are many more women creators writing stunning and exciting music..."

Read more of those interviews and pieces at her website. A short, incomplete list of some of my favorites among her works are “One of Ours - A Cather Symphony: I. On Lovely Creek, II. Autumn in Beaufort, III. Honor At Boar's Head" (on Orchestral Music I), “American Solstice for Chamber Ensemble” (on Chamber Music I), “A State Divided A Missouri Symphony I. Missouri Compromise, II. Skirmish at Island Mound, III. The Battle of Westport" (on Orchestral Music II),“Arcadian Reverie for String Orchestra” (on Orchestral Music I), “Tres Danzas para Clavecin for Harpsichord” (on Chamber Music III), “The Soul of Ra for String Orchestra” (Chamber Music II), most of the hymn arrangements—including my favorite hymn tune, “Kingsfold” (Toccatas, Flourishes and Fugues - A Celebration of Hymns), “Night Soundings for Orchestra I. Cloak of Darkness, II. Notturno, III. Midnight Tango" (Orchestral Music II), “Gateway Festival Symphony I. Confluencity, II. Sunset: St. Louis, III. After Forever" (Orchestral Music II), "Jubilee Symphony I. Bellerive, II. Mirth Day Fiesta, III. Tritons Ascending” (Orchestral Music II), “Freeing the Caged Bird: Maya Angelou, Sara Teasdale, Kate Chopin, Emily Hahn" (Chamber Music II), “Pioneer Women: From Skagway to White Mountain” (Vocal Music)...

You get the idea. If the captain of the sinking ship lets me take only one CD to the proverbial desert island, mine would be Vaughan Williams's third and fifth symphonies, and if two... that same one and also Harbach's Orchestral Music I or II, or one of the others——or maybe I’ll just stuff several of her CDs under my life jacket and be thankful.

(She didn't know I was writing this post but, when I emailed it to her to make sure it was factually correct, she told me that a new CD, Orchestra Music III, will be out in a couple months, yay.)

Monday, August 22, 2016

Jerusalem at the 1904 World's Fair

We love to collect antique souvenirs and paraphernalia from the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. Beth's deceased first husband's great-grandfather attended the fair, which got her interested in the history. After we married, we've continued to collect items, from antique stores and later from eBay. I've a cousin here in St. Louis who founded the 1904 World's Fair Society; he and his wife and other members meet regularly to preserve and publicize the history.

Beth and I are by no means experts on the fair and we enjoy discovering new things about it. For instance, one of my gifts for Christmas last year was a commemorative booklet about the Jerusalem exhibit at the fair. (The picture above is scanned from it.) We hadn't realized that the fair had this section.

Among other, well-known aspects of the fair, like the enormous ferris wheel and the significant buildings, the Jerusalem exhibit was a very big deal, over 10 acres on a 1:1 scale of the Old City, including accurate replicas of the Dome of the Rock, the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The brochure describes the four Jerusalem gates, the stations of the Cross, and the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim sites that were replicated. As this site indicates, "The structures [of the exhibit] were interconnected by twenty-two winding streets and alleys, and were girded by a faithful reproduction of the walls of Jerusalem. Once inside the model, the fair’s visitors could take part in dozens of activities. They could take a tour of the holy sites with a turbaned guide, follow 'in the footsteps of Jesus' along the Via Dolorosa, and view a diorama of the scene of the Crucifixion. They could take a bumpy camel or donkey ride and shop for Holy Land souvenirs in an oriental bazaar. They could also mingle with the hundreds of Jerusalem natives—Moslems, Christians, and Jews— who were imported to St. Louis for the duration of the fair, and who could be seen walking around in oriental garb conducting religious ceremonies or working in their artisan workshops and booths." All this for 25 cents admission for adults and 15 cents for kids.

I found an article by Milette Shamir, "Back to the Future: The Jerusalem Exhibit at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair" (Journal of Levantine Studies Vol. 2, No. 1, Summer 2012, pp. 93-113). Read Shamir's interesting article, which can be accessed here. It is a fascinating discussion about the exhibit and concludes with these insights about the interfaith aspect [footnotes omitted]:

"The Jerusalem exhibit, I would argue, is more interesting for the insistent use some of its visitors made of it as a haven of religious feelings and devotion, than for the commodification of the spiritual which no doubt modified its popular success. Accounts of the day- to-day operation of the exhibit frequently attest to its function in staking out a hallowed space within the secular fair, even if not always in ways that its planners had intended. In one instance, Roman Catholic Cardinal Francesco Satolli made a much-publicized pilgrimage to the Jerusalem exhibit, where, moved by an Arab girl playing 'The Holy City' on an oriental instrument, 'he stopped and removed his hat.' ...Despite the Protestant partiality of the exhibit, Catholics and Orthodox Christians held weekly Sunday Masses at the replica of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. In addition, in September of 1904, six hundred Jews gathered in the model of Jerusalem’s large synagogue for holy prayers, defying the spectatorial and commercial purposes of the exhibit by permitting 'no one to enter, not even the manager of the concession.' In the same month, a particularly moving ceremony was held in the replica of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher: one of the Syrian dragomen employed in the exhibit was married to an English tourist. Nothing could better express the transcendence of ethnicity, nationality, and church affiliation inspired by the exhibit than this union. Less dramatic, perhaps, but equally poignant are accounts of visitors who were deeply touched simply by the experience of standing within the exhibit’s walls, an experience that allowed them to transport themselves 'in imagination, a few thousand miles . . . to realize that [they] are on the spot that the honest belief of thousands associate with the greatest tragedy and the most sacred event of all history.' While visitors such as this speaker clearly did not forget that they were standing in a modern concession an ocean-width away from the Holy Land, they were able, through an act of the imagination, to discover spiritual life in the plaster and cardboard structures of the exhibit. Finding the experience meaningful enough to repeat, and managing to balance modern pleasures with devotional feelings, such visitors were the finest embodiment of the tourist as pilgrim."

Sunday, August 21, 2016

For All the Saints: St. Pius X

When we lived in Flagstaff, AZ, a local clergy-colleague was the priest at St. Pius X Catholic Church. I've forgotten his name now but I appreciated his friendship at the time. I thought of him on this feast day of Pope Pius (Guiseppe Melchiorre Sarto, 1835-1914), the day after the anniversary of Pius' death (so scheduled because St. Bernard of Clairvaux's day is August 20th).

The biography linked below discusses aspects of his life and papacy. Pius X is an interesting pope---frustrating. While he shared his predecessor Leo XIII's promotion of Thomist philosophy and method, Pius aggressively opposed modernism and sought to root out theologians influenced by modernism, which he saw only as a source of error. Compare this with Leo's promotion of synthesis between faith and science, faith and reason, and theology and culture. He was strict in matters of international relations, and refused to support trade unions that were not Catholic.

(Although founded many years after his death, the Society of St. Pius X is a famous organization that rejects the Second Vatican Council and resulting liturgical reforms. The group has no canonical status with the church.)

Pius was also notably pastoral and compassionate and brought his previous pastoral experience to his office. As pope, for instance, he continued to preach regularly, and had kindness for those in need. He was already in poor health when World War I commenced, and his depression at the outbreak of war hastened his death.

Among his other distinctions, Pius codified Canon Law, reformed the liturgy, and like our recent John Paul II he was very devoted to the Virgin Mary. He supported the American Catholic church, although he once refused an audience with former president Roosevelt.

Pius was canonized in 1954. Many churches and schools are named for him, including a high school here in St. Louis.


Saturday, August 20, 2016

Bible Road Trips: Jacob Going to Haran

The Bible has many stories of roads and highways. This is an occasional series of meditations based on those scriptures. 

Jacob's Ladder
Read Genesis 28:10-22

Have you felt estranged from family members, and avoided crossing paths with them? Have you ever moved in order to get away from a certain situation? Sometimes we leave particular places and don’t want to return, or we feel it inadvisable to return. I once read a story of a person who was caught up in a bad local situation and, once it was revolved, he moved away. He said that enough time had passed that he could return, but he probably wouldn’t.

When we read of Jacob in our lesson, he has embarked upon a long, uncertain journey, from Beersheba to Haran, that is, from the southern region of Canaan to the northern regions of what is now Syria by Asia Minor. At the end of Genesis 11, Haran is the place where Abram and his family settled before God first called Abram. It’s a long way from Beersheba!

But Jacob needs to get out. He has cheated his brother Esau out of his future. His brother is bigger than he is, and he’s angry. Jacob may not survive an encounter. So on the advice of his co-conspiring mother, he flees, to meet his mother’s brother. At least on the surface of things, Jacob has spoiled his own future and hopes for a new beginning.

But on his way on this journey, Jacob stops his travel for the day, finds a location, rests his head upon a stone. Perhaps he pads the stone with some of his clothing and thus props his head to sleep as comfortably as he can on this ground. Dreams are strange and disturbing when we’re upset, and his dream was, too, but it was also a vision: he saw angels ascending and descending on a ladder, and the Lord introduces himself as the God of his father and grandfather. The Lord reaffirms the covenant with Abraham to Jacob.

Jacob woke up and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it! How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven" (vss. 16-17). He realizes that he had been in a place of great holiness and divine power, perhaps dangerous to an unholy person like him, where the Lord and the angels were close by. The word “awesome” in this sense means evoking awe and dread. Consequently, Jacob dedicated his stone as a divine totem to the God and called the place “house of God” (Beth-El). He made a vow to be devoted to this God of his family.

I always loved the Bible verses that depict God in terms of strong places. The Hebrew word machseh poetically describes God as a refuge and dwelling place (Psalm 46:1, Deut. 33:27, et al.). In fact, when I’m traveling---when I read the Bible in my lonely hotel room, for instance---these are often the kinds of verses I seek out. I need to feel at home in God, to feel reassured that God is always with me.

The word “place” (in Hebrew makom) is a good word, too, and has been used as a name for God in the Jewish tradition; God is “the Place” (HaMakom), that is, The Omnipresent. Although God had special worship places to which people traveled, like the Tabernacle and the Temple, God was never limited to one location, as if God were unavailable elsewhere. God is already where we are, and in fact God has gotten there first!

Jacob stumbled onto (or was invisibly led) to a place where God become known to him. Much later in scripture, Jesus portrays himself as the new Temple (John 2:19-21) and affirmed that now he is the “place” to go to know God. Jesus is here when we read the Bible, experience, fellowship, worship, hear the preached Word, and partake of the sacraments. Jesus is here whenever we call upon the Lord, and even when we do not. He is here with us, any place we may be, at home or away. Surely his words “Lo, I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20) are among the most comforting in all of Scripture, a good page in the Bible to turn to for assurance at home or away!  

Friday, August 19, 2016

For All the Saints: Bernard of Clairvaux

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) was canonized in 1174 and made a "Doctor of the Church" in 1830. He is honored on August 20 in the calendars of the Roman Catholic, Episcopal, and ELCA Churches and on August 19 in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. So we can think about him on both days.

Here is a site that gives some background on Bernard: http://www.americancatholic.org/Features/Saints/saint.aspx?id=1113&calendar=1 and also  http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/moversandshakers/bernard-of-clairvaux.html That second author comments: "It's hard to know how to characterize Bernard of Clairvaux. On the one hand, he is called the 'honey-tongued doctor' for his eloquent writings on the love of God. On the other hand, he rallied soldiers to kill Muslims. He wrote eloquently on humility; then again, he loved being close to the seat of power and was an adviser to five popes." Bernard joined the new community, the
Cistercians, and therein practiced very strict asceticism that, unfortunately, damaged his health. But he worked tirelessly throughout his life to raise standards of monasteries and to found new ones. Along with his regrettable support of the Second Crusade, undertaken in obedience, he raised objections to the philosophy of contemporary Peter Abelard and also wrote and preached. His book On Loving God is a classic, as well as his Sermons on the Song of Songs, wherein the text of that book became a springboard for Bernard to touch upon many theological topics.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Landscape: Gude

Hans Fredrik Gude (1825-1903), "Under eketreet" (Under the Oak, 1858). 
"Hardanger Fjord" (1847). 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

"Quilts and Human Rights" book

Here is a brand-new book, just published, which I purchased a couple weeks ago at the St. Louis Art Museum. "Quilts and Human Rights" is by Marsha MacDowell, Mary Worrall, Lynne Swanson, and Beth Donaldson, all specialists in folk art and cultural heritage, all located at the Michigan State University Museum. Desmond Tutu provides the forward.

My grandma belonged to a quilting circle, and I cherish two of her quilts. The authors of this book state that, along with different kinds of quilts and other folk art, the museum had a small collection of quilts having to do with human rights. They assembled more for an exhibition, and this book is another result of the collection. They write in the preface: "Textiles have been the expressive mode of choice for many women... As we delved into this arena of artist activism, we were astounded by the number of human rights quilts, the richness of stories associated with the quilts, the variety of visual expressions rendered by artists, and the growth of online communities connecting even greater numbers of individuals who use cloth and needles to address injustices and advance social change" (p. xiv). Many quilts memorialize individuals, while others have to do with workers' rights, crimes like rape and incest and domestic abuse as well as lynchings, and horrors like genocide, war, and ethnic cleansing. Quilts have much to say in areas like women's studies and material culture as well as art and human rights (p. xv).

Leafing through the book, I found numerous examples of powerful statements, like a quilt dedicated to the deposed and imprisoned Queen Lili'uokalani, Anita Hill, Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela, a black woman who was lynched, another quilt that includes the names of the lynched in several states. Other quilts artistically depicted the Tuskegee syphilis study, South Africa's Cradock Four, the Holocaust, Tiananmen Square, the crisis in South Sudan, Selma's Bloody Sunday, women's suffrage,  resource scarcity in Zimbabwe and elsewhere---and numerous other topics and persons.

I recommend this book: it will prod your conscience, inform you of injustices worldwide, and inspire you to dedicate your own creativity to social witness and social change. (I do not know the authors and was not asked to write this review.)