Friday, December 19, 2008

The Quilt Files, Holiday Family Edition

It looks like there's no doubt of having a white Christmas up here in Michigan, as I sit here hibernating in the house during a snowstorm. The holiday cards are all mailed (even the overseas ones); the cookies are baked; the presents are purchased (except for one on backorder I have to pick up next week) and even mostly wrapped; the tree's been up since Thanksgiving; and Boy is shoveling the driveway! Now all I need is to have tonight's concert cancelled, so I don't have to drive through a foot of snow this evening ... but even if I end up sledding driving tonight, I won't feel too bad, since I get cookies at the end. I'll play anywhere for treats, as my musical buddies well know.

Anyway, I'm feeling fine and all Christmasy, so I thought I'd share the beautiful wall hanging my maternal grandmother quilted for me in 1996. Actually, all my girl cousins received hangings that year (there are five of us); of course, I think mine is the best.

I just love how the poinsettias in the border fabric echo the large poinsettias; these large flowers were pieced, not appliqued. This means each different piece of fabric was sewn together at a seam, rather than cut out and stuck to the background. It must have required lots of precision (something that's not always my strong point), for the flowers and leaves all match up and yet don't look overly angular. Plus, how did she get the flowers to overlap the borders like that? I've yet to attempt something like this, although I have something in my "to-do" drawer that's similar.

Thinking about getting to those new projects is something for the New Year, though. Right now it's almost Christmas! Hope yours is safe and happy and filled with family.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Untitled post about music

Actually, I had a couple of potential titles for this blog entry, which is in praise of the pipe organ. But I thought heading my post with "I love the organ!" might attract the wrong kind of indexing on Google. Same with "I love the pipe!" {Sigh.}

I'm not sure why I decided to write about this today. Maybe it's because I'm seeking escape from all the Chicken Christmas music that is inundating the air. By this weekend I will have played in two Christmas concerts, and Christmas Eve I'm spending playing at my friend's church. And that's a nice way to spend Christmas Eve, but it would feel more special if I hadn't been stuffed full of holiday songs for the past month. Even the usually reliable XM "Symphony Hall" classical channel is filled with Christmas oratorios and other things too unbearable to mention.

So I guess I felt like turning to the one kind of music that always moves me to turn up the volume: the pipe organ. If you read my review of the film Battleship Potemkin, you know a big factor in my enjoyment was the live organ music that accompanied this silent film. One of my favorite pieces of classical music is Saint-Saens's Third Symphony, whose final movement is grandly completed with pipe organ. (They used this movement's musical theme in the film Babe, strangely enough; but the sight of James Cromwell dancing for a pig to this music wasn't enough to dampen my enjoyment of the piece. Hearing it performed live, a couple shades too slow, was more of a disappointment.)

Occasionally pop music has made great use of the organ; Elton John's "Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding" is another favorite of mine, and to hear it live in a huge arena was a highlight when I saw him in concert around 20 years ago. Of course, the organ is meant to be heard in a grand space, and I've been lucky enough to hear the organ performed in some of the most beautiful churches in Europe. On a visit to Bath, England, in 1990 we were lucky enough to hear a whole concert of organ music. While living in London, I also took the opportunity to catch the occasional organ recital, including one at the St. Albans Cathedral and Abbey, parts of which date to the 11th century. One time I was even lucky enough to perform with pipe organ, when the honors band I was in played Weinberger's "Polka and Fugue from Schwanda, the Bagpiper" in a grand hall.

So I do love the pipe organ. And here is one of my favorite pieces, Widor's Toccata from his Symphony for Organ #5. It's not the kind of sound quality I prefer (ie, turned up to 11 on my surround-sound system), but it gives you an idea:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Maus: The Official Haiku Review

So after reading and reviewing the graphic novel Watchmen over six weeks ago, I blithely promised to present my review of the equally groundbreaking graphic novel Maus "soon." And I had intended to get to it soon; I'd already checked the two parts out of the library. But the three-week checkout period came and went, so I renewed the books. Then another three-week period came and went, and the library actually let me renew them again. I hadn't done more than move the books from one spot to another, thinking maybe I would get to them soon. I wasn't in any hurry; after all, Art Spiegelman's Maus is a graphic novel about the Holocaust, so it wasn't the kind of thing I expected to just pick up and read "for fun."

But spurred by my second library notice, I decided to finally crack open the first volume. And it didn't take me more than a couple of pages to get completely sucked in by the story and characters. For while Maus is a story of the Holocaust, it is also a story about fathers and sons and storytelling itself. So now I present the official haiku review: two poems for the two parts.

A father's story
A maze with no good choices
Danger at each turn

Can the son grasp it?
Re-create the father's pain?
Yes; the image speaks.

I suppose the cover of Maus gives you the essential details of the novel: it tells the story of a Holocaust survivor, with all the characters drawn as animals. The Jews are mice; the Nazis are cats*; Poles are pigs; Americans are dogs; French are frogs; etc etc. It's an interesting little metaphor, but I suppose the main advantage is that it mitigates some of the horrific images that the author includes. Now, you may be thinking as I was: do I really want to read something about such a terrible moment in human history? And if Maus was only a retelling of Vladek Spiegelman's experiences in Poland during World War II, it might be heavy going indeed.

But Maus is equally a story of Spiegelman trying to understand his father, who survived Auschwitz but became a frustrating character to live with. So the novel opens with Spiegelman visiting his father's home and asking for all the family stories. How did his parents meet? How did they live before the war? These kinds of stories are always fascinating, and Vladek Spiegelman's is no exception. Soon we are introduced to his soon-to-be-wife and their extended family, who are wealthy business owners until the Nazi occupation. The novel alternates scenes of the son dealing with his father's quirks, and the father dealing with the increasing restrictions put on Jews in occupied Poland. Vladek is a clever and quick-witted man, but at the end of the first part, even he cannot escape the death camps.

The second part deals with Vladek in Auschwitz, where again his ingenuity helped both him and his wife survive. The horrors of the camps are balanced by the modern-day pieces, where a frustrated young Spiegelman is trying to deal with his father, whose second marriage is breaking up. We also see his doubts about his ability to deal with such heavy subject matter. But by making the creation of the book and his relationship with his father part of the novel, Spiegelman creates a story that's accessible without being shallow, and grim yet still life-affirming.

I have to agree with Watchmen creator Alan Moore, who noted in his review of Maus: "Maus surely marks one of the high points of the comic medium to date. It is perhaps the first genuine graphic novel in recent times, and as such its significance cannot be overstated. Please read it."

*Always the cats are the bad guys (sigh); or maybe Spiegelman was thumbing his nose at Hitler, a noted ailurophobe (cat-hater).

Monday, December 15, 2008

Photo of the Week--12/8/08

As you may have figured out, I really like photographs that play with light and shadow, and this is one of my favorites. It's another alcázar (ie, "fortress") from our Spanish trip, this time in Jerez, home of the sherry industry. This building is a part of a complex of baths built by the Moors in the 12th century. I couldn't resist the way the light streamed in through the star-shaped skylights. I'll bet it made a great atmosphere for a lazy day at the baths.