It’s May 1st, and it’s 45 degrees outside, so I maintain:
“That’s not snow, it’s FLUFFY RAIN.”
Jacinta looked out the window when she woke up and asked me, “Is it May 1st or April 1st? ‘Cause that looks like a practical joke out there!”
Yesterday I had breakfast with Raymond Plank, a 91-year-old man who has seen about everything. He went to the White House and saw Roosevelt enter the building to declare America’s entry into World War II. On the other end, he was stationed near Japan when he and a buddy realized that the Americans would likely drop the second A-bomb, so they “borrowed” an airplane and went out and actually saw the mushroom cloud go up. Crazy stuff.
Today I spoke with Fr. Reginald Foster, who has been the official Latinist to every Pope since Paul VI. And boy does he have stories….
Some colleagues and I recently traveled to Chicago for the annual Higher Learning Commission conference on accreditation. It was a huge event, with over 4,100 participants from more than 800 institutions. Coming from the tiny town of Lander, where I register and recognize many of the faces on Main Street, I soon experienced “face overload”: my brain could not process that many faces walking by day after day, with never a face repeated in the mix, and I experienced the urge to walk through crowds with my eyes shut.
Not an urge I indulged, mind you.
So we found ourselves on the first day of the conference at an orientation event in an auditorium with some 400 or so first-time conference participants. The speaker stood at the front with a microphone and cracked jokes and made points and generally oriented everyone, but what grabbed my attention was his comment about teachers and institutions that don’t want to face the new standards. “If you are at an institution where they still have big lecture halls with one guy at a microphone talking to hundreds of students, that institution doesn’t know what it’s doing!” he proclaimed.
Hmm. What are we doing?, I thought to my self, as I looked around.
“They’re behind the times: the lecture is not the best way to teach!” he continued. I sympathize with that claim, I really do, but it kept replaying in my head over the next three days as I and my colleagues did nothing at the conference but attend lectures.
I’m not sure it struck anyone else as funny, but I kept smiling.
Following up on my previous post about Arvo Part, I should report that I have listened through his “Passio” a couple of times now. It is a setting of the passion story from John’s Gospel. So here’s where I am as of this moment (no doubt it will be different next week):
1. The music hangs around the words very much like Gregorian chant with a kind of organic incorporation of instruments, which strikes me as an attractive thing.
2. The general tone of the whole thing is brooding and sad, but yields to a brilliant major chord at the end, which emphasizes the joy of the resurrection. That’s a nice effect.
3. The entire piece avoids the tonic until the end. While other voices go various places, the voice of Jesus almost always begins and ends on the same note, namely the fifth above the tonic. This keeps up until the very end, when the the voice of Jesus descends to the tonic at the words “It is finished.” Very, very nice effect.
4. It is a monotonous piece. I think it would take a long time to be able to hear a snatch and know instantly from the music (as opposed to the words) what part was playing. Put another way, Part’s setting does not make it so that when I read a certain part of the passion a particular musical memory comes to mind. The tone and melody and so on do not change from scene to scene; there are occasional variations in motif, but they are very occasional and I have not been able to tell that they are related to the meaning of the text.
A couple of weeks ago a friend told me that Arvo’s setting of the passion just didn’t “stick” for him. “No, it sticks,” I responded, “that is, in my throat.” And that’s no longer true. I don’t find it offensive; it is nice in many ways. I am not yet at the point of thinking it brilliant. But I can keep listening to it for Holy Week without reluctance.
When the new Pope was announced, I was watching the live feed in a room of interested spectators, including the bishop of the Diocese of Cheyenne. I caught the Cardinal’s voice saying, something about Bergoglio qui sibi nomen imposuit Franciscum (“who has given himself the name of Francis”).
Over the next minute or two, I found myself explaining to others what had been said. It was neat at that moment to have the habit of understanding spoken Latin: I heard the very words and grasped them.
Introducing an all-new category, the Cool Thing of Today. I don’t promise to have one every day, but cool things come almost as fast as funny things around here.
Today’s CTT was this: While in the front yard after dusk I heard an owl hoot. Glancing up, I spotted what could be the owl in the top of a tree across the street, so I grabbed the birding binoculars Jacinta gave me for Christmas. Sure enough, it was the owl. He turned to look right at me and hooted again, right into the binocs!
It was–well, cool.
This morning brought the first snow of the season:
Even though I dread the coming of winter each year, when the first snow actually arrives it is like walking out of a shopping mall into a quiet room–a visually quiet room, if you see what I mean, and one that usually brings with it auditory peace as well. After six months of painted glory, the world is suddenly reduced to a charcoal sketch of itself. It has some of that tender emotional effect that keeps black-and-white photography ever in style.