To Forget

One step, three steps, six steps, then turn. Ten minutes and fifteen seconds till time. Two steps, four steps, six steps, then turn again. Ten minutes and nine seconds till time. Three steps, four steps, five steps…

“Alex, stop it. You’re making me edgy. Besides, people are staring.”

“Sorry.” The boy ceased his pacing and leaned against the wall. Tilting his head backwards, he could hear another student playing through the wood, or whatever substance the walls of were made of. He heard the other student make a mistake. Nine minutes and thirty-three seconds till his time.

“They probably don’t want you doing that.”

“Doing what?”

“Leaning against the wall like that. It’s not good for it. You get body oils all over it.”

“Shut up, Mary,” he said, but stood up.

Nine minutes and twenty seconds till his time. He began tapping his fingers on the books he was holding to his chest. Nine minutes and eight seconds till he would use them; or at least, the teacher would.

“Stop that.”

“What?”

That. That tapping.”

“So what, I’m not allowed to do anything? Am I allowed to breath?”

The girl pushed back her hair. “Actually, taking deep, rhythmical breaths helps calm you.”

“Every time I do that I start hyper-ventilating.”

“That’s because you take them too fast. “

Eight minutes and three seconds until he would enter that room. “How come you’re not nervous?” he asked.

Her features arranged themselves into that complacent look he so despised. “Because I’ve practiced. I know my pieces. I wish I could say the same for you.” She sniffed, whether from superiority or the cold of the building he wasn’t sure, so he opted for the former.

“Well, if you wouldn’t hog the piano at home so much…”

She almost snorted. “You know you can’t use that excuse. I practice as soon as we get home from school from three-thirty to four-thirty, and you have plenty of time to practice after that to your heart’s content, but you don’t.”

Six minutes and fifty-nine seconds until all that not practicing paid off. “I’m just…not in the mood.”

This time she did snort. “In the mood?”

“Yeah.” Six minutes and forty-seven seconds until that mood had better come upon him. “I’ve got Chopin. He requires a certain…touch and…mood, unlike your Bach.” Six minutes and thirty-six seconds for his fingers to warm up.

She gave him that look again. “Contrary to your misguided prejudices, Bach does require a certain touch…” She stopped, and he didn’t pursue it. They’d had this discussion millions of times. Neither felt like bringing it up again here, waiting in the hallway for their turn before the judge. Five minutes until he actually saw that judge.

He thought of other Piano Federation-related arguments he could bring up. Why did their piano teacher book them such an early spot? Why was he going first? Was a man or lady judge better? Which had better handwriting? Why did he have to memorize his piece? Why was the building so cold? Would it be a good piano, or would the pedal stick like the one last year? What if they simply forgot their pieces? Four minutes until he would find out.

“That’s the seventh mistake that student has made,” she observed.

“Good for us.”

“It’s not a competition like that,” she reminded him.

He would have snapped back, but the sound of the piano in the other room had suddenly died. A long pause, and then the door opened, and the other student, a girl, walked out. She looked relieved, if flustered. The door banged shut. Three minutes until time. Two minutes…and then the door opened again, and the judge, a woman wearing glasses, said: “Alex Walker?”

He stepped forward, oblivious of the fact that it wasn’t exactly time yet. He walked in the room. He gave the judge his music and sat down at the piano. “Begin when you’re ready,” the judge said.

Begin when you’re ready, and just play, just forget, Don’t remember about the judge, forget about your teacher, your mother, your sister, forget about time. Who cares about time, or moods, or practicing? Ultimately, what you get is what your deserve. Just play, just do your best, and hope that God blesses you.

When it was over, he couldn’t glean anything from the judge’s expression, but then, he didn’t really want to. After all, who cared about such droll things as rhythms or beats or appropriate amounts of softness and loudness? Federation was over and gone, and wouldn’t come back to haunt him until next year.

“You only made two mistakes,” Mary noted as he exited, feeling extremely light.

“Yeah, well, could’ve been worse.” He was smiling, actually smiling. “Good luck.”

Looking at the Waves

I wrote and performed this song at a live worship event several months ago. The full album (featuring me and a bunch of other artists) can be found on Spotify and Youtube.

LOOKING AT THE WAVES

Matthew 14:22-33

Looking at the waves, and I’m sinking

Sinking like a stone.

Looking at the waves, and I’m thinking

Of all the troubles I’ve known.

 

“Come and place your hand inside of mine.

Look me in the eye.

Come and take my hand, O you of little faith,

It’s gonna be all right.”

 

Looking at the waves, and I’m sinking,

I’m sinking fast.

Looking at the waves, and I’m thinking

These good times aren’t gonna last.

 

“Come and place your hand inside of mine.

Look me in the eye.

Come and take my hand, O you of little faith,

It’s gonna be all right.”

 

Walking out to meet my Lord, I stumbled in the sea,

But he is strong to save; the Son of God will rescue me

And with my eyes on you, I walk by faith not by sight,

And I know you are faithful to bear me safely through when you say:

 

“Come and place your hand inside of mine.

Look me in the eye.

Come and take my hand, O you of little faith,

It’s gonna be all right.”

 

“Come and place your hand inside of mine.

And doubt no more.

Come and take my hand, O you of little faith,

I’ll bring you safe to shore.”

The Music of John Rutter

The following article is by our guest author Caroline Bennett.  Some of her earlier posts about composers and music include “A Carnival of Sounds” and “The Red Priest.”

john-rutter

“…Perhaps it is timely to reflect on the immense riches of hymnody built up over so many centuries, and to be reminded of them at a time when they are at risk of neglect.”John Rutter, in the liner notes of Sing Ye Heavens

Usually when people think of contemporary music, they think of pop, rock, and country. Yet classical and traditional songs are not lost in the 21st century; indeed, they are still being written. John Rutter is a modern conductor, composer, and arranger, and has a beautiful way of interpreting music. Born in London in 1945, Rutter studied at Clare College, Cambridge, and has led a prestigious career in music, becoming one of the foremost choral arrangers and conductors in the world. He is most well-known for the music albums he has released with the Cambridge Singers, a group he formed in 1981. Rutter has recorded too many albums to mention in one review, but some of the most notable are Sing Ye Heavens, The Sprig of Thyme, and Blessing.

sing-ye-heavensThe subtitle of Sing Ye Heavens is “Hymns for All Time,” and the twenty-one choral pieces featured on the album are just that: timeless songs of adoration to God. The album begins with a majestic arrangement of “Our God, Our Help in Ages Past,” perfectly suited to the powerful lyrics written by Isaac Watts. Throughout the album, Rutter shows how he takes great care arranging each hymn, making sure that the sounds he creates fit perfectly with the mood of each song. For instance, in his arrangements of “The King of Love My Shepherd Is,” “Morning Has Broken,” and “Amazing Grace,” Rutter uses harp accompaniment, creating a contemplative and peaceful mood; in the glorious songs “A Mighty Fortress,” “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” and “Christ is Made a Sure Foundation,” Rutter uses brass instruments, the timpani, and the organ to accompany the choir. There are also a number of Gregorian chants on the album which Rutter did not arrange.

the-sprig-of-thymeRutter shows the same good taste in his conducting of English folk songs on the album The Sprig of Thyme. In total the Cambridge Singers perform twenty-five songs on this album, but the pieces are divided up according to their arranger and accompaniment. The first eleven songs are arranged by John Rutter for choir and mixed chamber ensemble; the next eight songs are also arranged by Rutter, but this time for unaccompanied voices; the last six pieces are arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams, also for unaccompanied voices. The songs range from somber to playful to mysterious to romantic, with titles like “The Bold Grenadier,” “I Know Where I’m Going,” “Afton Water,” “The Girl I Left Behind Me,” “O Waly, Waly,” “Dashing Away with the Smoothing Iron,” “The Lark in the Clear Air,” and “She Moved Through the Fair.”

blessing-john-rutterHarp accompaniment is used extensively on many of Rutter’s albums, and so it is no surprise that in 2012, Rutter and Welsh harpist Catrin Finch released Blessing, an album of seventeen compositions for the harp. Some of the pieces featured, such as “A Gaelic Blessing” and “The Lord Bless You and Keep You,” Rutter originally wrote for choir, but here arranged for harp, strings, and woodwinds. Rutter also rewrote his harpsichord and strings composition “Suite Antique” for harp and string accompaniment, renaming it “Suite Lyrique.” This piece has six movements, all of which are, as its name suggests, extremely lyrical. Catrin Finch also contributed a composition to the album in the form of her three-movement “Celtic Concerto.” The other pieces on the album include lullabies and traditional Welsh songs, the most notable of which is “Migldi Magldi,” a fun song arranged for bassoon and harp. This beautiful, rather autumnal album fittingly ends with Rutter’s “A Clare Benediction,” sung by Welsh soprano Elin Manahan Thomas and accompanied by the harp.

These three albums by John Rutter are by no means the only ones worth listening to, for he has recorded many beautiful works. But Sing Ye Heavens, The Sprig of Thyme, and Blessing are wonderful examples of how full of variety Rutter’s pieces are, and they speak volumes of his gift as a composer, arranger, and conductor.

 

RECOMMENDED LISTENING:

♪ The Cambridge Singers, directed by John Rutter. Sing, Ye Heavens – Hymns for All Time.  Collegium Records, 2000.

♪ The Cambridge Singers with the City of London Sinfonia, directed by John Rutter. The Sprig of Thyme: Traditional Songs. Collegium Records, 2005.

♪ Rutter, John and Catrin Finch. Blessing. Deutsche Grammophon, 2012.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

“Don’t judge a book by its cover” is a common mantra in my family, including anything from literal books to gifts that come in boxes with misleading labels.  Generally, this saying is quite accurate, but then my sister selected a book from a library shelf several weeks ago and showed it to me with the words “Isn’t this a pretty book?”  Taking the novel in my hand, I read the title Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, flipped through the colorful pages for a moment, and decided to give it a try.  The small children’s novel turned out to be as good as its cover.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon picture
Illustration by Grace Lin of Fruitless Mountain

Minli lives on Fruitless Mountain with her Ba and Ma.  Their life is humble and hard, and they spend their days working in the rice fields and their nights eating meager meals and listening to Ba’s stories.  Ma scoffs at Ba’s stories as a waste of time, but Minli loves to hear them and listens in rapt attention, barraging Ba with questions when each tale ends.  Usually, Ba ends Minli’s flow of queries by telling her, “That is a question you will have to ask the Old Man of the Moon” (9).  In Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, American author Grace Lin spins an enchanting tale about Minli and how she sets out to find the Old Man of the Moon and ask him how she can change her family’s poor fortune.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is a book full of surprises.  The edition is lovely, with charming illustrations, soft paper, delicate fonts, and jewel-tone ink.  I was especially impressed to learn that Lin illustrated the book herself.  Combined with the artwork, Lin’s lyrical writing style and intertwining stories within the larger narrative create a beautiful tale that richly reflects Chinese folklore.  In her “Author’s Note,” Lin explains how her mother introduced her to Chinese folk- and fairy-tale books, and Lin writes, “Even in the barest states, the timeless stories had a charm of their own—and I began to add my own details to the stories” (n.p.).  The author’s familiarity with Chinese folklore emerges in Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and enriches the storytelling.

Minli illustration
Illustration by Grace Lin of Minli and her parents

In addition to the book’s artistry, the themes are also good.  The story emphasizes the blessings of friendship and family and implicitly promotes the virtues of courage and compassion.  I like how every protagonist has a story to tell for those who listen.  None of the people in the story is a professional storyteller, but they each gladly share the tales they have heard or the stories of their own adventures.  In some cases, the stories teach wisdom or history; in others, they introduce a character or explain a situation.  Though perhaps unintentionally, Lin reminds her audience of the value of stories, heritage, and the willingness to listen.

On her quest, Minli meets magical characters, befriends a dragon, and learns about kindness, courage, and gratitude.  All of the main characters grow through their trials and adventures, and in the end, Minli finds even more than that for which she is searching.  I think I can accurately say, judge this book by its cover, for the book is as vibrant, beautiful, cheerful, culturally rich, and carefully-crafted as the picture of the little girl riding the winding red dragon on the cover.


Works Cited

Lin, Grace.  Where the Mountain Meets the Moon.  New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2009.