Mercoledi Musicale

So many of us, perhaps even you faithful reader, have sat at a piano in grandma’s house, a school music room or, like me*, a church hall and plunked out this little tune:

Well okay maybe not all of the piece but certainly those first few bars. The Celebrated Chop Waltz, better known as Chopsticks, was composed by Arthur de Lulli in 1877. However don’t bother looking “him” up to see what else he wrote because “his” name was actually Euphemia Allen. The 16 year old Allen’s brother Mozart (Mr and Mrs Allen had a way with names) published it under a male nom de plume: a respectable young lady didn’t compose music or if they did played it for the family in the salon and did not publish it!

By why “Chop”? The title “Chop Waltz” comes from Allen’s specification that the melody be played in two-part harmony with both hands held in a vertical orientation, little fingers down and palms facing each other, striking the keys with a chopping motion. The nickname Chopsticks came at an unknown later date.

A search for information on Allen reveals almost as little on her life or other possible creations as a search of her pseudonym. It is known that she died in 1949 but not if she ever received royalties from what is, arguably, the most often played work in the classical canon.

*The first indication that I would love music but never be a musician.

The phrase for January 4th is:
Nom de plume nŏm″ də ploo͞m′: [noun]
1.1 A pen name or pseudonym
1.2 an author’s pseudonym
Coined in English from French nom (“name”) + de (“of”) + plume (“feather” or “quill” ), by analogy with the borrowed nom de guerre

Mercoledi Musicale

Back in 1994 CBC produced a Christmas concert with Holly Cole, Rebecca Jenkins, Mary Margaret O’Hara, Jane Siberry, Victoria Willian with Tim Ray at the piano. It was very much an ad hoc presentation with only one quick rehearsal but it had a charm and sincerity about it that has made the recording one of my favourites at this time of year. And none more than the title track: Richard Morgan’s 1946 setting of Edith Temple’s Count Your Blessings.

Count your blessings one by one
When dawn appears and day has just begun
They will light your heart with happiness
Make each hour bright and bring you gladness

Count your blessings one by one
When twilight falls and toil of day is done
And in sweet dreams they’ll come again to you
If you will count your blessings each day through

Count your blessings while you may
For we are here but little time to stay
All around are hearts sincere and true
Lovely things abound just waiting for you

Count your blessings while you may
The big or small, whichever comes your way
For then you’ll find this world a place of love
If you will count your blessings from above
Edith Temple – 1946

The word for December 28th is:
Blessing blĕs′ĭng : [noun]
1.1 The act of one that blesses.
1.2 A short prayer said before or after a meal; grace.
1.3 Something promoting or contributing to happiness, well-being, or prosperity; a boon.
From Old English bletsung

Mercoledi Musicale

Today is World Ballet Day and in honour of the celebration I’m posting three of the ballet worlds greats that I had the good fortune to see in over almost 70 years of ballet-going.

Last year I wrote about the first time I saw a ballet:
Back in 1956, at the age of nine, I saw my first production of The Nutcracker at the Royal Alexandra Theatre with my brother and sister-in-law. She had wisely – as she always did with my gifts – chosen my Christmas present that year: tickets to the ballet. I’m sure it was as much the excitement of the red velvet, gilt paint, crystal chandelier and trompe l’oeil of the Alex mixed with the magic of that first National Ballet production and the music that ignited my love for ballet, dance and theatre. It was to be the first of more visits than I can count to the Alex – though as I recall that afternoon we sat in the orchestra and a good deal of the time I was to be a habitue of that treacherous second balcony.

In 1959 the Bolshoi Ballet made it’s first foray beyond the Iron Curtain. Their Toronto engagement was in the cavernous Maple Leaf Gardens hockey arena. From high up in the greys I saw the great Galina Ulanova dance Giselle on the Friday night and the young emerging Maya Plisetskaya in Swan Lake.

Ulanova was soon to retire and Plisetskaya went on to become one of the greatest dancers of the 20th century. The last time I saw her would have been performing The Dying Swan around the time this film was made.

Britain’s Royal Ballet also played the Gardens (as did the Met Opera and Maria Callas) however on their 1961 tour they played the new O’Keefe Centre. Toronto finally had a proper theatre and the Royal opened their stay with their signature calling card: The Sleeping Beauty with Margot Fonteyn. I was there opening night in a smart white dinner jacket my mother made for me. I was to see many productions of the ballet but that evening still holds in my mind.

As well as introducing me to ballet the National Ballet of Canada was the main company for dance in the years I lived in Toronto. There is very little in the way of film of that early company: Lois Smith, Angela Leigh, Lillian Jarvis, David Adams and Earl Kraul. However during the years I was a regular habitue of their performances I saw two young dancers emerge as stars of the first order: Karen Kain and Frank Augustyn. Unfortunately the video of their breakthrough performances as the Bluebirds is not a particularly clear video however there is a brief scene from Giselle.

This post is dedicated to the memory of my beloved sister-in-law Gloria who passed away last evening. Thank you for all that you gave to me as I was growing up. May you rest in peace.

The word for November 2nd is:
Habitue hə-bĭch″oo͞-ā′: [noun]
Alternate spelling of Habitué
1.1 One who frequents a particular place, especially a place offering a specific pleasurable activity.
1.2 A habitual frequenter of any place, especially one of amusement, recreation, and the like: as, an habitué of the billiard-room.
1.3 One who habitually frequents a place.
Borrowing from French habitué past participle of habituer (“to frequent”), from Late Latin habituare (“to habituate”), from Latin habitus. Date: 1818

Mercoledi Musicale

I was brought up in the Christian tradition of the Presbyterian Church in a small community at the extreme west of Toronto. That meant Sunday School, Sunday Service and events during the week. I was in both the junior and senior choirs, taught Sunday School, was Youth Group leader and worked on the monthly newsletter. I can still smell the ether from the Gestetner ink.

The Alderwood Presbyterian Church Junior Choir sometime in the late 1950s (?).
That would be Billy John in the top right and his life long friend Vicki to the right in the row below.

For some reason today my mind went back to the music nights at Alderwood Presbyterian. There was one hymn you could always count on being on the programme: In the Garden. Eleanor Pounder (despite the name she was an excellent pianist) would play and Norma Mackey sang alto as counter point to the sweet soprano of a girl whose name I can’t call to mind. I could hear it in my mind’s ear today: it was unaffected and sweet.

I searched YouTube hoping to find some local church video that would match the memory of those two sweet voices. Unfortunately most version are just too commercial. The closest I could come on that memorable chorus harmony was this version by Anne Murray.

The word for October 19th is:
Unaffected \ŭn″ə-fĕk′tĭ\: [noun]
1.1 Not changed, modified, or affected.
1.2 Marked by lack of affectation; unpretentious or sincere. synonym: naive.
1.3 Not affected or moved; destitute of affection or emotion; uninfluenced.
Meaning “not adopted or assumed, genuine” is recorded from 1590s; that of “not acted upon or altered (by something)” is first attested 1830. From late 14c., “mental state,” from Latin affectus “disposition, mood, state of mind or body produced by some external influence.”

Mercoledi Musicale

As my faithful reader knows Atlantic Canada was hit by Hurricane Fiona, one of the worst storms in Canadian history over the weekend. The storm took an unusual turn and rather than going out to sea came inland with the eye centres over Prince Edward Island. It was one of the most frightening nights I can remember with winds up to 150 km/h (95 km/h) and our building shaking and rattling. Our damage was minimal but the landscape of much of our Island and the lives of many Islanders has been changed.

Dunes have been swept out to sea, rock cliffs have crumbled, boats and buildings have been swept away, fall crops have been destroyed and farm land eroded, a good half (if not more) of the mature trees have been felled, taking homes and utility poles with them. Fortunately and perhaps miraculously there was no loss of life.

Both social and news media have been filled with pictures of the devastation and I won’t be adding to them as the mere volume is mind-numbing and heart-breaking. However this comparison image will show you a satellite photo pre-Fiona (left August 2022) and the same view (right September 25 2022) after it has passed through.

In 1984 Leon Dubinsky wrote a number for a musical about Cape Breton Island* in Nova Scotia. He composed it as an anthem to resilience of Cape Bretoners at a time when the area was going through an economic crisis. According to Dubinsky, the song is about “the cycles of immigration, the economic insecurity of living in Cape Breton, the power of the ocean, the meaning of children, and the strength of home given to us by our families, our friends and our music.” It soon became a canticle for our Atlantic Provinces and the people who call Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, New Brunswick, and PEI home.

This version was recorded by Anne Murray when my beloved Rita MacNeil, the Rankin Family and other guests joined her for a CBC special in 1991.

In the first verse Anne Murray sings “We look to our sons and daughters” which, given what I have seen this past four days, I would change to “We look to our friends and neighbours”. It’s going to be a long, heart-breaking recovery but we will “Rise Again”.

*Cape Breton were also badly hit by the storm as were areas of Newfoundland, and though not considered Atlantic Canada Les îles de la Madeleine. No province was left unscathed though some were more fortunate than others.

The word for September 28th is:
Hurricane \ ˈhər-ə-ˌkān\: [noun]
A tropical storm or cyclone with winds of 119 km or 74 miles per hour or greater that is usually accompanied by rain, thunder, and lightning, and that sometimes moves into temperate latitudes. It is normally applied to storms occurring in the western Atlantic though it is used for storms in the northeastern Pacific as well.
1550s, a partially deformed adoption of Spanish huracan (Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo y Valdés, “Historia General y Natural de las Indias,” 1547-9), furacan (in the works of Pedro Mártir De Anghiera, chaplain to the court of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella and historian of Spanish explorations), from an Arawakan (West Indies) word.

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