In The Bleak Mid Winter

I am not a big fan of secular Christmas music, but having been a chorister for years in an Anglican Cathedral choir I was exposed to very traditional music and was immersed in the most beautiful sound bath of the voices of men and boys in a huge reverberant space. Singing this music throughout Advent and on Christmas day was one of the greatest privileges of my life. I am grateful for the opportunity and the experience.

In The Bleak Mid Winter is by far my favourite Christmas Carol. It is not Jolly. In fact it is quite austere and lonely. These are feelings I often associate with Christmastime even though for the most part, my Christmases have also been joyous and loving events. I related thoroughly to the stories and ideals that I learned in Sunday School and Choir and Confirmation classes, and was appalled that the whole idea of Christmas had become so twisted and profane by the commercial and the profiteers. Obviously I was Linus.

There are two different treatments of the original poem by Christina Rossetti. I prefer the Darke version, others may prefer the Holst version. James Taylor sings his beautiful arrangement of the Holst, while I just recorded my arrangement of the Darke for voice and guitar. I hope that you enjoy it.

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan;
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain,
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty —
Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom Cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom Angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and Archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air;
But only His Mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a Shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.

An explanation and a brief history of the Carol is written here:

https://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/occasions/christmas/in-the-bleak-midwinter-lyrics-song-carol-peaky/

Turn Me Loose

I heard a song at the boulangerie today as I was waiting to purchase a croissant. I told the server (in French) that I loved that song, but it was playing way too soft. It is not a “la la la” it’s an “oomph”!

This triggered a memory of mine.

One of the most memorable rides I ever got while hitchhiking, happened in New Brunswick in 1983 as I was returning home to Montreal. I was returning from visiting friends in the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia. 

I had been waiting with my guitar on the side of the Trans Canada highway at the northernmost traffic light in Fredericton. I had to go north through the province following the St. John river, and I was hoping to get a lift that ate up some kilometres. My last few lifts had been little skips between exits and the ratio of standing with my thumb out and distance achieved was probably the equivalent of walking. I didn’t relish the idea of walking all the way to Montreal which is about the same distance as Munich, Germany to Paris, France both physically and culturally (but with less interesting landmarks on my trip).

A throbbing sedan stopped for me and when I caught up to it, the passenger swung his door open and asked where I was going. He was facing backwards because all the seats but the driver’s had been taken out. The passenger seat was a mere cushion and the man in it was facing backwards to better hear the stereo which was ample for a theatre let alone a car. The stereo speakers were enormous. I wedged in between them in the back and the driver turned the music down for a few minutes to tell me they were going 180 km to just past Perth-Andover as far as the reservation at Tobique. I asked them (they were native) if they were Mi’k maq , they said “no” they were proudly Maliseet and they were returning home from studying at UNB. They lit a joint and shared it with me. Very good homegrown for the times (early 80’s).

With the sun glinting off the river to my left and my head starting to melt as I lay back into the plush cushion between the speakers they put the music back on.

There is “loud” and then there is “ten past loud” which is where we were.The song blew my mind. It was perfect. I was reminded of a quote a friend of mine said he had read on a needlepoint: “Cleanliness Is Next To High Fidelity”. 

It starts off with a synthesizer playing two long notes a ninth apart accompanied by accented 16th notes on a closed hi hat cymbal for seven measures as the synth rapidly sweeps up several octaves a bass guitar belches in with one of the most unforgettable riffs in Rock music. Gmi to F.  After stating his theme twice a glorious electric guitar enters with grinding power chords sound that could sustain forever and have some highlighted harmonics in the F chord where the 9th degree is cutting through. I love the chugga chugga sound of an overdriven electric guitar. It is a bit reminiscent of Martin Barre’s guitar on Locomotive’s Breath by Jethro Tull. The guitarist then adds fills to complement his power chords. All this action that gripped me in the one minute intro. The singer has one of those taut, strutting and loud, “tight trousers” voices that is similar to all the other ubiquitous industrial hair rock bands of the late 70’s and early 80’s like Journey and Kansas, Boston, etc. He hits a great falsetto on the climactic lyric “high”. Very serviceable and perfect for this song.

Interesting that the guitar is not present at all on the first verse. A honky Tony piano enters with a syncopated repeated riff and then the harmonies on “turn me loose” with understated hand muted chugs on the guitar. The hi hat patterns change ever so subtly in each section adding more subliminal interest

There is an instrumental interlude in E….neither major nor minor as far as I can tell (no third in the chord) except the last chord of the interlude which is not only E major, but has an augmented fifth (like the first chord of O Darling by the Beatles).

The song return to the original key and the “woo hoo” background singers start….omg.…perfect. The song builds to finally having all of these parts together in a taut choreographed full bodied sound. The guitar solo is full of vitality and continues throughout  the next chorus. Such mastery near the end when all but the drums playing through with the hi hat going “syup” with”sy” starting on the and of 2 and the “up” on beat 3  and bass hitting on beat 4. A sparse and contrasting accompaniment before the guitar re enters just before the final “turn me loose” which is a capella. Perfect arrangement. Very clever.

All that analytical stuff came after the fact of course. At the time I was totally immersed in learning and performing jazz. In fact, I was returning to Montreal for a gig. I was a bit snobbo when it came to music other than jazz. I knew nothing about “hair bands” and the music I listened to outside of jazz was not mainstream….Classical, Dylan, Lightfoot,Joni, Neil, Harmonium, Focus…..

When the song was over I asked my hosts who that was and they told me it was Loverboy. I jokingly said they should call it “Turn Me Loose!” The one facing backward gave me a gap toothed grin, knowing I was totally wasted and asked: “like it?” As he pressed replay.

P.S. The phrase “turn me loose” occurs 28 times in this song.

Light The Light

This is a song I wrote many years ago after a discussion with a friend about light and darkness.

He said: “Cup your hands and look inside.” I complied. He continued: “Now open your hands and observe the difference around you.” I again followed his instruction. He turned out the lights and handed me a match and asked me to strike it. A little light went on (pun intended).

Please click on the link below to hear the track.

https://ianhanchet.bandcamp.com/track/light-the-light

Light the light
Take back the night
Shed a little light on the unknown
Leave a little light on so I can find my way back home

Just a spark
Defeats the dark
Give me just enough to write this song
Give me just enough to find my way back home

Stubbed my toe
Cause I don’t know
Stubbed my toe cause I don’t know the way to go home
Shed a little light so I can find my way back home

It’s hard to wait
Illuminate
Eliminate all darkness and hate
Let a little sun shine through to my back gate

©2006 IGH

November

like the skeleton trees of November
with tendrils so stark and so slender
grasping for things to remember
when Spring suddenly burst into splendour

seems so long ago

thoughts spinning round in my blender
songs melt in my echo chamber
notes of passion, attraction, abstraction,
dissatisfaction

I thought I felt the answer
it revealed it was cancer
someone’s laughing

who played this joke on me?


days are shorter and thinner
hope I make it through winter
when the ice turns to streams
and I won’t have to wait for my dreams

seems so far away

November

And I Love Her

Yesterday I was distracted, then horrified and disgusted and finally angered by something I heard over the p.a. System while standing in line at the grocery store. 

This is the culprit

I was distracted by a pleasant groove and a pleasant processed female musical voice singing “And I Love Him” over a punchy bass and drum (computer generated and a clean sounding nylon string guitar and repetitive piano chords. I thought “oh great, a fairly good musical treatment of The Beatles.” It was not long until I was horrified that the groove over two chords (Bbmi and Fmi) was IT….and not only that, the ONLY lyrics in this version were “ I give him all my love, that’s all I do”. It was sampled and slowed down from jazz singer Esther Phillips’ 1965 recording. 

Esther Phillips

My horror built toward disgust and anger. The original Latin tinged ballad by the Beatles (McCartney) is one of my favourite ballads from their oeuvre. It is a naive exposition of undying love for his muse at the time (Jane Asher). Time has shown that “a love like ours will never die” was a bit premature…lol.

It is not just the minimal repetitive lyric that annoys me. The original recording has harmony to support and enhance. Not just two minor chords.

I play this song (in F) a semi tone higher than the Beatles (E) starting on Gmi which in music theory is the ii of F, but when the melody starts, it goes Gmi to Dmi (the relative minor of F)twice then Bb(IV)then C7(V) then finally to F (I). This A section is the meat of the song and in AABA form is 3/4 of the song. Rich in harmony, rich in melody and strong and memorable. The B section is a short complementary contrast to the A section and ushers in the third A section perfectly from the dominant 7 chord. 

I realize that the music that so angered me is not created as “art” and is perceived as wonderful and inspired by many judging from the comments on  the YouTube video. I imagine not many of them are aware of it’s origins, nor do they care.

I also recognize that the remix is commercial and is meant for dancing, and youth and inebriation can enhance these experiences. 

To me, it is the dumbing down of beauty which is contrary to great art. I have included links to several great versions of this song as contrast to the remix.

No caption necessary

one of my favourites
One of the first versions I ever heard
My present favourite

I hope you have given each of these versions a fair listen. I look forward to your comments.

Dumb

I was talking to the dogs this morning on our walk. They don’t talk back. I was struck by an idea: Animals are considered “dumb” as in “unable to speak”.  Then I reflected on all of the “dumb” things I read this morning while scrolling on fb that wasted my time and energy.

Dumb has come to mean “stupid”.  We say and do dumb things, we follow down or ignore dumb ideas. I am dumb to read anything that disturbs my serenity. Glad I know it, and reset.

I am dumbfounded at just how dumb some people can be. I wish the dumb (stupid) were dumb (silent). 

Dummy up!

Leaving

The sick trees,
the weak trees
leaving first
giving up

too ready to concede
the red flag
in a sea of green

warning of what is coming
not living for today
as I am

A Poem (after Robert Creeley)

"I Love You", says the coffee
scent wafting up the stairs
 
"I Love You" says the open book
face down on the table, waiting

"I Love You" sing the birds
flitting through the frigid air
to crack the seeds of life

"I Love You" say the squirrels
bushy flags flicking
as they nosh on nuts

"I Love You" say your eyes as you
spread your arms and lock in for a hug
like a shuttle approaching the mothership

"What was that for?" you ask
as I cradle you, unaware from behind

"What wasn't that for?" I reply
"I love you. That's all there is!"

The Mighty, They Fall

This song was prompted by a story my daughter posted on social media this morning about a professor she had had while a drama student. The professor is being called out for a series of inappropriate actions with students including sexual and psychological abuse. The teacher is still at the school, but I suspect this latest onslaught of publicity will be his downfall.

As a teacher myself, I am appalled at stories like these that crop up whether it is scout leaders, priests, teachers, coaches, choir directors, relatives, etc. Such power and trust must not be broken, but it is. Over and over again.

How the mighty they fall
they’re not mighty at all
all the good they’ve ever done 
has now become undone
he’s in the toilet
Salome’s been unveiled
his actions left a trail
they’re going to spoil it

At the base of the tree
people learned at his knee
they hung on every word of his
cause he knew the truth
he was always certain 
no one look behind the curtain
and see the proof

gospel was his word
then the lines got blurred
he stepped over the line
but was safe cause 
he was a prophet
but what profits a man to gain the world
if he loses his soul

he directed the show
told you where to go
like Svengali
he pulled the strings
he roped em in, he wrangled
but then the strings got tangled
the wicked web he weaved 
was built to deceive

oh…you’re busted
oh….you can’t be trusted
that teacher,he used treachery
to send innocents into therapy

like an actor, sublime
he knew all of his lines
he used them on the people he used
all of the time
everything was scripted
measured and predicted
it’s a crime…
so do the time.

Salome
Biblical temptress who dances before Herod II.
To the French, Salome was not a woman at all, but a brute, insensible force. The idea of Salome’s dance and the seven veils, originates with Oscar Wilde’s 1891 play “Salomé”. Wilde was influenced by earlier French writers who had transformed the image of Salome into an incarnation of female lust. 
Svengali …Early 20th century the name of a musician in George du Maurier’s novel Trilby (1894), who controls Trilby’s stage singing hypnotically.
Svengalinoun
A person who exercises a controlling or mesmeric influence on another, especially for a sinister purpose.

Three Vignettes

Splinters

I had a visceral memory the other day. I remembered sitting on the arm of an armchair looking over my father’s shoulder as he read a story to me and I was stroking my father’s stubble. My father was clean shaven for most of his life and at the end of the day his stubble was like sandpaper.

It made me think of a similar situation from years ago when my young daughter was sitting with me as I read to her and she stroked my stubble and said very dreamily… “all the splinters from long ago!” 

A “Licking”

My dad’s knee made a clicking sound when he climbed stairs. It was from a war injury when his plane crashed near Tufino in British Columbia. He also had a small bump on his shoulder from the same accident. He never talked about the accident or ”the war” either, unless prompted.

I could tell my dad’s mood from how quickly he climbed the stairs from the speed and intensity of the clicks in his knee. His feet didn’t make a sound as the stairs were covered in carpet.  If I was “awaiting the wrath of Dad” as in…”wait till your father gets home”…. the clicks had an intensity different from end of the day trudging Willie Loman.

I am from a tradition where spankings were in order if a child transgressed. It was not referred to as a “spanking”, but a “licking”, as in “you’re asking for a licking”. I don’t remember at what age the spankings stopped, but it was certainly before I was ten years old. It’s not that I stopped transgressing at ten, or that dad gave up on me, they just didn’t seem to be working on this hard-headed punk.

Pause for thought

A funny thought occurred to me the other day while standing at a urinal in Chapters Book store. I wondered if the slit in the front of my underwear was biased for right handers. 

I am left handed and usually just pull the top down and under. For some reason I used the fly on this occasion. I looked it up on Google and lo and behold, I am not the only lefty that pulls the underwear down rather than use the fly…. The design is meant for rightys as is the zipper on pants. The stuff one learns…..