Thursday, March 30, 2017

James Douglas...working up to Palm Sunday

One thing an author must always decide is: where does a story start?  Current thought is start with the action, jump right in, back up to explain if necessary.  I tried multiple times to start Blue Bells of Scotland when Shawn wakes up in the wrong century.  Or perhaps when he and Amy go up into the tower and we have some sense something is going to happen.  But it seemed to me that starting it there lacked context--or any emotional investment in what happens to Shawn.  We needed to know something about him in order to care one way or another.

He swaggered into the reception room and leaned over the secretary's desk, smiling his infectious smile and complimenting her eyes. In minutes, he had a date with her. She called her fiance to cancel dinner with his parents. Postponed it indefinitely. He drew a rose from the vase on her desk, brushed it across her lips, and took it, and her longing gaze, with him.
Strutting into the warm-up area, he sized up forty-five world-class trombonists. His eyes fell on the lone woman. He trailed the rose along her cheek and flipped his card up between two fingers. "Call me," he mouthed.
Blue Bells of Scotland, Book One of the Blue Bells Chronicles

In the following pages, Shawn only shows himself to be even worse than that, getting drunk, gambling away his trombone, cheating on his girlfriend and for a grand finale, conning her out of her grandmother's heirloom ring the next morning in order to get the trombone back.  How can you not hope this guy wakes up in the wrong century and, as an added bonus, maybe gets run through by a knight as soon as he gets there?  No, actually, even that is a little too good for him.

[Well, as a side note, there are those who say they were busy taking notes on his technique and admiring him.  But that's a different story.  And so many interesting places I could start that one.  And end it.  But that is yet another story.]

[As a second side note (hey, I'm a musician, notes are my thing!) my daughter refuses to read beyond the first chapter, she hates Shawn so much.   But that's just it--the whole series is the story of Shawn's steady changes as he faces a very different existence in medieval Scotland.  But without that glimpse of him, why would anyone care what happens in that tower?]

BUT...we're here to talk about James Douglas, the Good Sir James (or the Black Douglas if you happen to be English.



And so...similarly, with James Douglas.  Where do we start the story of Palm Sunday 1307?   Do we start it that morning?  No, let's back up and give some background of who James Douglas is.  For starters, he's a man little known outside medieval and Scottish circles, yet still has a fan club full of fan girls, 700 years later.  I'm not even kidding.  There's something about Mary...and even more of something about James Douglas.  For one thing, he was real.  That's always an added bonus.

I digress.  Let's get serious here.  James Douglas was the son of Sir William Douglas, 'le Hardi,' i.e., the Bold.  Considering he acquired his second wife by abducting her to his castle when she came to collect rents, I think this might be a fair assessment.  And apparently she rather liked that boldness as she did in fact go on to marry him, have two sons with him and do some dramatic things to hold his castle for him.  That's not a euphemism.

But wait!  I'm straying into le Hardi's story.  James's story and his actions on Palm Sunday, which strike the modern reader as brutal (did I create tension there by alluding to their brutal nature but not telling you what happened?  Stay tuned!) are of course greatly impacted by his youth, in which his bold father was fighting against the English at the siege of Berwick [spoiler, the English won], taken prisoner there, lost his lands; in which James's younger brother Hugh was taken captive by the Sheriff of Essex; in which his father le Hardi was an early supporter of William Wallace against Edward I; in which Robert the Bruce, then the 22-year-old Earl of Carrick, was ordered by Edward to take Douglas Castle but instead turned on Edward and joined the men of Douglas--and the Lady Douglas (who was as I said holding the castle); in which his father le Hardi died of mistreatment while in prison in 1298.

At the age of no more than 10, James was an orphan.  His own mother had died in 1287 or 1288, perhaps in childbirth, perhaps when he was quite young.  His father was now dead and his entire life was in upheaval, largely as a result of Edward I, the English king.

He spent much of his youth in France for his own safety, and on returning home was brought before Edward to petition for the return of his lands.  Edward apparently retained quite some anger at le Hardi and sent James away, landless and penniless.  Or lacking in any currency of the day, for that matter.

James returned to Scotland.  Perhaps mid-March of 1306, he met up with Bruce, who at the time had very recently killed John Comyn before the altar at Grayfriars and was fleeing to Scone as fast as he could--before the Pope could learn of murder on holy ground and ex-communicate him (because an ex-communicated man cannot be crowned king.)

Spoiler: Bruce made it to Scone before the Pope could do anything, and was crowned king on March 25, 1306 and immediately crowned again the next day by Isobel MacDuff.  The crowning of Scotland's greatest king is a story I will still need to tell in this blog.

In this world of violence, upheaval, death and loss--virtually all of it at the hands of the English--James joined the Bruce and became his closest friend and right-hand man, as well as his most trusted commander.

Before we tell the story of Palm Sunday, it's important to stop and think here:  How would any of us feel, completely landless, penniless, our home taken by a foreign king?  What would we do?  If we were writing the story ourselves, how many places might it end up?

The English seemed particularly fond of occupying James Douglas's castle, which has come down to us in history as the Castle Dangerous of Sir Walter Scott's novel.  I will end today's post with that thought and soon get to the second part of this story: What Happened on Palm Sunday.

No fair looking ahead!

If you're an author or a blogger with articles on James Douglas, please feel free to post a link in the comments.



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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Scandinavian Ballads Part Two

Welcome back to Ian Cumpstey for Part Two of his interview, which started yesterday with (not surprisingly, cause that's the way we roll) PART ONE!


Ian Cumpstey, scandinavian folklore, books on scandinavia
For those ballads that have no music, how do you feel about the words being set to new melodies? Does it at least keep the ballad alive or does it destroy the historical integrity of knowing what kind of melodies were really used and leave us with a mistaken idea of what they experienced? Or somewhere in the middle?

I think this is a good thing.

It seems to be clear that in the past these ballads were a very popular form of entertainment. The fact that so many of them spread with minor variations throughout Scandinavia through word of mouth speaks for how much people enjoyed listening to them, and also singing them. So if a modern-day performer is able to bring a ballad to life for a new audience through singing a traditional text to a melody that was not associated with it, but that nevertheless seems to work for that performance, then for me that is only good.

After all, for some ballads, several melodies are known, and also it's a quite "legitimate" and "within the tradition" thing to do to sing one ballad to the tune of another. In many cases, the melodies that are known were written down years (sometimes centuries) after the first texts for those same ballads. Possibly the first ballad text collectors were less interested in the melodies, perhaps the melodies were well known, or perhaps even then the melody was somewhat flexible.

The style that ballads are performed in can also vary immensely, and this will have a great impact on people's appreciation of a performance. Modern renditions are almost always accompanied by instrumental arrangements varying in style from acoustic fingerstyle guitar to heavy metal and anywhere in between (or beyond). When the Scandinavian ballad text collectors were working in the 19th century, the ballad singers were usually unaccompanied and solo. But it seems likely that in their heyday ballads could have been accompanied, and/or that more than one singer could have been involved in singing the omkväde (chorus) lines.

But yes, melodies for many of the ballads were written down eventually, and many are accessible online, so it is certainly good to use these melodies where they are available. It is probably impossible for us to know or recreate exactly how a ballad would have been performed. But it was certainly in a way that kept the ballad genre alive for a long time.


Looking briefly at your blog, you tell the stories told in some of these ballads. What are some themes you commonly see in the stories?

Scandinavian folklore, Scandinavian history, Scandinavian ballads
I think many people who have heard some traditional ballads tend to get fixed on the idea that in ballad stories everyone dies. That's interesting, because although that does happen a lot, the number of ballads where the baddies get what's coming to them and the goodies live happily ever after is also high. Perhaps people think about the "everyone dies" motif as characterising ballads just because this type of story is perhaps less common in other forms of storytelling.

Anyway, the ballads cover a wide range of subjects, and they are often grouped by subject into ballads about knights, legends (about saints), history, warriors adventures and trolls, the supernatural, and comic songs. Of course, as with many attempts to classify things, the lines between these categories are often pretty blurred. I will explain a little bit about some of these ballad categories in more detail.

What the supernatural ballads have in common is that they feature supernatural creatures of Scandinavian folklore. These may be mermaids or elves, or less well-known creatures like the neck (näcken in Swedish) is a water spirit who is always an expert musician; we may see creatures like a dwarf king, or a mountain king (who lives underground inside a mountain), or a forest-maid, or a "hill-farmer" (haugebonde in Norwegian, an underground creature on a farm). In the ballads, these supernatural beings almost always have intentions that will have bad consequences for the heroes or heroines of the ballads. Sometimes the supernatural creatures will prevail, and everyone will die. But sometimes they can be overcome, and everyone can live on happily.

fascinating stories, old stories, folklore, lord peter and little kerstin
There is perhaps a notable omission from the list of Scandinavian folkloric creatures that appear in the supernatural ballads ... the troll! Well trolls are actually common in ballads, but they usually appear in the so-called "warrior ballad" class. The ballad trolls are often oversized monsters, and there are often descriptions of their grotesque appearance. These trolls will almost always get what's coming to them, either through being defeated in battle or generally being stupid, or by being turned to stone by the sight of sunlight or of a cross. And then our hero may relieve the troll of whatever gold he or she may have accumulate, and whatever maidens he or she may have stolen away. But the nature of the troll is not always the same. Sometimes, it seems that people are being called "troll" as an insult (even then). And sometimes, it seems that a troll who chooses to convert to Christianity will cease to be a troll.

Ballads in the "knight" category are often love stories. These are often very tragic tales of the type: the wrong boy and girl fall in love, everyone tries to stop them, there is fighting and many people are killed, then everyone else dies of sorrow. But again, there are also some more upbeat stories of how lovers will go through a series of tests and come out together on the other side.


Would you say these are common themes for Scandinavia, for medieval times, or themes that are still common in our music today?

heroes of old, scandinavian legends
Some aspects of ballads can be found in fairytales, which often originate in Scandinavia or Germany. The adventure or troll ballads in which a hero defeats a troll and rescues a maiden or frees a town from suffering are fairly typical of this. The supernatural creatures that appear in some ballads are also typical of Scandinavian folklore and also appear in some fairytales.

The ballads themselves seem to be a medieval phenomenon that spread throughout Europe. Some of the ballads that tell tales of courtly life could be seen as counterparts to similar stories about King Arthur, Charlemagne, or Robin Hood. Some of the Scandinavian ballads tell stories about fairly generic heroes or heroines, or stories about people about who little else is known. But there are also ballads about some of the most famous characters in medieval Scandinavia. For example, King Diderick of Bern and his warriors were very well known legendary figures who featured in many stories, and also some ballads. Holger the Dane and Sven Felding were Danish national heroes, and again stories about these men were common also outside ballads.

Some of the darker themes that are common in ballads may also be seen in other aspects of the arts in Scandinavia. I don't know how unique "Nordic Noir" is to Sacndinavia, but it is certainly marketed well as a unique and important aspect of culture of that part of the world. If Ingvar Bergman's films can be seen as a forerunner to modern Nordic Noir, then it could be relevant that he took some of his ideas from the medieval ballads. For example, the film The Virgin Spring (Jungfrukällan) is based on the ballad Per Tyresson's Daughters in Vänge (Per Tyressons Döttrar in Vänge).

Storytelling songs like ballads are not so common in the mainstream music of today. Traditional English language ballads became popular during the 1960s folk music revival. And similarly in Scandinavia, folk rock bands began to record versions of the traditional Scandinavian ballads, but experimenting with new sounds and electrified instruments. Several Scandinavian ballads are now very popular hits for heavier folk metal bands. Meanwhile, some people, like famously Bob Dylan or Townes Van Zandt or many others, have been basically taking the idea (and sometimes the melody) of a traditional ballad, but writing new songs telling stories about contemporary events or fictions set in more modern times. Having said that, while all this is going on, it is also relatively niche.

Thank you, Ian!  If you'd like to learn more about Ian or his books:




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Monday, March 27, 2017

Scandinavian Ballads

Please welcome today my guest Ian Cumpstey.

Ian is the author of Lord Peter and Little Kersten, The Faraway North, and Warrior Lore.  All three books are collections of Scandinavian ballads.


ian cumpstey, norway, norwegian folk songs, norwegian balladsWhat is your musical background?

I have always been singing and playing music in one way or another, though how I have done this has not always been the same. I have tended to find at least one choir to sing in in most places I have lived, ever since I was young, and including when I was abroad in Sweden and France. But having said that, I am not part of a choir at the moment.

I learned to play some instruments when I was little – violin and clarinet – but I carelessly abandoned these when I was still young. I started playing the guitar shortly after that. I still play the guitar (I play fingerstyle and/or using open tunings to a large extent), and occasionally I also play other stringed instruments.

Since I returned to the UK about 5 years ago, I have become much more involved in a folkier music scene. I go out about once a week to play and sing with others in informal pub sessions and similar occasions. The kind of things we play are very diverse, but there is a lot of folk and blues ... and ballads. I do also write and perform my own songs.


faraway north, ballads of the north, ballads of ScandinaviaHow did you become interested in Scandinavia?

There are a few quite unrelated reasons ... one is through sport. I do a lot of orienteering, and I have been involved in this sport for many years. The sport originated in Scandinavia, it is still more-or-less dominated by Scandinavia at elite level (though maybe less now than 20 years ago), and there is a great influence of Scandinavia on the sport at all times. Sometimes this is obvious as we are always thinking about "what would the Swedes do?" as we try to improve, but sometimes it is on an unconscious level as several of the words we use in orienteering are very recent loan-words from Scandinavian languages, like orienteering, control, controller, gaffling, brick, galoppen etc.

And then I went to live in Sweden and stayed there for about eight years. That was because of work. At that time, I was working as an academic chemist, and when I finished my doctorate, I was able to find a two-year position in Lund in the south of Sweden where I was able to work on an interesting project in the area I wanted to get into with my chemistry research. When that was finished, I took another academic position in Stockholm and stayed there for nearly six more years.

So while I was living over there I became fairly immersed in the language and other aspects of Sweden.

What led you to the medieval music of Scandinavia in particular?

It's something that I got into in something of a roundabout way. Singing is much more a part of the culture in Sweden than it is in other places I have lived. And there are occasions when it is expected that everyone will sing. Whenever there is a sit-down dinner party, be it at the university (often), or birthdays, or weddings, or midsummer, or doubtless many other occasions, there will be singing. Not knowing the words is no excuse: guests will be provided with a songbook, and the songs will be sung. The Lucia holiday in December is another time when there is a lot of singing of winter songs, Lucia songs, and carols.

Scandinavian folk ballads, ian cumpstey, norwegian ballads, scandinavian folkloreWhen it comes to singing in Sweden, I should probably mention Allsång på Skansen, which is a huge weekly televised public sing-along in a park/outdoor museum in Stockholm. This is an extreme example of singing together in public, though I never went to it in person.

So when I was living in Sweden I was quite often singing songs in Swedish. This is when I first started thinking about translation. I started wondering about how much of these songs could be understood by someone who could speak English but not Swedish (some words can sound quite similar between the two languages, especially when sung).

The first things I had a go at translating were some of these songs that I was regularly singing and hearing, which include a lot of drinking songs, some things by early 20th century balladeer Taube, and some by the classic 18th century drinking song master Bellman. I also looked at St Staffan's song, which is one of the medieval ballads that is still sung as a Lucia song.

At the same time I was getting more into folk music and listening to ballads in English, and at some point I made the connection, and discovered this huge and rich number of surviving Scandinavian ballads.

Do you perform these pieces as a musician?

I do sing ballads at the sessions I go to locally. Mainly these are traditional English-language ballads, but I do sometimes sing ballads I have translated into English. I do sometimes perform songs in Swedish (not ballads though ... probably too long when people probably can't understand what the song is about). Some of these Swedish songs are modern. But there are also a few songs by Bellman that I like to sing, either in Swedish or in my English translation. Bellman was a Swedish songwriter active in the late 1700s. Many of his songs are drinking songs, but he also wrote about other aspects of life and love and death.


I saw on your blog that you speak and write Norwegian. Did you learn the language specifically for your work with these ballads?

I actually speak Swedish, though some understanding of Danish and Norwegian comes as a bonus. But yes it has nothing really to do with working with the ballads. I learned Swedish when I was living and working in Sweden.

The old language that the ballad texts are written down in is a little different from modern Swedish, though, and the spelling can be quite variable. So becoming familiar with a large number of ballads helps with the understanding of each individual one. The language can be a bit archaic in places, but it tends to be straightforward and direct, which makes translation easier.

Working with older Danish and especially older Norwegian ballad texts can be a little slower for me, especially as the Norwegian texts are written with unusual dialectal spellings. But even here, it is very helpful to be familiar with many ballad texts as the formulations used in the ballads pass essentially unchanged from ballad to ballad and across national boundaries (of course these boundaries have hardly been constant in Scandinavia over the past few hundred years).


I think you did the translations into English? How long does that typically take you for each ballad?

One important aspect of my approach to translating the ballads is the fact that they usually survive in many variants. This is not always the case, of course. I have translated ballads from only a single surviving variant, or where there are two variants where the differences are so minor as to be fairly inconsequential. But typically when translating a Swedish ballad there may be 4, 5, 6 versions of the text (and there may or may not also be versions of the same ballad in Danish and Norwegian). And these versions may seem more complete, or may be more fragmentary.

The first part is to read all these versions and to do a word-for-word translation without worrying too much about rhyme or metre.

I will then look at the different versions of the ballads, and see whether the English translation would benefit from combining different ballad fragments to make a cohesive whole. And then I will try to get the rhyme and metre to work as best as possible, while also maintaining the various repetitive patterns that are found in the ballad texts ...


What are some of the difficulties of translating lyrics into another language?

Two obvious aspects of the ballad texts are rhyme and metre. These are major defining characteristics of these ballads.

There are two main ways the ballads rhyme: as ABCB, and as AA. When these are sung, the four-line verses may (or may not) also be followed by a single chorus line (called the omkväde) that is repeated after each verse. The two-line verses may also have repeated omkväde lines; typically there will be an omkväde line after each verse line. These omkväde lines will not rhyme with the rest of the ballad, and will have little to do with the metre, and often seem to be more associated with the melody than with the rest of the ballad text.

The way the English and Scandinavian languages have come down to us means that some of the time, the rhymes come for free in translation. So if for example, you have lines ending in röd and död, these can become red and dead straight away. Sometimes you may get rhymes for free even when the spelling and pronunciation have diverged, so höga and öga become high and eye.

Alliteration is less obvious in these ballads than in older Scandinavian poetry. But one place where it does crop up is in some of the common repeated phrases. Just as in English-language ballads and folk songs there are various recurring motifs – a milk-white steed, a dapple-grey, a lily-white hand, and so on – similar motifs occur in the Scandinavian ballads. And these are sometimes alliterative. For example, there is böljande blå (the billowy blue), used for the sea, or gångare grå (palfrey grey), a very typical horse. For some of these I have managed to be alliterative in translation, but not all.

Actually, repetition is an important part of the ballad phenomenon. And it occurs in a number of different ways.

Quite often, a verse may be repeated (usually immediately), with minor variations. I suppose this can be a way of emphasising a point for the audience, as well as making a text easier to remember for a performer. For example,

In Lund's church in Skåne
Are preaching pastors three
The king himself will be there today
And there will the maiden be

In Lund's church in Skåne
Are preaching pastors ten
The king himself will be there today
With all his fierce court men


(from Peter Pallebosson in The Faraway North)


It is also quite common for very similar verses to occur in different ballads. For example,

They hoisted hight the silken sails
Upon the gilded masts
And never let those sails be struck
Till Aslack's land they passed


(from Heming and King Harald in Warrior Lore)

compared with

They hoisted high the silken sail
Up to the gilded spar
And it wasn't struck to the benches down
Till Trollbotten they saw


(from Åsmund Frægdegjevar in The Faraway North)

Again, this may make the audience more familiar with the subject matter of the ballad they are hearing. I try to incorporate all these kinds of repetition into my ballad translations as I think this repetition is a very important characteristic of the ballads.

As I mentioned, I have also tried to translate some other songs from Swedish, and sometimes this has been a lot more difficult or less satisfying. This could partly be due to the songs using more "poetic" language than the "direct" language typical of the ballads. Or sometimes due to more complex rhyming patterns, which are of course more difficult to maintain. Or perhaps due to the fact that usually there is a little flexibility in ballad texts due to the existence of more than one "original" version, whereas this is not the case for a typical song.

How many other people are doing similar work as you, in preserving these ballads and this music?

Occasionally I do see people doing similar things. I'm always surprised! The other week I was playing at my local open mic night, and a band came on and did one of the medieval Danish ballads (in Danish). That was a surprise.

Around the time of great ballad activity in the 1800s, when Child was compiling his collection of English and Scottish ballads, and the Scandinavian ballad giants were publishing their collections, a number of translations were made into English, mainly from Danish. Some further translation work as been done since then, but less.

If you'd like to learn more about him or his books:




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Sunday, March 26, 2017

Barbaric Yawp 4: No Artist is an Island

In a weekend of music and poetry (and large dogs), I hosted Books and Brews with Laura Vosika yesterday which included listening to and playing Irish music, got mauled with affection by a large dog, attended a fantastic concert of medieval music by the Rose Ensemble, which included a theorbo (think lute on steroids), got loved half to death by a large dog, scratched a large dog's head and chin while playing piano (believe me, when a 100 pound dog is determined to be loved and you're determined to play piano, you do figure out how to do both), took a large dog for a long walk (well, for us, medium--about 2-1/2 miles), and tonight attended Barbaric Yawp, the monthly poetry open mic at Underground Music Café.

It was a small group tonight, in contrast to last month's extremely large turnout.  Among other pieces were Alan's very poignant piece about a father's funeral, Mike's performance piece of Mr. Himmler's Neighborhood, Cassie's series of poems about the very distinct personalities of the chickens she once had out in the Northwest, and Eric Tu's very entertaining poem about modern dating--with a girl and her phone.  Among standout lines: I want to espresso my feelings to you...I like you a latte!

I read two of my own pieces.  One was an exercise I wrote in anapestic meter which is (to my musician's mind) an anti-waltz: weak weak STRONG weak weak STRONG.  (Do not confuse this with week week strong, which is a very different thing.)  The other was a triolet, a form I enjoy and that, for some reason I find easy to write.  It is, in simplest terms, a form of AB a A ab AB.  In other words, there are only two rhyme schemes, the first line is repeated in the middle of the poem and the first two lines are repeated at the end of the poem.

Being in a medieval and Irish frame of mind this weekend, I also read a W.B. Yeats poem and a short medieval poem.

No Second Troy
W.B. Yeats


WHY should I blame her that she filled my days
With misery, or that she would of late
Have taught to ignorant men most violent ways,
Or hurled the little streets upon the great,
Had they but courage equal to desire?
What could have made her peaceful with a mind
That nobleness made simple as a fire,
With beauty like a tightened bow, a kind
That is not natural in an age like this,
Being high and solitary and most stern?
Why, what could she have done being what she is?
Was there another Troy for her to burn?



This poem, like many he wrote, refers to Maude Gonne.  This one in particular refers to her revolutionary activities.  Despite his love--obsession?--for her, this particular piece does not cast her in an entirely favorable light.  I wrote briefly about Yeats and Maude a couple of days ago.  That piece doesn't even scratch the surface.  It's a subject I'll talk about in more depth another time

In a subject I'll also get into more in another post, this piece is an example of the way the arts intertwine and weave in and out with other artists, other pieces.  Poems, movies, myths, stories, statues, songs, art, dance, opera, and more, reference one another and play off one another and use one another as inspiration, as we each see in another's work something that inspires us.

My own Blue Bells Chronicles was inspired partially by Margaret J. Anderson's In the Keep of Time, partially by the old folk song Blue Bells of Scotland, partially by my own life as a trombonist and in orchestral music, and partially just by that mysterious unknown quantity of inspiration, of a flash of an image that came from who knows where, of a man so arrogant as to gamble his livelihood--in this case his trombone.

In turn, my neighbors grew beautiful wild flowers in their stretch of yard right where I always walk above-mentioned large dog which inspired me to take a photograph, which inspired my friend Cara Pabst Moran to paint a picture based off my photograph.  She also painted a castle, presumably somewhat inspired by my books, which she sent to me and which now hangs in my living room. 

Just in case you're wondering if the dog is totally superfluous to this post or if she inspires art, too--yes, she inspired a poem I read several times on the Vehicle of Expression, which I call my Larger Than Average Triolet for a Larger than Average Friend.

In Pictures at an Exhibition, Mussorgsky was influenced by...well, by pictures...pictures at an exhibition!  From the drawings and paintings, came a fantastic piece of music.  (I may have mentioned that Shawn likes the Russian composers--they write the best trombone parts!)

So, too, with No Second Troy.  Yeats's poem itself references Helen and Troy, and in turn, the poem was referenced years later by Sinead O' Connor in Troy--although, just as my photograph was my own take on my neighbor's garden, and Cara's painting was her own take on my photograph, Sinead's song is a very far from Yeats's poem which is hardly the original story of Troy. 

This is the beauty and fun of art and interacting with artists--and why it's so important for us not to be isolated artists in ivory towers.


I also read a poem that dates back to the early 14th century.  The original is:

Miri it is while sumer i-last
With foulës song;
Oc now neghëth windës blast
And weder strong.
Ei, ei, what this night is long,
And Ich with wel michel wrong
Sorwe and murne and fast


(Oh, my poor spell check is going crazy with that!  I think I need to give it a glass of wine.  A very large one.  Or a Prozac.)

And it is not just a poem, as I found it in my research, but also a piece of music:



I did not subject my audience to my efforts at pronouncing middle English, but hunted down a version tweaked into modern English:

Merry it is while summer lasts,
With birds in song;
But now there threaten windy blasts
And tempests strong.
Ah, but the night is long,
And I, being done such wrong,
Sorrow and mourn and fast


It is fascinating to watch this play between arts and artists, and a testament to why we should not let ourselves become isolated artists in ivory towers, but get out there and meet others and exchange ideas, melodies, forms, styles.  Brendan Carrol's book Tempo Rubato: Stolen Time talks about this--as we watch Mozart, pulled into our present time, experience jazz, and see how quickly his style changes as he listens to, loves, and is influenced by, others.

Circling back to previous thoughts, because I mentioned the relation of the Yeats poem to Maude Gonne, I ended up chatting with Greg after the open mic.  Someone who own a three inch thick book on Maude Gonne!  We had a very interesting conversation as a result and I learned about his association with a group that focuses on poetry as therapy and healing, and many other things.  I learned how his own poetry has influenced and been influenced--and so the cycle continues.  And I will likely learn and be influenced by the doors that conversation opened--which stemmed from Yeats writing a poem--which stemmed from Maude's activities and personality and charm and from an ancient story of Helen of Troy.

In The Blue Bells Chronicles, Shawn is heavily influenced by knowing Niall and Christina.  They are in turn influenced by him.

We are not islands--not as artists, not as people.  I learn from and am inspired by those at open mics and in my writers group.


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