Old folk at lunch

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Hat hair



What the devil is hat hair? I am betting that 99% of the male readers here have never heard of hat hair. Yet it is a matter of grave concern to many women. But fear not! As an old guy wise in the ways of women (or so I kid myself on my good days), I can enlighten you.

So is hat hair a pesky sort of hair given off by hats? Noooo. Far from it. Let me explain: Anne and her sister are going on a walking tour of Austria later this year (Yes. Austria, not Australia) and in the evening after each day's ramble they are going to go to a concert of classical music. But there is a big problem. Anne's sister feels that she cannot possibly go to a classical concert with hat hair. Hat hair, you see, is what happens to your hair when you take your hat OFF -- and both ladies will be wearing hats during their daytime rambles. Have you got the picture yet? You see, if you have fine hair (which Anne's sister does) you can see where the hat has been during the day. There is a MARK in your hair produced by the hat! Anne has thick wiry hair that just goes "Sproinggg!" and resumes its accustomed shape when she takes her hat off (there is a picture of Anne and her sister here) so hat hair does not bother Anne one bit but a solution still has to be found to her sister's problem Suggestions welcome.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Good Friday



Anne was determined that we were going to go to a church service on Good Friday. Unfortunately, I had had a rather sleepless night the night before so I woke up a bit after 8am. But when I did, there was Anne hovering over me all dressed up for an outing -- complete with red sandals. So I knew it was going to be a happening morning.

Most churches have their Good Friday services at a rather unearthly hour from my point of view but somewhere deep in the ratlike recesses of my brain was a conviction that the Prebyterians would be more humane about such things. So after a good face-washing, a hot-cross bun and a cup of tea we headed out in the direction of the Ann St Presbyterian church, which is for both of us our old church.

I had hoped for a 9.30 am service but it was unfortunately a 9 am service so we were a few minutes late in arriving. As we were walking from the car to the church however I sang the Doxology by myself -- so that got us started in proper form. I sang it in full voice so it is lucky the streets were fairly empty at that hour. Anne of course is used to my eccentricities. We arrived about half way through the opening hymn, "There is a green hill far away", so I was a bit peeved at missing the whole of such a good hymn.

Much to my surprise the old church was packed and we had to do that which all churchgoers avoid -- sit up the front. Sitting up the front meant however that I noticed a few things I had not noticed before. In particular, I was a little surprised to see a plaque beneath the pulpit bearing the legend: AMDG. I thought that to be a bit "Popish" for a Presbyterian church but I suppose Latin is the property of all humanity. It is of course an ancient ecclesiastical abbreviation for "Ad Majorem Gloriam Dei", or "To the Greater Glory of God".

The congregation was of course mostly elderly but it was pleasing to see some young people there too. There were even a few babies! And there was one lady wearing a rather impressive big black hat. It is amazing how hat-wearing seems to have gone out of style among women in congregations these days -- from Catholics to Jehovah's Witnesses. Very strange in the light of 1 Corinthians 11:13. The minister, Archie McNicol, wore his academic gown throughout of course -- though supplemented by a large and attractive royal-blue stole. Wearing an academic gown is of course an expression of the traditional Scottish reverence for education.

Mr. McNicol gave the expected long opening prayer in his delightful Edinburgh accent. There was rather a lot in it that I liked. His petition that people be saved from the "delusions of the Devil" certainly made it clear that we were not in an Anglican church. There is plenty of that sort of lsanguage in The Book of Common Prayer but it is not heard from any Anglican pulpits these days that I know of. Though perhaps you would hear it in the Sydney diocese. Mr McNicol also very traditionally prayed for blessings on the Queen and the members of the Royal family and prayed also for divine guidance for the "authorities that rule over us" -- An allusion to Romans 13: 1, of course. Particularly pleasing however was that he prayed for members of the armed forces overseas who were fighting "for freedom and liberty" -- A genuine appreciation of reality that one expects from a conservative Christian.

You will note that I refer to the minister as "Mr". That is the Presbyterian way. Presbyterianism is a very democratic form of Christianity -- with the congregation and its elders being supreme rather than the minister.

Being Easter, it was of course a Communion service and in the modern way all were invited to partake. But although I have much more appreciation of traditional Christian culture than most atheists do, I did not. I am not that much of a hypocrite. Nor did I join in the recitation of the Apostle's creed or the Lord's prayer. I certainly joined in the hymns however, and our final hymmn -- "Rugged Cross" -- was one of my favourites.

Rather oddly, throughout the service, the organ was supplemented by a solo violinist and, instead of an organ voluntary at the close of the service, the violinist played "He was despised and rejected" from Handel's Messiah -- which was great to hear.

When we got home, Anne cooked us some smoked haddock for a late breakfast, which was at least very Scottish, though not, of course, to everyone's taste. We had it with toast, Rotkohl and pickled cucumbers.

Afterwards we put on Bach's Passio secundum Mattheum, with Fischer-Dieskau singing baritone. You can't get better Easter music than that. When we got to the great aria "Mache dich mein Herze rein" ("Make my heart pure") I was moved to tears as I usually am when I hear it. The combination of supreme Bach music rendered in the incomparable voice of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau is just too perfect.

And so began our day.....

Sunday, April 9, 2006

An expedition into Volkskultur



My previous little personal memoirs here seem generally to have been well-received, so here is another!

Intellectually, I have been an utter atheist for over 40 years but emotionally I am still the Bible-bashing Protestant fundamentalist I was in my teens. And one consequence of that is that I have a great love of Christian music, including popular hymns. So I feel very much at home with ALL the sacred music of my Volk. I would scarcely be a lover of Bach otherwise as his inspiration was very much in German Protestantism and its great music.

So when Anne suggested that we attend a "Festival of Praise" last night at the Logan Entertainment Centre (a municipal facility in a working-class part of the Brisbane area), I was perfectly happy to go along. Since she came into my life Anne has done a fair bit towards demolishing my previous reclusive lifestyle!

When we arrived, I noticed that the audience was 100% "Caucasian" (which seems to be the American euphemism for "white" -- a term one uses at some risk these days. Though the connection most "Caucasians" have with the Caucasus is very distant indeed). And I would guess that most of the audience were Anglo-Celtic too. Some people don't like that term "Anglo-Celtic" but seeing I am myself Anglo-Celtic in ancestry, I see no problem with it.

It was a little troubling, however, that only about 5% of the audience were younger than 40. The average age might well have been as high as 60. So perhaps I am writing about something that may vanish rather soon.

The music was provided by "The Brisbane Festival Male Voice Choir", with an average age similar to the audience but who were nonetheless in very good voice. The only accompaniment was a white Yamaha baby grand piano but there were a couple of microphones under the lid so it was completely adequate to its task. The pianist played in a very confident and emphatic style so that helped to give the occasion an evangelical "revival" feel. And a revival meeting it was. The emphasis was on the choral singing (with 15 songs/hymns in all) but there was preaching at every break in the music from the preacher-man MC --preaching in a very familiar evangelical style, with short sentences, lot of pregnant pauses etc. I was there for the music but I didn't mind the preaching. I was pleased that their old-time religion could still give many of our Volk hope and comfort.

And the music was not disappointing. We started out with a rendition of the national anthem, including the "apocryphal" third verse. I reproduce the whole thing below:

Australians all let us rejoice,
For we are young and free;
We've golden soil and wealth for toil;
Our home is girt by sea;
Our land abounds in nature's gifts
Of beauty rich and rare;
In history's page, let every stage
Advance Australia Fair.
In joyful strains then let us sing,
Advance Australia Fair.

Beneath our radiant Southern Cross
We'll toil with hearts and hands;
To make this Commonwealth of ours
Renowned of all the lands;
For those who've come across the seas
We've boundless plains to share;
With courage let us all combine
To Advance Australia Fair.
In joyful strains then let us sing,
Advance Australia Fair.


With Christ our head and cornerstone,
We'll build our Nation's might.
Whose way and truth and light alone
Can guide our path aright.
Our lives, a sacrifice of love,
Reflect our Master's care.
With faces turned to heaven above
Advance Australia fair.
In joyful strains then let us sing
Advance Australia fair.

It's pretty good stuff in my opinion and it was sung with great gusto by both audience and choir.

The next thing I found memorable was a barbershop quartet, who did four songs in all. They were excellent. If you don't know barbershop singing, you are really missing something. They got huge applause of course.

The audience got to sing a few more times too. Our next opportunity was a rendition of "Old Rugged Cross", one of my favourite hymns, so I did my best to belt it out. Later on we had some simple evangelical-style chorus music which I did not know but they were undoubtedly good tunes for their purpose.

Another highlight was a quite remarkable soloist -- a good basso profundo. Very rare to hear a solo in such a low key. I am sure half the females in the audience fell in love with him.

So I greatly enjoyed all the music but one sad reflection I had at the end was that it probably could not have happened in America. After unremitting legal onslaughts from the Left, I gather that Christian preaching in a local government facility would just not be allowed. How sad for Americans!

So that was my Saturday night. Tonight we are off to a classical music soiree. I guess I am not much of a hermit any more!

(In case anybody has not worked it out yet, Volkskultur literally means "People's culture", but Volk has much greater depth of meaning than "people" -- as I have mentioned previously)

Saturday, April 1, 2006

Another high culture expedition: Mozart



Seeing it is the weekend, I thought I might be forgiven for an even more discursive post than usual

Having become something of a recluse in my old age, I rarely go out these days. Only my addiction to classical music occasionally gets me moving. As Mozart is my second favourite to Bach and as this year is the 250th anniversary of the birth of Mozart, however, I decided (or Anne decided) that it would be a good time for me to go to a Mozart concert. So we went this evening to a performance of the famous Requiem (in the Beyer realization).

To help get us in the mood for some of the greatest of German music, we had some good German peasant food for tea before going to the concert. For starters we had some excellent Zwiebelfisch (raw herring pickled with onions, peppercorns etc) followed simply by ham and mustard on Roggenbrot (black bread). The ham was the strong-tasting Gypsy ham, which I got from our local Croatian delicatessen.

When we arrived at Brisbane's newish and first class concert hall, I was amazed at the crush of people. Every seat was booked. I was of course delighted to see such a robust following for Kunst und Kultur so far from its homeland. The Requiem is rather sombre by Mozart's standards, so had I thought it might not attract a big audience.

The audience was of course overwhelmingly of Northern European appearance, though there was also a good scattering of North Asians -- mostly Han, I think.

We had the overture from Zauberfloete for starters followed by piano concerto 27 (his last). While I was listening to the concerto I kept thinking that it sounded more like Kammermusik than something for a full orchestra so I was rather pleased to note later that the program notes also described it as having "a chamber-music mood".

When we got to the Requiem after intermission, the forces available were excellent. There was a huge choir and a strong string section -- including 4 double basses and six celli. Other than that however there was only a few brass players. The big traditional pipe organ (much acclaimed when it was built) supplied the wind sounds.

Slightly surprisingly, the conductor was European -- Estonian in fact. Half a world away from Europe we still needed European talent. Since by far the greatest part of classical music is of Northern European origin, however, I suppose it stands to reason that Northern Europeans should have the best feel for it.

The Requiem itself was so absorbing that it seemed to me to take only 15 minutes, though I believe it took more like an hour. I greatly enjoyed the complex music of my Volk (using that term somewhat broadly) and I was nearly as pleased to see that many others of the Volk still do too