Sunday, June 25, 2017

More Midsummer Scenes

As usual, I took my Sunday constitutional in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park this morning, taking in more Midsummer sights. After the leftovers from Tropical Storm Cindy moved through here Friday evening and Saturday morning dumping ton of rain on us, the weather has turned cooler and drier, perfect weather for outdoor activities. And one of the more important of those activities is the midsummer haying. 

Yup, Wade Asper has his old Case tractor fired up and today he was about halfway through the first haying. As is usual when both of us are up on the meadow at the same time, he turned off the tractor for a conversation. And also as usual, his first question to me was "What wildlife have you seen today?" Wade is a man with a passion for nature, and we always discuss what we've been seeing lately. He's very protective of the wildlife in these parts, always waiting to do his haying well after the sun is up so that whatever deer might have been sleeping in the deep grass overnight are up and moving off for the day, watching out for groundhogs and rabbits and turkeys (and the four feral cats who live up on the meadow), and in general managing the land for the benefit of both humans and wildlife. Today we were discussing Coyotes, because I kept finding Coyote scat on the meadow trails all Winter and I wanted to know if he'd heard or seen any. We spent an hour discussing local wildlife and local history (he's a collector of Native American and Civil War artifacts that can be found scattered around in these parts), and soon enough it was time for him to get back to haying and me to get down the hill for lunch.

So here are some scenes of Midsummer caught today. Enjoy!

The creek from the red bridge
Reflections on the north pond
A view of Timber Hill from the meadow
A Common Buckeye butterfly up on the meadow
Wade on his old Case tractor cutting hay
© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday Bach - Second Sunday After Trinity

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. – Psalm 19: 1
Today is the second Sunday after Trinity, the second Sunday in ordinary time, when the parables of Jesus in the Gospels are examined. This week's parable is from Luke 14: 16-24, the parable of the Great Supper. But interestingly, Bach's best cantata for this Sunday is anchored on the Old Testament reading for the day, Psalm 19. This is BWV 76, Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes (The heavens declare the glory of God), his second cantata for his new job as cantor at Leipzig. Like his first Leipzig cantata, BWV 75, this one is obviously meant to impress his new employers. And impress it does! The late Craig Smith at Emmanuel Music describes:
BWV 76 begins with a brilliant chorus with trumpet, oboes and strings, based on the opening sentences of Psalm 19. The dazzling fugue, first sung by the soloists then taken up by the chorus, is based upon the chorale "Dies sind die heilige zehn Gebot," a chorale designated for the Sunday that this cantata was written for but never otherwise heard in the cantata. After a long and expressive recitative for tenor and strings, the soprano sings a sweet and childlike aria with solo violin. The announcement of God's voice is not grand but as if in the mind of a child. The bass then exhorts the people to foreswear their evil ways, first in a recitative then in a brilliant aria with trumpet and strings. The alto recitative ushers in the mysterious and haunting elaborated setting of the chorale "Es woll uns Gott genädig sein." The second part of the cantata introduces obbligato instruments that have up to this time not been heard in the cantata. A sinfonia based on an earlier organ Trio Sonata is scored for oboe d'amore and viola da gamba. After a paranoid and brutal tenor aria with continuo, these obbligato instruments return to accompany the heavenly alto aria, certainly one of the most extraordinary and haunting of all of Bach's alto arias. The mysterious chorale setting from the first part is repeated to end the cantata.
©Craig Smith
The performance I've chosen for this week is by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir under the direction of Ton Koopman from 1997. Enjoy!


© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Summer Solstice 2017

Today is the Summer Solstice, Litha to Pagans, and Midsummer in the northern European countryside. The weather turns seriously hot now, the first haying of the season gets done, and bonfires and dancing and merriment are the order of the day. As for me, I took a walk in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park and took in the sights of Summer.

Deptford Pinks in the woods along the Dykeman Walking Trail
An Appalachian Brown butterfly in the wetland area
Day Lilies in the Dykeman Spring wetland
A Cabbage White butterfly and Canada Thistle by the north pond
North pond scene with Mallards
A European Skipper butterfly on Red Clover up on the meadow
© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Sunday Bach - First Sunday After Trinity


Today is the first Sunday after Trinity, the start of what the church calls "ordinary time", a six month stretch with no major holy days. The emphasis during ordinary time is the parables of Jesus and how they teach the Christian hows to live a Christ-like life. Today's Gospel reading is the parable of the rich man and the the beggar Lazarus, from Luke 16: 19-31, where the rich man goes to hell and Lazarus goes to heaven, and the rich man raises a howl about that.

Coincidentally, the first Sunday after Trinity in 1723 was Bach's debut at his new job as Cantor in Leipzig, and his cantata BWV 75, Die Elenden sollen essen, daß sie satt werden (The poor shall eat, that they may be filled) is a textbook illustration of what a Bach cantata is supposed to be. Musicologist Simon Crouch explains:
"On the 30th of the same month….the new cantor Collegii Musici director Herr Joh. Sebastian Bach, who came here from the princely court in Cöthen, performed his first music to good applause". I don't think that that means that the congregation went crazy in the aisles but clearly Bach's first Leipzig cantata (after the test pieces BWV 22 and BWV 23) was received with approval from those who mattered. Justly so. Although this isn't a cantata that will leap out at you with brilliant tunes or outstanding virtuosity, it is beautifully crafted. Indeed, what you may first notice is the formal structure that may strike you as a perfect example of what a Bach Cantata ought to be like. It's in two parts, the first part with opening sinfonia, two arias connected by recitatives and a closing chorale, the second part mirroring the first part but replacing the opening chorus with a sinfonia.

The first part opens with an excellent chorus, hinting at a French overture style (Bach showing that he was up to date and in touch with fashion?) with poignant oboe phrases leading into what you might expect, a lively fugue! Neither of the arias of the first part have outstandingly memorable tunes but they are both substantial, well constructed and pleasing to hear. The tenor aria has a warm orchestral accompaniment and the soprano aria gives the soloist opportunity for florid embellishment. The first part closes with a very jolly and uplifting chorale setting with full orchestral accompaniment.

The second part opens with a rarity: A purely orchestral treatment of the chorale with trumpet singing out the melody. It's so effective that one wonders why Bach didn't do this more often. The alto aria is simple and pleasant and the bass aria, perhaps the best of the lot, has an outstanding and uplifting trumpet accompaniment. The latter hints at a "battle" aria but the text could hardly be further from this! The cantata draws to a close with a repeat of the orchestral chorale setting that closed the first part.

Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch.
For today's Sunday Bach I've chosen the 2003 recording by the Collegium Vocale Gent under the direction of Philippe Herreweghe. Enjoy!

      

Photo © 2010 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Friday, June 16, 2017

Just Passing Through

It rained early in the morning and it's supposed to rain some more this afternoon and evening, so I took advantage of the break in the rain to go do some grocery shopping. Naturally I passed through the Dykeman Spring Nature Park and found some shots along the way.

The baby bunnies are hopping all over the park
The Blackberries are starting to ripen
A sure sign of Summer - the Day Lilies are up 
The banks of the north pond are festooned with Crown Vetch
This fuzzy lady was industriously harvesting on a Nodding Thistle up on the meadow
© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Miniatures

A brief walk in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park this morning before the heat settled in for the day. And I found these two small things which were very photogenic. That thing that looks like a mandala is actually the flower bud of a Nodding Thistle. And the Dragonfly population is large and diverse this Summer.

Natural mandala - the flower bud of the Nodding Thistle demonstrates the Fibonacci sequence
A Northern Bluet damselfly in the sedges by the north pond
© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday Bach - Trinity Sunday


Today is Trinity Sunday, and so starts the long Trinity stretch in the liturgical calendar, sandwiched between the two major church festival periods - Advent/Christmas/Epiphany and Lent/Easter/Pentecost.  There's nothing celebratory in this long stretch, no events to commemorate, so the Trinity season is used for teaching the basic tenets of the church. 

Of course, it does start off with one celebration - Trinity Sunday, announcing the presence of the Holy Spirit in the church. Bach wrote a number of cantatas for this day, but for me one stands out in particular, BWV 129, Gelobet sei der Herr, mein Gott (Praised be the Lord, my God) from 1727. It's a chorale cantata, based around the hymn of the same name, and as is usual for Bach's chorale cantatas it gets pretty grand. But as Simon Crouch points out, it's somehow condensed, sort of a chorale cantata in miniature:
Cantata BWV 129 is a chorale cantata based on a hymn by Johannes Olearius with melody by anonymous. It's a lovely little work. Everything is in miniature, even the festal opening and closing choruses, and I can't help thinking that Bach, had he wished to, could have built something really substantial out of this. As befits Trinity Sunday, the cantata is introduced with the sound of trumpets and drums in the grand opening movement. The heart of the cantata comprises three arias in a row, one each for bass, soprano and alto respectively. None of them is outstandingly memorable but each of them is finely crafted, elegant music. Most notable, perhaps, are the accompaniments: Continuo only in the bass aria; flute and violin in the soprano aria and oboe d'amore in the alto aria. The second is my favourite of these three. The cantata closes in a joyous mood with an elaborate but spacious orchestral setting of the chorale, prominently featuring the trumpet and drums again.
Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch.
For today's post I've chosen a lovely performance by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir under the direction of Ton Koopman. Enjoy!

      

Photo © 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Saturday, June 10, 2017

June Flowers

Went for a walk in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park this morning before it got too hot, looking for June flowers and excuses to crawl on my belly with the macro setting. Found some! And if that Daisy Fleabane looks a tad disheveled, it's because there was a pretty stiff breeze blowing up on the meadow.

Cabbage White butterfly on Canada Thistle
Crown Vetch
Daisy Fleabane 
Deptford Pink
© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Serenity

Seeking peace and in a meditative mood this morning, I went for a walk in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park. Serenity achieved!

Approaching the red bridge. As you can see, things are getting a little overgrown; I like it!
The red bridge from slightly upstream
The berries are getting ripe in the Mulberry tree by the north pond
Moth Mullein on the banks of the north pond
A Chipmunk overlooking the creek, seen from the red bridge
© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Bach on Pentecost - Whit Tuesday


Bach wrote two cantatas for the third day of Pentecost, and it was a struggle choosing between two very good examples of his talent, but in the end I had to go with this one, BWV 184, Erwünschtes Freudenlicht (Desired light of joy) from 1724. There's something almost pastoral about this, probably from the extensive use of flutes in a very dance-like rhythm throughout the cantata. Not surprising, since this is something of a reuse of an older cantata written for court rather than church. And that aria for alto and soprano! Ahhhhhh! Such beauty. After all the solemnity and magnificence of the previous days of Pentecost, this light and airy finish to the holiday period is most welcome indeed. And apparently Simon Crouch agrees: 
A delicious little phrase from the flutes introduces a long recitative that is based on the gospel of the day together with the twenty-third psalm. After that we're immediately into an absolute show-stopper! A dancing pastoral duet between soprano and alto, with the flutes providing a line that you will be whistling for days after you hear it. This is one of the greatest of the hidden gems of the cantatas and for once you will be glad that the da capo aria form allows you to hear the big tune again! The stately and elegant dance that this movement suggests means that it will come as no surprise to you to learn that BWV 184 was adapted from the secular cantata BWV 184a which is, alas, now lost to us. Another lengthy recitative is followed by a pleasant but otherwise undistinguished tenor aria and the cantata draws to a close with a straightforward, but lovely, chorale setting. 
Oh no it doesn't! For once, Bach doesn't finish off with the chorale. There's an extra chorus seemingly tacked on the end, attractive but not outstanding.

Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch.
For this cantata I've chosen a performance by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir under the direction of Ton Koopman. Enjoy!

     

Photo © 2012 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Monday, June 05, 2017

Bach on Pentecost - Whit Monday


Bach wrote several cantatas for the second day of Pentecost (Whit Monday), but for me the choice was a no-brainer. BWV 68, Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt (For God so loved the world...), from 1725, is a curious juxtaposition of the grave and solemn with the airily joyous, which makes for an enjoyable listening experience. The late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music had this to say about it:
Bach Cantata BWV 68 is an oddly schizophrenic piece. The two choruses are of a very severe cast, while the two arias in the center of the piece are in a popular, even casual style. They are both arrangements from a much earlier Weimar work, the "Hunt" Cantata. The opening movement is a gorgeous and grave Siciliano with a rather obscure chorale tune based upon the reading from John in the soprano. The jump to the jolly cello solo with the soprano singing her famous "My Heart ever Faithful" is a big one. But the effect is a wonderful personalization of the rather abstract opening. The soprano is so light-hearted and infectious that an oboe and solo violin join after the voice part is finished for a delightful trio sonata. The bass aria with three oboes is even more popular in style. Here the rollicking jig is an interesting take on the rather serious words. The final motet movement is a very sober setting in archaic motet-style of the texts from Acts.
For today's offering I've chosen the 1975 recording by the Munich Bach Choir and Orchestra under the direction of Karl Richter, mainly for the lovely voice of soprano Edith Mathis, who makes the soprano aria Mein glaubiges Herze sound positively Mozartian. Enjoy!


Photo © 2012 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Bach on Pentecost - Whit Sunday

And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. - Acts 2:3
In the old church calendar the Feast of Pentecost was three days, called Whitsuntide in Great Britain and Ireland. Bach wrote cantatas for all three days, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, and I'll be posting one cantata for each of those days this week. 

Bach wrote several cantatas for Pentecost Sunday. The most popular is his first, written in Weimar in 1714, BWV 172, Erschallet, ihr Lieder, erklinget, ihr Saiten! I'll be willing to bet that there are a lot of churches and Bach societies performing that one this morning. And I see that Brian McCreath played BWV 74, Wer mich liebet, der wird mein Wort halten, this morning on his Bach Hour on WCRB in Boston. That was the one I was planning to post this morning, but as I was going through the listing on the Bach Cantata Website I decided to listen to all of those listed for today, and I was taken by surprise. BWV 34, O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe (O eternal fire, o source of love), one of Bach's later compositions (1727) is an absolute gem. When I read Simon Crouch's review of this piece, I knew I had to listen:
It may be a cliché but it is so true: One of the great joys of listening to music is the knowledge that there is always so much more out there than you already know. Rich veins of inspiration just waiting to be discovered.

Cantata BWV 34 provides and example of such. If you've never heard it, or heard of it, make your way as speedily as possible to amend the situation. Adapted from a wedding cantata (BWV 34a), in structure it is very simple: Opening chorus, recitative, aria, recitative, closing chorus. In content, it is sublime. The aria, Happy are ye, ye chosen souls, is possibly the most beautiful that Bach composed. It is the sort of music that sends shivers down the spine, knocks the stuffing out of you and compels you to listen to it. The opening and closing choruses are both excellent. The former especially, at eight minutes long, is "large scale" Bach at his finest.

Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch. 
He's so very right, this is one of Bach's best - two magnificent choruses sandwiching an exquisite gem of an alto aria. I just had to post this one for this morning. I've chosen the performance by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir under the direction of Ton Koopman. Now sit back and get ready for what could well be the most beautiful Bach experience of your life!


Photo © 2012 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Saturday, June 03, 2017

The Peace Garden Refreshed

Yesterday I saw a post on the Shippensburg Community Facebook page that the Peace Garden in the Shippensburg Memorial Park had been spruced up a bit, with new plantings and fresh tanbark mulch. So naturally I had to go see. And I have to say, it's looking good!









© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Bits & Pieces

Some photos taken on Sunday that I haven't had the chance to post yet, and some shots from earlier today, all taken in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park. Sunday was overcast with soft light, and today was bright and sunny, a perfect June day. The Oriole shots are the best I could do - they're people-shy, stay way up in the canopy, and move around a lot. Enjoy!

Multiflora Roses arch over the Dykeman Walking Trail in the wetland
A bench by the north duck pond framed by Black Willow branches
Painted Turtles in the bog pool
An adult male Baltimore Oriole high up in a Sycamore in the wetland
An immature male Baltimore Oriole up in a Black Walnut tree
The perfect June sky - bright blue with puffy clouds
© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day 2017

My subject is War, and the pity of War.
The Poetry is in the pity ...
All a poet can do today is warn.
– Wilfred Owen


British composer Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, first performed on 30 May 1962, was commissioned to mark the consecration of the new Coventry Cathedral, which was built after the original fourteenth-century structure was destroyed in a World War II bombing raid. The reconsecration was an occasion for an arts festival, for which Michael Tippett also wrote his opera King Priam.

Britten, a pacifist, was inspired by the commission, which gave him complete freedom in deciding what to compose. He chose to set the traditional Latin Mass for the Dead interwoven with nine poems about war by the English poet Wilfred Owen. Owen, who was born in 1893, was serving as the commander of a rifle company when he was killed in action on 4 November 1918 during the crossing of the Sambre-Oise Canal in France, just one week before the Armistice. Although he was virtually unknown at the time of his death, he has subsequently come to be revered as one of the great war poets.

In time this piece has become the world's most powerful anti-war statement, played by orchestras all over the US for Memorial Day, and on Armistice Day, also known as Remembrance Day, in other countries in the British Commonwealth and Europe.

Wilfred Owen's poetry is an integral part of Britten's piece; it is poetry written by a front line soldier during the action of war, and accurately reflects the feelings, thoughts, and reactions of people directly involved in the fighting. As such it is a powerful, and personal, argument against the waging of war, and especially the deceptive attitude of "we must fight this war in order to end all war." History has shown that war only begets more war, a point emphatically made in Eric Bogle's song "No Man's Land":
Did they really believe that this war would end wars
Well the sorrow, the suffering, the glory, the pain
The killing and dying was all done in vain
For young Willie McBride it all happened again
And again, and again, and again, and again.
Before I post the video of a performance of the War Requiem, conducted by Britten himself, I'd like to post this Wilfred Owen poem called "Strange Meeting" one of the last poems he wrote before his death and the final poem used by Britten in the requiem.
It seemed that out of battle I escaped
Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
Through granites which titanic wars had groined.

Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
Lifting distressful hands, as if to bless.
And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall,—
By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell.

With a thousand fears that vision's face was grained;
Yet no blood reached there from the upper ground,
And no guns thumped, or down the flues made moan.
“Strange friend,” I said, “here is no cause to mourn.”
“None,” said that other, “save the undone years,
The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours,
Was my life also; I went hunting wild
After the wildest beauty in the world,
Which lies not calm in eyes, or braided hair,
But mocks the steady running of the hour,
And if it grieves, grieves richlier than here.
For by my glee might many men have laughed,
And of my weeping something had been left,
Which must die now. I mean the truth untold,
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.
Now men will go content with what we spoiled.
Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled.
They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress.
None will break ranks, though nations trek from progress.
Courage was mine, and I had mystery;
Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery:
To miss the march of this retreating world
Into vain citadels that are not walled.
Then, when much blood had clogged their chariot-wheels,
I would go up and wash them from sweet wells,
Even with truths that lie too deep for taint.
I would have poured my spirit without stint
But not through wounds; not on the cess of war.
Foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were.

"I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark: for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now. . . ."
And now, Benjamin Britten's War Requiem. May all those killed in war rest in peace, and may we end this madness so that no more need to die!


Photo © 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Sunday Bach - Sixth Sunday After Easter (Exaudi)

Approaching Storm
Bach wrote two cantatas for the sixth Sunday after Easter, and I've chosen the first one, BWV 44, Sie werden euch in den Bann tun (They will turn you out...) from 1724. This is still drawing from Jesus' farewell to the disciples in the 15th and 16th chapters of John, and this week the reading emphasizes the trials and tribulations the disciples will experience from now on. Here's what musicologist Simon Crouch has to say about this cantata:
Jesus warns the disciples that their task will not be easy after He has left them. Though not an outstanding piece, I rate this quite highly because it is concentrated: It demonstrates the art of the cantata in a short, succinct and effective way. The pessimistic scene is set very quickly with text taken from the Gospel. The tenor/bass duet on the first line (Out from their church will they cast you) leads immediately into a chorus on the next (Yea there cometh the time that he who kills you will think that he doeth service to God thereby). The first aria allows the alto to meditate on what it means to be a Christian and the following chorale and recitative emphasise the pain and strife involved. But, at a stroke, the pessimism is banished by the soprano singing Our Christian faith is ever safe, with God on guard on our behalf) and the concluding chorale dots the i's and crosses the t's on a simple lesson about faith. The music amplifies the message of the words in a very subtle and most effective way. For example, both of the arias make extensive use of triplet figures but the first is a sad reflective dance on the solitary oboe whereas the second is a confident, forthright dance from all the instruments together.
Copyright © 1995 & 1998, Simon Crouch
For this week's Sunday Bach I've chosen a performance by Collegium Vocale under the direction of Philippe Herreweghe. Enjoy!    


Photo © 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, May 21, 2017

A Sunday Morning Walk in the Park

My weekly Sunday morning walk in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park was pleasant as usual. It was overcast and cool, with temperatures in the mid 50s (around 12º C); the light was just right for capturing the colors of late Spring/early Summer. Everything is very lush now, and the animals are pretty lively, too. I got surprised by a Mink suddenly dashing onto the nature trail, who when it saw me immediately dashed right back into the underbrush (no, no photo). Orioles sang to me, and Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds scolded me for being too near their nests, but nobody came out into clear view. A flock of Bank Swallows was whipping over the north duck pond too fast for me to capture one, but I did manage to get the splash trail of one across the pond. All in all it was a pleasant morning spent in the company of Mama Gaia!

Multiflora Roses along the Dykeman Walking Trail
Reflections on the north duck pond
Splash trail left by a Bank Swallow as it skimmed the surface of the pond
The forest floor along the Upland Trail
© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger