Monday, March 27, 2017


I went for a walk yesterday morning (with the camera, of course), and the theme seemed to be critters. Right there at the King St. bridge over Branch Creek I spotted a male Great Blue Heron in full breeding plumage, and in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park there were various animals and birds of interest - a feral cat, a Gray Squirrel who didn't seem to mind my presence, and the Red-bellied Woodpecker nest I discovered a couple of weeks ago. When I first came up onit, Papa was hanging around, but he took off when he saw me, and stayed out of range above and behind me while I stood still waiting for him to come back. He let out a couple of churrrs when a Chickadee and a rival Woodpecker flew up to check out the hole, but otherwise he kept out of sight. Oh well... I kept hearing a Tufted Titmouse sounding off, plus lots of Cardinals, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Grackles, but everybody kept away from my lens. So here's what I did manage to get.

A portrait of the Great Blue Heron
The feral cat, stalking along the trail
The birds stayed away, but at least I got a shot of their high rise condo
This Squirrel was having fun scampering along the branches and didn't seem to mind my presence
© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Sunday Bach - Fourth Sunday in Lent

Corn Speedwell
This week we're back to Sundays in Lent for which Bach didn't write a cantata. This week I chose BWV 150, Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich, one of his earliest cantatas, written between 1704 and 1707. It's a penitential text, but unattached to any particular liturgical Sunday or event. Here's what the late Craig Smith, musicologist and founder of Emmanuel Music, had to say about this cantata:
Bach Cantata BWV 150 is an early work, written several years before last week’s Cantata BWV 18. Because the work only exists in a manuscript in another’s hand, there has been speculation that it is not by Bach. Even a cursory examination shows that only Bach could have written such an impressive work. The cantata has a small orchestration: two violins, bassoon, and continuo. After a melancholy Sinfonia, the chorus intones the opening of Psalm 25 in a marching, chromatic, and imitative line. As is the case with most of the cantatas of this era, there are many tempo and character changes within the individual movements. The piece has many impressive moments; the listeners should particularly note the stirring scale rising through the choral and violin parts in the movement “Leite mich.” “Meine Augen” is a heavenly floating thing, gentle in the most wonderful early-Bach manner. The cantata ends with a mighty chaconne. When the volume of the Bach Gesellschaft containing this cantata was first published, Brahms was working on his Fourth Symphony. He immediately incorporated the ground bass of this cantata into the chaconne that ends his symphony.
For this week's performance I've chosen this haunting rendition by the Purcell Choir and the Orfeo Orchestra under the direction of György Vashegyi, recorded at the Budapest Music Center in 2014. Enjoy!

Photo © 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Signs of Spring

I went for a walk in the Burd Run riparian restoration park this morning and found some signs of encroaching Spring. These might just survive, as the temps don't look to dip blow freezing again, at least in the near future. I'm not putting away my sweaters yet, though.

A Song Sparrow singing away along the park main trail
A Shelf Fungus stairway on the banks of Burd Run
Corn Speedwell growing on the banks of Burd Run
© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Happy Birthday Papa Johann!

Today is the most important day of the year for me, at least as far as my musical life goes. It's Johann Sebastian Bach's birthday, and every year I do a special post featuring his music. I share the late Douglas Adams' attitude toward Bach: "When I hear Mozart, I understand what it is to be a human being; when I hear Beethoven, I understand what it is to be Beethoven; but when I listen to Bach, I understand what it is to be the universe." He's considered to be one of, if not THE, most important composers of western music.

Bach was best known in his own time as a virtuoso keyboard player, on organ as well as the harpsichord. His compositions for keyboard set the rules for writing keyboard music for centuries. Perhaps his best known collection is his Well-Tempered Clavier, a collection of paired preludes and fugues demonstrating the "flavors" of the different key signatures. Here's the Prelude and Fugue #1 in C Major:

Bach also composed suites for solo instruments, my favorites being the cello suites. Here's the great Yo-Yo Ma playing the Cello Suite #1 in G Major:

Some of my favorite Bach compositions are his chamber works, especially the Brandenburg Concertos. And my favorite of the Brandenburgs is #3 in G Major:

And finally, my favorite Bach works are his cantatas, both secular and liturgical. The combination of the human voice and orchestra create the finest of Bach's compositions; it's in these works that he truly earns the title of maestro. One of the best of these is his cantata for the Feast of the Reformation, the celebration of the beginning of the Lutheran Church, which includes the hymn by Martin Luther which gives the cantata it's name: Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott (A Mighty Fortress Is Our God), BWV 80. Here's a magnificent version with Philippe Herreweghe directing the Collegium Vocale Gent and La Chapelle Royale:

And that's my Bach birthday tribute for this year. I hope you've enjoyed it!

© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Joy Spring! - Vernal Equinox 2017

Today is the Spring Equinox! The sun reached the equator at 6:29 EDT this morning. This, however, doesn't mean that suddenly, magically, trees are greening and flowers blooming. It's been cold this last week (although it might get up to 50º [10º C] today), and we still have some snow on the ground, as these pictures taken yesterday morning in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park show. The seasons aren't events, they're part of a continuous process, and a fairly slow one at that. We're working our way toward green lushness. Just have patience!

An American Robin enjoying some Staghorn Sumac along the Dykeman Walking Trail
The creek in the park looking south from the red bridge
Yes, I managed to get my annual "Daffodils in the Snow" shot this year!
The north duck pond featuring the new bridge over the creek
The perfect music for the Spring Equinox is the late, great Jazz trumpeter Clifford Brown's song "Joy Spring". He wrote it for his wife, LaRue Anderson, who he called his "joy spring". It's definitely full of an upwelling joy the season often inspires. Enjoy!

Photos © 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Sunday Bach - Third Sunday in Lent

Robin in a Snowstorm, Shippensburg, PA
Bach actually did write a cantata for the third Sunday in Lent, in 1714 as kapellmeister at the Weimar court. It's a lovely, if somewhat fierce, solo cantata for alto voice - BWV 54, Widerstehe doch der Sünde. Here's what musicologist Craig Smith at the Emmanuel Music website has to say about it:
At the beginning of his tenure as court composer in Weimar, Bach set several of the texts of J.C. Lehms. The Lehms texts are the most luridly bloody and preachy of all the Bach texts. They also have a raw power that suits Bach’s in-your-face style of that period. The opening aria of Cantata 54 is one of the most astonishing things in all of Bach. Sin is portrayed as a gorgeous, irresistible thing. One is reminded of the Andrew Marvel poems that refer to the jewel-like blood on the back of Jesus. The aria begins with a grinding and shocking dissonance in the orchestra. Gorgeous, lapping phrases build up like layers of velvet on this dissonant bass. The expressive voice part is like a rich, deep nap on the many levels of gorgeous chromatic harmony. Bach wants us, in this lengthy and incredibly expressive aria, to feel the push and temptation of sin. The lengthy recitative that follows clarifies his point of view. The fugal last aria is spikier but no less astonishingly chromatic. While this cantata is not very well known, it is a remarkable missing link in the Bach oeuvre and essential to our complete understanding of this composer.
Here's a lovely recording by the Collegium Vocale Gent under the direction of Philippe Herreweghe, featuring counter-tenor Andreas Scholl. Enjoy!

Photo © 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Thursday, March 16, 2017


Some interesting sights from the aftermath of Tuesday's snow, caught while running errands about town (and out my window) this morning.

Icicles just outside my study window
A friend of mine and his "crew" made a snowman in his front yard
Hmmmm... The umbrella worked!
© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Finally! Real Snow at Last!

We had no Winter this Winter. Until now, when it's almost Spring. Yes, we finally got a decent snow last night and this morning, about a foot (30.5 cm) when I was out in it taking pictures. Of course I went over to the Dykeman Spring Nature Park! And got some shots in town as well. C'mon along and look at our snow-covered scenery.

The gazebo across the street from my house
Branch Creek at King St.
A Robin in the snow, along the Dykeman Walking Trail
The creek in the Dykeman Spring wetland from the red bridge
The view of the creek from the new bridge
My usual Sunday pew, buried in snow today
© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Sunday Bach - Second Sunday in Lent

Stormy Weather, October 2006
As mentioned last week, Bach wrote no cantatas for Lent other than two for the third Sunday, so I've gone diving into the vaults to look for something written for an occasion outside the liturgical calendar. What I found was Bach's first cantata, written in 1707 while he was organist at St. Blaise church in Mühlhausen. This is BWV 131, Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir, "Out of the depths I cry to thee, O Lord", from Psalm 130. From musicologist Gerhard Scuhmacher:
"Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir (BWV 131) is Bach's earliest extant cantata. The reference at the very end to the commission: 'Set to music at the request of Dr. Georg Christ. Eilmars by Joh. Seb. Bach, organist at Mühlhausen,' also indicates some tension there: Eilmar was the parish priest at St. Mary's, Bach was organist at St. Blaise. Like the 'Actus tragicus' (BWV 106) this cantata was written in 1707, presumably for a penitential service after a fire. The chamber music texture of the orchestration - one violin and two violas (one written in alto clef, the other in tenor clef) indicates the link with the music for the gamba; the scoring is completed by an oboe. As far as the form is concerned, there are no independent arias, recitatives or, except for the rather old-fashioned sinfonia, extended instrumental movements. The structure and arrangement are conditioned by the work's origin in the motet and sacred concerto. It is fascinating to observe, with hindsight, that the particular musical quality of this (probably) first cantata is the result of a desire for symmetry and the conflict between the 'no longer' of the motet and sacred concerto on the one hand, and the 'not yet' of the later cantatas on the other.
Here is an excellent interpretation from Philippe Herreweghe directing the Chorus and Orchestra of Collegium Vocale Gent in 1992. Enjoy!

Photo © 2006 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Friday, March 10, 2017

A Little More Snow

We got a little more snow this morning. Not much, just 2 or 3 inches, and very wet; it didn't stick to the roads or sidewalks. And now, about 4 hours after I shot these photos, the snow is pretty much gone. Winter is winding down, and the Vernal Equinox is a scant 2 weeks away. But it may not be over yet; there are signs we may get a nor'easter next week. We'll see. Meanwhile, here are some views of this morning's snow.

© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Sunday Bach - First Sunday in Lent

The creek in Winter, Dykeman Spring Nature Park, Shippensburg, PA
Bach only wrote two cantatas for the Lenten season, for Oculi, the third Sunday in Lent. Apparently it was somehow taboo to make a joyful noise during the penitential Lenten season. So as I've done in past years, I'll pick a cantata from Bach's cantatas not associated with a particular Sunday in the Lutheran liturgical calendar. And this year I've decided to take my cue from Brian McCreath on his weekly Bach Hour on Sunday mornings on WCRB, WGBH Boston's classical music station. This week Brian chose BWV 106, and I wholeheartedly agree.

BWV 106, Gottes Zeit is die allerbeste Zeit (God's time is the very best of times), also known as Actus Tragicus, was written for the funeral of Bach's uncle in 1707. It's one of his earlier cantatas and is considered the best of his pre-Leipzig work. Musicologist Craig Smith had this to say about it:

Bach Cantata BWV 106 is his first great cantata and remains one of his most touching pieces. Written for the funeral of his uncle, it has a personal and passionate quality unique in his output. It is scored for the unusual combination of two recorders two violas da gamba and continuo. This soft-edged instrumental combination produces not only instrumental but vocal writing of the utmost delicacy and refinement. As is usual in Bach early works there are not set arias and choruses but everything is blended together into a large arc. (From the Emmanuel Music website)
This 1966 recording by Karl Richter is a particularly beautiful interpretation of this very beautiful cantata. Enjoy!

Photo © 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger