Sunday, November 25, 2018


We had an ice storm yesterday, and this morning the twigs and branches of the trees and shrubs in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park were bedecked with shining ice jewels. Plus, on the trail up to the meadow I found a Groundhog skull, complete with the two big rodent front teeth. I cleaned it up when I got home, took a formal portrait, and added it to my Earth Altar. It was a very good walk today!

© 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Sunday Bach - Trinity 26

Blow the fanfare, trumpets! Rise up to the heavens, choir! Christmas is coming!
Heh, heh! Not exactly what those Carolina Wrens were singing, but it's the theme for the 26th Sunday after Trinity. Technically, the theme for this Sunday is the second coming of Christ, but in terms of the liturgical calendar it's the last Sunday before Advent and the Christmas season, and so serves as an announcement that the celebration of the first coming is about to begin. Bach only wrote one cantata for this Sunday, but it's a real crowd-rouser - BWV 70, Wachet! betet! betet! wachet! (Watch! Pray! Pray! Watch!, Leipzig 1723). The first version of this chorale cantata was written in Weimar in 1719 for the second Sunday in Advent, but since cantatas weren't performed in Advent in Leipzig, Bach updated and expanded it for this Sunday in his first year in that city. I can't help but think that the Leipzig city fathers were well pleased with this; it is absolutely glorious! Here's musicologist Nicholas Anderson on this magnificent cantata (from the liner notes of an Erato recording):
"Wachet! Betet! Betet! Wachet!" (BWV 70) is a parody of a Weimar cantata intended for the Second Sunday in Advent. For performance in Leipzig on the 26th Sunday after Trinity, 1723, Bach added four recitatives and an additional chorale (which concludes Part One of the Leipzig version). Since the Gospel reading for each of these Sundays concerns the Last Judgement and the coming of Christ, Bach was able to retain the original text by the Weimar poet, Salomo Franck, with complete propriety. 
The opening "da capo" chorus is immediately arresting for its trumpet calls, heralding the Last Judgement, and for the declamatory character of the vocal writing. This is more subtle than may at first appear, for Bach skilfully, and to great effect, highlights the contrasting images implied by "Wachet" (Watch), on the one hand and "Betet" (Pray), on the other. The oboe, strings and trumpet of this resonant opening movement are retained for the accompanied bass recitative, in arioso style. It pronounces fearfully on the fate of hardened sinners but gives way to more restrained and contemplative emotions which prevail throughout the remainder of Part One of the work. This consists of an alto aria with cello obbligato and continuo, two short unaccompanied tenor recitatives, a soprano aria with strings, and a verse from the hymn, "Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele" (1620) with instruments doubling the four-part vocal texture. 
Part Two of the Cantata begins with a tenor aria accompanied by oboe and strings. This wonderfully lyrical piece, with its expansive, cantabile melody and expressive octave intervals, first heard in the second bar of the ritornello, must rank among Bach's finest achievements in aria form. But its meditative spirit is shattered by the uncompromising seventh-chord intrusion of the following accompanied bass recitative, impetuously recalling the horrors of the Day of Judgement. This vividly pictorial section is lent further colour by the trumpet which intones the melody of the hymn, "Es ist gewißlich an der Zeit". The last aria is for bass. The structure is unusual since it not only dispenses with a ritornello but is also cast in three parts without "da capo". In the opening and closing "adagio" sections, which provide the framework, the text anticipates Heavenly joy. Here the voice is accompanied by continuo alone. The contrast between these and the centrally placed "Presto" is both stark and startling as Bach, for the last time, depicts the apocalypse with trumpet calls, agitated string passages and declamatory vocal writing. The Cantata ends with a verse from Christian Keymann's hymn, "Meinem Jesum laß ich nicht" (1658), in which the voices are accompanied by the full instrumental complement, with trumpet and oboe augmenting the chorale melody.
Today's performance is from the 1978 Archiv recording by the Munich Bach Orchestra and Choir under the direction of Karl Richter. Enjoy!

Photo © 2012 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thanksgiving 2018

Happy Thanksgiving!

Photo © 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Snowy Woods

[Note: This post was inspired by my walk in the woods in the snow last week.]

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep. 

– Robert Frost

Photo © 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Mixed Messages

We were hit by our first storm of the season, with lots of snow and cold temperatures. Yet it doesn't exactly look like Winter. Sure, there are bare trees, but there are also trees with the characteristic Fall foliage colors, as well as trees with green foliage. All with snow on the ground. I'm so confused! Here's what today's weekly Sunday walk in the Dykeman Spring Nature park looked like.

Along the Dykeman Walking Trail
In the Dykeman Spring wetland
Where the Dykeman Spring creek passes under the railroad tracks
The creek at the red bridge
The north duck pond
Leaving the park at the east end of the meadow
© 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday Bach - Trinity 25

 Bach wrote two cantatas for the 25th Sunday after Trinity, and I chose the later one - BWV 116, Du Friedefürst, Herr Jesu Christ (Thou Prince of Peace, Lord Jesus Christ, Leipzig 1724). This is a chorale cantata about the Second Coming. Musically, it's magnificent; the opening chorale, the trio in the fourth movement, and following alto recitative are absolutely brilliant, and the rest of the cantata matches up. Theologically, it's schizophrenic, but then that's 18th Century Lutheran theology when it comes to the second coming - the event itself will be glorious, but Augustinian guilt makes Bach and his contemporaries wail that they don't deserve it, and the chaos surrounding the event (wars, persecution, etc., see Revelation!) is the result of that lack in humanity. Heh, heh! I give you the late Craig Smith's essay as a perfect example of the 20th Century mind's perplexity at 18th Century theology:
Cantata BWV 116 Du Friedefürst, Herr Jesu Christ was composed in Leipzig in 1724. The section from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is one of the most radiant passages from all of the Epistles, a vision of paradise that comes to the blessed. Bach chooses the perfect chorale to illustrate these two points of view, for the text of “Du Friedefürst, Herr Jesu Christ” is remarkably of two minds about the Last Judgment. In the very first verse the joyful and positive picture of the Prince of Peace degenerates into a cry for help. Is there something disappointing about this chorus? It is a musically euphonious and wonderfully energetic piece. There is great profile and an interesting shape to it, with simple block statements of the chorale phrases alternating with fugal settings of the bottom three voices underpinning the long notes of the sopranos in the 3rd and 4th phrases. All of this would seem fine if the rest of the cantata didn’t live up to a much higher standard. In fact with the trio at the end we have one of the loftiest peaks of Bach’s inspiration, a major theological statement that separates him from virtually all other artists. Why does this opening chorus not measure up? One possible answer that the character of the opening chorus is not what it seems. If one sees those block chorale phrases and the general energy as militaristic – Christ as the soldier, not always the comforter – then the progression of isolation in the alto aria to supplication in the trio becomes more understandable. 
The alto aria, with oboe d’amore obbligato, begins with a tortured, jagged melody all the more painful because it is circular and seemingly in a never-ending series of sequences. The continuo seems to ratchet up the thumbscrews. When the voice enters with “Ach” it is unable to finish its sentence. Gradually the horror is spoken and the first 2 lines of text are declaimed. It is interesting that Bach keeps the same kind of declamation for the next lines of text, as if the “Ach” was always in the back of his mind. 
Bach reminds us that the chorale described the “Prince of Peace” by using the first phrase as a bass in the tenor recitative. It has the inadvertent effect of reminding us of the “traveling” music that Mozart often introduces into his Italian recitatives to denote a passage of time. This has the same effect here, for there is an enormous spiritual gulf between the stuttering, horrified alto aria and the unearthly calm of the trio. 
All three of the trios written for the cantatas in the 2nd Jahrgang have a special quality. They are obviously ensembles, but they have no sense of dialogue or love duets that we find in the duets. At the same time they are more personal than the choruses. Our trio here begins calmly, six rhythmically identical phrases each without a downbeat, each like a soft breath of air, followed by a cadence. The three voices enter one by one. One notices that the tenor part is actually identical to the continuo introduction except that it provides downbeats. It actually makes phrases out of a neutral pattern of notes. The imitation of the three voices is very sophisticated. The text underlay is interesting. Bach seizes upon the word “Geduld” ‘patience’ and repeats it over and over. The third line of text intensifies the longing and the melancholy of the music and makes a modulation to the dominant. After a relentlessly contrapuntal texture, the very personal and heartbreaking confession that our sins broke your (Jesus) heart, and that the pain of Adam made you come into this world, is set in blocks. Very close and rich faux bourdon harmony personalizes this whole middle section. The work is in a very complex da capo form. The whole first 39 bars are repeated and a long section using the third line of text is newly composed to end the work in the tonic. The emotional distance traveled from the alto aria to this point is almost unequaled in all of Bach. The renewed ferocity of the string entrance in the alto recitative almost makes the trio seem like a circumscribed event. The effect is very like the renewing of the action after the soprano aria “Aus Liebe will mein Heiland sterben” in the St. Matthew Passion. The final chorale has the same strange emotional neutrality of the opening chorus. 
© Craig Smith, adapted by Ryan Turner
Today's performance is a magnificent one just released on YouTube by the J.S. Bach Foundation of Trogen, Switzerland, under the direction of Rudolf Lutz. Enjoy!

Photo © 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Thursday, November 15, 2018

First Snow!

WHEEEEEE! We got our first snow of the season today! It's a tad early, but I'm not complaining. It's also more than we expected; it seems that a wedge of cold air stalled over us as the precipitation moved in and stubbornly stayed put. It's transitioned to sleet and freezing rain now, but it happened later than first expected. And despite the current sleet and rain, after midnight it'll return to snow and give us another couple of inches.

Of course, this had an impact on work for me. I was supposed to work this evening, but my boss texted about 1:30 and announced she was closing the store early and the two of us on the closing shift didn't have to come in. Heh, heh! Anybody who knows me knows that I immediately made plans to head out into the storm, camera in hand. Nothing, absolutely nothing, makes me happier than walking in the woods in snow, especially if the snow is still falling. So I headed out for Dykeman Park around 2:30 to wrap myself in Mama Gaia's white Winter cloak.

The gazebo across the street from me
Branch Creek at King St.
Entering the park on the Dykeman Walking Trail
Snow on the trail
A scene in another part of the park
The creek looking south on the red bridge
The creek looking north on the new bridge
Waiting for Spring
© 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, November 11, 2018

This Week's Sunday Walk in the Park

You'd think that after a week's worth of photography last week while I was on vacation I'd take a break from the Sunday walk in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park this week. Nope, I still need my meditative wander and sit in my local refuge. And there are always things to see and take note of, no matter how frequently I wander through. We had a very heavy frost overnight, and the temps were still in the mid 20s (about -4º C) as I walked this morning, all of which has an effect on the landscape. The woods still have some autumnal color, but after some stiff wind the last few days the foliage is starting to look a little ragged and bare, which has a peculiar charm of its own. And a young (probably hatched this past Spring) female Northern Flicker sat still long enough for me to do a mini shoot of five photos. It was definitely a good walk!

The woods are starting to look a little ragged
A stand of Maples up by the railroad tracks
Along the Dykeman Walking Trail
This pretty little girl seemed to want to have her picture taken
A Maple sapling by the north duck pond
Timber Hill seems to loom over the neighborhood on Mainsville Rd. Taken from up on the meadow.
© 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday Bach - Trinity 24

Laurel Lake, Gardners, PA
Bach wrote two magnificent cantatas for the 24th Sunday after Trinity. We played BWV 60 last year, so this year we move to the other - BWV 26, Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig (Ah how fleeting, ah how insignificant, Leipzig 1724). This chorale cantata is glorious! Billowing clouds, bubbling brooks, all kinds of musical metaphors in this short but potent cantata. And the irony is that despite the joyous uprush of the music, the cantata and the chorale hymn it's based on is all about how insignificant humans are; the hymn by Michael Franck says: "Ah, how fleeting, ah how insignificant/ is the life of mankind!/ As a mist suddenly appears/ and then quickly disappears again,/ behold! so is our life." And yet it's sung so joyously. Yup, those old Lutherans back then were definitely an odd bunch! But then, look at the music that came out of that oddness. Here's the late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music on this magnificent music:
BWV 26 is a short, yet compelling masterpiece with a strong sense of “last things.” The chorale tune, “Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig,” is unusual. In six phrases, the tune is boxy, limited to one melodic register and magnificent. There is something so eminently right about the character of the tune with its content. The first verse goes thus: “Ah how fleeting, Ah how nothing, is the life of mortals! Like a mist that quickly rises, and is quickly vanished. So is our life. Behold!” Bach is remarkably consistent in his treatment of this text. In the Orgelbüchlein setting, running chords punctuated by an angry and repetitive bass line underpin the short punchy phrases. Those same scales are found in the opening movement of the cantata, but are here made even more aggressive with the punched eighth notes of the winds and strings. Virtually no bar is without the scale passages. In addition another little figure is passed around, further punctuating the scales. The bass line is either limited to the scales or creates aggressive sequences that further underpin the anger. For all of its speed, this is an extremely weighty movement with three very active and honking oboes. The chorus part is equally impressive. The soprano punches out the little phrases in half notes the other three voices shout eighth notes underneath, sometimes in block chords, but as often or not in octaves. The whole chorus is about 2 minutes and 15 seconds long.

The tenor aria, as befits the text, is more liquid, but if anything, even speedier than the opening chorus. It is one of the most virtuoso arias in all of Bach. If the melismas in the A section seem fleet, look at what happens in the B section as rapid repeated sixteenth notes of the ‘separating drops of water plunge in to the abyss.’ The orchestra sonority is ingenious, solo violin with flute, often playing in unison, often playing in canon. The resultant sound is glassy and harmonically slippery. The secco recitative for the alto begins with an elaborate melisma, as if Bach has some compunction to keep the speed going. 
In the bass aria the first effect is of anger, not speed, although the voice part goes into hair-raisingly fast divisions. The ‘searing lusts’ and ‘earthly treasures’ of the text call to mind Jesus’ warning in today’s gospel reading from Mark. At the end of the B section there is a jackbooted, stomping quality to the three oboes tooting out their square theme. It is hard to think of any Bach piece that rails against its fate quite as much as this. The little soprano recitative tries to give a note of benediction, but the foursquare, loud harmonization of the final chorale effectively squelches that. Yet the final line of the chorale offers some thread of consolation. 
© Craig Smith, adapted by Ryan Turner
Today's performance is from a recording by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir under the direction of Ton Koopman. Enjoy!

Photo © 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Friday, November 09, 2018

A Visit to a Covered Bridge

Yesterday I hiked up to the covered bridge over Conodoguinet Creek in Newburg. Heh, heh! Fourteen miles round trip, and I'm still hobbled up today, although it's loosening up as the day progresses. I think my days of marathon hikes may be over. But the trip was worth it. It was the perfect Fall day, and while the trees may be getting somewhat barer, there's still color going on, which makes the scenery along the way photogenic. Plenty of farms and woods and country roads, and North/Blue Mountain always looming over the landscape, and a covered bridge - perfect!

The typical Central PA farm scene along Britton Rd
More scenery along Britton Rd., with Fall foliage and the mountain
An interesting "tree garden" along East Creek Rd.
Approaching the bridge
The bridge's bones revealed in the interior
A very scenic decorative pond on a farm on Fox Hill Rd.
A scene along Fox Hill Rd.
The last stretch - heading home on the Rail Trail
Today is the last day of my vacation; it's back to work tomorrow. It's raining and cool, so it's a good day to kick back with a mug of coffee and show pictures of my vacation. Enjoy!

© 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Up on South Mountain

Today I went up on South Mountain with my brother, sister-in-law, and nephew. We went up to Laurel Lake in the Pine Grove Furnace State Park and then on to King's Gap, a site that overlooks the whole Cumberland Valley from atop the mountain. We had some adventures along the way, due mostly to the car's GPS being a tad wonky and leading us over the top of the mountain on a gravel fire road, and telling us we'd arrived at King's Gap when we were obviously in the middle of nowhere. But despite that it was worth the adventure for the photos that resulted. Come take a look.

Looking across Laurel Lake from the beach on the north shore
Looking across the lake from the south shore
Another south shore view
Looking east toward the dam
Looking west from the dam
Looking north across the Cumberland Valley from King's Gap
Another view across the valley
One more look across the valley
© 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

A Rainy Election Day 2018

After voting this morning I went to the local CVS to pick up some refills, and despite the rain I decided to take pictures along the way.

Branch Creek is running fast and full with all this rain
Fall foliage brightens a rainy day on King St. near CVS
Burd Run is also pretty full
Heading east out of town on Rt. 11
Shadowfax has the perfect rainy day music!

Photos © 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger