Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Trying to Beat the Rain

I was supposed to be at the Chambersburg Hospital today undergoing a stent procedure. Unfortunately I ended up being bumped to Friday due to a clerical error; apparently somebody in the scheduling department read 16 as 18. So I have two days extra before I lay flat on my back on a gurney while they shove a catheter up my femoral artery again. Not being one to waste extra time, I decided to get some errands done today and tomorrow, and ended up walking through the Dykeman Spring Nature Park on my way to the grocery store to get the fixings for a nice big pot of chicken soup so I'll have suppers waiting for me when I get home from the hospital.

I had to get something of a hurry on, though, because there was some serious rain coming, so this was less a casual photo shoot and more of a brisk walk with a purpose. Although of course the camera was with me, and I got some shots that caught my eye. And one shot I missed; there was an adult Bald Eagle hanging out by the Hatch House, but by the time I saw movement out of the corner of my eye and saw that white head and black wings it was disappearing into the trees. Oh well... In any case, here are the shots I did get.

One of the resident feral cats hanging out by the bog pool in the wetland
A view of the wetland
The farther hills disappear into the mist in a view from the meadow
© 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Monday, October 14, 2019

The Other Way Around

Yesterday I needed to pick up some lunch things from the grocery store, but rather than take my usual route through the Dykeman Spring Nature Park first I went the opposite way - grocery store first, then through the park starting up on the meadow and then down to the wetland. I didn't get my usual amount of photos because nothing much has changed since my last walk in the park, but I did get a few I was pleased with. Come take a look.

The view north from the top of the meadow
Intersecting levels up on the meadow
Reflections on the north duck pond
© 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Sunday Bach - Trinity 17

Bach wrote three cantatas for the 17th Sunday after Trinity, and this week we'll be listening to the middle one, BWV 148, Bringet dem Herrn Ehre seines Namens (Bring to the Lord the honor due his name, Leipzig 1725). I chose this one of the three because it's joyously uplifting, which is how I feel this morning because it's the perfect crisp Fall day and for me that's bliss! Of historical interest, this is the first time Bach used Christian Friedrich Henrici, known as Picander, as his librettist; thereafter he was Bach's principal librettist. In Weimar he'd used the poet Salomo Franck, and both Franck and Picander were responsible for the texts of some of Bach's greatest work. Here's the late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music on this joyous work:
BWV 148, Bringet dem Herrn Ehre seines Namens, was composed for the seventeenth Sunday after Trinity. The readings for that Sunday in Bach’s 18th century Lutheran lectionary included the beautiful exhortation of Paul to the Ephesians 4: 1-6 for generosity and selflessness combined with the parable from Luke 14:1-11 of the man invited to the rich man’s dinner. Both readings emphasize humility and modesty. The resultant text is unusually sunny, without any of the dark shadows that permeate most of Bach’s cantata texts.

The communal nature of many Psalms of praise often inspire Bach to compose large-scale fugues; the opening movement of this cantata is an excellent example of Bach’s choral fugue style.  Bach sets a quote from Psalm 29; the appointed psalm of the day our Revised Common Lectionary, as a brilliant and densely fugal work for trumpet, oboe, and strings. The opening statement in the orchestra is basically a canon between trumpet and 1st violin; this is followed by a homophonic presentation of the same material in the chorus, followed by an initial presentation of the first fugal phrase with countersubjects already sounding. Not until the second large phrase, beginning “Betet an den Herrn,” does Bach let the texture thin out to present each fugal voice sequentially against a thematically related continuo line. With each presentation of the fugue Bach adds a fifth voice in the instruments, but this fifth entrance is not always the final one! The final return of the choir once reprises the ‘head’ theme, taken up four bars later by the trumpet. From this point to the end the trumpet repeats exactly its original ritornello but now it rings out above choir and orchestra alike.  The vibrant, dense energy of this movement is reminiscent of the celebratory movements in the B-minor Mass and the later secular cantatas. Clearly Bach wants to give the effect of an enormous crowd singing these ringing words. 

The tenor aria is a virtuoso affair both for the solo violin as well as for the high-flying tenor part. Taking off from the key word ‘eilet’, Bach composes a slippery, flowing line in 6/8 meter, with perpetual motion in the virtuoso violin obbligato and urgency provided by the figuration in the continuo. The range of the tenor solo is unusually high, touching a written B natural at one spot. The elegant trill figure becomes justified later in the text where the beautiful sound calling the devout to worship is referenced.

The full strings accompany the alto recitative, which continues the Old Testament theme with a striking reference to Psalm 42. Despite the profound sentiments in this movement, it not only begins and ends in the same key, G, but also introduces an aria that is also in G. This harmonic stability is in itself unusual for Bach. This sense of groundedness is enhanced by the choir of reeds that accompanies the aria, in which the main theme elegantly and symmetrically rises and descends to depict the receptiveness of the soul to God’s presence. The balance continues in the B section, where pedal tones express the peacefulness of the “Ruhebette” (bed of rest). The penultimate movement, a secco recitative for tenor, is an unsophisticated and simple declaration of trust. 

No text survives for the final chorale movement, although the melody is generally associated with the chorale “Auf meinen lieben Gott.” The message is that of an hourly ‘Amen’ offered honestly with a prayer for Christ to lead us at all times. Our cantata, which began with such extrovert communal rejoicing, concludes with a sincere and genuine, private and personal prayer. This cantata is a wonderful example of Bach’s ability to take ideas that don’t seem to have much contrast and build a convincing and moving structure of faith. 

© Craig Smith and Pamela Dellal, and Ryan Turner 
 Today's performance is from a recording by the Bach Choir and Orchestra of Munich under the direction of Karl Richter. Enjoy!

Photo © 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Ralph Vaughan Williams

Today is the birthday of Ralph (pronounced Rafe) Vaughan Williams, 1872 - 1958, a British composer best known as the central figure in what is informally known as the Pastoral Movement in British music, which also included such composers as George Butterworth and Gustav Holst. Vaughan Williams often hiked through the English countryside gathering folk songs of the region, usually accompanied by Butterworth, which he then adapted and used in his symphonic works. He's one of my all-time favorite composers, and I figured I'd celebrate by going for a walk through some nearby farm country to take photos in the spirit of his music, and then post one of his compositions, in this case the Romance movement of his Serenade in A minor. So lets take a serene walk in the country with Mr. Vaughan Williams and celebrate his birthday!

© 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Friday, October 11, 2019

Another Meditative Walk

Another meditative walk in the park today as I wait for the next step in my cardiac care. It's starting to look a little more Autumnal in the woods and the wetland - the colors are slowly changing, and the Fall flowers are in full bloom. Here are some things that caught my eye today.

Looking across the wetland
A young Muskrat swimming in the north duck pond
A flotilla of Mallards on the pond
The Calico Asters are taking over the park
Autumn leaves floating on the pond
© 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Hidden Away

The Dykeman Walking Trail leads from the ball fields at the end of Earl St. to the Dykeman Spring Nature Park along Gum Run for a while before taking a 90º turn left and running under the railroad tracks to the main wetland section of the park. But the trail also goes straight at that turn and leads out to South Fayette St., and if you cross the road there's a continuation of the path, running alongside Gum Run for about an eighth of a mile until the creek emerges from under the railroad tracks as it comes down from South Mountain and Mainsville. There's a little pond that feeds into the creek at that point, way back in the woods, apparently a dammed up side stream. I found this several years ago while trying to find a shortcut to the Proctor & Gamble packaging facility when I worked there briefly. It's a quiet, calm little retreat that I visit from time to time, and I thought I'd go back there this morning, it being a flat, easy walk that wouldn't stress my rickety heart while I await its repair. I was going to go sit by the north duck pond in the park on my way back, but it started raining and I decided to head straight home. In any case, here's my hidden retreat.

The spillway from the pond into Gum Run
A section of the rocky, overgrown shore of the little pond
Looking down Gum Run toward the park from the spillway
© 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Sunday Bach - Trinity 16

Bach wrote four cantatas for the 16th Sunday after Trinity, and today we'll be listening to BWV 8, Liebster Gott, wenn werd ich sterben? (Dearest God, when will I die?, Leipzig 1724). The Gospel reading for this occasion is Luke 7:11-17, the story of the raising from the dead of the son of the widow of Nain. For a cantata based on the subject of death, this one probably sounds inappropriately cheerful; but in 18th century Europe death was often seen as a welcome rest after a hard life, and this cantata reflects that joyousness. Here's musicologist Simon Crouch's commentary on this cantata:
A word from Philipp Spitta about the opening movement of this chorale cantata: "..the sound of tolling bells, the fragrance of blossoms pervades it - the sentiment of a churchyard in springtime". The continuo tolls the bell low in the harmony, the upper strings repeat a pizzicato bell-like figure and the flute alternates between arpeggios and repeated staccato high notes. All the while the oboes d'amore intertwine their sinuously attractive melody with the choir's chorale. This is a very lovely movement!

The theme is a common one in the cantatas: When shall we take leave of the sufferings of mortal life and achieve eternal life in Heaven? The bells continue tolling in the tenor aria and the (solo) oboe d'amore has another beautiful line. After a recitative, Heaven is achieved in the tour-de-force that is the bass aria. It is really difficult to avoid the feeling that here we have a movement, a gigue, from a lost flute concerto. It is a wonderful, optimistic, virtuoso piece and if you have any love for the flute as a solo instrument, do try to hear this. The cantata closes, after a recitative, with a lovely chorale setting with orchestral accompaniment. Especially effective is the low bass note that precedes the voices. The chorale melody itself, by Daniel Vetter, is especially attractive.

Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch.
Today's performance is from a recording by the Collegium Vocale Gent under the direction of Philippe Herreweghe. Enjoy!

Photo © 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Saturday, October 05, 2019

Around Town

I walked around town this morning, ostensibly to pick up a loaf of bread, but also just to get some exercise, breathe some fresh air, and see what wanted its picture taken. Here are the results.

God's Acre cemetery on North Prince St.
There are berries on the big Holly next to Widow Piper's Tavern. There weren't any last year.
A little seasonal decoration on a South Queen St. lawn
Some friends of mine on South Queen St. have a little picket fence garden in front of their house
This house decorates for Halloween every year with a tableau of skeletons. This year they chose a clown theme.
© 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Friday, October 04, 2019

Walking On the Path

Ritualized, patterned walking is probably as old as the human race; walking a prescribed path, sometimes with pauses for specific sites or actions, until one reaches the intended goal - a sacred site, a spring, a grove of trees, the center of the labyrinth. They can be large, as in the world's celebrated pilgrimages - the walk to Canterbury, the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, the Via Santiago across northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela. They can also be smaller, such as the stations of the Cross in a Catholic cathedral, or a labyrinth. In fact, those beautiful labyrinths in the cathedrals of Europe are said to be mini substitutes for the grand pilgrimages. Whether large or small, they are a way to focus the thoughts, to slow the pace, to enable meditation. At the end of these walks one always feels the command from God to Moses on Mount Sinai: "Take off your shoes, you stand on holy ground!"

I've been practicing patterned walking for years now. In Newport it was my habit to walk the trails in Ballard Park, stopping at various overlooks, grand old trees, and boulders, and ending up at the Aspen grove on the floor of the quarry. Here in Shippensburg that walk has been replaced with my walks in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park, walking the trails through the woods and the wetland, and ending up on my favorite bench under the Kentucky Coffee Tree by the north duck pond, where I watch the ducks and contemplate the reflection of the trees and the sky on the surface of the water.

I walked that labyrinth today, a gentle walk ending at the bench and then walking back out the way I came in. Come along with me!

© 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Home Again

I guess you've noticed that I haven't posted in a while. Last Friday I ended up in the hospital after experiencing a frightening shortness of breath while walking up the hill on the way to work. It turns out that the quintuple bypass I had back in 1999 has deteriorated a good deal in the last twenty years, and just one of the five grafts is in working condition. After a catheterization at Chambersburg Hospital and a series of scans and other tests at Penn State/Hershey Medical Center, the determination was that we had two choices - another bypass operation at Hershey, or a series of strategically placed stents to be done back in Chambersburg. Interestingly enough, the thoracic surgeon at Hershey, in consultation with his team and other surgical colleagues, thought that surgery in my case might be a little too risky because of the location of the remaining graft - it was too vulnerable to inadvertent damage that might occur while placing the new grafts. So we all decided that the stents are the way to go. So now I'm back home waiting for the Chambersburg doctor, who did the heart catheterization in the first place, to set an appointment to come back for the stent placement.

I arrived back here late yesterday afternoon, and what a joy it was to come home! Last night I had a meal cooked by me (Portuguese Kale Soup) with real coffee, and slept in my own bed without IV ports in my arm, and woke up to the sound of gentle rain coming in through my open windows. I'm definitely a homebody, and this was heaven! 

The photo above is the little gazebo across the street from me, taken this morning soon after the rain stopped. Seeing that gazebo as I come up or down King Street always says "I'm almost home." And below is my favorite song about a quiet night at home. Now if only I had a fireplace!

© 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Monday, September 23, 2019


"How beautiful the leaves grow old. How full of light and color are their last days.”
— John Burroughs
Today is the Autumnal Equinox, the start of my favorite half of the year! I put together a new slideshow of many of the Fall foliage shots I've taken through the years, both here and in Newport. Here are a few of those photos, and then follows the slideshow, set to George Winston's "Woods" from his album Autumn on Windham Hill. 

Happy Fall, y'all! 

Miantonomi Park, Newport RI
On the Rail Trail near Shippensburg, PA
Mallards on Gooseneck Cove in Newport
Ginkgo extravagance on the sidewalks of Shippensburg
© 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, September 22, 2019

An Almost Autumnal Walk In the Park

Tomorrow is the Autumnal Equinox, although we've been in the meteorological Autumn since the beginning of September. It doesn't feel like Autumn today (in the 80s temperature wise) and tomorrow will be a repeat, although we have had some very Autumnal weather recently and we're forecast to have more later this week. And it really doesn't look much like Autumn, either, at least in the general view. But look a little closer and you'll notice some Fall flowers happening, and the slightest bit of a color shift to orange and red and yellow. It's coming, and some of those hints of it were evident in today's walk in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park.

Calico Asters are a sure sign of Autumn, as is the visiting Spotted Cucumber Beetle
New York Asters are another Fall flower
Ah yes! Bittersweet berries, beloved of Fall decorators all over
This giant fungus was growing on an old log in the wetland
I caught one of the park's resident feral cats napping on the red bridge
This was one of three juvenile Mallards who decided to nap at my feet while I sat at my favorite bench by the north duck pond
This Variegated Fritillary was one of many butterflies enjoying the Boneset and Goldenrod up on the meadow
My favorite music for Autumn is Jethro Tull's Songs From the Wood album, so I thought I'd add the title track to get us all ready for walks in the woods, mulled cider, and fires at midnight. Enjoy!


Photos © 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Sunday Bach - Trinity 14

Of the three cantatas that Bach wrote for the 14th Sunday after Trinity, this one has to be my favorite - BWV 17Wer Dank opfert, der preiset mich (He who offers thanks praises me, Leipzig 1726). Cheerful, bright, and uplifting, it moves the listener onward and upward, just the kind of thing we need after a long and stressful week. Here's the late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music on this beautiful cantata:
The pairing of the rather preachy passage from Galatians and the parable of the ten lepers from Luke at first seems an odd one. Jesus’ point – that none of us appreciate enough the gifts of God, since only the Samaritan thanks him for being cured – is really in line with the idea that living by the spirit is the only way to avoid sin in our lives. What is for most people the “straight and narrow” clearly means to Jesus the fullness of all experience. 
That sense of abundance is evident throughout Cantata BWV 17. The opening chorus, based upon the last verse of Psalm 50, is one of the richest and most brilliant of Bach’s choral fugues. There is nary a hint that this verse comes at the end of one of the severest and most unremittingly stern Psalms. The long opening ritornello is so lacking in profile, really only a little figure that is played in sequence over and over, that the entrance of the big high-flying tenor theme in bar 28 comes as a relief. Verticality is established on the words, “thanks” and “offering.” Horizontal writing prevails in the word “praise.” These two styles of melisma are identifiable throughout the cantata. The minimalist introduction is, of course, carefully calculated by Bach to bring this bravura choral theme into high relief, We have seen how the third Jahrgang is notable for its marvelously integrated choral fugues. Here there is no real necessity for that kind of integration; the choral music is so much more in the foreground than the orchestration. This is a fugue that neither has nor needs elaborate stretti or other contrapuntal wizardry. The working out is simple and straightforward, the episodes clear, even boxy. It makes its effect by brilliance and a wonderful rhythmic drive that propels it in a compellingly clear manner through the final cadence.

The lofty secco alto recitative has a grandeur that is in opposition to the humility of the following aria. It is interesting that all of the recitatives in this cantata have a tone noticeably absent in the concerted music. The rising scale passages that we heard throughout the first part of the chorus are again evident in the soprano aria. The two solo violins with the child soprano voice gives the aria a miniature quality in contrast to the opening chorus, but much of the material is basically the same. There is lightness, almost humor, here in the childish efforts at praise.

The tenor recitative is unique in all of the cantatas in that it sets part of the Gospel as a pure secco recitative, no arioso, no string accompaniment. The tenor aria again emphasizes abundance. The main theme is cut from the same cloth as the chorus and the soprano aria, but is enriched by a detailed and interesting bass line. The shape of the melody is unusually specific to the character of the words. “Übermass” is set refulgently, the “offering” is horizontal. For all of the very detailed dissection of the text throughout the aria, this distinction of the two types of writing remains. There is a wonderful plasticity of phrasing; often the voice goes its own way against the more rigorous orchestra. 
Bach finds remarkable richness of harmony in the long and very diatonic choral “Nun lob mein Seel, den Herren.” The chromatic bass line in the last two phrases in particular is surprising and satisfying.

© Craig Smith
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 

Monday, September 16, 2019

Summer Is Fading

Summer is beginning the slow slide into Autumn. On today's walk in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park that slide is becoming more evident - Fall flowers are taking over, the Hummingbirds have disappeared, and the butterflies seem to have increased as a sort of last hurrah before they die off (or migrate, in the case of Monarchs) for the season. Here are some scenes from today's walk.

Bindweed (wild Morning Glory) along the nature trail
Virgin's Bower, an invasive but pretty vine, is all over the wetland
Small-flowered White Asters on the forest floor in the wetland
A Northern Crescent butterfly on Boneset up along the edge of the meadow
A Buckeye butterfly (with another in the background) on Boneset along the edge of the meadow
© 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger