Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Merry Christmas!


There is a moment every year
on the night before Christmas Eve -
after I have written and sent the last message
to the distant, the remembered, not present,
and the last Christmas cards have arrived.
I have finished the rounds,
to give and collect the presents.

There is a moment of emptiness, then -
as I look at the mess in the kitchen,
after I have sent that most heartfelt greeting
out in the cold, to faraway homes -
when I have no more reason to post anything online,
and I close the door for all except the close family
until the holy day has passed,
and I allow myself to wonder:
how are they? has anything changed?
will they remember me?

where, and when, and why -
and who - have we been, these few days?

If I happen to make it in time -
the time for candles and carols, for food and gifts -
this is how it will be on Christmas Eve:

There will be a clean table in the kitchen,
with a clean, mangled linen cloth,
red, blue, white or natural in colour,
and on the blue sideboard -
clad in bright red cotton print
with tiny flowers, fir and pear trees,
partridges, deer and holly,
I have put the holiday plates and bowls,
the gaudy, gold-rimmed Santa set of china.

The living-room is guarded by a glimmering fake fir,
which is guarded by a black and lively cat,
whom I have to watch,
so he won't climb and fell the fir tree,
or try to bite the lights -
or pick a fight with all the lovely garlands!

In many windows are electric Advent lights,
but in the garden, I think nothing here will shine at all.
Of course the neighbours have those garden chains
with tiny lamps in every bush and tree,
and welcome many relatives and friends
with flaming fire and guiding torches in the snow.
I think my visitors will be very few this year...

So maybe I will have a few spare moments;
a minute, or an hour - maybe two,
when I will think of you, and wonder -
without the stress and noise
from some conflicting modes of celebration,
without confusion, and quite sane
but with some little sadness left
from such uncertainty and weakness that I sense -
well, hear my thoughts:
what do you want? what do you need?
what did you hope for,
and what did you get this year?

To write these things down gave me guilty feelings.
Why count just what one gets? Why ask about it?
Is this in fact my own sad point of view: what can I gain?

Surely we are told, that Christmas means to give?
Should I then preach unselfishness to you instead,
as if you are like a little selfish child
who takes the right to love and property for granted
and does not see what others need?

Is it more appropriate to ask:
what did you do for others, now, this very year?
did you give out in abundance; offered freely?
did you give them anything at all -
the poor, the hungry, prisoners, and patients?

No! As I trust you, and your love for others,
I must never ask if you have done enough.
Yes! Sure. You give. You give for nothing.
And so do I. We do. It is called love.

Love is not a business with a binding contract,
not a competition with fair rules,
and not a fun game with one single winner.

Love is not an art, or an abstraction -
it is just the best that we can do!

Merry Christmas - to all of you!

4 December 2006.
Maria Ljungdahl.

A little adventure with two trumpets and a vase

Well, today's adventure was a reminder that it's never easy to be me! I went to Stockholm by train, to pick up my son's trumpet, which has been fixed (a stuck tuning slide). I brought my own newly purchased vintage trumpet, to get an evaluation of the worn parts (mainly the valves), and some instructions for the care and maintenance. In the shop, I asked at the counter if I could speak to their trumpet expert, and was advised to walk over to the repairs department. No problem, as I immediately found the guy I had met on my first visit, last week, but when I started to talk and gesticulate to help him understand what I wanted, I knocked over a big vase - which I suppose was a part of the Christmas decoration of the shop - and it fell down some steps, and spilled its water over the shop floor. (I believe my unruly backpack was to blame - I am not that clumsy!)

Ah, well. They had to wipe the floor and move some cardboard boxes with new instruments, while I tried to figure out how to put the damned vase right again, including the flowers. It was an extremely unsteady construction, with a glass vase sitting inside a big old brass instrument bell, only supported by a small terracotta pot...

I wasn't so embarrassed or discouraged by this as one could expect. At least, it was possible to laugh about it, and nothing was broken (except a flower), but I am sure they will remember me!! Next time, I will wait on the doorstep before I enter, and shout "Hello? Any flower vases around, or can I come in?"

After this, I managed to listen to and almost remember what the trumpet guy told me about cleaning, drying and oiling brass instruments, so there's still hope, I think!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Chincha-Chancha Cooroo or The Weaver’s Wedding

This is what Cedric wrote in another forum about the premiere of Bernard Hughes' opera "Chincha-Chancha Cooroo or The Weaver’s Wedding" with the young opera company W 11 in London:
You missed a rip-roaring success this evening. Bernard Hughes' children's opera is a multi-layered treat. Beautifully paced and directed with opportunities for every single member of the huge cast (80+ children) to do their bit. Bernard provided patter songs, duets, comic choruses, introspective solos, big set pieces and a neat orchestral interlude between the two acts (was Bernard inspired by a joint outing to see Berg's Lulu a year ago, I was wondering?).

Despite the story's Bengali origins and setting, the score steadfastly avoided any concessions to Bollywood beyond a tabla and a brief episode where a pizzicato cello stood in for a sitar. The music communicated in very singable but by no means predictable terms with remarkably resourceful use of a small group of nine instruments. The closing, roof-raising chorus proceeded majestically in 7/4 with the instrumental ensemble adding a thoroughly rousing contribution.

What was notable throughout was Bernard's clear determination to give each character (and there were six main characters and several subsidiary parts) something individual to sing. Bernard's librettist, William Radice, clearly knows how to inject wit, fantasy, drama and occasional pathos into the simplest of tales. The start, in which the Storyteller is loudly and hilariously rubbished by members of the cast planted in the audience who then get drawn into the story as it unfolds is an inspired opening.

On a more personal note, the stage action managed to include a quick cricket lesson for the hero, something which must have carried particular poignancy for the composer, given Bernard's devotion to the game and his assiduous following of England's unfortunate progress in the Ashes.

The production, choreography, sets and costumes as well as the cast and players all did Bernard's work proud. I think it would be fair to say that for Bernard and his librettist, Christmas has come very early this year.

[ written by Cedric Peachey, 09 Dec 2006]