Thursday, October 12, 2017

Quake-a-versary coming up

I just came across this photo. To my right is Fr. Basil, to my left are a couple of friends. It was taken by some of the news people who were there that morning. It must have been about an hour after the quake.

It was still pretty early in the morning, judging from the position of the shadows, after the Poor Clares had come stumbling out of the rubble and dust cloud, the first time I'd ever seen any of them. One of their older members of the community, still in her fluffy slippers, had to be carried over the piles of rubble.

When we saw them come out the thought came into my mind, "This is it. It's over." We spent a total of about five hours in the piazza, mainly waiting for the firemen to clear enough of the main street so we could walk out. Eventually they brought in a small bulldozer and escorted us out in groups of ten or twenty.


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

A house in the country

You don't have to live like they tell you.

I like Wales. It's close to the Fam.

Maybe these nice hippies in Wales wouldn't mind a little Gregorian Chant or a little chapel...

(I wonder if you can do a vaulted ceiling and pointed arches in straw bales.)

I grew some wonderful squashes this summer. And I did the same thing, go out to the patch and give it a little encouraging pat and a pep talk.

It sort of seems like Wales is a place to live if you don't want to live like they tell you.


Saturday, October 07, 2017

Chant is good for you

Monks of the Desert in New Mexico

I had no idea they were using the Chant. And they seem pretty good at it. (Though I noticed at least one harrrrd American "arrr" in the Kyrie that jarrrrred a little...)

It does seem to be all the rage now to record monks chanting. There has been lots of commentary on the irony that though these chants are often still vigorously banned in churches with the word "Catholic" on the door, the CDs always shoot right to the top of the charts. The Le Barroux sisters have one, the Benedictines of Ephesus in Missouri have several. The Norcia monks did one. Every single one rockets to the top as people are desperately trying to fill the hole in their souls that Modernia inevitably burns, including Ecclesia Modernia.

This isn't a new thing, by any means. (The fad for chant recordings, I mean, not the chant itself, obviously.) When I was a kid my mother had an LP of chant that I used to listen to a lot. And of course Hildegarde of Bingen had a huge following in the 80s (nearly all New Age feminists, but still...) The Monks of Silos made an enormous splash in the pop music world in the early 80s, and it was suddenly all the rage to have "spooky medieval stuff" in your nightclub noise.

I know there are "studies" out there that show the chant has a positive material effect on your brain.

Dr. Alan Watkins, a senior lecturer in neuroscience at Imperial College London noted that “the musical structure of chant can have a significant and positive physiological impact,” and that chanting has actually been shown to “lower blood pressure, increase levels of DHEA and also reduce anxiety and depression.” Similar studies also suggest that Gregorian chant can aid in communications between the right and left hemispheres of the brain more effectively, therefore creating new neural brain pathways.

Benedictine nun, Ruth Stanley, head of the complementary medicine program at Minnesota’s St. Cloud Hospitals also says she’s had great success in easing the chronic pain of patients by having them listen to chant. “The body can move to a deeper level of its own inherent, innate healing ability when you play chant. It’s quite remarkable.” In a 1978 documentary called “Chant,” French audiologist, Dr. Alfred Tomatis, related how he was called upon to help the monks of a Benedictine monastery who suffered from fatigue, depression, and physical illness. He found that they usually took part in six to eight hours of chanting per day but due to a new edict, their chanting was halted. When Tomatis succeeded in re-establishing their daily chanting, the monks regained their well-being and were again full of life. His conclusion was that Gregorian chant is capable of charging the central nervous system along with the cortex of the brain thus having a direct effect on the monk’s overall happiness and health.


That's probably true. Those medievals really knew a thing or two about that integral, holistic human stuff. Other people talk about the relationship between Chant and Math, and this also doesn't surprise me, since the medievals knew some stuff about math too.

I use Chant. I find it's better than Xanax and of course, I think God prefers it. I have a week's worth of the daily psalter; Laudes, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers & Compline, downloaded onto my computer from Le Barroux. I got used to singing very quietly along with the monks in the Basilica and doing that at home is rather a solace in exile. (Even though they're the wrong monks, and the French accents sort of stand out.)

Next step will be buying an Antiphonale. Fr. Basil says that's the one to go with if you want to learn how to read the little squares.

This guy, who I presume is a Chant teacher, has a huge bunch of recordings of the major pieces one uses in the liturgy. There are a lot of Chant recordings out there that are recreational, but this one is the only page I've found set up for serious use to learn the Chant for a liturgical setting.

The problem with these recordings, of course, is that they're set up for male voices. (Buddy above has a few set for female voices, but not many, and nearly all the recordings are of monks and male choirs.) I absolutely can not sing in the tenor range. I can do baritone transposed up an octave perfectly. (Thank you, Stan Rogers.) But when singing along with the men in the highest notes my voice just stops functioning entirely. No sound comes out at all. But bring it down to the monks' lower range and I can't manage it except for the highest bits. (Which is why I say I always sang along with the monks very quietly.)

You have to transpose the whole thing down to the Alto range for me. Which is why I'm going to have to graduate from the recordings to the book eventually. This is a terrible recording but you can certainly hear the difference.

I do rather wish those Benedictine nuns in Missouri would do some serious, less entertainment-oriented, recordings of the Office chants. These nice little songs they do are lovely to listen to but not much use in a practical sense.


Thursday, October 05, 2017

Painting fruit

Enel, Italy's government-sponsored power monopoly... yay socialism! (Italy has the highest electricity costs In. The. World!) was "doing some work" near the house today so for the first half of the day I had no power, and of course no power means no water. So, not only no internet but no shower, no tea... Sounded to me basically like God instructing me to sit in the kitchen in my pajamas painting all morning.

Who am I to argue?

You can tell one thing for absolute suresies: I was taught properly how to draw, but really, really, super-duper NOT taught how to use watercolours.

The only painting instruction I ever had was in oils, so I instinctively try to do oils things with the paint, which mostly just doesn't work.

It's also very clear that a photo does not give the same information as your eye. This pic is actually quite different from what I'm looking at now. And of course, when the paint and paper have dried it will look even more different.

I think I've basically got the colours more or less matched. Cad yellow, burnt sienna, highlighted with a little bit of lemon yellow, greened up a little with a teeny dab of ultramarine (gouache) and the darker shadows in a bit of payne's grey.

But my watercolour technique is pretty much non-existent and it's hard to remember that you actually do a lot of things backwards with watercolours. You take paint off to make a highlight, instead of putting paint on top, for instance.

Well, for a first go I guess it's better than I was expecting. Now I let it dry completely and see if I can do some correcting. It's also funny how you can suddenly see things with a photo that you didn't notice just looking at it.

One of the things to learn: use the right kind of paper. This is just a page out of my sketchbook and it really would help not to be fighting the big puckers.

Now to walk away and come back later with a fresh eye.