When Life Gives You The Crazy

You just run with it.

I dined at High Table tonight, mostly because one of my friends wanted to dine at High Table with me, and it was a tiny crowd. There were just four of us at dinner, which was delicious, waiter-served by candlelight in the enormous dining hall, with Combination afterwards in the Green MacCurdy Room, which is one of the absolutely most Cambridge-y rooms I have ever been in. On the way home, we ended up talking about just how weird Cambridge can be, and how you just have to accept that the New Normal consists of a combination of normal academic work punctuated by these moments when something either completely batshit, massively Victorian, or both, happens, and everyone just acts like it's the most usual thing in the world.

I swear, an hour and a half after having this conversation, I heard explosions, and when I went to the door and looked outside, there was a Random Fireworks Display. The last time a Random Fireworks Display happened outside my house, it was May Week*, and the University was just throwing its usual over-the-top end-of-year party. But it's July now, and I can't think of any reason that . . . King's, maybe, or Clare, would be setting off fireworks. So, in grand Cantabridgian tradition, I just ran with it. It's the evening of July 3 over here, so I made my own musical accompaniment, and I sang "The Star-Spangled Banner," "My Country 'Tis Of Thee," "America The Beautiful," "Yankee Doodle," and the original lyrics to "Chester" while I watched fireworks.

See, and here I thought I was signing up for three years without fireworks in July! Cambridge thinks of everything!

*Which is in June, because . . . Cambridge.
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french pony

A Very Happy Birthday

Happy birthday to fafojoy! Being me, we have to start the festivities with some music:

And then there is the matter of a suitable birthday present. For that, I defer to those with much greater knowledge of gifts than I (and you will see that they chose well in the end . . . )

Happy birthday, dahlink! May you live to 120 and one day, because no one should die suddenly.
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    Happy birthday!
by Illsaysheis


My goodness, it's been a long time. Stuff just kept happening, and I ended up doing too much to just sit down and write about it.

The end of my first academic year at Cambridge is approaching, and it's been an amazing ride so far. I've met lots of wonderful, interesting people, joined a choir, found dance classes, and even found a shape-note group to sing with! (One Monday a month in Norwich. They actually meet every Monday, but it's kind of a schlep, and there are other things that want my attention on Mondays. Once a month, though, I tell them to go hang, and I go sing in Norwich. It does wonders for my outlook on life.)

I gave a talk at the Cambridge Forum for Jewish Studies that went really well, and I'm working that up into a journal article. On Monday, I'm going to a conference on Jewish liturgical music in Leeds, where I'll do the formal debut of my new project, and then spend some time visiting the Reform synagogue in Leeds. I'm actually really looking forward to this trip, since I've never been to Leeds before. It's even further north than Cambridge, so the days will be just a tad bit longer.

Which, I might add, has been a trip in and of itself. The sun rises at 4:30 in the morning these days -- can you believe it? And it doesn't really set until after 9 PM. After the dark of winter, this is a fine reward indeed.

Today, we had some big news for the Cambridge Jewish community. The Reform synagogue in Cambridge, Beth Shalom, has been working for many years on acquiring a building of its very own -- they'd been holding services around Cambridge for over thirty years, in people's houses, at local schools, and most recently, at a Baptist church hall. Well, they finally finished the new building!

On Thursday, I went down to help with the move, but I was assigned to the church end, loading stuff into the vans, so I didn't see the new synagogue until today. We had our very first Shabbat ever in the new building! It's utterly amazing. All new and fresh, with a big sanctuary that has good acoustics and a lovely ceiling and picture window, a big community room, a library, and a bunch of other smaller spaces that we'll figure out what to do with later. It was so new and fresh that you could still smell the building materials. They talk about new-car smell, but no one ever talks about new-synagogue smell. Funny, that. . . Anyway, everyone was thrilled and amazed. I don't think very many of us had ever actually been in a brand-spanking-new synagogue on its first day. Not something that happens very often. I certainly hadn't! We even got to start the service with a couple of special blessings for a new synagogue, and the service leader looked pretty pleased to be saying them.
  • Current Music
    Tzaddik Katamar

Upcoming Holiday?

Apparently, tomorrow is something called Pancake Day.

It's actually Mardi Gras, except without the parades, nudity and plastic beads, but with pancakes. Maybe I should make some pancakes and then decorate them with plastic beads? Or just go get a snack from the crepe truck just off the market square, probably.
  • Current Music
    Av harachamim


I did it! I threw caution to the winds, and I booked plane tickets to Cork for the Ireland Sacred Harp Convention! Excitement!

On account of a) lack of singings in Cambridge, and b) the expense and c) the lousy timing of the London singings relative to train trips to and from Cambridge, I haven't managed to get to a singing since August, and I've missed it terribly. Well, no more! I am going to Cork, and I am going to sing. Especially since this is a singing that I've been told about since it started, and I could never afford to travel from Chicago. Well, I can afford to travel from Cambridge. It's not exactly the cheapest thing I could do, but in the end, I can afford it, and I'd feel horrible if I didn't go, so I'm going.

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The Big Sing

One of the things that I loved about living in the Midwest was that, every so often, there were these pickup choir events. I got to go to the singalong Messiah at the Lyric Opera once, and to KAMII's singalong Judas Maccabaeus the last year that they did it. lcohen and rhobike and I had many lovely June evenings in Oak Park tearing through their pickup choir offerings.

And it turns out that I can still sometimes do the same in England! One of the basses in the Jewish choir that I've joined told people about The Big Sing, which is a pickup choir for charity event. I think it's once every two years, so I'll get at least one more chance to do this before my fellowship is up. There's a core choir and orchestra that sponsors the event, and other people can just sort of show up and sing. You have to buy a ticket, because the whole event supports a cause, but it's totally worth it.

This year, the piece was Mozart's Requiem, which I last sang in the spring of 1998 as the big chorus/orchestra concert of junior year at The Fairest College. Seventeen years later, it all came right back to me. In fact, I'm a better singer now than I was at age twenty-one, I understand music better, and it was just pure fun to pick up my old score and sing through it.

The event was at Great St. Mary's Church, which is a big church right smack in the middle of downtown Cambridge. Altos and sopranos sat in the balcony, right opposite each other, tenors and basses in the main body of the church. There were four soloists, a small orchestra, and the conductor was the guy who usually conducts the host choir. We had an afternoon rehearsal, and then an hour's break where we flooded the local cafes for tea, and then we reconvened at Great St. Mary's and performed our pickup choir singing for an audience, which is a new twist on the type of pickup choir singing I did in Chicago.

I loved it! You always remember the fun of singing Requiem, with the "et lux perpetua" and the really neat double canon of the "Kyrie eleison" (fun fact: that canon is in the key of D. Not D major or d minor. Mozart never pins down which one it actually is, and it ends on an open fifth, without the third that tells you whether you've been hearing major or minor.), and the Dies Irae is really exciting. But I'd forgotten just how neat it is to sing Rex Tremendae because that bit has actual honest-to-God swagger. And I'd completely forgotten about a little canon part in the Domine Jesu, the part that begins at about 0:59 here, "ne absorbeat eas tartarus, ne cadant in obscurum." It's fun and tumble-y, and I guess it must have been a major pain in the butt to learn back in the day, but last night, it just felt like playing pinball, except with my voice.

Plus, I got to revisit my old score, which had all sorts of convenient notes and pronunciations already penciled in. And some more obscure markings as well. What is 209X? Who are Andrea and Isabel? What took place on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 7 - 10? Why is the name of a Yiddish film written on the cover? The answers are lost to history, but the singing remains.
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    Ne Absorbeat Eas Tartarus, Ne Cadant In Obscurum
by Illsaysheis

Back In The Swing

Some people like to ease back into life after the holidays. Me, I just cannonball right in. Fieldwork, parties, book revisions . . . life certainly isn't boring at the moment!

I went to London yesterday for a singing workshop with a lady I'd met in DC back in June at a conference. It was a great workshop and it gave me some useful field information, but it was also just fun to do a quick in-and-out day trip to London. I love that I can do that now. Just . . . decide to go to London for the day. How cool is that?

I've also discovered absolutely the most appropriate mystery series to start reading. James Runcie's Grantchester Mysteries, featuring Canon Sidney Chambers, Church of England vicar and amateur sleuth. They're set in the mid-1950s, and weird murders and crimes happen, and Sidney gets drawn into detectoring because he's a priest and people like to talk to him, and his cop friend Inspector Geordie Keating takes that information and actually arrests the criminals.

The thing that makes these books so perfect is that they're set right in Cambridge and the surrounding towns. Sidney lives and works in Grantchester, a tiny village suburb of Cambridge a few miles down the road. I actually biked down there the day before I discovered the series, so I'd been past his church and I'd had a drink in the pub where everyone in the village goes for the wake after the funeral that opens the first story. But wait! It gets better. Sidney is also a Cambridge graduate, and he's a part-time academic, teaching theology, and he's based at . . . wait for it . . . Corpus Christi College! My college! And he meets Geordie at The Eagle, the pub right across the street from Corpus, and he bikes past St. Bene't Church, up Downing Street to the police station on St. Andrew's Street, and he also goes to London on the train, and his friend Hildegard lives on Eltisley Avenue, and and and.

This is so cool. I literally don't have to picture these stories in my head, because I can just go and trace Sidney's steps all around town. It's a little bit like the feeling I had watching The Theory of Everything and recognizing places where I've walked and biked. (Even better was catching a ride out to an event with the wife of the master of Stephen Hawking's college, who was telling me all about him and his reaction to the movie and how puzzled she was that the college seems to have refused the film-makers permission to film there and that they did this without even letting the master know that the request had been made in the first place. This is why St. John's College, where Hawking was a student, appears in the film, and Gonville and Caius, where he worked, does not.)
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Bike Like The Wind!

I'm now very curious to see what Mom Pony is going to give Aunt Pony for Hanukkah this year. She e-mailed me about an hour ago asking me to go out and find some good tea in a pretty container, and mentioned that she has Little Sister Pony working on another part of the gift. I, of course, hopped on my bike Æthelred and biked like the wind straight into town to pick up a sampler of nice teas in pretty mini tins.

I am very curious Pony! (I am also Pony who is glad she has Æthelred, since the trip is just a quick errand on Æthelred, but a distinct pain in the butt without wheels.)
  • Current Music
    Silver Bells