Who Was Meeting Where?!?

So, some years ago, (like, twenty-five*) I was in Cologne, Germany. The small, family-owned hotel, sat three blocks from the train station and cathedral. It was nice, relatively quiet (backed up to the switching yard, so no wild parties back there) and was convenient. As is my usual habit, I got up very early and went strolling. I got a bite to eat at a stehcafe, a bakery-cafe with shelves for eating off of, but no tables. The name is “standing cafe,” and it was for commuters and working men. I didn’t quite blend in, but everyone ignored me, which was fine. The tea was hot and black and the pastries were fresh.

As I wandered back toward my hotel, I saw a couple guys in leather jackets and pants. Now, the hour being early and Cologne being Cologne, I shrugged. Far me it from me to say anything about people who close the club, then go to a diner until dawn. A few minutes later, some construction guys went by, grumbling about thus and such.

After official breakfast, I heard a mild commotion outside the hotel, and eased my window open and leaned out. In addition to the leather-clad guys, who now numbered well over a score, and construction workers, there were guys in full American Indian regalia, some in US enlisted sailor suits, a few US highway cops, and cowboys. What on earth?

Then the first chords of very familiar music started, and realization dawned. “Young man, there’s no need to feel down, I said/ Young man, pick yourself off the ground . . .”

And of course, everyone danced along with the chorus.

It was a convention of the German Village People Fan Club. The guys were having a grand old time dancing in the street, the rest of us were having fun watching and cheering, and the locals shrugged. Cologne has always been more mellow than other parts of Germany.

I had no idea that there was an international association for Village People fans. There was, might still be, and the members there finished their opening and headed off to the indoor venue. I went back to museum-prowling, art viewing, and history basking.

I’d forgotten about that until the other night, when I was chaperoning a school dance. One of the songs the kids played was a re-mixed version of “Y.M.C.A.” Another teacher and I grinned, and I called, “Backwards skate!” That brought even more memories, because the song was a staple at skating rinks when I was a kid.

*I do not want to believe that it’s been that long, but it has. SIGH. I miss that Germany.


Ian Tyson: In Memorium

This is starting off to be a bad winter for musicians. Granted, Jeff Beck and Ian Tyson were both high mileage as well as mature, but still. Sheesh! I grew up listening to Ian and Sylvia, Gordon Lightfoot, Odetta, the New Christy Minstrels, and others, along with classical and some old country and bluegrass. Then somehow, years later, MomRed discovered that Ian Tyson was still recording, now western music.

His father wanted him to have a career at sea, or to do normal, respectable jobs. Ian devoured westerns, books by Will James, and turned his back on the sea. Worse. He became a musician (among other things.)

It was love at first hear. I could sing along with Tyson’s music, since he was a baritone. His songs, love ’em or not love ’em, were melodic and made sense. He told stories, songs about horses and ranches, about love and revenge, about places and the people in them. I have my favorites, but there’s no Ian Tyson song that makes me go, “Ugh!” and race for the shower, ear-bleach, or yes.

So, one of his oldest, and a favorite of many Of a Certain Age: Four Strong Winds.


I also liked this one, a canoing song done at at least four times the original tempo:

“Summer Wages” is the fan favorite among SmallDeadAnimals blog readers. It’s not one that I like as much, but I can see why people (especially guys) appreciate it:

Some days, “Timberline (Fifty Years Ago)” strikes a very strong chord: “Did I hold Juanita yesterday, or was it fifty years ago?” Since the late 1980s seem like yesterday . . .

“Claude Dallas,” “Old House on the Hill,” “Banks of the Mussel Shell” are all ballads or half-ballads, eerie and atmospheric. I can never hear “Claude Dallas” without remembering a day out in Utah when my family and I were looking out over Cathedral Valley in Capital Reef National Park and feeling cold chills from the music. It had nothing to do with the beautiful, empty, landscape below us, and everything to do with the solitude.

“Jaquima to Freno” is about a vaquero, and refers to the tack used in training horses in the old Spanish style. “La Primera, and “Steel Dust Line” are also horse songs*, one about mustangs and one about cutting horses and driving from Canada to Las Vegas in winter. Ian Tyson ranched, and it showed in his music.

He badly damaged his voice in 2006 while trying to finish a concert after the sound equipment failed, and his last three albums reflect that. He was still a heck of writer and poet, and a good singer. He died December 29, 2022, on his ranch in Alberta at age 89.

(I am amused that The Guardian needed to explain that cutting horses “are like sheepdogs” in how they separate cattle from the herd. But then I’m a westerner, and have watched cutting horse contests.)

*Steel Dust is one of the foundation sires of cutting horses. Other lineages are mentioned in the song.

The Longest Night of the Year

“Iron for the birthday, bronze carried long,

Wood from the burning/stone out of song,

Fire from the candle-ring/water from the thaw.

Six signs the circle, and the grail gone before.”

The very first time I read the novel The Dark is Rising, I memorized the poem that comes from. I can still see in my mind’s eye the Walker, the rook’s feather that fell in through the roof hatch/skylight, the Dark Rider, and hear oh so faintly the aching sound of a tune played on an antique flute as a door between times opens and closes. Set in the Thames Valley in England, the book, and the others in the series by the same name, taps English, Cornish, and Welsh folklore in ways I’d never encountered before. They are urban fantasy before such a genre existed. Although officially classed as YA today, they are so rich that adults read and enjoy them today.

Today is the Winter Solstice. If Sommerwende is a day for parties and savoring the warmth and bounty of summer, the winter turning is a time of dread and fear. Will the sun return? Will there be enough to get through the hard, lean times ahead? The return of the sun was cause for rejoicing and wild celebration, even as people still looked over their shoulders. The weeks around the solstice held power. The veil between the worlds thinned, and the Wild Hunt rode. Ghosts walked, and the price for denying hospitality might be severe indeed. It was the time to bless the fruit trees and share the joy of the season with them (wassailing the orchards). War was supposed to stop, at least in Christendom. Since only fools, the mad, or Teutonic Knights actually wanted to fight during midwinter, the rule was generally upheld.

I’ll be out after dark, looking at stars, admiring Christmas lights, and watching Orion rise above the trees. Storms are due overnight, bringing hard cold and screaming winds. Winter does not go easily, even as days slowly lengthen.

When light from the lost land shall return, Six Sleepers shall ride, six Signs shall burn,

And where the midsummer tree grows tall, By Pendragon’s sword the Dark shall fall.

Winter Gothic

At some point, while looking for something else most likely, I found Erasure’s video of “Gaudete.” I started watching, blinked, and said, “It’s Caspar David Friedrich!” Because everyone borrows imagery from him when they want to do “ancient church in snow at night mildly creepy but maybe not” settings.

Gothic? Check, check. Eerie but not truly scary? Probably check. Winter? Check! Article about CDF: https://heavymusicartwork.com/caspar-david-friedrich/

This one tells a story:

Source: https://burgundybaron.blogspot.com/2012/03/paintings-of-caspar-david-friedrich.html

Not all of C.D.F.’s paintings are “moody, brooding, cold,” but some of the most famous are, or at least the most often reproduced and borrowed from. https://www.thehistoryofart.org/caspar-david-friedrich/oak-tree-in-the-snow/

“Oaks in the Snow with Domlan.” A dolman is a prehistoric marker or burial mound, common (formerly) in parts of the northern German-speaking lands. https://www.fanpop.com/clubs/caspar-david-friedrich/images/28162468/title/dolmen-snow-photo

So, the video that borrows so heavily from C. D. F and a few others? Note that the video has some creepy and possibly sacrilegious elements, notable the burning candle.

The hard contrasts of dark, bare trees and stones against white snow have been noted by artists and poets for a very long time. Northern Europe tends to be misty and dark this time of year, especially the far northern areas where C. D. F. visited. The sun rises around eight-thirty and sets around three-thirty. That is, if you can see the sun for the heavy clouds. When I was in Vienna over Christmas, heavy skies, snow, and then hard cold reminded everyone that yes, winter had arrived. It was one of the few times that I ate everything in sight and lost weight, because I was converting so much of the snacks and treats into heat. The importance of light, and the turning of the year, was firmly reinforced on that trip. The true cold of winter usually arrives a little later than December, but not always.

One thing I like about so many of C. D. F.’s paintings is that they catch the mystery of things. Christmas and Advent are often too shiny, up-front, and bright for my taste. There’s a Mystery in the familiar story, a hushed and intent waiting for . . . something. Something wonderful, but something also deep and more than a little scary. “He is good, but he’s not safe,” as C. S. Lewis describes Aslan. “Gaudete” calls us to rejoice, but in a minor key, often arranged with slightly discordant harmonies. The turning of the year, the Winter Solstice, brings light but also deeper cold in many places. There’s a mystery, something hidden in the night, in the winter mist and clouds.

Filing, Sorting, and Relaxing

For various reasons, one of the choirs I sing with has been inundated with unfiled music. These are pieces we’ve done but that didn’t get pulled out of folders and put back in the archives, or music that we’d planned to sing but had our plans changed,* or pieces that individual musicians checked out of the library and returned but that didn’t get sorted out of the “General Turn In” stack. Said stack was starting to rival the Empire State Building in height. Since I didn’t want our director, or our secretary, to end up pulling out their remaining hair or being flattened by a cascade of crescendos**, I offered to sort the stack and pull what isn’t needed at the moment from the Boxes O’ Bach. I’m not sure I’d finished the sentence before the secretary informed me that I was welcome to attack the Augean Mound.

I had the office/library all to myself. Just me, a multi-colored mass of sheet music, and some of the containment vessels, er, storage boxes. My task was to sort the music, put it in number order, and slip it into the boxes. I cleared a long flat space and started by color. Pink one here, pale blue here, darker blue with star, dark blue without star, white with big letters, white with small letters, Oxford University Press music division . . . Then I went back and forth, back and forth, just stacking the scores by title. For the first while I listened to music*** since I didn’t need to pay 1000% attention, just go by color and make sure all the nooks, crannies, and cubby holes had been emptied.

Then I attacked each pile and put them in number order. Some numbers were missing, but the secretary will go through and account for those (director, accompanist, other accompanist, sound-tech for mike cues . . .). It took several hours of steady work, with a few water and stretch breaks, but I got everything done.

Time flew. I wasn’t analyzing anything. I wasn’t worried about finishing by X time, or meeting a certain standard. Sort, organize, and pack. A heap of chaos turned into ten tidy boxes, plus a few random odds and ends of solo music or older compositions that got slipped into the mound but not reported. Those went into a basket on the secretary’s desk.

Sometimes, a simple, repetitive task is just what a person needs. I accomplished something, used my hands and not my brain, cleaned up a mess, and had 0 pressure. I wouldn’t want to do it every day for years, but I think I needed a productive physical job. I could see progress and knew I’d accomplished something useful. There’s satisfaction in a mess cleaned and a workload eased.

*When the string section music is ordered in May, the concert is in early December, and the rental place says they’ll ship in late January . . .

** Think of Shel Silverstein’s poem about “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout.” But not as much of a public health crisis.

*** I had no expectations about the album. It turned out to be a good album. Snowglobe by Erasure.

Album Review: A Paranormal Evening with the Moonflower Society

Tobias Sammet’s Avantasia. A Paranormal Evening with the Moonflower Society. (CD and MP3) 2022.

Short version – a fun, odd album from a number of major names in metal, including Floor Jansen.

As readers know, Avantasia is one of my favorite symphonic metal groups. Tobias Sammet writes melodic songs, often linked by a shared story of some kind, and invites other musicians to join in the fun. Ronnie Adkins, Hansi Kusch, Candice Knight, Herbie Langhans and others have all appeared on earlier albums. Avantasia’s sound varies from power metal and speed metal to slower ballads. The new release, although not as complex as earlier collections, is a solid continuation of the 2019 symphonic metal album Moonglow. A Paranormal Evening with the Moonflower Society continues the story of the creature that began with Moonglow.

This is a smaller album, both in terms of instrumentation and length. There are no 11 minute ballads like “Let the Storm Descend Upon You” or “Raven Child.” “Arabesque,” the album close, is 10 minutes but it doesn’t feel as complex as the previous songs. This is in part because Sammet has gone back to the basic guitars, percussion, keyboards, and vocals. He’s upfront about it, and the accompaniments and harmonies are still complicated and “thick” sounding, which is what I expect from Avantasia. This is more of standard metal album, while continuing the Avantasia sound. “The Moonflower Society” and “Wicked Rule the Night” are pure metal. “Paper Plane” is a slower, melodic ballad-type song.

The lyrics on this album can feel a bit odd. I think part of it is that (for me at least) it is a continuation of the story from Moonglow, so you need to remember that the creature is exploring, trying to find something or some place familiar and home. In part, Sammet seems to have hit a bit of difficulty with some of the poetry in the lyrics, maybe because there are some usages that are non-standard. It’s not bad, just a bit odd in places, but that appeared in earlier works as well. Writing poetry (and poetic song lyrics) in a second language is hard, and Sammet does a very good job.

I really like the sound overall. It’s not as lush as the earlier albums, but still very good. Floor Jansen and the other guests do an excellent job, as always. I’d love to hear another duet with Herbie Langhans in his non-rock singing voice (or Floor shifting to head tone instead of the rock register), but that’s just me. My favorite songs are probably “The Moonflower Society,” “Scars,” and
Arabesque,” but every number is all solid.

The album art looks as if Tim Burton summoned Edward Gorey’s ghost and they doodled while knocking back espresso and absinthe. Which fits with the look of Moonglow, just dialed up to 10 from 8.

I’d recommend this to Avantasia fans, fans of melodic metal, and those who like a little vocal variety in their albums. The two previous albums are still my favorites, but this one’s growing on me.

(Side note. I was listening to older Nightwish music for the Boss Fight in a novella, and realized that there are bits of Moonflower that seem to nod to Nightwish. Is it because of Floor singing on this album, because Nightwish has gone into hiatus, or because the two composers share melodic tendencies?)

FTC Notice: I purchased this for my own use, and received no compensation for this review.

New Music All Over

So, not only did Avantasia release a new album – with cover art that looks as if Tim Burton summoned Edward Gorey’s ghost and they traded notes over coffee and absinthe – but Blind Guardian, Nox Arcana, Dark Sarah,Walk in Darkness, and a few other groups have also released albums, or will before the end of the year. Plus some classical recordings, folk music, and so on. Apparently a lot of pent up creativity has been unleashed in the studios just as soon as it was possible to do so. My ears love it. My budget is whimpering. And I want more.

One thing I noticed recently, as I was going through the next book and trying to exorcise most of the “teh” and “fond” instead of “find” and so on, was how little music is in the book compared to others. Jude doesn’t listen to the radio. He’s not into a music/cultural scene of any kind. He doesn’t go to concerts in Riverton, for obvious reasons. His Familiar finally has to explain why Master Saldovado looks like “a dark peacock.” He does have a very good singing voice when he uses it, something the new priest in his parish hopes to persuade him to do more. But music isn’t a part of his life the way it is for André and Lelia, or Master Saldovado, or Nikolai.

So I was listening to the new album and thinking about a world without lots and lots of music. I’ve been there once or twice, and it was uncomfortable. I need music, either singing or playing it myself, or listening to it. It’s something that’s immersed me since I was born, and is part of my world, even when I grouse about rehearsals, and if [composer] ever talked to the singers when he wrote the line for us. (Or as someone in the group grumbled apropos the 9th Symphony, “I think Beethoven went deaf to the human voice before he stopped hearing the instruments. That’s why we have to sing loud all the time.”)

We live in a very fortunate world, to have so much music available in it. If you like medieval or early Renaissance stuff, you can find it pretty easily. Modern folk from Scandinavia? No problem. Anime soundtracks? They might be a little more expensive, but you can find them within a few minutes of searching. Amazing recordings of fantastic (and now deceased) opera singers, or Lieder specialists, or all of the Brandenburg concerti in one recording, or the complete works of Bach, or music played on this particular pipe organ, or . . . . Now, granted, I have found a few dead-on-this-side-of-the-Atlantic ends vis-a-vis some English “cathedral organists,” because no one recorded their music in ways that are available at the moment. But that’s a tiny drop in the ocean of spoken word and music from all times and places that we can find today. And in some cases, hear live. My region produces amazing choirs and orchestras, because we have a tradition of entertaining ourselves. And after a while, it becomes a badge of honor to have an institution that has survived war, Depression, and so on, AND 2020-2021.

Likewise books in various languages, works of art, and other cultural things. It’s a great time to be alive and interested!

Swan Poem

With winter at the mouth, white swans have gone
And the black, proceeding south down the grey dawn
Cry after them, cry out over the town
Ensnare them with a shout, “Bring the swans down.”
The summer flies away where the swans crossed
And streaks across the grey, south golden lost
No man may call them back, once the swans fly
The white swans and the black, down the grey sky

That’s the poem I was thinking of. I’ve seen it attributed to Yeats, and it fits his style and subjects, but I’m not sure. Others say that Laim Clancy or Tommy Makem wrote it. Both wrote song lyrics, so that’s also a possibility.

Either way, it fits, and fits well with the song they wove it into.

One of the themes of Hunter in Shadows, the next Familiar Generations book, is home, missing home, and family. Which fits the tone of the song, sort of. Jude tends toward excess introspection at times.

SIGH. And a story is nibbling at me, the story of the Hunt in the storm from Nikolai’s point of view. Shoo, story, go home.

Plot Bunnies! Arrrrrgh!

So there I was, minding my own business, when a gang of plot bunnies showed up and chased me into an alley.

OK, maybe it just feels that way.

For non-writers, the term “plot bunny” refers to ideas that show up and won’t leave you alone, demanding to be written, or added into as story they have no, zilch, zero place in. Some people say “plot kittens,” with the mental image of the (in)famous video of “popcorn kittens.” I think of plot bunnies the same way as I do dust bunnies – I wish they’d go pester someone else.

I’m trying to get the draft of the next Familiar Generations stories done. I know where one is going, I’ve got chunks of the second one done, and the third and fourth (both shorter) are sketched out. Except . . .

That story I began that’s based on Dark Ages Scotland is pestering me, and I’m finishing the last research reading on it so I can really dig into the tale proper. No, I don’t know what role Myrdden-the-Wild is going to play, but I’m starting to get an idea as I read this book, as well as locking in geography. I’d thought the story would be set in the Pictish lands, but it wants to happen mostly in Dal Riata. OK, fine. Be that way. Dun Add here we come.

And then, as I was driving back from the Metroplex, listening to Avantasia (the next album releases in late October), plot stuff attacked. It started riffing off of a scene in Preternaturally Familiar, then spun into a completely different direction that only fits the “Blue Roses” short story. Short story? Novella? Not novel, I know that much. And it is the end of the story, not what I need. And it sort of wants to have a moody Gothic atmosphere, which completely breaks what I thought it would be. Maybe. Or maybe the main character is playing Byronic Hero just to jerk my chain. Twit.

Oh, yeah, and Paulus and Attila from the Elect are poking me to get that book done, too. Because it is dark, and spooky, and it’s a dark and spooky time of year, yes?

So, at the moment, I am going to finish the main story of Familiar Generations, get “Blue Roses” out of the way, do the Elect thing, go back to Familiar Generations, and then the Indus Valley fantasy book.

Unless more plot bunnies mug me.