Giving Thanks

It is a rare culture or group that doesn’t have some sort of day, festival, or worship service for giving thanks, or showing appreciation for labors and efforts. Harvest festivals are what most of us probably think about, or perhaps offering thanks to the ancestors for deliverance, or thanking a deity for independence, or victory, or the gift of Scripture and teachings, or something. It may be a day set aside on a ritual calendar, or just “when harvest is finished” every year. There’s always been a sense that someone, other than just the people who planted, tended, and harvested, or hunted, or fought, should be given thanks for the good thing that happened.

The US and Canada made that an official day on the calendar. Setting aside a national day of thanks was either the first or second executive order made by President George Washington (historians disagree). The day came and went, and then was made a permanent (this far) holiday, with a set date, in the 1900s. In some places, there are also separate religions days of thanks, like at the church I attended in Not-All-That-Flat state. It was a farming area and a farming town, and every year, when harvest ended, a special service of thanks was held. We also had special harvest and planting devotional guides, and prayer teams for harvest and planting. Yes, it was a very, very important event in the life of the people!

Then we’d have a sort of Harvest Home, minus the alcohol and “corn dollie.” Instead it was hot-dishes, Jellos, ham, and other good things, all cooked by people who did not farm. In part because the farm wives had been doing lots and lots and lots of cooking, and were tired. So the rest of us pitched in instead, and gave them and their families a break. We sang hymns like “Come Ye Thankful People, Come,” and “This is my Father’s World,” and celebrated another year in the bin (as they say in that part of the world.) Harvest was close, it was critical, and we honored it.

Giving thanks means that you acknowledge something outside of yourself. It may be a deity, it may be people who helped you, it may just be gratitude to the world for being so beautiful and good. Looking outside of ourselves is important. It’s easy to get wrapped up in “us,” centered in ourselves in a bad way, and forgetful of what goes on around us. Saying “thank you,” acknowledging effort or generosity makes the way smoother and moves us out of our own heads, so to speak. Thus the frequent religious commands in most faiths that believers are to give thanks to the deity/deities for good things, and to apologize when that thanks is forgotten. It also binds people together in society.

Today, in the year 2021, it seems as if it is hard to give thanks, at least the usual phrases. Things are still off-kilter, more so than two years ago. For some of us it is better than in 2020, for others not so. But we are all here, and alive, and all of us have someone or something to give thanks for, even if it is colorful leaves and a beautiful sunset, or appliances that work and a car that runs, or a close family member still being with us and healthy.

So we in the US give thanks, eat festival foods, and think about the good things that we have been given. Who gave them? That’s up to you to say. I give thanks for readers and stories, for family and friends, for a non-leaking roof and a truck that runs, for a beautiful world with music and leaves and sunsets and amazing wonders in it.

Not Specifically Written for Halloween, but . . .

Mom used to sing this to me as a lullaby. It probably explains a lot.

Quiet! Sleep! or I will make

Erinnys whip thee with a snake,

And cruel Rhadamanthus take

Thy body to the boiling lake,

Where fire and brimstones never slake;

Thy heart shall burn, thy head shall ache,

And ev’ry joint about thee quake;

And therefor dare not yet to wake!

Quiet, sleep!

Quiet, sleep!

Quiet! Quiet!

Sleep! or thou shalt see

The horrid hags of Tartary,

Whose tresses ugly serpants be,

And Cerberus shall bark at thee,

And all the Furies that are three

The worst is called Tisiphone,

Shall lash thee to eternity;

And therefor sleep thou peacefully

Quiet, sleep!

Quiet, sleep!


The text dates to 1632, which suggests that early modern toddlers were no more sleepy than the modern version.

Happy Halloween!

Music for Characters

I tend to listen to music when I write, in part to keep from tuning in to whatever is on TV in other parts of the house, or tuning in conversations. I can’t close the door because I might get called to do something. So I’ve come to note that certain things do better with certain types of background music.

Obviously, writing a fight scene to soothing, bedtime New Age keyboard harmonies . . . doesn’t work well. Ditto writing a pastoral meditation as speed metal goes in the background. Beyond that, well, it sort of depends on the world I’m writing in, as well as the scene. And sometimes characters will push me into music I wasn’t planning on. [*coughcoughArthurcoughcough*]

The Familiars books seem to do better with goth-rock, metal, or dark instrumental in the background. That fits the world, and the culture of the main-series protagonists. Except . . . Arthur. In the last two stories written from his PoV, I found myself going to classical, specifically the Mozart Requiem, Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna, and Gjiello’s compositions. No, I don’t know why, but things went much, much better when I had Lauridsen in the background. Oh, yeah, and the current story with Mike and Rich? Orthodox liturgical chant. Which at least makes sense, given what they are prepping for. But Arthur . . . and Lauridsen? Ooooohhhhh kay.

The next merchant book? Corvus Corax. Oh boy. Something tells me that the protagonist is going to yank the story out of my hands, because usually the Merchant books work best with Renaissance or Romantic (Brahms, Vaughn Williams) instrumental compositions. Corvus Corax is medieval texts, and some tunes, set to modern tunes with a mix of medieval and modern instruments. They don’t have the occult element that a few similar groups have, so I prefer their stuff. It tends to be fast, loud, and passionate in all senses of the word. Which. . . sort of fits the main character. Ish.

Interestingly, if I need an extended run of eerie, dark, “no, seriously, don’t open that door” for a scene, I turn to the soundtracks of the Battlestar Galactica reboot. It works better than dedicated horror scores, probably because it doesn’t have the cues for jump-scares. It carries the brooding, dark and misty, “you know, I’m getting an odd feeling about this place. When did you say the odd lights tend to appear” sense of something hidden but creeping toward you.

Arthur. The Lux Aeterna. Really? *sigh* I’m just the author. What do I know?

Note: I think they do the cut-offs too abruptly, but this is one of those places where there are as many approaches as conductors.

OK, the following is because I love the piece, and it works so very well in the setting. I’ve done this, just not nearly as well. And I have s suspicion that it might end up as background.

Roads, Home, and Wanderers

The first time I heard Marta Keen’s song “Homeward Bound,” a defense contractor had made a video of US service men and women about those who were out and would come home again and used that as the background music. This was 2003 or so. Ever since then, the song always takes my breath a little. I’ve used it as inspiration for several scenes. It is not the only song that makes me wonder about people who are away and turning toward home, or looking for home.

I was working on the story, or perhaps “extended scene” “Haven of Rest,” about Martha, the widowed herb-wife, and the Hunter who calls himself Jude. Why I even started the piece, I have no idea, but I had a recording by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the baritone Bryn Terfel that includes “Homeward Bound.” It may be my favorite version of that song, although their pure choral version is also very good. That song also inspired a scene in one of the Cat books, where Rada assures Joschka that she will always try to return to him. She can’t promise that she will come home, they both know that. But she will try.

The theme of the ones who go out and the ones who wait runs through most of my stories, I think because it has been true for so much of human life. Men hunted, or went out and traded, or went to war, or explored. Women stayed at home, tended the home place, managed the business and household, raised children, and waited. It’s a theme that appears in music as far back as ballads go. “Shenandoah” is probably the first one that I learned, the capstan shanty. It has been arranged by almost everyone, it seems, which suggests that it speaks to a lot of people. Gregorian’s setting of the Dire Straits song “Brothers in Arms” kicked off detail in a scene in an earlier Cat novel, since what came to mind didn’t really work for Rada or her associates, but needed to go into a story. It also finds a place in the fragment “Donald McGillivray,” which may or may not ever become a full-fledged story.

When I was younger, I tended to wander a fair amount. Which collided hard with my need to nest, to have a place to come back to. In the fall, when the weather changes, I get that itch again, the urge to roam, to head west to see what’s over the horizon. Stan Rogers’ “The Giant” hints that perhaps it’s in my blood, one of those things that never quite leaves those of us with proto-Indo-European in our veins. But I also heartily agree with the lyrics of Stephen Paulus’ “The Road Home.” Away and back, away and back, wandering and finding my own place and way, but still thinking of what I left, perhaps wondering where I went astray (if I did), it’s a pattern found in stories back to The Odyssey and earlier.

Young men go out, viking, or raiding, or exploring, getting it out of their systems and returning to be stable men of the community. Some older men go out as well, called by “Something lost beyond the ranges/ Something lost and waiting, Go!” as Kipling put it. Or called to protect what remains at home.

The lone Hunter isn’t Arthur 2.0, or André. Jude is more bookish, not quite a nerd but bordering on it for clan versions of bookish. He’s pretty well balanced emotionally, for someone who intended to die—perhaps—and failed. Arthur fought with every atom of his being to live, if only to spite those who wanted him dead. Jude likes baking, and does it very well. But Jude is in exile, not entirely self imposed, and has his own challenges. He’s alone, and that could well be his death.

Until he risks his life—perhaps—to warn Arthur about a nosferitau . . . And sets one foot on what might be the long road home.

Folksongs in Rock: Eversleeping by Xandria

I’d never really sat down and listened to the song before. A pattern caught my ear. “Wait, seven? Seven seas, seven years, seven rivers? Hmm, that’s a folksong pattern that goes back to the Bible and a few other places.” Places like the song “Greenwood Sidie-O [The Cruel Mother]” among others . . .

The lyrics to “Eversleeping” (single version):

Once I travelled 7 seas to find my love
And once I sang 700 songs
Well, maybe I still have to walk 7000 miles
Until I find the one that I belong

Once I crossed 7 rivers to find my love
And once, for 7 years, I forgot my name
Well, if I have to I will die 7 deaths just to lie
In the arms of my eversleeping aim


I will rest my head side by side
To the one that stays in the night
I will lose my breath in my last words of sorrow
And whatever comes will come soon
Dying I will pray to the moon
That there once will be a better tomorrow


I dreamt last night that he came to me
He said: “My love, why do you cry?”
For now it won’t be be long any more

“Eversleeping” Writer(s): Marco Heubaum, Elisabeth Middelhauve, Philip Restemeier, Gerit Lamm, Elisabeth Schaphaus From the album Ravenheart (2004)

The motifs of seeking a lost love, of traveling over multiple obstacles, of dreaming of the lost love . . . Can be found all over the place. I grew up with “Siúil a Rún,” “The Wars of High Germany,” “Scarborough Fair,” “She Moved Through the Fair,” and a lot of other folk songs. Folk tales too include people traveling long distances over mountain and ocean to track down a lost love (“East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” several Russian stories . . .) And of course, the dead lover (“Hills of Shiloh,” Gordon Lightfoot’s “Bitter Green,” “Hills of Loch Lomand.”)

Xandria plays with those folk-song ideas a fair amount, at least in some of their albums. “Rose on the Grave of Love” is probably the most obvious (“Barbara Allen,” and a host of others). Xandria tends to be more melodic than some other Goth-rock groups, which also fits the folk-motif borrowing. And of course, mourning over a distant or deceased lover is a staple in Goth-y stories and romances and characters and so forth. Edgar Allen Poe’s “Annabel Lee,” the premise behind some of Behind the Black Veil‘s songs from Dark Sarah . . . The tropes are common, and ancient. It’s just intriguing to find them used in new ways, by new genres of music. Part of me wonders if some of this is the influence of groups like Jethro Tull, Steeleye Span, and the folk-rock side of rock, blending with the Goth and metal sides.

Since Xandria appears to have broken up [ah, band dramas!], I can’t exactly ask them, but it’s fun to speculate.

Old Songs, Old Stories

A mild rant.

We seem to be in a time when the old, solid, tales-for-hard-times are returning to popular attention. I was reminded of this when I realized that the preacher for the church where I sing has selected nothing but the solid, old-time hymns since he got to the church. You know, things like:

You should hear a massed male choir sing that, in Welsh. WOW. You might not be a believer, but the sheer strength and power of the song grabs you.

One of my favorite old hymns, not done too often because it is too mystical and too harsh for a lot of people is “Jesus, Lover of my Soul.”

Jesus, lover of my soul,
Let me to Thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll,
While the tempest still is high.
Hide me, O my Savior, hide,
Till the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide;
Oh, receive my soul at last.

Other refuge have I none,
Hangs my helpless soul on Thee;
Leave, ah! leave me not alone,
Still support and comfort me.
All my trust on Thee is stayed,
All my help from Thee I bring;
Cover my defenseless head
With the shadow of Thy wing.

Wilt Thou not regard my call?
Wilt Thou not accept my prayer?
Lo! I sink, I faint, I fall—
Lo! on Thee I cast my care.
Reach me out Thy gracious hand!
While I of Thy strength receive,
Hoping against hope I stand,
Dying, and behold, I live. (Charles Wesley, 1740 or so)

The tune is minor, as so many of the songs I love are.

The stories that people seem to want today are not warm and fuzzy, exactly. Soft, fun escape stories are out there, and are selling briskly, true. But what also does well are the stories about getting through the hard times, surviving the storm and coming out greyer, scarred perhaps, and with your family intact. Or just defeating the enemy and coming home.

One of the weaknesses I see in a lot of Hollywood and NYC fiction is the unending insistence on breaking or modifying the story just to have the proper characters in the tale. Anne Boleyn has to be of recent African descent. The “hero” always turns out to be corrupt, or a dog-hater, or something. You must have so many of this, so many of that, none of those, and if it means invoking waif-fu* and Mary Sues and leaving nothing but the faintest whiff of the core story in place, hey! We’re inverting the trope, Dude! Like the YA novel I saw two years ago that proudly proclaimed that it was a gender-flipped version of The Princess Bride. For all I know, the author might have been able to pull it off, if she was good enough. But the description turned me off of even reading the first few pages. What’s left is worse than cotton candy. Cotton candy is sweet, sticky, and you know that it will be a mess and bad for you. That’s the point. 🙂 This stuff . . . is corrosive, and leaves you nothing to fall back on in hard times.

Hard times call for the old stories, old songs. Where the characters go through H-ll and come out the other side, singed but stronger. The ones that you can read over and over, and that can give you ideas for how to strengthen your back-bone and get through it, whatever “it” may happen to be.

Like old, great songs, the kind that inspire, comfort, that acknowledge that life can be hard, very hard, and painful, and that we feel lost and so very alone sometimes. And that tell us that we’re not alone, that others have suffered the like troubles. We got through the Great Depression and the Spanish Influenza. We got through the Thirty Years War, and the Ottoman Wars, and the Black Death, and the end of the Ming Dynasty, and . . . “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen,” except for the composers and poets and authors who did, and who survived, and left us hope and ideas and inspiration.

This is a setting of Psalm 100, a call to sing and rejoice. Note the composer’s dates. He did most of his work during the Thirty Years War and chaos around that time. He had to write motets because he didn’t have large choirs and orchestras due to the hard times. And yet he produced beautiful music that we still sing today. (This is a double-choir piece, call and response.)

OK, just because of the location and the voices:

*Waif-fu is the martial art discipline that allows a 90 lb, 5′ tall female to go hand-to-hand against a 250 lb, 6′ tall, professionally trained soldier or MMA fighter or police officer and beat him like a rented mule.

Piu Mosso? Didn’t He Play for the Dodgers?

No, that was his cousin, Meno Mosso. You’re thinking of Pie Jesu*, who was the shortstop for the Dodgers back in ’74, before they traded him to the White Socks.

Actually, those are both musical terms, describing how a composition is to be played or sung. Composers generally include descriptive terms to indicate the “mood” and pace of a piece, beyond just the notes on the page. How many quarter notes (or half notes, or eighth notes) in a minute, the feel of the tempo – fast as in driving, fast as in lively, fast as in frenetic – and how connected the notes are supposed to be. Instrumental composers, since they don’t have a text to use to clue in their musicians, lean a lot on “andante” “largo,” “piu mosso” and their cousins. Often, a full symphony will be divided into movements titled after the tempo. “Andante,” then “Largo,” then “allegro,” and so on.

The slowest I’ve seen, and that rarely, is “lento.” This is slow, often mournful. “Piu lento” means a little more lento, but don’t drag. In choirs, we tend to push really, really slow tempi, often because we feel the need for air. Orchestras can go even slower, and do, but choirs need to breathe. Or at least, we think we do. Timing a “lento” is up to sixty beats per minute, or one beat a second, but usually slower. Often the eighth note will get one beat, slowing things even farther.

More common in the music I’ve done is “largo.” Largo is thoughtful, dignified, but not painfully slow. Largo reminds me of paddling slowly across a lake. These are your deep, swelling chords, rising and falling like great waves on the sea. Next comes “adagio”, stately and steady. The so-called “Albiani Adagio” is probably the most famous adagio. Often a movement in a symphony will be labeled adagio. There may be faster bits in the over-all adagio feeling, but the general “push” of the music is slow to moderate.

Andante is a steady walking pace, if you are not walking with me. (I walk allegro). It’s your basic not too fast, not too slow, we’ll get there tempo. Choirs like andante. Orchestras see andante as a lead-up to allegro or presto, or a respite from allegro and presto. String players appreciate andante and slower, while the woodwinds and brass sometimes express doubts. (Remember, orchestra brass and woodwinds don’t breathe. Choirs breathe. Strings and percussion can do whatever the heck they want, and the pianist has a beer on the music-rest so he’s not worried about anything!) When in doubt, andante.

Allegro and vivace are “trot” and “look lively and run fast.” Allegro can be used for choral tempi, but vivace is not all that common. Usually, the composer just changes the time signature, so that instead of a quarter note getting one beat, it is the half note. That means the music suddenly goes twice as fast. At least. Beethoven, I’m looking at you. (The second half of the “Credo” in the Missa Solemnis, the “Et vitam venturi saeculi” portion.)

A musician may also see French, German, and English terms as well, and their general sense is understood. I’ve not seen much French annotation aside from organ music, but I’m very familiar with the German (organ again, and other things) and English.

“Piu” means more of whatever it was. “Meno” means less of it. So a piu mosso direction calls for a bit more speed and a more sprightly style. Meno mosso is a call to rein it in, slow a little, connect the notes more so the tempo sounds slower.

Conductors are free to shift things around, and all these instructions are a range. Some choirs and orchestras or soloists can do certain things faster, or slower, and the conductor’s job is to work within the broad sense of pacing and speed to get the most feeling or precision, or both, out of the group. Unless the composer is standing there, correcting things. Then you listen to the composer.

*”Pie Jesu,” pronounced pee-ay yay-sue, is Latin and is also the title for a movement in the mass. Although I’ve heard a conductor order a choir to “sing it like the Lloyd-Weber ‘Pie Jesu’.” It worked, because we all knew what the composition sounded like.

For more than you ever wanted to know:

Corvus Corax, the Carmina Burana, and Hip Hop?

Let’s face it, a lot of popular culture is, and has always been, about the, ahem, ars amatoria. Admiring the opposite sex, pursuing the opposite sex, enjoying the company of an enamorata (or enamorato), and on occasion insulting people by publicly declaring them to be incapable of, or less skilled in, certain recreational pursuits.

The group Corvus Corax is among a few that have no problem with celebrating the medieval popular culture, and do it with gusto. In Latin, old Low German, old High German, and a few other dialects, with a blend of period and modern instruments, and mostly modern tunes based on the surviving medieval bits that we have. Some of the songs they do in English, songs that mirror what was sung in the Middle Ages. Let’s face it, partying, drinking, flirting, are pretty much European universals (and Russian, probably lots of Asia as well.) I like their stuff, although I blushed hard the first time I really listened to the words on a few of their songs. Good thing they are not in English, or I’d be a lot warier about listening to them while at Day Job.

Those of you who have sung, or really listened to Orff’s Carmina Burana, and other settings of the poems those are drawn from, know what I mean. Every time we’ve done the Carmina locally, we had to be careful that the kids singing the boy choir part stayed unaware of what is sung around them. It’s not . . . OK, parts are, but only if you know the subtexts of the Latin. Or have heard a certain setting of one number in particular, where the baritone leaves nothing to the imagination. Joyfully leaves nothing to the imagination.

I have no problem with this music, oddly enough. I say oddly, because so many modern songs on these themes make my stomach churn, or my hackles shoot up to my ears. I don’t mind reading the Roman grafitti from places like Pompeii, or seeing pictures of Classical and Medieval erotica. They are not titilating, I guess because they are historical images and artifacts. That’s what people back them liked, or how they insulted each other, and so what? The human race would not be here today if boys hadn’t chased girls until the girls caught them, going back to . . . um, a very long time ago. I enjoy Corvus Corax and some of the other medieval rock groups. (Not the purely pagan things. Those often give me cold chills.) OK, they are singing what today would NOT get radio play. Since it doesn’t get radio play as it is, no biggie.

Modern stuff isn’t fun, or joyful, especially the hip-hop I’ve been forced to listen to. Granted, it is not a large sample, but it is what is on the internet and satellite radio. Male or female lead, there’s no play in it, no sense of mutual chasing and catching. The singers are all about controlling others, not “enjoying a light evening of mutual pleasure” as Master Saldovado phrased it. The medieval stuff I’ve heard or sung is fun. The musicians enjoy the earthiness of it, and enjoy each other’s company.

“Bring a beer here!”

The following is Corvus Corax having far too much fun with a drinking song.