Category Archives: music

Voyage to the Spirit Mountains

Author and musician, Paul Quarrington, diagnosed with stage four lung cancer, eloquently describes his plans to live each day as though it is his last, connecting with singing and the Canadian landscape.

Torngat Mountains

“As we journeyed through the Torngat Mountains, I finally realized what this trip was all about, for me. First of all, let me get a little scientific on you. The Torngats-comprised of Precambrian gneisses-are amongst the oldest mountains in the world, almost four billions years old. They rise out of the water with enchanted austerity. Sitting well above the tree line, the Torngats are stark naked and make no apology about it. Torngat is an Inuktitut word meaning Place of Spirits, and it very clearly is. The mountaintops are usually shrouded in cloud, and it’s easy enough to imagine the Spirits assembling there, going through the itinerary for another year. In short, the Torngat Mountains took what little breath I have away from me. The thought occurred that I was on another planet, and that’s when I realized, no, I’m on this planet, I’m just none too clear on what it actually looks like. I realized that what I wanted to do was spend a little time getting to know the third stone from the sun; it has been my home for 56 years, but I have spent much of it confined in the settlements. I wanted to explore and examine, I wanted to interact – yes, in the broadest, most spiritual sense.”

“So there, basically, you have the two main components of my plan for (what remains of) my future: singing and (spiritual) mountain climbing. For example, I think I’ll go fishing this week, getting to know Mother Ship Earth a bit better. I think I’ll go stand in a river just a few degrees above freezing and toss a yarn-fly into the current, over and over again, in the hopes of convincing some chromium-silver steelhead that the thing is edible. Or, I may simply go walkabout, kicking stones and major rock formations. I will build inuksuit (did you know that was the plural? I learned a lot on my voyages…) and I will try to build them across as much of the landscape as I can. In the meantime, I will be singing, all manner of songs. I will sing in Porkbelly Futures, I will sing with fiddlers and button accordionists, I will sing in Gospel choirs and Glee Clubs.”

Torngat Mountains

Inuit mythology tells of the Torngait, the spirits that a Shaman or spiritual leader looks to for wisdom and power. Torngat comes from this Inuit name and the legends which hold that in this region the spirit world overlaps our own. White people have called this area the Ghost Coast and have commented how the sounds of the winds whistling through the rugged mountains bring forth the feeling that one is in another realm. If the earth is home to ancient spirits they would seek out this land where the rocks are among the oldest on the planet and the landforms hold an otherworldly appearance. Perhaps this truly is a place of spirits.

The Torngat Mountains National Park Reserve is the new name for this ancient place. It is the northern portion of the Inuit homeland of Nunatsiavut, located in northern Labrador. (Nunatsiavut means “Our beautiful land” in Inuktitut, the language of the Inuit.) The park reserve encompasses roughly 10,000 km2 and extends from the deep waters of Saglek Fjord in the south, to the very northern tip of Labrador; and from the boundary with Quebec in the west, to the waters of the Labrador Sea in the east.

The human history of the park is rich and ancient. Within the park there are hundreds of archaeological sites including tent rings, stone caribou fences, caches, and ancient graves, all of which tell the story of the peoples and cultures, particularly the Inuit, who have made this special landscape their home.

Ramah Chert

South of Nachvak Fjord is Ramah Bay, home to a unique translucent stone called Ramah chert. This mineral holds an edge that is sharper than surgical steel. It was so prized by the ancient peoples of Labrador that prior to contact with the Europeans, some used this mineral almost exclusively in their arrows and blades.

Paul Quarrington: Each Day Like It’s My Last at National Post.

More at Wanderbird Expedition Cruises.

Ramah Chert.

For Sydney, and for Linda Gordon who loves the landscape.

Scottish Rap

No Rabbie BurnsRap music originated in the medieval taverns of Scotland rather than the mean streets of the Bronx and Brooklyn, an American academic has claimed.

Professor Ferenc Szasz argued that so-called rap battles, where two or more performers trade elaborate insults, derive from the ancient Caledonian art of “flyting”.

According to the theory, Scottish slave owners took the tradition with them to the United States, where it was adopted and developed by slaves, emerging many years later as rap.

“The Scots have a lengthy tradition of flyting – intense verbal jousting, often laced with vulgarity, that is similar to the dozens that one finds among contemporary inner-city African-American youth.

“Both cultures accord high marks to satire. The skilled use of satire takes this verbal jousting to its ultimate level – one step short of a fist fight.”

Flyting is a contest of insults, often conducted in verse. The word has been adopted by social historians from Scots usage of the fifteenth and sixteenth century in which bards would engage in public verbal contests of high-flying, extravagant abuse structured in the form of a poetic joust; the classic written example is The Flyting of Dumbar and Kennedie, which records a gloriously scurrilous contest between the poets Walter Kennedy and William Dunbar.

Echoes of the genre continue into modern poetry. Hugh MacDiarmid’s poem A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle, for example, has many passages of flyting in which the poet’s opponent is, in effect, the rest of humanity.

The academic, who specializes in American and Scottish culture at the University of New Mexico, made the link in a new study examining the historical context of Robert Burn’s work.

Comparing flyting and rap battles, he said: “Two people engage in ritual verbal duelling and the winner has the last word in the argument, with the loser falling conspicuously silent.”

Source: The Telegraph.

Image: From the book cover for No’ Rabbie Burns, by Stuart Macfarlane under the pen name, Stuart McLean.

The Secret of the Nutcracker

Visions of sugar plum fairies will dance in your head as The Secret of the Nutcracker, a new spin on the classic tale, comes to life.

The film is loosely base on E.T.A. Hoffman’s Nussknacker und Mausekönig which inspired Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Nutcracker.

It features the talented Brian Cox as Drosselmeyer, and introduces Janelle Jorde as Clara. This delightful Christmas tale tells the story of 12 year-old Clara’s mystical journey on Christmas Eve to find her father in a World War II German Prisoner of War camp. She receives unexpected help from the mysterious Drosselmeyer who befriends Clara and encourages her to believe that she can create magic.

The Secret of The Nutcracker is directed by Eric Till and features the music of Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and John Estacio, performed by the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. Four exquisite dance spectacles by the renowned Alberta Ballet are woven throughout to create Clara’s fantasy dream world.

There is a spectacular ballroom sequence with dancers in Venetian bird masks and costumes in all colours of the rainbow. Drosselmeyer doubles as a wise owl with glowing golden eyes, and he travels with an amusing flock of Swiss Guard crows.

Clara lives with her mother and two younger brothers in rural Alberta in 1943 while her father is a POW in Germany. This classic tale is seamlessly interwoven throughout with references to the Second World War and the Nazi internment camps.

The Secret of the Nutcracker begins a scene of the boys in the wood, sent to bring home a tree on Christmas Eve. They are startled by strange rustling noises, and they run home as quickly as they can.

The woods and the deserted road are ominous, and the shadowy figures that flash through the trees are reminiscent of the Nazi threat. We see Clara reflected in the golden eye of an owl, and there is a pervasive sense of being watched. In one of Clara’s frightening dreams, the Nazi menace appears as large black rat/bear creatures that imprison her mother and brothers in the trees.

In another, brighter dream, Clara visits her father with the help of Drosselmeyer, and gives him the gift of hope.

And yes, here’s the spoiler: Clara’s dad comes home at the end of the war, and there’s a quintessential Canadian scene of him running up the road through the snow to Clara, her brothers and their mother.

Video excerpts at Joe Media

You can get your very own copy of this award-winning film at CBC Shop

The Fioretti of Saint Francis

Saint FrancisFioretti di San Francesco (The Little Flowers of Saint Francis) is a florilegium – a collection of excerpts – divided into 53 short chapters, on the life of the fabled saint, which was composed at the end of the 14th century.

The anonymous Italian text, almost certainly by a Tuscan author, is a version of the Latin Actus beati Francisci et sociorum eius, of which the earliest extant manuscript is one of 1390 A.D. The text has been ascribed to Fra. Ugolino da Santa Maria, whose name occurs three times in the Actus.

The text has been the most popular account of his life and relates many colorful anecdotes, miracles and pious examples from the lives of Francis and his followers.

It is said that one day while Francis was traveling with some companions they happened upon a place in the road where birds filled the trees on either side. Francis told his companions to “wait for me while I go to preach to my sisters the birds”. The birds surrounded him, drawn by the power of his voice, and not one of them flew away. Francis spoke to them:

My sister birds, you owe much to God, and you must always and in everyplace give praise to Him; for He has given you freedom to wing through the sky and He has clothed you…you neither sow nor reap, and God feeds you and gives you rivers and fountains for your thirst, and mountains and valleys for shelter, and tall trees for your nests. And although you neither know how to spin or weave, God dresses you and your children, for the Creator loves you greatly and He blesses you abundantly. Therefore… always seek to praise God.

Wolf of GubbioFioretti tells that in the city of Gubbio, where Francis lived for some time, was a wolf “terrifying and ferocious, who devoured men as well as animals”. Francis had compassion upon the townsfolk, and went up into the hills to find the wolf. Soon, fear of the animal had caused all his companions to flee, though the saint pressed on. When he found the wolf, he made the sign of the cross and commanded the wolf to come to him and hurt no one. Miraculously the wolf closed his jaws and lay down at the feet of St. Francis.

“Brother Wolf, thou doest much harm in these parts and thou hast done great evil…” said Francis. “All these people accuse you and curse you…But brother wolf, I would make peace between you and the people.”

“As thou art willing to make this peace, I promise thee that thou shalt be fed every day by the inhabitants of this land so long as thou shalt live among them; thou shalt no longer suffer hunger, as it is hunger which has made thee do so much evil; but if I obtain all this for thee, thou must promise, on thy side, never again to attack any animal or any human being; dost thou make this promise?”

In agreement the wolf placed one of its forepaws in Francis’ outstretched hand, and the oath was made. Francis then commanded the wolf to return with him to Gubbio.

Meanwhile the townsfolk, having heard of the miracle, gathered in the city marketplace to await Francis and his companion, and were shocked to see the ferocious wolf behaving as though his pet. When Francis reached the marketplace he offered the assembled crowd an impromptu sermon with the tame wolf at his feet. He is quoted as saying: “How much we ought to dread the jaws of hell, if the jaws of so small an animal as a wolf can make a whole city tremble through fear?”

Gubbio was freed from the menace of the predator. Francis, ever the lover of animals, even made a pact on behalf of the town dogs, that they would not bother the wolf again.

These legends exemplify the Franciscan mode of charity and poverty as well as the saint’s love of the natural world. Part of his appreciation of the environment is expressed in his Canticle of the Sun, a poem written by the saint in Umbrian Italian shortly before his death in 1226, which expresses a love and appreciation of Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Mother Earth, Brother Fire, and all of God’s creations personified in their fundamental forms. In Canticle of the Creatures, he wrote: “All praise to you, Oh Lord, for all these brother and sister creatures.” His Canticle is believed to be among the first works of literature, if not the first, written in the Italian language.

It is an affirmation of Francis’ personal theology as he often referred to animals as brothers and sisters to Mankind, and rejected material accumulation and sensual comforts in favour of “Lady Poverty”.

Image: Saint Francis instructs the Wolf, Carl Weidemeyer-Worpswede, 1911

Canada’s Melancholy Bard

Poet, musician, novelist, ladies’ man, monk, actor… Leonard Norman Cohen, one of Canada’s most influential cultural icons was born on Sept. 21, 1934 in Montreal. Whether from a mountaintop at a Buddhist retreat in California, on the Greek island of Hydra or strolling along the streets of his beloved ville d’amour, the melancholy bard of popular music has delighted fans worldwide with his poetry, novels and music.

Leonard CohenLeonard Cohen’s towering songbook fits no category save its own, but they finally found a house big enough to hold him. Cohen’s overdue induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame came during Monday night’s ceremony at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York.

Between the inductions of Madonna, John Mellencamp, the Ventures, Gamble & Huff and Little Walter, Lou Reed took the podium to offer a generous tribute to his fellow rock poet.

Reed mentioned William S. Burroughs and Cohen as contemporaries, citing Naked Lunch and Beautiful Losers, and saying “one of them got more attention. I was always surprised by that.” Reed then quoted lavishly from the Cohen oeuvre from typewritten remarks, from First We Take Manhattan, Hey That’s No Way to Say Goodbye, Anthem and Cohen’s latest work Book of Longing. It was, appropriately, a most writerly induction for Montreal’s greatest living artist.

Cohen pronounced the induction “such and unlikely event” and “not a distinction I coveted,” while joking that music critic Jon Landau once said “I have seen the future of rock ‘n’ roll, and he is not Leonard Cohen.” Then came the perfect recital of Tower of Song before Damien Rice serenaded the hall with Hallelujah.

The evening was doubly celebratory for Montrealers as it was accompanied by the announcement of Cohen’s first live dates in Montreal in 15 years, with three shows at Place des Arts – June 23, 24 and 25 – as part of this year’s Montreal International Jazz Festival. There is also talk of an album.

Details at Montreal Gazette

CBC Digital Archives

Leonard Cohen website