hey ninteen: august pieces

Poem: Mailboxes in Late Winter by Jeffrey Harrison

It’s a motley lot. A few still stand
at attention like sentries at the ends
of their driveways, but more lean
askance as if they’d just received a blow
to the head, and in fact they’ve received
many, all winter, from jets of wet snow
shooting off the curved, tapered blade
of the plow. Some look wobbly, cocked
at oddball angles or slumping forlornly
on precariously listing posts. One box
bows steeply forward, as if in disgrace, its door 
lolling sideways, unhinged. Others are dented, 
battered, streaked with rust, bandaged in duct tape,
crisscrossed with clothesline or bungee cords.
A few lie abashed in remnants of the very snow 
that knocked them from their perches.
Another is wedged in the crook of a tree
like a birdhouse, its post shattered nearby.
I almost feel sorry for them, worn out
by the long winter, off-kilter, not knowing
what hit them, trying to hold themselves
together, as they wait for news from spring.

Thought: Every Love Story

“Every love story ultimately ends in some type of loss. Worst case scenario: they betray your trust, have a secret affair, contract an incurable sexually transmitted disease, infect you, and your marriage crumbles apart in a fiery blaze of agony. Best case scenario: you spend many happy decades together and then eventually you watch your sweetheart wither and die. Either way, loss. Either way, grief. Either way, some flavor of heartbreak. Every romantic relationship has an expiration date. It’s not "will it end?" but "how?" and "when?" Just like they say in the musical Hadestown: "It's a sad song. But we sing it anyway." Why do we keep singing? Why do we keep loving and loving, knowing that pain is inevitable? Because, despite everything, I guess, I think...it's still worth it. (At least, that's what my mom tells me. And she's very wise.)” - from Alexandra Franzen’s newsletter.

Song: The Breeze by Bill Callahan

Melbourne Recital Centre | Nicole Car in Recital

A Note on the Music

We begin with poetry, with movement, with a beckoning outstretched hand: Henri Duparc’s Invitation au voyage, based on the poetry of Charles Baudelaire is welcoming and sensual, promising and understated. An apt beginning, then, for a recital of some of the most exquisite songs and arias in the repertoire.  The Invitation, written around 1870, is distinctly French, but takes inspiration from Richard Wagner (it is said that Duparc heard Rheingold in 1869, and was greatly taken by the work). You can hear the passion in the poetry – Baudelaire was desperately in love with the actress, Marie Daubrun, as he was writing, and he uses the verses to describe a great trip he would take. It’s a journey of the mind more than it is of the body, which is perhaps the reason it translates so well to music; we are able to traverse the world of Baudelaire’s imagination, via Duparc’s notes in an instant from our seat in the concert hall. Duparc’s other showings on the program – his Chansons triste (1868) and Le manoir de Rosemonde (1879) -  give insight into the composer’s development. The early pieces speaking to his great reverence for his teacher, César Franck, and the clear influence of Franz Liszt and the aforementioned Wagner. By the time we visit Rosemonde, Duparc was working on bigger projects, specifically a larger operatic work, Roussalka, a piece ultimately abandoned when the composer later left the composition life altogether at the onset of mental illness.

Charles Gonoud, a man who wrote a significant twelve operas in his lifetime, revising them until the day he died, composed Faust to only mild success in 1859. Though it had a slow commercial beginning, Faust became not only one of Gounod’s best loved operas, but also one of the most frequently staged works of all time. “Elles se cachaient...Il ne revient pas” sings Marguerite at her spinning wheel, of her loneliness and the deep betrayal caused by Faust, who slept beside her and did not return. Federico Moreno Torroba’s aria Amor, vida de mi vida from the opera Maravilla echoes this sadness in love – the gifted but luckless singer Rafael is in love with Elvira, who happens to be in a relationship already.  

Hopeless love is continued in the two great arias from Giuseppe Verdi’s Don Carlos: in Tu che le vanità, the French princess Élisabeth, who has married the elderly King Philip II of Spain for political reasons, prepares for the arrival of her once-fiancé, now stepson Don Carlos. She, a devoutly religious and loyal woman, broke her happy engagement for the good of the two nations, and sings a this prayer for all those in her life – her husband, so he may lead well and with benevolence, for Don Carlos, who she remembers with such fondness, and for herself, and the peace she knows she will find in death. Rodrigo, Don Carlos’ great confidante, who is about to falsely confess to the treason his friend is currently on death row for, sings of his great love for Carlos in Per me giunto. It is in equal parts heart-breaking and heartening – the celebration of male friendship as potent today as it was at its premiere in 1867.

Just a few years later in 1871, Gabriel Fauré’s music had taken on a “new sombreness, a dark-hued sense of tragedy” that became evidence in his song writing, particularly in La Chanson du pêcheur. Gone were the days of Fauré’s great, young charm. He had arrived at a new chapter, this one mature, with a greater understanding of poetry, and a deepening interest in musical experimentation. Later still, in the writing of Automne as a 33-year-old, Fauré took the pleasant enough season and transformed it into a metaphor for the inevitability of passing time, and the elusiveness of memory. Here was a man with an ever-expanding understanding of the world he was living in, and the heartbreak that lay just around the corner. The text, by poet Paul-Armand Silvestre, paints an evocative picture: “Autumn, time of misty skies and heart-breaking horizons, of rapid sunsets and pale dawns, I watch your melancholy days flow past like a torrent”. The music echoes this gloomy feeling, it is circular, moving its listener into a sense of timelessness. We are stuck in a loop – musical memories repeating and returning as if stuck in an almost Groundhog Day-like pattern.

Jules Massenet’s Élégie is another musical depiction of melancholy, written specifically to praise and express sorrow for one who has passed away. Massenet’s Élégie, in its many forms, was one of the most popular pieces in the last decades of the nineteenth century – the sorrowful melody reaching the hearts of many. Originally written for cello, and later adapted for a wide variety of instruments and ensembles, the piece was eventually set to Louis Gallet’s poem ‘O doux printemps d’autrefois’. The composers Nuit d’Espagne shows a different side of Massenet. The piece finds joy in the world, in nature, in love. There is a subtle recognition of darkness, but the piece, after a small interlude of self-awareness (You understand me, cruel one, and you do not come), returns to its glad beginnings. “The night is serene, calm my heart!” goes the poem, “it’s time for love!”

Reynaldo Hahn also uses his songs to discuss the great themes of human existence – love, loss and time passing. In L’enamourée, he keeps his long-lost love alive by thinking of them at night. Conjuring up their image makes them real, if only for a second. With a similar reverence for the power of nature, L’heure exquise explores the possibilities that occur in the evening as “the white moon gleams in the woods... let us dream”, the poem goes, “it is the hour”.

In what would be one of Maurice Ravel’s last compositions, the composer was working with an incredibly strict composition brief from the Austrian film-maker, Georg Pabst. For his film about the Spanish Knight, Don Quichotte, Pabst asked for “a serenade, a heroic song and a comic one”, and while Ravel did not ever deliver (Ibert was hired to replace him), the Trois chansons de Don Quichotte a Dulcinée are wonderful vignettes, showing off Ravels absolute understanding of rhythm and colouring. The three pieces are dances: first, a quajira – a Spanish dance that alternates between bars of 6/8 and 3/4 rhythm. Then, a zortzico – a dance rhythm from Basque Country. The final piece is worked into the rhythm of the jota, a genre of music and dance originating in Aragon. The story is a well-known one: the many personality deficiencies of Don Quichotte. He is a lover, a holy warrior and a drinker, each represented in its own song.  

Ravel was not the only 19th century French composer to become fascinated with the sounds and rhythms of Spain. In fact, there was something of a trend in France from the middle of the century: locals were fascinated with the “exotic other”, and the rhythms and melodies of Spain became firm favourites of the French audience, and consistent inspiration for the creatives. Léo Delibes was drawn to the sounds of Spanish music, and his Les filles de Cadix (The Maids of Cadix) became an immediate hit with keen listeners in France.

Spain’s reach was further reaching than Europe, though, and the Mexican composer Agustín Lara wrote his hit song Granada about the Spanish city in several versions: the original Spanish lyrics, an English translation, and the multiple instrumental versions in jazz, pop, easy listening, flamenco and rock styles! It is an upbeat end, after the expansive emotional terrain we have wandered, but it is still a song of love – this time, for a wonderful place, full of stories and culture. Perhaps there is heartbreak around the corner (we are still in the world of opera, after all), but for now, there is only the magic of Granada.  

- M.S.

hey nineteen: july pieces

Poem: Among Women by Marie Ponsot

What women wander?
Not many. All. A few.
Most would, now & then,
& no wonder.
Some, and I’m one,
Wander sitting still.
My small grandmother
Bought from every peddler
Less for the ribbons and lace
Than for their scent
Of sleep where you will,
Walk out when you want, choose
Your bread and your company.
She warned me, “Have nothing to lose.”
She looked fragile but had
High blood, runner’s ankles,
Could endure, endure.
She loved her rooted garden, her
Grand children, her once
Wild once young man.
Women wander
As best they can.

Thought: Austin Kleon on Bach

“His music is so amazingly beautiful, but Bach didn’t grow up in some idyllic setting. Conductor John Eliot Gardiner, who’s written a biography of Bach, says that previous Bach biographies have painted rosy portraits of the composer, not allowing that a mere human could create such heavenly works. But his research has turned up evidence that Bach grew up in a “thuggish world.” (Don’t we all?) Bach was able to do what all great artists do: take their pain and despair and channel it into works of such beauty and truth that they turn us away from our own despair and towards the light. Artists like Bach do us the greatest service of any true artist: they give us encouragement to keep living, to keep going.”

Song: Running up that Hill by Kate Bush covered by Meg Myers

hey nineteen: june pieces

Poem: If I Should Have A Daughter by Sarah Kay

If I should have a daughter, instead of Mom, she's gonna call me Point B,
because that way she knows that no matter what happens,
at least she can always find her way to me.
And I'm going to paint solar systems on the backs of her hands,
so she has to learn the entire universe before she can say,
"Oh, I know that like the back of my hand."
And she's going to learn that this life will hit you hard in the face,
wait for you to get back up just so it can kick you in the stomach.
But getting the wind knocked out of you is the only way to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air.
There is hurt here that cannot be fixed by Band-Aids or poetry.
So the first time she realizes that Wonder Woman isn't coming,
I'll make sure she knows she doesn't have to wear the cape all by herself.
Because no matter how wide you stretch your fingers,
your hands will always be too small to catch all the pain you want to heal. Believe me, I've tried.
"And, baby," I'll tell her, "don't keep your nose up in the air like that.
I know that trick; I've done it a million times.
You're just smelling for smoke so you can follow the trail back to a burning house,
so you can find the boy who lost everything in the fire to see if you can save him.
Or else find the boy who lit the fire in the first place,
to see if you can change him."
But I know she will anyway, so instead I'll always keep an extra supply of chocolate and rain boots nearby,
because there is no heartbreak that chocolate can't fix.
Okay, there's a few heartbreaks that chocolate can't fix.
But that's what the rain boots are for.
Because rain will wash away everything, if you let it.
I want her to look at the world through the underside of a glass-bottom boat, to look through a microscope at the galaxies that exist on the pinpoint of a human mind, because that's the way my mom taught me.
That there'll be days like this.
♫ There'll be days like this, my momma said. ♫
When you open your hands to catch and wind up with only blisters and bruises;
when you step out of the phone booth and try to fly and the very people you want to save are the ones standing on your cape;
when your boots will fill with rain,
and you'll be up to your knees in disappointment.
And those are the very days you have all the more reason to say thank you.
Because there's nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline, no matter how many times it's sent away.
You will put the wind in winsome, lose some.
You will put the star in starting over, and over.
And no matter how many land mines erupt in a minute, be sure your mind lands on the beauty of this funny place called life.
And yes, on a scale from one to over-trusting, I am pretty damn naive.
But I want her to know that this world is made out of sugar.
It can crumble so easily,
but don't be afraid to stick your tongue out and taste it.
"Baby," I'll tell her, "remember, your momma is a worrier, and your poppa is a warrior, and you are the girl with small hands and big eyes who never stops asking for more."
Remember that good things come in threes and so do bad things.
And always apologize when you've done something wrong.
But don't you ever apologize for the way your eyes refuse to stop shining.
Your voice is small, but don't ever stop singing.
And when they finally hand you heartache,
when they slip war and hatred under your door and offer you handouts on street-corners of cynicism and defeat,
you tell them that they really ought to meet your mother.

Thought: You Feel Like Shit

Barely a thought, more of a helpful reminder when you’re feeling a bit crap (or a lot crap). The “self-care game” you feel like shit can help. Play here. Save it in your bookmarks.

Song: Everyday by Buddy Holly

hey nineteen: may pieces

Poem: I’m a Depressed Poem by David Ignatow

You are reading me now and thanks. I know I feel a bit better and if you will stay with me a little longer, perhaps take me home with you and introduce me to your friends, I could be delighted and change my tone. I lie in a desk drawer, hardly ever getting out to see the light and be held. It makes me feel so futile for having given birth to myself in anticipation. I miss a social life. I know I made myself for that. It was the start of me. I'm grateful that you let me talk as much as this. You probably understand, from experience; gone through something like it yourself which may be why you hold me this long. I've made you thoughtful and sad and now there are two of us. I think it's fun.

Thought: Capellanus on Marriage

The first rule from The Art of Courtly Love, written around 1180 by Andreas Capellanus: Marriage is no real excuse for not loving.

Song: Cloudy by Simon and Garfunkel

hey nineteen: april pieces

Poem: And Day Brought Back My Night by Geoffrey Brock

It was so simple: you came back to me
And I was happy. Nothing seemed to matter
But that. That you had gone away from me
And lived for days with him—it didn’t matter.
That I had been left to care for our old dog
And house alone—couldn’t have mattered less!
On all this, you and I and our happy dog
Agreed. We slept. The world was worriless.

I woke in the morning, brimming with old joys
Till the fact-checker showed up, late, for work
And started in: Item: it’s years, not days.
Item: you had no dog. Item: she isn’t back,
In fact, she just remarried. And oh yes, item: you
Left her, remember? I did? I did. (I do.)

Thought: Seth Godin on why “I don’t like your work” doesn’t mean “I don’t like you”

“Here are two useful things to consider:

  1. There is plenty of disliked work from people (and things) where I don’t even know the creator. I don’t like Wagner’s operas, and I never even met him. If it’s possible to dislike something without knowing the person behind it, I hope we can embrace the fact that they’re unrelated.

  2. If we need everyone to like our work in order to feel grounded, it means that we’ll sacrifice the best of what we could create in order to dumb it down for whatever masses happen to be speaking up. Which will make it more average (aka mediocre) and thus eliminate any magic we had hoped to create.”

Song: Birds by Neill Young covered by Marketa Irglova and Sean Rowe

hey nineteen: march pieces

Poem: Summing Up by Claribel Alegria

In the sixty-three years
I have lived
some instants are electric:
the happiness of my feet
jumping puddles
six hours in Machu Picchu
the buzzing of the telephone
while awaiting my mother’s death
the ten minutes it took
to lose my virginity
the hoarse voice
announcing the assassination
of Archbishop Romero
fifteen minutes in Delft
the first wail of my daughter
I don’t know how many years yearning
for the liberation of my people
certain immortal deaths
the eyes of that starving child
your eyes bathing me in love
one forget-me-not afternoon
the desire to mold myself
into a verse
a cry
a fleck of foam.

                  — translated from the Spanish
        by the author and Darwin T. Flakoll

Thought: Morgan Harper Nichols on when strength doesn’t look like strength

“A year ago, you didn’t know you could be this strong. You didn’t know that all along, courage was rising up within you. Back then, it just seemed like you were trying to make it through. It just felt like you were trying to survive when all of the odds were stacked against you. You didn’t realize that every late night you fought through and every early morning you woke up to was a beautiful light-woven reminder that you were far from finished yet. It did not feel like it then, but the seeds you were sowing were being watered. What seemed like it was only rain was actually the nourishment you needed to grow into the next stage.”

Song: The Snow It Melts The Soonest by Anne Briggs

melbourne symphony orchestra | requiem blog

How did Giuseppe Verdi, notably not a church-going man, come to write one of the most revered and performed requiems of all time? It’s kind of a funny story. The name and the texts are steeped in religious significance, and most often, a Requiem Mass or Mass of the Dead is heard in the context of funerals or memorial services.

It turns out though, it’s a little more complicated than slapping the composer with an atheist label. Like many musicians of his time, (he lived between 1813 to 1901) Verdi spent much of his upbringing working in the church. As a child, he would make the long walk to service every Sunday to fulfil his job as an organist. The church was where he discovered music and art, and while as an adult he chose not to attend the services, we can still catch glints of Verdi’s spirituality in his writing. It was his wife, the Italian operatic soprano Giuseppina Strepponi, who gave him the label he is now know for: “a doubtful believer”.

Verdi had an unusual reason for penning his version of the traditional religious requiem. He was not moved by images of the dead or plagued by crushing thoughts on his own mortality; instead, he was deeply moved by the death of another artist, the writer and intellectual, Alessandro Manzoni. Manzoni’s most famous work, the historical novel scattered with Catholic ideology The Betrothed, happened into Verdi’s life when the composer was a teenager. Verdi carried it with him (literally and metaphorically) for most of his artistic life. When they finally met, Verdi was beside himself, writing “I would have gone down on my knees before him if we were allowed to worship men. They say it is wrong to do so, and it may be, although we raise up on altars many that have neither the talent nor the virtue of Manzoni and indeed are perfect scoundrels.”

Of course, then, when Manzoni died in 1873, Verdi could not join the throngs of grieving fans; he was simply too grief-stricken to mourn with the rest of them. Instead, he went to the mayor of Milan and proposed the Requiem we now know – a musical memorial for the man who had spoken to a nation through his work. It was “premiered”, if we may use that term, on the first anniversary of Manzoni’s death in a church that proscribed applause. The drama, the pathos; performed to a room of silence.

For the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

hey nineteen: february pieces

Poem: February by Margaret Atwood

Winter. Time to eat fat
and watch hockey. In the pewter mornings, the cat,
a black fur sausage with yellow
Houdini eyes, jumps up on the bed and tries
to get onto my head. It’s his
way of telling whether or not I’m dead.
If I’m not, he wants to be scratched; if I am
He’ll think of something. He settles
on my chest, breathing his breath
of burped-up meat and musty sofas,
purring like a washboard. Some other tomcat,
not yet a capon, has been spraying our front door,
declaring war. It’s all about sex and territory,
which are what will finish us off
in the long run. Some cat owners around here
should snip a few testicles. If we wise
hominids were sensible, we’d do that too,
or eat our young, like sharks.
But it’s love that does us in. Over and over
again, He shoots, he scores! and famine
crouches in the bedsheets, ambushing the pulsing
eiderdown, and the windchill factor hits
thirty below, and pollution pours
out of our chimneys to keep us warm.
February, month of despair,
with a skewered heart in the centre.
I think dire thoughts, and lust for French fries
with a splash of vinegar.
Cat, enough of your greedy whining
and your small pink bumhole.
Off my face! You’re the life principle,
more or less, so get going
on a little optimism around here.
Get rid of death. Celebrate increase. Make it be spring.

Thought: Grace Paley on learning to grow old from her father

“My father had decided to teach me how to grow old. I said O.K. My children didn’t think it was such a great idea. If I knew how, they thought, I might do so too easily. No, no, I said, it’s for later, years from now. And besides, if I get it right it might be helpful to you kids in time to come.

They said, Really?

My father wanted to begin as soon as possible.


Please sit down, he said. Be patient. The main thing is this — when you get up in the morning you must take your heart in your two hands. You must do this every morning.

That’s a metaphor, right?

Metaphor? No, no, you can do this. In the morning, do a few little exercises for the joints, not too much. Then put your hands like a cup over and under the heart. Under the breast. He said tactfully. It’s probably easier for a man. Then talk softly, don’t yell. Under your ribs, push a little. When you wake up, you must do this massage. I mean pat, stroke a little, don’t be ashamed. Very likely no one will be watching. Then you must talk to your heart.

Talk? What?

Say anything, but be respectful. Say — maybe say, Heart, little heart, beat softly but never forget your job, the blood. You can whisper also, Remember, remember.”

Song: Heartbeat Chili by Allo Darlin’

hey nineteen: january pieces

Poem: Sunday by January Gill O’Neil

You are the start of the week
or the end of it, and according
to The Beatles you creep in
like a nun. You're the second
full day the kids have been
away with their father, the second
full day of an empty house.
Sunday, I've missed you. I've been
sitting in the backyard with a glass
of Pinot waiting for your arrival.
Did you know the first Sweet 100s
are turning red in the garden,
but the lettuce has grown
too bitter to eat. I am looking
up at the bluest sky I have ever seen,
cerulean blue, a heaven sky
no one would believe I was under.
You are my witness. No day
is promised. You are absolution.
You are my unwritten to-do list,
my dishes in the sink, my brownie
breakfast, my braless day.

Thought: David Whyte on naming love

“Naming love too early is a beautiful but harrowing human difficulty. Most of our heartbreak comes from attempting to name who or what we love and the way we love, too early in the vulnerable journey of discovery.

We can never know in the beginning, in giving ourselves to a person, to a work, to a marriage or to a cause, exactly what kind of love we are involved with. When we demand a certain specific kind of reciprocation before the revelation has flowered completely we find ourselves disappointed and bereaved and in that grief may miss the particular form of love that is actually possible but that did not meet our initial and too specific expectations. Feeling bereft we take our identity as one who is disappointed in love, our almost proud disappointment preventing us from seeing the lack of reciprocation from the person or the situation as simply a difficult invitation into a deeper and as yet unrecognizable form of affection.”

Song: This Will Be Our Year by The Zombies