Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Requiem for a concert

Phew. It's taken me three days to recover enough from our local music festival to write about it. We ended the festival with a performance of the Brahms Requiem in a transcription he did himself for piano duet -- we used two pianos, as we hadn't been sure which it was meant to be and the hire charges turned out to be almost the same. It should have been one -- or was at the first performance in 1871 (done because the venue wasn't big enough for an orchestra) -- but the editor of the score had made suggestions for extra octaves if you had the luxury of two.

I left choosing an outfit till an hour before the start time so as to have something to panic about other than my solo. I'm back to how overweight I was before I got pregnant, which is as much as I've ever been. As I buy all my clothes second hand and aren't too bothered about a snug fit, I generally have a range of sizes, and so it proved. A quite liked the look of the one I had to pour myself into, but my mother pointed out that the zip was straining and sanity prevailed. Sequins have amazingly little give, you know. I didn't want anything hampering my lung capacity -- that opening phrase demands every ounce of oxygen if you're not to snatch a breath in the middle (it's a sublime tune, 'Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit'). Anyway, it was all worth it, because I Did It In One. I was really quite pleased, as I didn't even always manage it in rehearsal. What with thinking about breathing, mood, a wide domey shape in my mouth (Berty speak), relaxing my tongue and not sticking my chin out, I fear that once again singing it in tune may have been pushed out by lack of memory capacity, but the people I asked who I expected to be candid said it hadn't been flat. In a week or so, when the buzz has worn off, we'll listen to the recording. I'm still not sure I woulnd't rather have the warm cosy glow of a memory happily distorted by the adrenalin rush, though.

An excellent group of singers, too: it's so lovely to listen to the exposed entries and not cringe. One needs all those choral society memories of fuzzy basses, histrionic tenors, wispy altos and strangled sopranos in order to appreciate really good singers. We did it with thirteen -- three to a part, plus an extra soprano to spare my blood pressure. They really were rather fabulous.

What can we do next year, though? Does anyone know of any good stuff that can legitimately be sung with piano or two-piano accompaniment, or have we exhausted that category? (We've done the Rossini Petite Messe Solenelle (piano and harmonium) and Carmina Burana (two pianos and percussion).) I guess we'll have to start thinking about a small orchestra, whether modern or baroque. Oh lord, it's going to be hell to organise. Ah. And there is one other requirement: if I'm going to fix the thing, it would be nice if it had a soprano solo. Wouldn't it? (Sniff.)

You read it first here! (errr... probably)

Baby-lead weaning has hit the media by the looks of it: there's an article about it in last Saturday's Times. As well as saying that purees are a waste of time, there's a new tide saying that the advice not to give solids at all until six months is wrong: it's based on research with third-world babies, which grow more slowly as they're less well nourished than ours.

All the women I know have started weaning before six months because it was clear that the babies wanted solid food. But health vistors are still laying down the law about it. I wonder why? I don't quite see why one has to look for governmental guidance in these matters anyway.

But then I've always had a low tolerance of food experts' advice: I've been eating butter steadily since the fashion for margarines -- and early lab experiments such as Outline, YEUCH! -- right through until they realised that maybe all those mad-scientist chemicals weren't such a good idea after all.

I'm going to write about BLW for the next issue of the Cambridge NCT magazine, anyway, and have been taking pics of Sasha reducing broccoli to its component molecules with which to illustrate it. Hurrah!

Friday, 22 June 2007

Oh, bloody hell

Oh lord, I so hate fixing concerts. Well.... certainly at this point of maximum stress when you get to the end of your list and you still haven't got enough singers and the date is getting closer and closer and you send out increasingly desperate emails to increasingly distantly known people and some of them still just don't answer at all and and and. It must be grim to do it professionally, where you do all the organising and don't even get to perform -- which at least you do, when you're an amateur, and fixing things you can sing in yourself. At which point it does at last seem worthwhile. Thank goodness.

Professional music really does sound like a dog's life a lot of the time. Well, I suppose in essence the perks aren't much better than those you get as an amateur, and the cons are very large cons -- the endless travelling, the constant pressure, the scrimped rehearsal time, the uncertainty... Yuck. Anyway. One of our tenors -- and we only have three, because of only having three each of everything -- has gone down with this week's nasty throat bug. What a bugger. Actually, it's probably worse for him: when you look forward to these things for ages, it often turns out that you get six months in peachy health and then some disgusting lurgy strikes just as throat-related fun was on the horizon. Yah, and boo, and sucks.

I've got behind with my book listings: it's actually quite hard work to write down everything I read. If I simply zap through a children's book in an hour or so, I don't mention it here, but I suppose, actually, a reading diary would be illuminating as a food diary if I didn't mind finding out what an addict I am. I'm currently reading a book online, which is wretchedly inconvenient: it's by the unwieldily named Lois McMaster Bujold, who seems to be recommended by most of the other people on the couple of mailing lists I'm on. Going well so far, but I'll post when I'm done. A couple of weeks ago I read Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, which had some fancy reviews. It's essentially a fairly stream-of-consciousness account of how she felt when her long-term partner died suddenly of a heart attack (this is on the cover blurb and therefore Doesn't Count as a spoiler). It was honest and candid and all that, but not, to be brutal, terribly interesting. Maybe I don't bottle up my own feelings enough to admire someone else for unbottling theirs. The fact that struck me most -- callow youth that I am -- was that she'd named her daughter 'Quintana'.

I've just reread Scoop for the umpteenth time, having recommended it to our reading group. It's one of the funniest books I know, and doesn't pall with re-reading. Amazingly, the satire has dated very little. It has a lot more heart than earlier works of Waugh's such as Decline and Fall and Vile Bodies, I think: Boot's relationship with -- have I got this right? -- Katryn is really rather poignant. But the sheer number of things the novel takes digs at is really pretty remarkable. It's in my list of my top ten books, which admittedly has never managed to shrink below fifteen and currently stands at twenty or so, but there you are. If you want to give Waugh a try, I'd also recommend A Handful of Dust, which has the distinction of being both very funny and one of the saddest stories I know (I'm deliberately quoting from Ford Madox Brown's The Good Soldier, which touts inself as 'the saddest story I know' and rather overplays its hand, I thought -- it's rather fusty, and never worked at all for me.).

I can't remember whether I said: we solved the last-minute alto crisis by going back to the top of the list and starting again. Genius. That was A's suggestion, of course: I was in too much of a flap to think straight. What's especially unhelpful, you know, is that it's never the same voice part twice. I've had a soprano crisis, an alto crisis, a tenor crisis and a bass crisis, at different times. Aaaargh. Imagine fixing a whole orchestra. (No, actually, I can't. Or mustn't. It makes me hyperventilate.)

Thursday, 21 June 2007

And the third bowl was just right...

I'm sitting here shovelling porridge into the gaping maw of the infant as quickly as is physically possible -- feeling very much like a tiny sparrow slaving over a cuckoo. Sasha is pebbledashed with porridge from eyebrow to ankle, and the adhesion of the stuff is impressive. We have bypassed fancy-pants baby porridge and only-for-wimps Ready Brek and gone straight to hardcore porridge oats (which coincidentally is about a tenth of the price). Funnily enough, changing from finger foods to spoon feeding doesn't seem to be a problem: Sash is grabbing the spoon out of my hand and shoving it in, then removing the contents with a hearty suck. We were sharing a bowl, and I swear I got less of it to eat.

Just getting into full panic mode for Sunday's concert of the Brahms German Requiem, not helped by someone pulling out a week before, which meant lots of running around. Unfortunately she was singing in Tuesday's concert too, which was extremely awkward -- I just didn't know what to say, so said nothing, which was interpreted as conveying extreme hostility. (I obviously don't do neutrality, but am as ever hampered by not knowing what my face looks like: that's why I'm such a rotten actor.)

The amateur singers' code of conduct is a very simple one, which for most of us actually reduces possible stress: you don't chuck in something you've said you'd do, even if something better comes along. I assume that pros go by the same rules. I wonder if other fields are similar too, or if, say, in sports it's okay to chuck a match if someone more impressive challenges you? The event has really soured this week for me, though -- and the person who did it was a very good friend, so I'm not sure how we retrieve things. Possibly by never referring to it again. Which will be tricky.

Sasha is doing that thing where they get up onto hands and knees but can't work out how to move forwards, so just rock forwards and backwards, as though revving up to go. Reversing is on the menu, as is going round in circles, and rolling over, particularly on scary restricted areas such as the changing mat (suspended above a cast-iron bath, so not a good platform from which to nose-dive). We feel that crawling is imminent, and have been thoughtfully providing mats and rugs as there's only one carpeted room in the house and the downstairs floors are all tiles and bricks and hard on knees and elbows.

It's time to cook some more porridge...

Friday, 8 June 2007

To patronise or not to patronise

I was just wondering... My comment about the 'O' level was essentially saying 'Look, I'm only quoting this because I happen to know it, not because I'm frightfully intellectual'. Is this terribly patronising? I'm never quite sure whether it's worse to assume that people do know things, or assume that they don't. People on the Dorothy L Sayers mailing list sometimes get very worked up about DLS putting chunks of French into the novels untranslated, and even having a short story that hinges on one knowing one's genders -- and of course you miss one whole vital denouement if you don't know Latin. Is this patronising? If it's assuming greater knowledge than readers actually possess, then presumably it's the opposite.

I've been re-reading the sequence Strong Poison, Have His Carcase, Gaudy Night, Busman's Honeymoon, which ends the Lord Peter Wimsey saga with the Wimsey-Vane relationship. It's rather beautifully done, and the last of these is particularly satisfying in taking things on much further than one ever hopes for. I did wonder whether Gaudy Night doesn't flag a little in the first two thirds in which Wimsey hardly appears, but in fact I think on reflection it jogs along nicely but then accelerates when he turns up: the romance and the mystery gather pace in tandem. The whole love story is immensely satisfying. It does seem to me that DLs must be unleashing her own fantasies, but she controls them beautifully.

Most of my copies are a 1970s edition by the New English Library, with just a few typos, but rather jolly cover illustrations (except one that I think if you studied it closely would actually give away the plot), but I have two books in a new reprint, also NEL (except, now, of course, it's in lower case (welcome to the noughties)) which is apparently Hodder & Stoughton. They've been reset incredibly badly, with laughable typos that an infant could spot (double commas; words that even Microsoft's spellchecker would know were wrong) and some real idiocies (a Latin telegram that someone has obviously thought was meant to be in English). They've also got a truly ghastly introduction by someone called Elizabeth George, who obviously thinks she's the bees' knees and is prepared to patronise DLS in order to prove it.

Ooh, I've come around in an elegant circle. That doesn't often happen. In fact, I loathe the way it's almost ubiquitous now as a journalistic technique. It's rare to read an article, or at least a light-hearted one, that doesn't feebly hark back to its opening paragraph. I can see why it's a useful technique, but not every time. Please.

A rose by any other name

Mmm -- presumably the novel The Name of The Rose gets its title from this quotation (which is from Romeo and Juliet, for those of you who didn't do it for 'O' level. (I went to a Catholic school and had a delightfully fusty English teacher, and still remember with pleasure his protestations that this was a sweetly romantic play without a trace of smut. I'd look at lines such as 'The bawdy hand of the dial/Is now upon the very prick of noon' and think, "Well, I don't know why it sounds rude," (yup, I was a very late developer) "but it definitely does."))

Anyway, my point is that I've been meaning to put a link here to a very nicely written article in the Guardian recently, which says pretty much everything I want to say about changing one's surname and giving surnames to children, without ever getting as horribly strident as I do when I have the discussion. I only know one other woman in the world who has, as I have, given her child her own surname, and I find that odd. When I put the list of new members into the Cambridge NCT (National Childbirth Trust) newsletter, I always look to see how many couples have different names. Considering that this is an 'intellectual' town, terribly middle class, and full of bolshy women (unless it just happens that those are the ones I know), it's usually amazingly few. Most disappointing. Actually, the really daft thing seems to me to be when the woman takes on the man's surname as well as her own. So they still have different names, the kid still gets his name, and she's lumbered with a whole pile. Seems ker-azy to me. If you're going to have both, why doesn't the chap have both too? But there, I'm starting to rant, and the whole point of this was to avoid that.

A said he was surprised at the whole thing too, but he was proud to be a torch-bearer. What a sweetheart. I never quite know whether the other chaps feel it's a challenge to their masculinity if a woman doesn't want to subsume a part of her identity in him (yes, inflammatory language, I know, I know, but honestly, your name is your identity and I don't see how you could dispute that), or if it's some kind of weird girl thing that the women want to, and as incomprehensible to me as a whole load of other weird girl things. I think at the root of this whole feminism thing for me is the fact that I'm really not more than 50% feminine...