Category Archives: Faith

An Ontario Tempest

The next Shakespeare@Stratford film to hit YouTube is the Festival’s 2018 production of The Tempest, premiering on Thursday, May 14 and running for three weeks.  Here’s my review from when my wife and I saw the play live in October of that year.

This is the third production of The Tempest we’ve seen at Stratford, Ontario; since we started attending in 2004, the Festival has usually marketed the play as a chance to catch an actor of high skill and reputation (and often getting on in years) in the role of Prospero. 2005’s Tempest served as a grand farewell for William Hutt, the most accomplished classical actor in Canada’s theatrical history; the 2010 production was built on Christopher Plummer returning to the scene of his earliest triumphs. This time around, the hook was seeing Martha Henry (since Hutt’s passing, the current Greatest Living Canadian Actor) playing the exiled magician — part of a season with multiple productions (a gender-swapped Julius Caesar and a gender-fluid Comedy of Errors, along with the drag-rock musical The Rocky Horror Show) trendily exploring postmodern conceptions of freedom.

But any dreams or fears of a transgressive Tempest faded quickly; Henry forthrightly played Prospero as female — duchess of Milan, mother of Miranda, wizard ruler of an uncharted, enchanted island — with a few modest tweaks of the script not even scuffing the verse rhythms, and that was that. (After all, it’s a fairy tale; if you’re worried about the lines of descent for Renaissance Italian nobility being messed up, you’ve come to the wrong play.) Even better, this was an ensemble Tempest, with Henry clearly featured, but also clearly first among equals. Rather than chewing scenery a la Plummer or waxing grandiloquent like Hutt, she drove the plot without swallowing the stage, working to provide for her daughter, bring those who exiled her to book, reward virtue and punish wrong with formidable focus, aplomb and dry humor. And all the while, she genuinely wrestled with conflicting impulses: would she take vengeance on her adversaries, or show them mercy? It’s a tribute to Henry’s and director Antoni Cimolino’s conception that, even if you knew the play, the answer wasn’t telegraphed.

The strong cast also elevated this production, consistently playing off Henry’s indispensable work while fruitfully developing their own characters. Andre Morin’s Ariel did Prospero’s bidding with delight, while holding her to the promise of eventual freedom; Michael Blake’s Caliban chafed convincingly under her authoritarian rule. For once, the shipwrecked mariners were three-dimensional characters, not plot tokens — the King of Naples Alonso (David Collins) ripely autocratic, Prospero’s usurping brother Antonio (Graham Abbey) convincingly sociopathic, counselor Gonzalo (Rod Beattie) more of a sage and less of a fool than usual. Tom McCamus as butler Stephano and Stephen Ouimette as jester Trinculo clowned to perfection, nailing every laugh possible whether on their own, with Caliban or with the ensemble. The young lovers were the most pleasant surprise; Ferdinand and Miranda can feel like weak sauce in the wrong hands, but Sebastien Heins & Mamie Zwettler were spunky, passionate, intelligent, fully cognizant of their developing affections — strong & spot-on.

And yes, the special effects and pageantry (serious creature puppetry by the ensemble of Spirits & Monsters at key moments, Festival stalwarts Chick Reid and Lucy Peacock regally presiding over Act Four’s celebratory wedding masque) were impressive as always. But Stratford productions go deepest when they cut to the heart — and this Tempest showed us, beyond its numerous charms and delights, the depth of Prospero’s sacrifice. To become truly great as well as truly free, the exiled ruler must serve her enemies as well as her friends — forgiving wrongs, securing Naples and Milan’s future through Ferdinand and Miranda’s marriage, releasing the spirits of the island, and abjuring her “rough magic.” Martha Henry’s reading of Shakespeare’s Epilogue – bereft but relieved, slyly humorous in its appeal to the audience for final release through prayer and applause – communicated both the cost of Prospero’s renunciations, and their true worth. It was a lovely end to the best, most bracing production of The Tempest we’ve seen at the Festival.

Watch the premiere of The Tempest on the Stratford Festival’s YouTube channel tomorrow at 7 pm EDT; a pre-show chat with Martha Henry, Mamie Zwettler and Antoni Cimilono starts at 6:30 pm.

— Rick Krueger

Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus, Songs of Yearning

I have never before heard anything quite like this album.  And since I first listened to it at a friend’s urging this past weekend, I find myself returning to it again and again.  It resists description, yet compels a response; it’s utterly fresh but feels like it’s been around forever.

Working as a loose creative collective since the mid-1980s, Liverpool’s Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus have consistently pursued what they describe as “echoes of the sacred” in their work, striving to access a sonic space where transcendence can invade a stiflingly measured-out world.   On their fourth album Songs of Yearning, they’ve discovered new room for rumors of glory to run, and the result is uniquely powerful, its resonance strikingly amplified by the shadows of doubt that now openly stalk our lives.

RAIJ’s music calls to mind much that I’ve heard and loved over the years — abstract soundscapes by Robert Fripp and Brian Eno; the “holy minimalism” of composers Arvo Pärt and Henryk Górecki; the sparse, charged post-rock Talk Talk found with Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock, to name a few.   But comparisons to other artists fall short of describing Songs of Yearning’s rich mix of reticent modesty and bold experiment. Dissecting the music into its component parts — a breathtaking gamut of sound sourced from liturgy, folksong, chamber music, pop & rock of all stripes, ambience, industrial noise, found dialogue and much more — won’t do the trick either.  The only way to catch the breadth and depth of what’s here is to dive in:

Short and relatively direct as it is, “Celestine” unfolds the Revs’ approach with inviting clarity.  The simple acoustic guitar pattern and the female vocal in French doubled by bells — they’re straightforward enough.  But that flute — is it slightly out of tune, or carving out its own tonality?  The acoustic bass and harmony vocals — how is it they sound now consonant, now dissonant, flickering in and out of sync by the second?  And in the end, each layer goes its own way, ever so gently drifting apart harmonically and rhythmically, but still bound up in an organic, contemplative whole.

Continue reading Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus, Songs of Yearning

LOOK to GOD’S PROVIDENCE with Humility

Auld Pop (Thomas Munro, Sr.) said we should always look to God’s providence with great humility. In all our affairs and business of a family and nation we had to depend upon His blessing.

Both my father and Auld Pop believed that the family was the basis of our culture and civilization and If God were not acknowledged there we would have no reason to expect his blessing. Auld Pop often said the “best laid plans o’ mice an’ men aft gang agley.” For enriching a family or nation some are so grasping and avaricious and Midas-like that they forget what really matters which is love and the happiness of one’s race and line.

Yes, that was an expression I often heard that we should have pride in our race and line (as Munros and as Gaels) and that we should “Dread God” (Biodh T-eagal Dhe Oirre; we should reverence unto God: this is the ancient Munro motto of course). Money was important, of course, because one needed bread “but man did not live on bread alone” and also “what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?” I think it was very clear to me that my father and grandfather were unfailing opponents of the passion for wealth, advancement in society or the preoccupation with material things. Neither man played golf of spent more time than necessary with business associates preferring to spend their holidays and weekend entirely with their wives and children. My father and grandfather taught me to read and write before I went to school and gave me the rudiments of Spanish, Latin, French and Gaelic at home. They considered children to be God’s gifts, a heritage, a blessing and special a reward : a thousand treasures in one.

They often spoke of “our splendid ancient heritage” which I suppose was our entire civilization of music, poetry, literature, art, language, song and our faith and free institutions. My father and Auld Pop also lived through the Great Depression and had memories of the Highland Clearances and the Great Hunger of the 1840’s. They had seen war, experienced hunger, exile and immigration and knew that there was no absolute security to be found in material wealth anywhere at any time. At best money could be a cushion but over and over I was told the “man was the gold and that a man could not be measured by the colour of his skin, or by his speech, or by his clothes and jewels, but only by the heart” (from Mika Waltari) Real wealth was richness of experience, joy in friends and family and delight in conviviality, music, verse, art and literature.

The author RICHARD K. MUNRO after a hike in Sedona, Arizona

A Passion Like No Other

On Good Friday 2020, the Leipzig Bachfest presented a unique version of Bach’s St. John Passion in Bach’s home church, the Thomaskirche.  It was a performance uncannily suited to these extraordinary times.

To quote the announcement of the performance (quickly re-scheduled for Good Friday following the cancellation of the 2020 Bachfest):

The actual Passion story will be performed by just three musicians. In this production, the Icelandic tenor Benedikt Kristjánsson tells the story of Jesus’ Passion on the basis of Bach’s Passion, taking on the role of the Evangelist and all the other characters – and also conducting the virtual choir. Harpsichordist Elina Albach and percussionist Philipp Lamprecht take the role of the orchestra. (Photo: Nino Halm).

All the viewers at home are invited to sing the chorales besides five singers in St. Thomas’ Church led by Thomaskantor Gotthold Schwarz, and the artists. Bach choirs who were invited to the 2020 Bachfest will be participating by video link.

At first, I found the idea of a chamber St. John Passion a bit disconcerting — like an unrealized idea of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, perhaps?  But the Thomaskirche (with video inserts from the absent choirs) proved the perfect setting for the sparse instrumentation. And as the 90-minute work unwound, it became more and more moving; the musicianship, focus and dedication Kristjánsson, Albach and Lamprecht conjured up was inescapable — especially during a riveting version of the Passion’s finale.  It brings me to tears every time I hear it, and this time was no exception:

Lord, let at last Thine angels come,
To Abram’s bosom bear me home,
That I may die unfearing;
And in its narrow chamber keep
My body safe in peaceful sleep
Until Thy reappearing.
And then from death awaken me,
That these mine eyes with joy may see,
O Son of God, Thy glorious face,
My Savior and my fount of grace.
Lord Jesus Christ, my prayer attend, my prayer attend,
And I will praise Thee without end.

My suggestion: set aside an hour and a half today or tomorrow, hook up your computer or miscellaneous online device to a big screen and a good sound system, and let this powerful version of one of Bach’s greatest masterpieces rip.  The stream is here; program (with the chorales printed out for singing) is here.

— Rick Krueger

Christopher Dawson: Preparing to Fight Modernity

Too sickly to fight in the Great War, Christopher Dawson volunteered for civilian duty and spent roughly fourteen years reading and drawing up ideas to prepare for a career in writing.  He had received a profound mystical vision on Easter, 1909, while visiting Rome.  In that vision, the nineteen-year old Anglo-Welshman believed God had commanded him to record the entire history of the world, showing him all times and all peoples at once.  Determined to live up to what God had asked him, he began building upon an already solid liberal education.

During these years, he kept extensive notes and journals influential writings included in his notes came from the significant historians, anthropologists, and thinkers from every school of thought from his day.  Generally, he took notes in the same language as the original texts, and he delved deeply into Plato’s Laws and the various writings by Aristotle, Xenophon, and Heraclitus.  In his journals, now residing at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, one can see vividly that Dawson readily moved through a variety of languages including English, French, Greek, and Latin.[1]  

In the same notebook, presumably after reading the above authors, Dawson concluded tellingly: “All the events of the last years have convinced me what a fragile thing civilization is and how near we are to losing the whole inheritance which our age might have acquired [sic] enjoyed.”

In addition to his voluminous academic and scholarly reading, he also devoured wht works of Jane Austen, Henry David Thoreau, P.J. Wodehouse, Hilaire Belloc, G.K. Chesterton, H.G. Wells, R.H. Benson, Arthur Conan Doyle, and a huge selection of science fiction, historical fiction, American westerns, and English detective stories.[2]  G.K. Chesterton, especially, influenced Dawson, as the latter regarded him as “one of the greatest champions of Christian culture in our time.”[3]  Chesterton’s most influential work on Dawson was his epic poem, The Ballad of the White Horse [read from this?].  This poem, perhaps the most significant call to arms for twentieth-century Christian Humanists, equally inspired C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Russell Kirk.

[Please continue reading on page 2]

Jesus Christ The Exorcist

Just when you think you have Neal Morse figured out, he throws another curve ball. His latest project is “a progressive rock musical”, and it is unlike anything else he has produced.

First, Neal himself is not a prominent voice here. He only sings the part of Pilate, along with very minor contributions as a demon and a disciple. Second, this really is a musical, where one song flows seamlessly into another. To fully appreciate it, the listener needs to set aside the time to listen to it in one setting. Third, stylistically this is the most diverse set of songs Neal has written. In his own words, “There are touching ballads, rousing ensemble pieces, classical elements, and dramatic Broadway musical type songs, as well.”

The role of Jesus is performed by Ted Leonard, and he is perfect for it – authoritative one minute, combative the next, and achingly tender in other settings. It’s one of Leonard’s finest performances. Another standout performer is Nick D’Virgilio as Judas, where he manages to convey his initial excitement at Jesus’ early miracles, and then his confusion and disillusionment when he realizes his rabbi isn’t going to overthrow the Roman oppression of Israel. His anguish in “Dark Is The Night” is palpable as he sings,

Jesus there must be some other way
Of conquering the enemy
How can you help us
If you are dead and gone?

Speaking of Jesus, Morse’s version is definitely not the same as the Jesus Christ Superstar from the early ’70s. Where Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus was the happy, hip leader of a group of countercultural provocateurs, Morse’s is a man of action. As I listened to Jesus Christ The Exorcist, the Gospel of Mark came to mind: to the point, not a lot of parables or theological discussions, but many examples of active ministry. Morse’s Jesus is the one in the title: an exorcist waging spiritual battle against the devil and his demons. In many ways, it’s a refreshing portrait. Morse strips the story of Jesus down to the bare essentials – his baptism, temptation, casting out seven demons from Mary, saving the madman of the Gadarenes, the Last Supper, his arrest, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection. If someone who had no idea who Jesus Christ was listened to this album, he or she would have a pretty good understanding afterwards.

What about the music? Neal still has the gift of beautiful melody, and “Love Has Called My Name” is one of the catchiest songs he’s ever composed. There are some fairly heavy tracks (“Get Behind Me Satan”, for example), some singer/songwriter songs (the aforementioned “Dark Is The Night”), some blues (“The Woman of Seven Devils”), and some very nice prog (“Jesus’ Temptation”). “There’s A Highway” sounds like it could be blasting out of a late-70s FM rock radio station.

The vocal performances are uniformly excellent, especially Talon David as Mary Magdalene. Neal wrote and produced the entire piece, as well as playing guitar, keyboards, bass, and percussion. Eric Gillette from the Neal Morse Band plays drums (!), and long-time collaborator Randy George is on bass. Paul Bielatowicz plays lead guitar. There’s also a string orchestra, horns, male chorus, female chorus, and a kitchen sink (just kidding!).

If you’re a fan of Neal, you probably already have this. If his occasional flights of prog excess have made you wary of his music, give this a try – it covers more familiar musical territory. Even if you are not a Christian, give it a listen. It’s actually not as “preachy” as Morse’s earlier Testimony albums, and his gift for composing a memorable melody really shines here, making Jesus Christ The Exorcist one of the most enjoyable musical experiences of 2019.

 

Critical Moments: Tolkien’s Mythology, 1914-1937

As some of you might now, I’m in the middle of completing a book manuscript on the history of the Inklings for ISI Books. Here’s my partial list of critical moments in the creation of Tolkien’s larger mythology, from its earliest hints to the publication of The Hobbit.

“Bidding of the Minstrel” (poem)             Winter 1914[1]

“Tinfang Warble” (Poem)                          1914[2]

On Francis Thompson (paper)                 1914[3]

“Earendil” (poem)                                       September 1914[4]

“Kalevala; or Land of Heroes” (paper)     November 22, 1914[5]

“The Story of Kullervo,” (story)                late 1914

“Qenya Lexicon” (dictionary)                    1915[6]

On the Kalevala (paper)                              February 1915[7]

“Man in the Moon” (poem)                        March 1915[8]

“Sea Chant of an Elder Day” (poem)       March 1915[9]

“Cottage of Lost Play” (Poem)                   April 27-28, 1915[10]

“Shores of Faery” (poem)                          July 1915[11]

“The Happy Mariners” (poem)                  July 1915[12]

“A Song of Aryador” (poem)                     September 12, 1915


“Kortirion Among the Trees” (Poem)      November 21-28, 1915[13]

“Over Old Hills and Far Away” (Poem) December 1915-February 1916[14]

“Habbanan Beneath the Stars” (Poem)   December 1915 or June 1916[15]

Prelude, Inward, Sorrowful (poems)       March 16-18, 1916[16]

“The Fall of Gondolin” (story)                  1916-1917[17]

“Tale of Tinuviel” (story)                            1917[18]

“Cottage of Lost Play” (story)                    February 12, 1917[19]

The Music of the Ainur (story)                  Between November 1918 and Spring 1920[20]

“Turin Turambar & the Dragon” (story) 1919[21]

“The Fall of Gondolin” (story aloud)       Spring 1920[22]

“Lay of the Children of H” (poem)           1920-1925[23]

“The City of the Gods” (poem)                 1923[24]

Question if Beren a man or elf                 1925-1926[25]

“Lay of Leithian (poem)                             1925-September 1931[26]

“The Silmarillion” (story)                           1926[27]

“Silmarillion/Sketch” (story)                     1926[28]

“Intro to Elder Edda” (paper)                   November 17, 1926[29]

“Mythopoeia” (poem)                                  September 1931-November 1935[30]

The Hobbit (novel)                                      Late 1928-1936[31]

“The Quenta” (story)                                   1930[32]

“Earliest Annals of Valinor”                      1930[33]

“Annals of Beleriand”                                 1930[34]

Second version of Silmarillion                 1930-1937[35]

“New Lay of Volunga” (poem)                   early 1930s[36]

“New Lay of Gudrún” (poem)                   early 1930s[37]

“A Secret Vice” (paper)                              1931[38]

“Fall of Arthur” (poem)                              1931-1934[39]

“Beowulf: Monsters and Critics” (paper) November 25, 1936[40]

“The Lost Road” (story)                             1936-37[41]

“The Fall of Númenor” (story)                  1936-37[42]

Draft of Silmarillion to Allen/Unwin      November 1937[43]

“On Fairy Stories” (paper)                         March 8, 1939[44]


Sources

[1] CJRT, HOME 2, 269.

[2] CJRT, HOME 1, 107.

[3]Garth, Tolkien at Exeter, 30.

[4] CJRT, HOME 2, 267; Garth has it on November 27, 1914; see Garth, Tolkien at Exeter, 41.

[5] Flieger, ed., The Story of Kullervo, 63, 91.

[6] Parma Eldalamberon 12 (1998).

[7] Garth, Tolkien at Exeter, 42.

[8] CJRT, HOME 1, 202.

[9] Garth, Tolkien at Exeter, 42.

[10] CJRT, HOME 1, 27.

[11] CJRT, HOME 2, 271.

[12] CJRT, HOME 2, 273.

[13] CJRT, HOME 1, 25.

[14] CJRT, HOME 1, 108.

[15] CJRT, HOME 1, 91.

[16] CJRT, HOME 2, 295.

[17] CJRT, HOME 2, 146; and CJRT, The Children of Húrin, 9.

[18] CJRT, HOME 2, 3.

[19] Edith writes out story for JRRT, HOME 1, 13.

[20] CJRT, HOME 1, 45

[21] CJRT, The Children of Húrin, 9.

[22] To the Exeter College Essay Club, in CJRT, HOME 2, 199.

[23] CJRT, HOME 3, 1.

[24] CJRT, HOME 1, 136

[25] CJRT, HOME 2, 52.

[26] CJRT, HOME 3, 1.

[27] CJRT, HOME 2, 300.

[28] CJRT, HOME 4, 11.

[29] CJRT, The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún, 16.

[30] CJRT, Tree and Leaf, 7.

[31] “The Hobbit,” in Scull and Hammond, JRRT Companion and Guide, Reader’s Guide 1, 509-522.

[32] CJRT, HOME 4, 76.

[33] CJRT, HOME 4, 1.

[34] CJRT, HOME 4, 1.

[35] CJRT, HOME 5, 107.

[36] CJRT, The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún, 5.

[37] CJRT, The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún, 5.

[38] Given for Johnson Society, Pembroke College.  See Fimi and Higgins, eds, A Secret Vice, xii.

[39] CJRT, Fall of Arthur, 10-11.

[40] CJRT, The Monsters and the Critics, 1; and Drout, ed., Beowulf and the Critics.

[41] CJRT, HOME 5, 8-9.

[42] CJRT, HOME 5, 7-9.

[43] CJRT, HOME 5, 107

[44] CJRT, The Monsters and the Critics, 3.

IZZ–42, The Universe, and all that

If there’s a rock band more criminally ignored than IZZ, I have yet to encounter it.  To give you an idea of the sheer sonic glory of their new album, imagine the perfect follow-up to both GOING FOR THE ONE and DRAMA, and you’d come very close to discovering the glory of DON’T PANIC.  And, throw some classier King Crimson and ELP in as well.

Admittedly, I’ve been a fan of IZZ for years now, but this album even took me by surprise.  I knew it would be more than solid when it arrived on my doorstep, but I had no idea just how much of a ride I was going to get. 

I could follow those bass lines to Neptune and back.

One of the single best aspects of the album is simply that the band clearly loves making music—music as a thing in and of itself as well as music as a communal activity. There’s joy perfectly meshed with seriousness on this album, and the band never shies away from proclaiming its love of . . . well, love. Few albums more distastefully destroy cynicism than DON’T PANIC.  Even the very title is calming in a hyperkinetic, uplifting way! 

Squire-esque bass lines, unusual but harmonic rhythms, and complex vocals really define the album, musically. Yet, it all works; it’s all gorgeous.

Don’t let the Yes comparison above throw you off.  There’s no doubt that the members of IZZ love Yes and probably learned much of their craft form the English-prog rock gods.  But, IZZ takes the Yes vibe into a whole new realm, especially in the interplay of male-female vocals.

I really didn’t think the band could top their previous trilogy (which inspired me to say my rosary more often than not—no joke) and John Galgano’s solo album, REAL LIFE IS MEETING, but DON’T PANIC is the more than worthy successor to all of the previous efforts. Now, I have to convince myself to be content with this one for a while, because, frankly, I’m already eager for the next one.

Patience, Bradley, patience.

Seeking the Humane: Big Big Train’s “Grand Tour” ~ (Birzer’s Second Review)

If all of this sounds too intelligent and too good to be a part of popular culture, it’s because it is! No, no, no. This is not pop. This is art. True, good, real, and beautiful. Imagine, for a moment, how many other manifestations of secular culture take seriously a Christian saint, let alone analyze the very stones used in the art of Byzantium? Truly, what this band offers us is a precious gem. And, while the members of the band (at least as far as I know) are not religious, they certainly take the religion of the past quite seriously. Not just Theodora, but the band has also written gorgeously on its previous releases about St. Edith, the granddaughter of King Alfred, the first great English king, the first to codify Anglo-Saxon common law, and the blessed recipient of Marian visions.
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2019/05/big-big-train-grand-tour-bradley-birzer.html