Friday, November 27, 2009

Resting and Running

By Bobby Chang

As I write this [Wednesday night], don't forget that many of us will be helping give thanks and help local charities, and reminding ourselves of Chris Rice's "Candle Song" (1993) that later became, when recorded by Kathy Troccoli, "Go Light Your World" when she made it a #1 song in two years later. The choir where I shall be singing Händel's Messiah sang "Go Light Your World" recently, and I met Miss Troccoli in a benefit for a crisis pregnancy centre (my first encounter with the 51-year old Dove Award winner was for the South Carolina March for Life in 1998).

My voice teacher once told me in her youth, she had sung a song from Miss Troccoli (just like I did). But she did not mention which one, but for me it was not Go Light Your World. However, it's a song that I have loved to enjoy. Please note this version in question was directed by Suzanne Ringer, who will be leading the choir where I am scheduled to sing for Händel's Messiah this fall.

And oh, by the way: Having done a Turkey Trot this Thanksgiving, I probably shall not have much of an appetite after running eight thousand metres at the Colonial Life Arena.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

By Mitchell Hadley

It isn't often that I get the opportunity to agree with the liberal columnist and commentator Mark Shields, but I think he's spot-on with this (H/T NRO):

Do you know why Thanksgiving is my very favorite holiday? Because since 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln first declared it a national holiday, no robber baron or swindler has figured out a way to commercialize Thanksgiving. No expensive gift purchases required, no credit-card debt incurred, no fancy costumes to be paid for, no semi-mandatory and painful hangover the next morning.

Thanksgiving belongs to everybody. It is not the property of any one religion or faith tradition. You need not belong to any particular religion -- or any religion --to celebrate fully.

Even with the nation's economy in tatters and millions among us suffering the pain of forced unemployment, there are still reasons in 2009 to be thankful.

You can read the whole thing here.

And speaking of great Thanksgiving writing, Jim Geraghty says this is one of his favorite pieces, and I can see why, as it rings particularly true with me:

For some high schools — particularly within the original 13 colonies, understandably — this is the day of the season-ending football rivalry. In Connecticut, Norwich Free Academy will face New London High School for the 147th time. Boston Latin will square off against Boston English. And Xavier will make the trip up to the Bronx to battle Fordham Prep. Some traditions do end or adapt: last year, Metuchen High School stopped its once seemingly automatic loss to Highland Park in their annual Thanksgiving match-up. Alumni squeezed into old varsity jackets will fill the stands and run into faces not seen in a long time.

By midday, the first round of relatives will start showing up at your door. From California to Maine, families will begin the complicated logistics of who parks where, and who will box in whom in the driveway. Does this need to be put in the oven? Is there room for this in the fridge? Have you basted recently? Has anyone seen the gravy boat?

Down the hall from the kitchen, Americans across the country will check in to Detroit to see if its NFL team has gotten any better. The early afternoon game of the Lions against the Team That Isn’t the Lions has had little meaning or playoff implications — at least since Barry Sanders retired. But that means football fans are able to watch objectively, just to appreciate the game as it is played — and there’s a good chance that a player you’ve never heard of will have an unexpectedly good day, claiming a Turkey-related award from a network color commentator. A few hours later — having established that, no, Detroit has not gotten any better — football fans will bid farewell to the Motor City for another year.

Later in the day, Dallas plays Not Dallas in a game that often matters — but by that time, America’s Team is competing with America’s Feast. Those who care about the game’s outcome will drop utensils conspicuously in order to dart into the den and check the score before returning to the table with their third or fourth clean fork.

Truly it is the start of the most wonderful time of the year. Enjoy the day, count your blessings, don't count the calories, and a blessed Thanksgiving to all of you from all of us here at Our Word.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Opera Wednesday

By Paul Drew

On this Thanksgiving Eve, let's take a look at the great Swedish tenor Jussi Björling (1911-1960), who was such a towering figure at the Metropolitan Opera in the 40s and 50s. Known as the "Swedish Caruso," with an absolutely effortless style, he was one of opera's more accessible stars, a popular guest on television as well as in the concert hall, what we might think of today as a "crossover" star.

Here we have a clip of him singing "Prayer of Thanksgiving" on a television show from the 50s. No embedding, but you can see the clip here. Enjoy, and a Happy Thansgiving to all!

Happy Feast Day!

By Mitchell Hadley

Of course, that goes for everyone tomorrow - at least we know we'll be feasting (or is that gorging?) - but today it applies to our friend and contributor Cathy of Alex on this feast day of her patron saint!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Turkey of a "Church"

By Bobby Chang

On a social networking site recently, a person wrote that she was attending the new "satellite church" service of a popular "non-denominational" megachurch that's 150 miles away and feeds its signal via satellite from that "church" (which is more of a life enhancement centre) to the building. When I read the information about this megachurch, I saw red lights appear almost immediately.

Earlier in the year, they had as "service music" (no joke here) a popular r&b hip-hop ditty that does not sound appropriate. In another service, this same church offered another silly pop ditty. To top this silliness, what about this tune? How many of these tunes are suitable in church?

And other "churches" have followed the bandwagon. This isn't suitable, sorry, you're headed to the Oval Office.

What has happened to sacred song? Is sacred song not "cool" or relevant to others anymore?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Holiday Entertainment

By Cathy of Alex

A(mannered ) Cranky Cathy post! Mannered because Mitchell will not have it any other way!

It’s not even Advent yet and the Christmas music is already playing 24/7 on, at least one, local radio station. Another station will start the 24/7 music this week. I know, because the start of the Christmas music on these two stations was worthy enough to warrant several brief newspaper stories in the Pioneer Press

Retailers, already anticipating a dismal shopping season, have started Black Friday a week early.

Sadly, for marketers, Christmas is always December 25th. Yet, I’m sure if there were a way to move the date to maximize sales, they would.

Ads for holiday entertainment have been popping up for about a month now. The day I buy tickets for a Trans-Siberian Orchestra show, please question my sanity. Thank you.

I know Mitchell thinks you can never have enough Menotti and he’s probably eagerly looking forward to listening to Amahl and the Night Visitors again! I know he and Judith are already watching their Christmas Special DVD collection! They told me. God bless them.

There’s nothing wrong with quality and inspiring Christmas entertainment. I admit, openly, that “Rockin’ around the Christmas Tree” by Brenda Lee is a song I never get tired of hearing. I’ve seen the “Nutcracker” staged numerous times and love it. I enjoy the Guthrie’s “A Christmas Carol”. “Black Nativity” staged by the Penumbra is very good as well.

But, I open up the Pioneer Press today (I’m old school. I read the print paper daily.) and the front page of the A&E Live section is entirely devoted to those dopey dinner theater “nun” shows.Every Christmas these shows that mock Catholicism, Catholic school education and nuns pop up. Someone must be going to them because a few of them are on version or part two or higher. I’m sure a local drag queen will have his local holiday show as well. In that show, he usually mocks Catholic religious songs like “Ave Maria”. I must have a heart of stone and a complete lack of humor to think this stuff isn’t funny, fabulous and heartwarming entertainment for the entire family, right?

In an attempt to head off any Catholic anger, the Pioneer Press theater reviewer , in recent years, always makes a reference to his Catholic school education when he reviews any show with “Catholic” content. So, that makes it all ok, right? He can get the joke and I can’t? I’ve no idea what Mr. Papatola’s religious views are, but I know from extensive personal experience that Catholic haters are rife within Holy Church.

Even the Lutheran shows often have an anti-Catholic joke or angle in their somewhere. In defense of my Lutheran brethren, I can be upset on their behalf about the continued perpetuation of Lutherans as eating only jello and “hot dish”. I don’t think they settled the Dakotas on jello. I’m pretty sure the Sioux Uprising did not occur over a bad jello mold or the audacity to offer “cold dish”.

Be really careful about what kinds of holiday productions you are giving your money too. Does anyone want to spend this faith-filled and joyous season as we anticipate the Birth of Our Savior sitting thru an hour or more of anti-Christian dreck? I suppose there are some folks who do. If there weren’t, these productions would die a merciful death.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


By Bobby Chang

Now here's an oddball.

At Homestead-Miami Speedway, the track removed the fixed-digit scoring pylon and replaced it with a video pylon, a trend that has been seen at various tracks worldwide. While in F1 it has been seen with just the infamous three-letter driver abbreviations, during last month's IRL race, the track chose to post the rear wing plates in place of the car number (colours and design of wing plates, along with colour of numbers, stays faithful to the car). During NASCAR races, the stylised numbers seen on-track are used, a trend that began in 2001. Look carefully from the IRL race in Homestead and see one of the wing plates on the pylon. Something doesn't look right.

Can you find it?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I Know I Shouldn't Indulge Myself, But...

By Mitchell Hadley

Mike Potemra at NRO offers the following commentary on a "blogger" which is simply too good to pass up.

After noting the blogger's jeremiad (which is what people of our age used to call what people today refer to as screeds) against "frenzies" about the president's bow to the Japanese emperor, Potemra goes on to say this:

The blogger who wrote this is himself, actually, among those especially highly prone to frenzies. (Look at the tone of the rest of his post — not the substance, some of which I agree with and some of which I don’t — but the tone. You’ll see what I mean.) I point this out not to “gotcha” him with a hypocrisy charge, but to praise him for upholding the principle. It’s well known that we dislike most in others the faults we ourselves share, and this fault — the cultivation of rage in our hearts — is one I’m sure most of us know, only too well. He deserves as much slack on this as any of the rest of us.

And to that, I can only say "ditto, ditto."

Oh, and the blogger to which Potemra refers? That would be none other than the man formerly known here as the "Blogger Who Shall Remain Unnamed," the number two man on my Enemies List, Mark Shea.

Potemra's remarks underline the main gripe I've had with Shea for years, i.e. his tone, which I find incredibly off-putting, not to say malicious. Shea may make excellent points from time to time - in fact, I know he does - but he's so annoying, so condesending, so snarky the rest of the time, it makes me want to disagree with him just on principle. I'm just glad I converted to Catholicism before I started reading him; otherwise, I might still be a Protestant today. I've finally acknowledged that on some issues, I find myself agreeing with him in spite of what he says, rather than because of what he says.

Often Shea conducts his discussions as if he were a child on a playground. And I'd expect more from an adult - wouldn't you?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

How the Nazis Stole Christmas (Sort Of)

By Mitchell Hadley

Christmas decorations are going up all around the town, and so we'll get a head start on our own month of festivities with this fascinating story (H/T Jonah Goldberg at NRO) of how the Nazi propaganda machine tried to subvert Christmas for their own purposes. The Nazi goal (much like that of today's PC secularists?) was "to turn it into a pagan winter solstice celebration."

Most interesting (and perhaps chilling) was this quote pulled out from near the end of the story:

Surprisingly, German churches put up little opposition to the Nazification of Christmas. 'You would have expected them to protest loudly and insist that it was a Christian festival,' said Breuer. 'But instead they largely kept quiet,out of fear.'

But that can't happen here. Can it?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Wish I'd Written That

By Paul Drew

They are casting their problems at society. And, you know, there's no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then, also, to look after our neighbours."

Margaret Thatcher

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Opera Wednesday

By Paul Drew

For those of you who think we spend too much time trashing modern opera, here's a clip of the great Beverly Sills in one of her signature roles, "Baby Doe" Taybor, in Douglas Moore's 1956 The Ballad of Baby Doe.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Pelosi's Socialised Medicine

By Bobby Chang

The utter arrogance of Congress to pass a Communist-style health "care" policy is outright arrogant. As I mentioned in July, I have a friend who tore her ACL and needed surgery (fortunately it was caught early, and she is doing very well; saw her at a show for her group; another friend of mine danced in it).

Once again, the rules of Congress created the Communist style rules - One Side Only from the Left.

One Congressman noted the current leadership has a "command and control" style of governing, demanding people do what the government tells you or penalties will be severe. We saw it with automakers, and we saw it with industries. Now they want us to do it with healthcare.

As Glenn Beck says, we have a new National Anthem. Please Stand for the National Anthem.

Friday, November 6, 2009

While We're At It

By Mitchell Hadley

By the way, you'll indulge me one last bit on Tosca, won't you? There's been a lot of ink (and pixels) spilled on the Met's recent fiasco - er, production - and there is the misocnception that those who hated it are simply tradition-bound trogs who hate any kind of change.

One of our favorite writers, Alex Ross of The New Yorker, has a very nice piece about why this just isn't so - why the ultimate reason for the Met's failure was director Luc Bondy's fundamental misunderstanding (or at least misreading) of the music was a part of it. And do be sure to listen to the soundbites he uses to illustrate his points - this kind of teaching brings back the good old days of Bernstein's Young People's Concerts. (As well as the recent PBS series Keeping Score, and let's hope we see more of that next season!)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Misunderstanding the Church

By Mitchell Hadley

If you're like me (and hopefully you can do better than that), you've run into more than your share of people who just don't get Catholicism. (Unfortunately, many of them happen to be Catholics, but we won't go there just now.) Many times you run into well-meaning, good-intentioned people whose notions of Catholicism have been shaped by years of ignorance about what the Church really teaches.

For those times, as well as for your own education, I suggest Anna Miller's brief 10 Common Misunderstandings of the Catholic Church - EXPLAINED! It's a nice overview of those common mistakes people make, as well as some nice talking points you can use with friends - without, hopefully, things turning into an argument. It's a good piece to keep handy, particularly in these times - for if we aren't prepared to defend our own faith, who will do it for us?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Opera Wednesday

By Mitchell Hadley

One’s reactions to last month’s run of Tosca by the Lyric Opera of Chicago will depend in great part on how you feel about opera in general, and this opera in particular. If you’re of the opinion that opera is stuck in the hidebound past, and that Tosca is little more than a piece of hoary melodrama that needed Luc Bondy’s recent innovations, then you probably wouldn’t much care for this production. If, on the other hand, Franco Zeffirelli's mammoth, opulent setting fits your definition of grand opera, then you were in luck. Count me in the latter camp.

The Lyric purchased Zeffirelli's staging a few years ago from London’s Covent Garden (for whom it had originally been designed) as a 50th anniversary present to itself, and if the sets were starting to show their age a bit, it was still wonderful to see what has become an all-too infrequent occurrence nowadays - the idea of opera as theater. And not minimalist, abstract theater either, but theater as spectacle - grand opera, in other words. While some complain that singers are dwarfed by the mammoth scale of Zeffirelli's sets, I have no sympathy for anyone who fails to be spellbound by the Act 1 finale, the Te Deum sung inside Zeff's massive recreation of the Basilica Sant'Andrea della Valle, jam-packed with altar boys, priests, a bishop vested in mitre and flowing cape, incense billowing about, parishioners kneeling before life-size statues - and yet, in the midst of a stage crammed with people, the lone figure of Scarpia singing of how Tosca makes him forget God, dominates the scene. The set overwhelming the singers? Nonsense.

Many were surprised by the casting of Deborah Voigt and James Morris, better known for heavy Wagnerian opera, as the two leads. However, Voigt portrayed the diva in a concert version of Tosca at the Minnesota Orchestra a couple of years ago, and if it is true that she didn’t bring back the echoes of Callas with her performance, neither was she any less suited for the role than, say, Karita Mattila in the Met’s production.

The Lyric’s rich history with Tosca stretches all the way back to the company’s beginning, with the famed Tito Gobbi, who played Scarpia to Callas’ Tosca in so many great performances. Gobbi was something of a godfather to the newly formed Lyric back in the 50s, appearing as Scarpia in several of those early productions. Perhaps Morris wasn’t quite in that class, but the man who’s become famous as the great Wotan of our time has actually essayed the villainous Baron more times at the Met than he’s played Wagner’s one-eyed anti-hero, making him well aware of the complexities of this deceptive character, who relies on charm in order to wrap his tentacles of corruption through and around his victims. Whereas Bondy was content to portray the police chief as little more than a cheap thug, Zeffirelli (and by extention Morris) understood that, as with the Devil, it is the smooth exterior and unctuous manner that make evil truly chilling. To be able to say that you once saw Morris playing Scarpia is to say a lot.

The real show-stopper is, of course, the showdown between Tosca and Scarpia which closes Act Two (as well as bringing down the curtain on Scarpia himself). It's a scene of immense drama, with Scarpia at his most sinister and Tosca at her most vulnerable. With Puccini's magnificent score as backdrop, it really is possible to imagine this as true drama, the only difference being that the actors are singing rather than speaking their lines. From Tosca's celebrated aria
“Vissi d’arte,” to her sense of utter despair as Scarpia writes her safe-conduct pass, to her sudden and startling discovery of the knife on the table, to Scarpia's smug sense of victory turning stunningly into tragedy, and Tosca's final, frantic escape from the death room - this scene has it all. Were Voigt and Morris up to the task? Absolutely. And for you Bondy fans out there, the candles do make a difference.

As for the third member of this little triangle, Vladimir Galouzine, who plays Tosca's doomed lover Cavaradossi, more than held his own. It's a role for big tenors, from Pavarotti (literally) to Domingo to Corelli and more, but when you've got such famed names at the top of the bill there may be a temptation to make Cavaradossi an afterthought. However, Galouzine wouldn't allow that, particularly in his big first and third act arias, and his performance completes the character's transformation from a doomed man facing execution to a man suddenly filled with hope - only to have it dashed at the end.

But the real star, as is always the case, was Puccini’s magnificent music, and the Lyric's music director, Sir Andrew Davis, brought his orchestra home in style under what could only be described as unique circumstances - the musicians, playing without a contract, actually held an informational picket outside the theater prior to opening night, and the threat of a walkout was present throughout the initial performances.

No fear on this score or any other, for that matter. This was Tosca as it was meant to be, with all the drama, power and lyricism that involves. The Lyric was a winner, Franco Zeffirelli's staging was a winner, and perhaps Puccini himself was the biggest winner of all - after all, if the master could survive a debacle such as that in New York, think how glorious it is when he's given the respect he truly deserves.

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