Composer Profile: Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

Bach by E G Haussmann 1748
J. S Bach, by E. G. Haussmann, 1748

Bach, J. S. (to distinguish him from the many other composers in a ridiculously talented lineage that included two of his own sons) is today recognised as one of the greatest composers in history, having produced music in every genre of the Baroque with the sole exception of opera. For many years, however, he was something of a composer’s composer, his Well-Tempered Clavier a foundational necessity for anyone intending to master any of the keyboard instruments, but much of the rest of his repertoire sadly neglected. Continue reading “Composer Profile: Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)”

Local Culture: The Frida Kahlo Photography Exhibition

Chocolate is quite possibly one of the most powerful motivating forces in my life (chocolate and God. And earning enough money to pay the bills). In Palmerston North, about an hour from Whanganui, there’s a chocolate café called Theobroma which makes some of the most amazing hot chocolates ever. Unfortunately, I still don’t consider ‘the best hot chocolate ever’ to be adequate reason for a two-hour round trip. What I needed was an excuse.

Frida Kahlo exhibition

And I found one, thanks to Google: the Frida Kahlo photographic exhibition at Te Manawa Museum, its only New Zealand stop on a world tour. Continue reading “Local Culture: The Frida Kahlo Photography Exhibition”

Local Culture: Wanganui Repertory Theatre’s ‘Stir Crazy’

stir crazy posterMy colleague, Reuben, has been more-than-usually busy of late, preparing for the opening night of his first ever turn as stage manager at Wanganui* Repertory Theatre. The play was ‘Stir Crazy’, by New Zealand comedy duo David McPhail and the late John Gadsby. As a teenager in the late 90’s I watched their political satire show ‘McPhail and Gadsby’ with my family, so when Reuben offered me a complimentary ticket I was keen to take him up on the offer.

All the action takes place in a single set: the interior of ‘Starvation Hut’, so named, we are told because in the early 1900s four surveyors descending from nearby Mt. Horror were stranded there when heavy rain caused the river to swell. First they ate their supplies. Then they ate the packhorse. Then… well, four men went up the mountain, but only three left the hut. Continue reading “Local Culture: Wanganui Repertory Theatre’s ‘Stir Crazy’”

A Very Short History of Art: The Prehistoric to the Ancient

Lscaux Horses
Horses from the Lascaux cave paintings.

I’m at it again, compressing decades, and in this case millennia, of history into a few hundred words. This time I’ve set my sights on the world of European Art, and am starting at the very beginning: with Palaeolithic art and the ancient cave paintings of Lascaux.

I’ve already posted about these under Paintings You Should Know, but suffice it to say no-one now knows what motivated our ancient ancestors, over 17,000 years ago, to work by the light of flickering torches deep underground to paint, with prehistoric brushes and pigments, gigantic images of the animals then plentiful in ice-age Europe. What we do know is that no other animal that we are aware of has ever set out to create visual or symbolic representations of the things they observe in the world around them: the impulse to create art seems to be uniquely human. Continue reading “A Very Short History of Art: The Prehistoric to the Ancient”

Twelve Classic Books for Older Children

Again inspired by Stuff’s list of Fifty Books Every Kid Should Read By Age Twelve, and by Goodread’s Top 100 Children’s Books list, here is my hopelessly-biased (the majority of the books are British, and most are favourites from my own childhood) but still very good list of twelve of the best classic reads for children aged eight to twelve.

As with my list of Classic Books for Younger Children I’ve arranged them in rough order from the simplest to the most complex. As different children develop in reading at different rates I haven’t given a hard-and-fast indication of exactly what age kids need to be to tackle these books: I’m pretty sure I’d read them all (with the exception of J. K. Rowling, whose books came out when I was… a little older) long before I turned twelve, but I was a comparatively advanced reader and definitely still loved all these books at that age. For particularly reluctant readers, and those who are struggling, reading stories aloud can be a great way to keep them interested in books.

Continue reading “Twelve Classic Books for Older Children”

Composer Profile: Edward Elgar (1857-1934)

Elgar aged about 60
The composer Edward Elgar, aged around 60

A Roman Catholic in fiercely Protestant England; the son of a tradesman pursuing upper-middle-class interests in a determinedly class-based society; a self-taught composer at a time when formal musical education was considered essential; and a composer in the Romantic and Nationalist traditions as the 20th century turned its musical ear towards Atonality, Minimalism, and the many and varied forms of ‘Popular’ music – Edward Elgar seems to have lived much of his life as an outsider.


Yet it was Elgar who, in spite of his relatively meagre output (around fifty works, including only two symphonies), brought English classical music back onto the world stage after some two hundred years spent languishing in the shadow of the great Continental composers. Continue reading “Composer Profile: Edward Elgar (1857-1934)”

Local Sound: Whanganui’s Schola Sacra Choir with the Renaissance Singers

Schola SacraSome of you may remember that back before Christmas I was blown away by a live performance of Handel’s Messiah featuring local choir Schola Sacra. This month they were back, performing with the Palmerston North-based Renaissance Singers. Although both groups were formed in the 1970s this was the first time they had performed together, and I went along to check it out.

As their name would suggest, Schola Sacra place a particular emphasis on the performance of sacred music, with a repertoire that stretches back to medieval plainsong, although they also perform a considerable number of secular works. The Renaissance singers meanwhile place particular emphasis on the music, both sacred and secular, of the 16th to 18th centuries, although again they are by no means limited only to this music. Continue reading “Local Sound: Whanganui’s Schola Sacra Choir with the Renaissance Singers”

Ten Classic Books for Younger Children

Recently New Zealand news website Stuff published a list of Fifty Books Every Kid Should Read By Age Twelve. While I can’t help but question whether some of these books are really suitable for pre-teens, as someone who loves books and loves working with children here is my own offering of ten classic books for reading aloud to younger children, aged from around three to seven. Some of these books appear on the original list; others do not. All have been road-tested on real children and pass the most critical test of all: the kids enjoy hearing them, and thus are encouraged into the love of reading which paves the way to becoming life-long readers. I’ve arranged them in rough order from simplest to most complex.

Continue reading “Ten Classic Books for Younger Children”

Post #100

So this is kind of a special post for me: it’s post number one hundred! When I started this blog just over six months ago I had no idea that I’d end up writing this many posts in such a comparatively short space of time. I also had no idea whether I’d stick with this for more than a few weeks, or exactly what I’d be writing about, but here I am six months, one hundred posts, and nearly fifty followers later.

And I would like to say a huge thank you to all the people who are following this blog, or who stop by occasionally, and most especially to the people who take the time to ‘like’ my posts or share their thoughts in the comments section: I really appreciate it.

Continue reading “Post #100”

Paintings You Should Know: Georgia O’Keeffe’s ‘Petunia, No. 2’

“I hate flowers – I paint them because they’re cheaper than models and they don’t move.”

Georgia O’Keeffe

Okeeffe Petunia No 2 1925
Georgia O’Keeffe, Petunia, No. 2, 1924

Continue reading “Paintings You Should Know: Georgia O’Keeffe’s ‘Petunia, No. 2’”