Musical Instruments: The Woodwind Family

recorder
Was I born in England? Yes I was. In the 1980s? Yes I was. Am I a girl? Yes I am. Therefore I can play the recorder. Am I exaggerating? Only slightly.

The woodwind family is part of a vast and ancient family of wind instruments, all of which are played by blowing air across a hollow pipe or pipes of varying length. The air stream is concentrated in some way, either by being blown at an angle or by having a narrowing or a ‘reed’ positioned inside or just below the mouthpiece. As the name would suggest, once upon a time all the woodwinds were made of wood, although these days many are made of metal or plastic. The only instrument I can play with any degree of competency is a woodwind – the recorder. Continue reading “Musical Instruments: The Woodwind Family”

New Zealand Artist: Rita Angus

Rita Angus, Cass, 1936
Rita Angus, Cass, 1936

Rita Angus (1908-1970) is well-known in New Zealand for her clear, sharp-edged portraits and landscapes, including ‘Cass’, which was voted New Zealand’s favourite painting in a 2006 TV show. Rather than talking about her, I’m just going to show you a few of her paintings. Continue reading “New Zealand Artist: Rita Angus”

Brief Highlights in the History of American Poetry

American FlagOkay, I’ll be honest, I tried to research and write a detailed history of American poetry, but I decided I couldn’t be bothered, so here instead is a selection of the really important bits. Continue reading “Brief Highlights in the History of American Poetry”

New Zealand Artist: Colin McCahon

Colin McCahon (1919-1987) is one of New Zealand’s most prominent artists. He was one of a group of artists who introduced Modernism into New Zealand, and is perhaps best-known for his large-scale works, often in muted, earthy tones or shades of black, white, and grey, which layered text over a background image.

McCahon Urewera Mural 1976
Colin McCahon, Urewera Mural, 1976

Continue reading “New Zealand Artist: Colin McCahon”

Poems You Should Know: To A Mouse on Turning Up Her Nest With the Plough, November, 1785, by Robert Burns

A few weeks ago a colleague of mine was humming a tune in the office. “I’m sure I know that from somewhere,” she mused. The tune was ‘Auld Lang Syne’ by Robert Burns (1759-1796), the Bard of Ayrshire, quite possibly the only poet to have an anniversary, Burns Night on the 25th of January (his birthday), dedicated to celebrating his life and poetry. Scotland’s national poet, who wrote in both English and lowlands Scottish dialect, was a forerunner of the English Romantic movement, and the natural imagery and human sentiment of the Romantics is evident in poems such as ‘To A Mouse’.

Wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi’ bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee,
Wi’ murd’ring prattle!

I’m truly sorry man’s dominion,
Has broken nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
An’ fellow-mortal!

I doubt na, whiles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen icker in a thrave
‘S a sma’ request;
I’ll get a blessin wi’ the lave,
An’ never miss’t!

They wee bit housie, too, in ruin!
It’s silly wa’s the win’s are strewin’!
An’ naething, now, to big a new ane,
O’ foggage green!
An bleak December’s winds ensuing,
Baith snell an’ keen!

Thou saw the fields laid bare an’ waste,
An weary winter comin’ fast,
An’ cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell –
Till crash! The cruel coulter past
Out thro’ thy cell.

That wee bit heap o’ leaves an’ stibble,
Has cost thee mony a weary nibble!
Now thou’s turn’d out, for a’ thy trouble,
But house or hald,
To thole the winter’s sleety dribble,
An’ cranreuch cauld.

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain,
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy.

Still thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me
The present only toucheth thee;
But, Och! I backward cast my e’e,
On prospects drear!
An’ forward, tho’ I canna see,
I guess an’ fear.

Opera in my Pyjamas: Peter Grimes

Peter Grimes posterThe accusation that opera is utterly unrealistic is hard to apply to Benjamin Britten’s (1913-1976) 1945 work ‘Peter Grimes’. Loosely based on a narrative poem by George Crabbe (1754-1832) it’s a tale of small-town gossip and prejudice and its devastating effect on the life of the social outcast Peter Grimes. Continue reading “Opera in my Pyjamas: Peter Grimes”