Poems You Should Know: ‘The Maori Jesus’ by James K. Baxter

Mid-twentieth century poet James K. Baxter was a complicated man with a certain prophetic bent. A number of his poems, like this one, challenged contemporary social assumptions. In ‘The Maori Jesus’, the Christ is depicted as a somewhat down-and-out member of New Zealand’s indigenous people who pays a heavy price for living outside comfortable White social norms. For me as a Christian, Baxter captures something in this poem which is too easily forgotten in our ‘nice’ White, middle class religion.

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Excerpt from ‘The Maori Jesus’ on display outside Te Papa museum in Wellington. In my student days I often used to walk past this but it took me years to look up the poem it came from.

Continue reading “Poems You Should Know: ‘The Maori Jesus’ by James K. Baxter”

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Musical Instruments: The Brass Family

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The saxophone. Not technically a brass instrument.

Seated up the back right as you look at an orchestra is the brass family. In typical classical fashion, not all instruments in the brass family are made of brass, and not all instruments made of brass are members of the brass family: the term actually refers to instruments which produce sound through the ‘sympathetic vibration’ of the player’s lips against the mouth-piece of a tubular resonator. Thus the digeridoo, which is made of wood, is technically a ‘brass’ instrument, but the saxophone, which produces sound by means of a reed in the mouth-piece, is not a ‘brass’ instrument. Continue reading “Musical Instruments: The Brass Family”

Local Culture: A Whanganui Opera Homecoming featuring Bianca Andrew and David Kelly

Bianca Andrew.jpgThe more time I spend exploring the cultural offerings of Whanganui the more I realise just how much is out there and just how proud our community is of what we have to offer. That pride was in evidence a couple of weeks ago at a fundraising concert for Bianca Andrew, an alumna of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama who originally hails from Wellington and was, during her undergraduate studies in New Zealand, a well-loved part of Whanganui’s annual Opera Week.

Continue reading “Local Culture: A Whanganui Opera Homecoming featuring Bianca Andrew and David Kelly”

On My Reading List: August 2017

It’s getting towards the end of the month, so I thought I’d update you on what I’ve been reading lately. Here’s my current reading list, accompanied by my cat, Angel, who quite likes it when I read because it’s one of the few times I stay still long enough for her to have a really good snooze on my lap.

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Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott (1819): One of the first modern adventure novels, Ivanhoe is picturesquely written and set in Merrie Olde England. It’s an ‘historical romance’ in the loosest sense of history and (mainly) chivalric sense of romance. It’s been sitting on my shelf for a while and I finally decided I really should start clearing my extensive backlog. Continue reading “On My Reading List: August 2017”

Poems You Should Know: ‘The Windhover’ by Gerard Manley Hopkins

I profiled Hopkins (1844-1889), who is one of my favourite poets, ages ago. Although written during the Victorian era, his poems are Romantic in their emphasis on nature and spirituality, and were published (posthumously) during the Modern period. ‘The Windhover’ describes the flight of a falcon as it hovers and then drops, but also captures the spiritual ecstasy inspired by associating this sight with the sigh of Christ returning in majesty. However, the language – Hopkins’ ‘sprung verse’ – and the imagery is so evocative and captivating that the poem seems to transcend any religious framework to touch the hearts of people from many different backgrounds and beliefs.

To Christ our Lord
I caught this morning morning’s minion, kingdom
of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in
his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl
and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

No wonder of it: shèer plòd makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold vermilion.

Composer Profile: Gilbert and Sullivan

Modern Major General.jpgSo closely linked are the names of William (W. S.) Gilbert (1836-1911) and Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900) in the minds of most that I figured there was no point in discussing them separately. But although their professional partnership was incredibly fruitful the two men, who had very different personalities, were never personally close. Continue reading “Composer Profile: Gilbert and Sullivan”

Philosopher Profile: Friedrich Nietzsche 1844-1900

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Cover of the 1934 edition.

“God is dead.” The man who penned what is quite possibly the most famous line in the history of philosophy does not appear to have done so lightly, or with glee. This may be because he recognised that without a concept of the divine, humanity is as good as it gets… A brilliant intellectual plagued by ill health he suffered a complete mental collapse at the age of 44, from which he never recovered. Continue reading “Philosopher Profile: Friedrich Nietzsche 1844-1900”

Paintings You Should Know: Botticelli’s ‘The Birth of Venus’ (c.1486)

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Botticelli, The Birth of Venus, c.1486

Representing a definite break from the Christian themes of the Gothic period, Sandro Botticelli’s (1445-1510) painting depicts the goddess Venus springing fully formed – and stark naked – from the foam of the sea. She was the Roman goddess of sex, love, and fertility, so Freud would have fun with that one. Continue reading “Paintings You Should Know: Botticelli’s ‘The Birth of Venus’ (c.1486)”

Local Culture: Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘Iolanthe’

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If Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and 1980s BBC political comedy ‘Yes, Minister’ had a baby, the result might well be something like Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘Iolanthe’ (Eye-oh-LAN-thee). It’s a comic opera with a plot which is cheerfully ridiculous and punctuated by musical numbers. Continue reading “Local Culture: Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘Iolanthe’”