Musical Instruments: The Percussion Family

Bodhran
The traditional Irish drum, the bodhran, is a frequent accompaniment in Irish folk music.

The name ‘percussion’ comes from the Latin ‘percussio/percussus’, indicating beating or striking an object. Percussion instruments have been around longer than any other musical instrument, and are found in pretty much every culture. They can be ‘unpitched’, meaning that they produce a single sound which doesn’t sound like a particular musical note, and ‘pitched’, meaning that they produce notes with an identifiable musical pitch. Continue reading “Musical Instruments: The Percussion Family”

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Paintings You Should Know: Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog (c. 1819)

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Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840) was a German Romantic artist. ‘Wanderer’ depicts a lone traveller standing on a precipice looking out over a mysterious landscape of rocks and fog. Who is he? Where has he come from? Where is he going? The fact that this painting so strongly evokes these questions has made it a favourite image for illustrating music and works which touch upon these questions, not only in a literal but also in a spiritual, psychological, or philosophical sense. It is likely that Friedrich, a Romantic, intended it to be interpreted in precisely these symbolic terms.

The landscape is inspired by the landscape of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains in Saxony and Bohemia, but rearranged by the artist for greater effect. ‘Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog’ is painted in oil on canvas and measures 98.4cm by 74.8cm. It is held by the Kuntsthalle Hamburg in Germany.

Poems You Should Know: The Man From Snowy River

First published in 1890, A. B. ‘Banjo’ Patterson’s ‘The Man From Snowy River’ is the breathless, action-packed story of a group of riders attempting to recapture an escaped horse. The late 1800s was a time when Australia, like many British colonies, was in the process of forming a sense of national identity, and poets like Patterson and Henry Lawson played a pivotal role in placing the image of the ‘rugged bushman’ at the heart of that image. The poem is a great read, and a particular favourite, and it seems I’m not alone in my love – over the years it’s inspired several movies and a television series. Continue reading “Poems You Should Know: The Man From Snowy River”

Playtime: A Streetcar Named Desire

A Streetcar Named Desire 1.jpgAnger, deceit, snobbery, sex, madness: Tennessee Williams’ 1947 play about two sisters in a small flat in the French Quarter of New Orleans has it all.

The flat belongs to the younger sister, Stella, and her husband, Stanley (that Louisiana observes ‘Napoleonic law, whereby the property of the husband is the property of the wife, and vice-versa’ is a plot point), who are poor, passionate, and apparently happy – until older sister, Blanche, turns up, broke and needing a place to stay.

Continue reading “Playtime: A Streetcar Named Desire”

Five Famous and Influential Works of Philosophy

Simone de BeauvoirAs I’ve read a bit more about the history of philosophy I’ve learned that there are some philosophers and some works of philosophy that have had an enormous impact on the way everyone who came after thought. Some of those works have become famous. Others remain largely unknown. Here are a few of the most famous ones. Continue reading “Five Famous and Influential Works of Philosophy”

Poems You Should Know: The Charge of the Light Brigade

I’ve been known to mutter the line ‘ours not to make reply, ours not to reason why’, occasionally adding ‘ours but to do and die, into the valley of death rode the six hundred’ when confronted with a particularly baffling instruction from an employer, but Alfred, Lord Tennyson, originally penned this poem in response to far greater events.

In 1854, Britain was at war with Russia in the Crimea. The ‘Light Brigade’ of just over six hundred light cavalry were supposed to prevent the Russians from moving captured Turkish artillery (a task well-suited to the fast, lightly-armoured light cavalry), but due to a miscommunication they instead found themselves making a full-frontal assault on 20 battalions of Russians holding the high ground on both sides of a valley supported by some 50 pieces of artillery. Continue reading “Poems You Should Know: The Charge of the Light Brigade”

Treasure Trove: Time in a Bottle

Every now and again, when I have nothing better to do with my time, I’ll find myself watching an episode of Hoarders. This nearly always leaves me with a desperate urge to get rid of at least some of the junk I keep in my house, and my collection of wine and alcohol bottles have recently been deposited at the recycling centre, but not before I took this photograph.

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Continue reading “Treasure Trove: Time in a Bottle”

On Whose Authority? The King James Bible Part 3: A New Generation

Bible Good News.jpgEarly last year I wrote a two-part series on the evolution of the King James Bible. For over three hundred years, from its publication in 1611 until the mid-twentieth century, the King James Bible, or Authorised Version, was the most widely-read bible among English-speaking Protestants.

It’s not that there were no other translations around. There were, but none of them seemed to capture the imagination of the Church the way the King James Bible did. But the English language was changing. Continue reading “On Whose Authority? The King James Bible Part 3: A New Generation”

Local Culture: Whanganui Intermediate’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’

WIS Alice 1One of the privileges which my job affords me is the opportunity to build often-lasting relationships with the many children who pass through our programmes, and I was deeply touched when several, whom I have known for a number of years, went out of their way to invite me to their performance of Alice in Wonderland. Continue reading “Local Culture: Whanganui Intermediate’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’”

Treasure Trove: The Photographs of Jamie Livingston

Recently a video popped up in my Facebook newsfeed. It was the story of Jamie Livingston, a New York-based filmmaker who, from March 1979 until his death on October 25th 1997, took a polaroid photograph each day. Taken together, these candid photographs chart the mundane and poignant story of a life lived in New York City just before the digital revolution.

Jamie Livingston

The original website is a bit clunky to navigate, and to be honest I haven’t spent much time there, but the video is like a visit to an exhibition of Livingston’s work. He took the ordinary and showed its beauty, and to me that is one of the most wonderful things an artist can do.

Check out the video and let me know what you think.