What’s New for 7th of January: a Raga Guide, Elizabeth Hand on Chocolate, Ellen Kushner on Urban Winters, Music from Skerryvore, A Royal Christmas and other things as well…

A wild winter storm rages around a large house that is isolated from the rest of the world. Traditionally, the Wild Hunt appeared around the time of Epiphany—January 6 in the Church Calendar—when winter was at its most severe in Northern Europe. No country is specified, but this is, after all, a fantasy world. The house is both a comfortable dwelling with a large library in keeping with Jerold’s quiet personality, and a parallel setting that matches Gerund’s much more active one. A hundred yards from the house is a granite outcrop where the Hunt gathers: This rock might have been a thousand miles away. Or a thousand years. — Jane Yolen’s The Wild Hunt2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2AI’ve noted before that we are blessed with lovely summers, an atypical condition in Scotland, by sharing a Border with The Fey. That’s bloody great but it’s also because of The Summer Court, so guess what Winters are like when that Court holds sway? Let’s just say we get true winters, and suffice it to say that we’ve no shortage of snow here.

Winter here sees the Library being very popular, both as a place to be in as it’s social gathering place like the Pub, and as a reading place. Built a century-and-a-half ago, it’s a bloody big four-storied cube that has an alternating schema of book shelves and windows on three sides with various openings from the original Estate outer wall. Couches and chairs are to be found in perfusion. There’s even a fireplace, fronted with fireproof glass, against the wall that faces The Wild Wood.

I hope you’ve got somewhere as comfortable as we have for a favourite reading spot on these cold, windy Winter evenings. And of course we’ve reading and listening suggestions for you this edition…2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2A

Brendan has a fascinating book for us to consider reading: ‘Reading Allen Lowe’s book American Pop from Minstrel to Mojo: On Record 1893 to 1957, I found myself agreeing with the late Tupac Shakur’s vision of the afterlife. Heaven would simply be a large night club filled with all of the late, great musicians of yesteryear. For eternity, all you need to do is stroll through and listen to the fine music… Ironically, if someone told me some years back that this vision consisted entirely of American pop music, my younger self would have concluded that they were describing Hell, but this book — among other influences — has convinced me of my folly. Early American pop music in any of its known forms — jazz, blues, ragtime, vaudeville, country or rock — is truly one of the highest achievements of the American culture.’

A  guide to ragas in their splendid diversity by Joep Bor greatly expanded what Gary knows about that subject: ‘Well, now I know a little bit more, thanks to this impressive book. Subtitled A Survey of 74 Hindustani Ragas, The Raga Guide is an exhaustive and scholarly work, aimed primarily at musicians and serious students of music. It comes with four CDs, each containing 18 to 20 “condensed” versions of classical ragas. The ragas themselves feature either sarod (a sitar-like stringed instrument), flute, or male or female vocal soloists.’

Kelly has a look at a book by a composer who many of us here like a lot: ‘Berlioz was never successful as a composer. His music was never much accepted during his lifetime (in fact, Les Troyens was not even performed in its entirety until some years after Berlioz’s death), and his everyday life exhibited the tenuous existence that we equate with all Romantic artists. In order to remain solvent, Berlioz often had to turn to penning articles of criticism and commentary on music and cultural matters for the Paris publications of the day. By all accounts, Berlioz hated this work and the necessity of it, which is ironic given the quality of his writing, as evidenced in Evenings with the Orchestra.’

A book by Colin Harper and Trevor Hodgett gets a look see by Liz: ‘Irish Folk, Trad And Blues is a sprawling, overcrowded, rush-hour subway car of a book that piles on more eccentric musicians, frenetic booze-ups and unscrupulous music industry types than my brain could keep track of. It is a collection of essays and previously published reviews and interviews that covers roughly thirty years of Irish, English and American music-making (from 1962 to 1998). The book explores the history of the English and Irish Folk Music Revivals of the 1960s, Van Morrison and Them, the Blues boom in Northern Ireland, Irish Rock, Irish Folk Music in the 1970s, The Irish Trad Revival, and the Folk Music Revival of the 1990s.’

Robert looks at two works on a composer that we’re very fond of here: ‘Any genuine understanding of the role of Béla Bartók in twentieth century music is contingent on knowing about the cultural context in which he was formed — or in which he formed himself, as seems likely to be the case. The understanding is two-pronged, as Judit Frigyesi, in Béla Bartók and Turn-of-the-Century Budapest and Peter Laki, in Bartók and His World, make clear.’

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Gary seems to have enjoyed a chocolate bar made from single-origin beans by a company based in Eureka, Calif. From his review, it sounds like a multi-media experience. ‘The bar is beautifully decorated in an incised pattern that resembles Islamic geometric tesserae.’

2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2A‘My favorite musical discovery of 2017 was Turkish psychedelia’ Gary says. As an example, he explores an album called XX, which he explains is ‘a two-disc set celebrating the 20-year career of a band called Baba Zula.’

Gary also reviews Cartes Postales, an album of French chanson by American folk-country singer Eric Brace. ‘Through his dad’s records and some time spent living in France as a teenager, Eric learned to love the jaunty, blue music of the Paris cafés and the Gypsy jazz of Reinhardt and Grappelli,’ he says.

Robert takes a look at what many have called Capercaillie’s ‘crossover’ album: ‘To the Moon was my first exposure to Capercaillie, so of course, it was what’s generally considered their “crossover” album. This is by no means a negative, or even something that’s very obvious: it’s more apparent in the rhythm patterns, the instrumentation (sorry, but no one is going to persuade me that the bouzouki is a traditional Scottish instrument), and the general treatment.’

Robert also came up with an album of early works played on a forerunner of the guitar, Frank Wallace’s Delphín: ‘Frank Wallace, guitarist, lutenist, baritone and composer, has concentrated on the literature of the vihuela de mano, similar in appearance and sound to a guitar but tuned like a lute and a mainstay of the courtly music of early Renaissance Spain. Because the surviving literature is scant, many performers have been deterred from exploring this instrument. Wallace has not.’

Scott looks at an album from an artist you’ll likely know if you’ve been reading us long: ‘And Winter Came… will undoubtedly appeal to people who are fans of Enya’s earlier work. It also gives enough reasons for people who might have gotten bored with her sound to tune back in.‘2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2AThe What Not this edition is Ellen Kushner’s Winter Queen Speech on The City in Winter: ‘Once, not so long ago – but longer ago now than it was then – it snowed in the city, and did not stop until everything changed. When we woke up, all the usual sounds were gone. No one was begging for loose change, or yelling for help from muggers, or telling her husband everything was all his fault. Some children were laughing and building snowmen in the courtyard of our building. There were no cars.’2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2AThe public spaces in Kinrowan Hall such as here in the Library are much more likely to playing just tunes instead of tunes and songs as that’s more comfortable listening for most of as we work. Afterall Robin Williamson’s  ‘Five Denials on Merlins Grave’ which was recorded at the The Brillig Arts Centre, Bath, England, on the first of December thorny years ago does require your attention, doesn’t it?

So you’re much more likely to hear something from on the Celtic traditions of which there are many, or the  Central European or Nordic traditions. Our tune for you to hear the Edition out is ‘The Ginger Grouse Jigs’ by Skerryvore, a Scottish group formed some fifteen years ago, as performed at the Shetland Folk Festival in 2013.

About Iain Nicholas Mackenzie

I'm the Librarian for the Kinrowan Estate. I do love fresh brewed teas, curling, English mysteries and will often be playing Scandinavian or Celtic  music here in the Library here in Kinrowan Hall if the Neverending Session is elsewhere. I'm a violinist too, so you'll me playing in various contradance band such as Chasing Fireflies and Mouse in the Cupboard as well as backing my wife Catherine up on yearly Christmas season tours in the Nordic countries.
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