A Story Abroad: Travels in Tea Land, The Next Part: A Treehouse Cafe


In Indonesia, we found a most unusual cafe when Ingrid and I were travelling. It was a cafe that was built around an enormously large banyan tree. Now, I can’t tell you where it is, as the proprietor prefers that it not show up in even the more unconventional travel guides such as those done by the Lonely Planet or Rough Guide folk. Let’s just say that you’ll love it if you ever find it.

There’s at least six or seven levels of cafe which are accessed by a staircase that winds around the tree like a large snake hugging its trunk. The seating areas look out over the jungle. A jungle complete with elephants, monkeys and such. Quite a view would be an understatement!

The entire structure is made out of various bamboos. Did you know that bamboo is stronger than steel? Well it is. It’s quite a sight — all glowing wood lacquered with coat after coat to keep it from rotting it away in the humid weather. Humid being an understatement when a monsoon storm can drop a foot in ten minutes. We got caught in one of them. Definitely not fun.

There a dumbwaiter running up alongside the tree that brings food and drink up to the customers, and dishes back down to be cleaned of course. The food is mostly vegetarian with just seafood from the nearby coast for protein. Ingrid and I shared a very large shrimp and veggie biriyani after some superb bakwan, deep fried veggies in batter and pastel, a fried dumpling filled with veggies. We finished off with an odd-sounding dessert, green tea crepes with shredded coconut filling, which was quite delicious.

It was a great meal in a stunning location. I hope you find it someday while in Indonesia.


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What’s New for the 16th of April: “Classical” music: In the beginning. . . .

Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast,
To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.

William Congreve, The Mourning Bride

If music be the food of love, play on. . . .

William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night


There are many quotes about music, arguably humanity’s first art form. Music has been a part of every culture since humanity became human, or perhaps before — chimpanzees are known to pound branches on the ground in rhythm, and the gibbons of southeastern Asia mark their territories with arias that are near operatic.

It seems that somewhere along the line, music split: all through history there has been the vernacular music, songs sung by the people at their festivals or in their taverns, but there has also been another strand, music composed and performed for select groups, what we can refer to as “art music.” Perhaps the earliest example we have of that is the music that accompanied aristocratic dinner parties in the Golden Age of Greece.

There’s yet another strand we need to consider, what I call as a general class “church music.” It started off as the plainsong and chant of monks in their monasteries, and gradually became an integral part of the mass: this was music composed for effect, to illustrate the glory of God — indeed, sometimes the music itself is otherworldly.

And then we get to what most of us think of as “classical music” — whatever we hear when we get dressed up and go to a concert by our local orchestra. Of course, on closer examination, like most things it’s not that simple: to those who live in it, “classical” refers to a specific period, encompassed by the time from middle Haydn to early Beethoven. Before that, we have the baroque of Bach, Vivaldi and Locatelli, and later comes the romantic period — you know, two of the “Three B’s” (Beethoven and Brahms), through Wagner and Liszt, all the way up to Mahler, which tapers off into that plethora of styles and schools that characterize the twentieth century — Stravinsky’s experiments in neo-classicism, the forays of Schoenberg, Berg, and others into atonalism, the modernism of later Richard Strauss, Paul Hindemith, and Bartók, and then the explosion that was music after World War II: further forays into atonalism, the serial minimalism of Riley, Glass, and Reich, what can only be termed the “contemporary avant-garde” of composers such as John Cage, Krysztof Penderecki, Morton Feldman, John Tavener, and a host of others, each of whom seems to have assimilated different influences in service of their own vision.

We’re going to explore some of those particular -isms today, just sort of poke around to see what the vernacular understanding of “classical music” encompasses.


It’s not all going to be music, though. We have some books to start with. First up is a double review of Michael Davidson’s The Classical Piano Sonata from Haydn to Prokofiev and, from Vlado Perlemuter and Hèléne Jourdan-Morhange, Ravel According to Ravel: ‘Music, among the forms of art, is a rather strange beast. It is ephemeral, subjective, almost completely dependent on interpretation, and, looked at logically, has no intrinsic meaning unless paired with a text (which does not keep us from responding as though it does). It relies heavily on tradition, which can be amplified, explained, and sometimes even changed by scholarship.’

It’s not only the names of composers that echo down the halls of time — who has not heard of “the Strad”? And with good reason, as Toby Faber makes clear in Stradivari’s Genius: ‘One of the most shamefully puzzling phenomena in the history of our continual technological “progress” is the simple fact that a violin maker of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries manufactured instruments that no one has since been able to match, much less exceed.’

One of the key elements in the pervasiveness of music in our contemporary world is the advent and development of sound recording. Colin Symes, in Setting the Record Straight: A Material History of Classical Recording, delivers a high-powered view of the phenomenon: ‘This is “history” in a very thorough, deeply probing sense, not merely a recitation of names and dates, but a full-bore examination of the construction of “records” as a mode of information exchange and the attendant expansion of the social parameters of “entertainment” and “music.”’


Classical music, and its practitioners, make it into that other twentieth-century medium, film. Perhaps the best-known example of that is Milos Forman’s Amadeus: ‘The story of Amadeus is by now fairly well known. From a screenplay by Peter Shaffer based in turn on his original stage play, the film is told in flashback from the viewpoint of Italian composer Antonio Salieri, who lived and worked in Vienna as Court Composer to Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria. We meet Salieri in the film’s opening scenes, just after he has screamed “Mozart! I killed you!” into the Viennese night and attempted suicide.’


And yes, classical music — in this case, one of the great works of the romantic era, Der Ring des Nibelungen — has even made it into comics: ‘It never would have occurred to me to make a graphic novel out of Wagner’s Ring cycle, but on reflection, it’s a natural — I mean, who is more a superhero than Siegfried, the son of a god, running around slaying dragons with a magical sword and all?’


Although it predates the classical period, most listeners are happy to include Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons in their list of “serious” music — perhaps because it is so ubiquitous: ‘Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons is arguably one of the most performed, and certainly among the most heard, of Baroque masterpieces, having made its way from musty libraries to concert halls to shopping malls.’

And of course, we can’t start a discussion of “classical” music without reference to the first the the “Three B’s”, Johann Sebastian Bach. We’re including a legendary performance here, Glenn Gould’s rendition of the Goldberg Variations: ‘Bach’s Goldberg Variations occupy a somewhat anomalous place in his oeuvre: he wasn’t big on theme-and-variations compositions, having produced only one other such work in his long and fecund career. Unfortunately, his feelings toward this form are forever lost in the mists of time — he left no record of his opinion on this matter.’ Theme and variations, however, became a very important element in the growth of the classical/romantic repertoire.

Opera is an integral part of classical music as most people see it — in fact, it’s the highest of high-brow forms: it’s no mistake that the Victor Company, in its efforts to sell its gramophones, enlisted the likes of Enrico Caruso and Geraldine Farrar to record arias from famous operas: instant status. One of the most delightful efforts in this area was Joseph Haydn’s Orlando Paladino: ‘Joseph Haydn, the composer who did as much as anyone, and more than most, to create the style we know as “classical,” was also one of the wittiest artists of a witty era. He also created some of the most profound music of the time, reaching through a highly artificial style to reach emotional truth. In Orlando Paladino we get both the wit and the emotion.’

We can’t discuss classical music sensibly without talking about Mozart — probably the first name that comes to mind when someone says “prodigy.” He’s another one who wrote operas (as well as symphonies, concertos, sonatas — you name it). One of his most popular works in this vein is Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), which today we might call a “crossover” piece: ‘I should point out that calling it an “opera” is not entirely accurate. It’s really a Singspiel, somewhat allied to the ballad opera also popular in the eighteenth century, but more closely akin to the later operetta and even the American musical. . . . It was really a popular entertainment (those who have seen the film Amadeus may remember the ambience of the scenes of the rehearsal and performance of this work — somewhere between a rock concert and a Saturday matinee, with beer).’

And then, Beethoven, naturally. He’s the guy who pretty much singlehandedly created the Romantic movement, and I suspect that anyone who’s paid much attention to classical music has heard a Beethoven symphony or two. What we tend to forget is that they didn’t sound like that when Beethoven wrote them, as demonstrated by Roger Norrington’s “original instruments” recording: ‘These recordings, however, have been more than entertaining — they’ve also given me some insights into Beethoven’s music that I don’t think I would ever have found any other way. Keep in mind that this music was written during the Napoleonic era, when the conventions of musical creation and performance were much different than they are now, and that, like everyone else, I come to Beethoven through the symphony orchestra as it exists today — which is to say, post-Brahms, post-Wagner, post-Mahler.’

Beethoven was, in fact, such a dominating figure in nineteenth-century music that everyone claimed direct descent, no matter their differing approaches. I think my vote would go to Johannes Brahms, whose music seems the closest to the line of Beethoven and Schubert. Brahms added a dimension that he actually shares with one of his chief rivals, Richard Wagner, as evidenced in his piano concertos as performed by Emanuel Ax: ‘If there is one characteristic of the works of Johannes Brahms that can be called definitive, it is scale. I don’t mean length or number of performers — in those areas he was far outstripped by Berlioz, Wagner, Mahler and Busoni, to name a few. I’m really referring to conceptual size as reflected in the architecture of each work. I’ve remarked before that even in his works for solo piano and his chamber music, one has the sense of a full symphony orchestra hovering in the background, just waiting to get into the act.’

We musn’t forget that the Romantic movement was not limited to Germany — the Russians got involved, and managed to create their own strand of romanticism in music. The major figure, of course, was Tchaikovsky, but lest you go away from here still clinging to him as the composer of “Sugar Plum Fairies” and the like, take a look at our reaction to his piano concertos: ‘Piotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky seems to have made a habit of writing concertos that were condemned as “unplayable” and then took their places near the top of the roster in the romantic canon. Like his Violin Concerto, Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto in B-flat Major, composed for his mentor and sponsor Nikolai Rubenstein, brother of the great Anton Rubenstein, was condemned by the intended soloist, using the “U” word.’

Of course, “scale” and Richard Wagner are almost synonymous: his great epic cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen, is about sixteen hours of opera: ‘Wagner’s operas made great use of stories from legend and medieval romance — Tristan und Isolde, Tannhäuser, Lohengrin and the like. Wagner decided to write an opera about the great medieval Emperor Frederick Barbarossa that eventually turned into the Ring, and he wrote the cycle backwards.’

And as the nineteenth century draws to a close and the Romantic movement has grown to dominate European music, we come to Gustav Mahler, whose complete symphonies as recorded by Leonard Bernstein are illuminating, to say the least: ‘The thing about Mahler that strikes me on listening to Bernstein’s recordings is that the man caught the soul of a time that was, like the century that followed, poised on the edge, and it’s a soul that Bernstein understands very well. Even though Mahler is often considered the highest of the “high Romantics,” there is something essentially modern in his outlook.’


And as a coda for today’s edition, we turn to one of the best-known pieces of music in the Western tradition, Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” from his monumental Ninth Symphony — in a rather unusual, but very contemporary performance.

That was fun. Maybe we’ll do “classical” music in the twentieth century sometime.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Our Orchestra


Indeed there is an orchestra at Kinrowan Estate that probably as been around as long as the Never-ending Session has been. I’ve booked them several times for private parties held in the Robert Graves Memorial Room.

Musicians. You have to forgive them their foibles, because of the music, but sometimes you have to think about it.

Oh, sorry, I thought you were my boss! Welcome to the orchestra archives. What brings you here and how can I help you? My name is Claudia, I’m the assistant music archivist. Oh — it’s actually the orchestra itself you’re interested in? How nice! I love telling people about our orchestra.

Not too many people know that the pit orchestra of our theatre here in the Kinrowan Hall is also a top notch orchestra on its own right. Oh yes, it really is. Maestro is our 42nd since the orchestra’s inception in or around 1694, that’s a bit hazy in the records. He’s a bit more tetchy than the last one, actually, but the music is all the better for it, I’m sure.

One could make a case that it’s an early music ensemble, but only because they still keep the repertoire alive from the first years, even now, and we have a staff of very good luthiers keeping the old instruments together. They also keep our more modern fiddles in fine fettle!

The orchestra has played over the years for everything from our light opera productions, the spate of Rodger and Hammerstein musicals we had a run of for a while, music hall revivals, to burlesque, but we always produce at least a short season of classical presentations, sometimes presenting premieres of pieces that might surprise. Mr. Cage’s ‘Strata’, for instance, which he wrote on commission specially for the orchestra, has never been performed anywhere else, and probably won’t be heard again unless they air it out again here. Most people don’t know it even exists.

Those classical performances, if you ask me, are the most important and most valuable of all the orchestra’s functions, but perhaps I’m biased!

The members change out every now and again, but most are with us for decades, which is why the ensemble is so tight, especially the brass sections, which have been described as the glory of the orchestra! Our current concertmaster, William Bonicelli, a ‘very’ fine violinist, has been with the orchestra now through two conductors, but the record goes to our principal bassoon, who came to the orchestra as an exceptionally talented boy from Germany, and has been sitting that chair ever since.

You’ll understand that time for the Orchestra can be very elastic, just like in the rest of the Estate.

Over the years, we’ve had some very interesting audiences, and audience members. The ‘Earl of Carrick,’ ahem, ahem, and his mistress — well, whichever mistress he had in tow at the moment — was a particularly frequent visitor, some of my predecessors have passed along some very ‘interesting’ stories. He quite enjoyed music, often bringing more than one of his favorites along with him. Ms. Gwynne was the orchestra’s preferred choice of these, I must say. Over the years, when we performed popular pieces she knew, it wasn’t unusual for her to sing along from the Royal box!

And once, His Majesty–pardon me, the ‘Earl’–brought along both the Duchess of Castlemain ‘and’ Ms. Stuart. I suppose one could say it was entertaining, but it was rather a spectacle. Especially since he also dragged the spaniels along. There were a lot of rather scandalized glances at their box that night!

Well, the orchestra has a rehearsal in about two hours, and I’d better get a move on! If you like, I can sneak you a score and you can listen from a box, if you promise to bring it back before you leave, or we’ll have to send Mr. McKenzie’s best goons after you! They’re working on a new concerto by Salieri, it’ll be another premiere. Oh yes, it’s a brand new piece.

I did say that time is rather elastic here, didn’t I? It makes our archival jobs very interesting indeed!


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What’s New for the 9th of April: choice SF from Elizabeth Bear, live music from Midnight Oil, Ottoman tulips, a history of breakfast and buckdancers choice on other matters

Stars on our door, stars in our eyes, stars exploding in the bits  of our brains where the common sense should have been. — Angela Carter’s Wise Children


The tulips such as the one in the vase on my desk here in the Estate Library are the predominant flowers this time of year as every Estate Gardener for the past three centuries has had a rather keen interest in them. The more recent ones are acquired by Gus, our Estate Head Gardener for three decades now, in trade with MacGregor, a fellow tulip enthusiast who goes to the Turkish tulip markets to get the much rarer heirloom tulips. Just don’t get Gus talking about tuplips unless you’re planning on being there quite awhile!

If you’re really interested in all things tulips, you can drop by his workshop late this afternoon as he’s giving the Several Annies, my Library Apprentices, a practical exercise in how history really happens, using the Dutch Tulip Mania as his example. And we’ve reviewed a book on their origins in the guise of  Ottoman Tulips, Ottoman Coffee: Leisure and Lifestyle in the Eighteenth Century, which has a nice article on the actual history of the so-called Tulip Period of the Ottoman Empire. Do beware that these papers are dry at times as they’re intended for other scholars.

I’m off to the Kitchen as soon as I get this Edition done and  I suspect you’ll want to join me in heading for the Kitchen after you read and listen to our offering this time as Mrs. Ware and her talented staff are serving up just baked Toll House chocolate chip cookies with glasses of Riverrun Farm whole milk. Yes whole milk — bet you’ve never had that!


I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon is given a review by Gary:  ‘Warren Zevon died in 2003, within a week of Johnny Cash. While he was nowhere near the cultural icon that Cash was, Zevon was one of the most important voices in popular music in the second half of the 20th century. That much was clear to me before, but it was brought home to me by this biography compiled by his ex-wife Crystal Zevon.’

Robert has some comments on a book by one of our favorite authors, Peter S. Beagle. In this case, he’s discussing The Innkeeper’s Song: “. . . [L]et me point out that I should, by now, know better than to expect anything in particular from Peter S. Beagle. There is only one The Last Unicorn, and only one “Come, Lady Death.” I should have expected something like The Innkeeper’s Song. . . .’

Robert also had a chance to go back and survey Elizabeth Bear’s first published novels, Hammered, Scardown, and Worldwired: ‘It’s rather odd, from my point of view, to be sitting here after an intensive course in the works of Elizabeth Bear and finally have a chance to consider her first published novels. . . . These were greeted by the usual accolades, which in Bear’s case were honestly earned and have been fully justified. . .

Vonnie looks at a novel by Patricia Mckillip, a favourite writer around here: ‘McKillip uses the sea in many of her books, but in Something Rich and Strange the sea is not only the setting and a metaphor for mystery and magic and change — the sea is the subject. The book begins with protagonists Megan and Jonah (how is that for an apropos name?) experiencing a sea change after a long winter during which their lives had settled into a routine dependent on the shore. But the sea brings ambiguity, too. Just as the sea has the power to transform the people and things near it, the characters slowly realize that humanity has the power to overwhelm the sea, defeat it and kill the life in it. Moreover, man is doing so.’


Heather Arndt Anderson’s Breakfast: A History is Reynard says ‘an endlessly fascinating book such as this passage: ‘By the beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign in 1819, bacon and eggs had already become firmly fixed as a part of the everyday breakfast. Even among most of the English working class, bacon was ubiquitous; in fact, the only time it was not served was on sausage or ham day. See I how worked bacon into this review? What a history of breakfast be without bacon in it?’


Robert has a look at one of those “superhero” comics populated by not-so-nice people: ‘I first ran across the work of John Ostrander in his collaboration with Gail Simone in Secret Six: Danse Macabre. I had my reservations, but now that I’ve read what may be considered the forerunner to that series, Suicide Squad: Trial by Fire, I’m ready to ascribe the failings of Danse Macabre to an off day.’


David says of Warden Zevon’ album that it’s ‘not a masterpiece. Warren Zevon made a couple of those earlier in his career. But The Wind is a classy record, made by a guy who went out doing what he wanted to do. One last toast to Warren Zevon, who made sure that anyone who ever really heard him would keep him in their hearts.’

Donna looks at Up in The Air’s Moonshine and Gavin Marwick’s The Long Road and The Far Horizon: ‘ Gavin Marwick is a talented and prolific Scottish composer and fiddle player. He’s in or has been in bands including Cantrip, Bellevue Rendezvous, Journeyman, Iron Horse, Ceilidh Minogue and Up in the Air. I’ve seen him perform (with Cantrip) and reviewed his Bellevue Rendezvous outings. So of course I was happy to offer to review these two CDs when offered. I’m just sorry it took me so long to listen and write!’.’

Lars looks at the debut album from The Alt who cleverly named it The Alt: ‘Irish music comes in many forms, from the loud and boisterous to the soft and soothing, from the long slow ballads to the fast furious instrumentals. The Alt is a trio focusing on songs, only three of the eleven tracks are instrumental sets, and traditional material. No pipes, no fiddle, but plenty of guitar, bouzouki, that special wooden Irish flute and vocal harmonies. Their sound is much closer to the style set by groups like Sweeney’s Men, Planxty and Patrick Street, than the Dubliner-side of Irish folk.’

Robert has some thoughts on traditions and folklore as they related to a group of CDs presented to him as “Welsh music”: ‘The more I am exposed to the various traditions of the world’s art and music, the more I credit Joseph W. Campbell’s observations, from The Flight of the Wild Gander, on the processes of folklore: in spite of the urge to identify “national” traditions, folklore is inevitably the result of cultural cross-fertilization. Thus I can sit in my room and listen to the music of the Balkans or medieval Spain and Portugal and find echoes of Ireland and the Highlands.’


Our What Not this time is  a Bright Young Folk interview with The Alt which they about their links with the States, recording their first album in North Carolina and of course about the album itself: ‘Nuala Kennedy, Eamon O’Leary and John Doyle – three of the finest Irish musicians around on the folk scene today – have joined forces to explore and celebrate together, Irish traditional music and song. Established musicians in their own rights, the trio now go by the name of The Alt and have recently released their début album – featuring a stunning collection of tunes and stories.’


Midnight Oil is one of the most politically active groups you’ll ever have the pleasure to encounter provided that you like their politics as I very much do. And bloody good rock and roll and as well. I’ve not encountered many great boots of them as most have really shitty sound but I did find one. But ‘Blue Sky Mine’ and ‘Earth And Sun And Moon’ from an aoustic set at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in Boston  on the 23rd of June, 24 years ago which is from a soundboard recording and sounds amazing.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Yurts (A Letter to Anna)


G’Morning Anna,

Some time ago I remember you asking about how the yurts out towards the north meadow came to be. It’s an interesting story, as they were here a decade before I arrived here thirty years ago this year. It happened because The Steward at the time, Emma Holstrom, was keen on enhancing our revenues by hosting conferences here but our housing stock in Kinrowan Hall never really has room for more than a dozen or so guests at a time, unless they want to doss down outside which many willingly did. Oh, we’ve a few Estate cottages set aside for such purposes but that still limits us to perhaps thirty guests, give or take a few.

Building standard housing was deemed to be too costly and environmentally insensitive to boot, so the project was shelved ’till a Several Annie from Russia suggested we use yurts, a wooden ribbed round dwelling structure traditionally used by nomads in the steppes of Central Asia as their homes. Now, ours were intended as ongoing housing so some modifications had to be made, such as all wood construction instead of fabric over wooden ribs.

First, we had to settle on a space and that space turned out to be in a meadow about a half mile from Kinrowan Hall. We had enough room there to space them twenty yards apart; we also decided to elevate them so as to allow the vegetation and wildlife to be minimally affected. We also decided that a skylight and a Russian style stove system would make them cozy in the Winter. Each is fifteen feet across — big enough for up to three people to comfortably inhabit — and a good ten feet off the ground to allow vegetation and beasties not to feel impeded by them.

Building them made a good project for the carpenters among us. Other than glass for the skylights, all of the materials came from the Estate, including the bricks used in the Russian stoves. Half of each yurt is sleeping space, with storage built in under the sleeping platform. All of them have shelves for yet more storage and there’s a ski rack outside each yurt. They’re painted forest green with a lighter green trim around the doors and windows. If you don’t know they’re there, it’s somewhat surprising to come upon them.

(Yes, doors. Though the yurt traditionally has one door, we deemed that they were safer having two doors if, Gaia forbid!, a fire happened.)

Over the decades, thirty-five of them would be built. They now comprise, if only on a temporary basis, a community unto themselves with some groups here never coming to the Estate Building since we added a forty-foot-across yurt for use as gathering space. It’s not uncommon for the Neverending Session to decamp to the yurts to play for their residents.

And they’ve turned out to be both quite popular and amazingly durable. When we do housing booking for festivals and conferences here, they’re always claimed first in housing preferences. We’ve even added booking them for folks interested in a skiing holiday here.

And other than a bit of paint and caulking the windows each year, and sanding and resealing the floors, they’re care free. Oh, we’ve added amenities over the years — there’s now a Finnish style sauna and solar powered showers. And there’s plans for a kitchen yurt to be constructed soon.

You should have been here a decade ago when we held the first annual Women In Black Cultural Festival here. It was an interesting experience with everything from a historically accurate performance of a reading of Aristophanes’ excruciatingly bawdy anti-war farce, ‘Lysistrata’ to Daughters of Bede doing ‘lost’ Celtic chants. They finished off that first of many such Festivals with the well-known Basque song, ‘Agur Xiberua!’ which ends with the refrain, ‘Not in Paris, nor anywhere else, will I find anything quite like my homeland.’ All of the participants stayed in the yurts so you could hear music, song, and laughter ’till very late in the night.

So that’s how the yurts came to be. And this year is the first time that they’ll be booked for a curling competition being held here!

Affectionately, Gus


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What’s New for the 2nd of April: Beethoven music from the Alban Berg Quartet, Kinrowan Estate bees, Beatrix Potter, Reese’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups and other goodies are here this edition

I’ve always wanted the string quartet to be vital, and energetic, and alive, and cool, and not afraid to kick ass and be absolutely beautiful and ugly if it has to be. But it has to be expressive of life. To tell the story with grace and humor and depth. And to tell the whole story, if possible. — David Harrington of the Kronos Quartet


I like string quartets quite a bit, be they playing compositions written in the present day such as the music of the Methera Quartet or groups such as Les Witches whose usual fare is the likes of John Playford, a composer active in the early Seventeenth Century.

The latter’s what I’m playing as I’ve got the Library to myself this afternoon as the warm weather has Gus, our Estate Gardener and Groundskeeper, getting as many of Estate staff as possible including my Several Annies to do a survey of what needs attending to on the grounds and the buildings as well.

So wander around the Library while I finish this up so you can read it. You’ll even find a number of items of interest if you’re a gardener in this edition.


Marta McDowell’s Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life was a work much liked by Gus: ‘Like many serious gardeners, I collect books about gardens and those who created them. This one is a recent acquisition of mine that ranks among the best I’ve encountered! Subtitled ‘The plants and places that inspired the classic children’s tales’, it is just what it says it is: a look at the gardens (and botanical things) that inspired her children’s writings.’

Margaret Lane’s The Tale of Beatrix Potter garners this intro by Laurie: ‘I like biographies, especially author biographies. When I was a small child, I was absolutely fascinated by a copy of a children’s biography of Louisa Mae Alcott that I found in my elementary school library; I thought it was an even better story than Little Women. I had a copy of a biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder and I loved to read it and look at the pictures included in the center. And Humphrey Carpenter’s Tolkien has long been a favorite of mine.’ Read her review to see why this biography measured up to those works.

Robert has some comments on a book about writing. In fact, that’s the title: About Writing, by Samuel R. Delany: ‘A bit of history: I don’t really remember when I started reading Samuel R. Delany’s novels. . . . I liked his novels: they were “good,” which at that point was the most precise description I had available. (Now that term falls somewhere between describing my evaluation of literary quality and my gut response as a reader.) Then Dhalgren happened, which led me to understand that there was much more going on in these books than I had bothered to think about.’

Speaking of Dhalgren, guess what: Robert has a review of that, too: ‘Samuel R. Delaney’s Dhalgren was originally published in 1974. It was brash, it was overtly experimental, it was greeted with everything from wild hallelujahs to roars of outrage. It was in many ways the culmination of science fiction’s New Wave: where writers such as Aldiss, Ballard, Disch, Zelazny, and Delany himself had pushed the envelope, Dhalgren finally ripped it up and scattered the pieces. Mainstream critics, caught flat-footed, came up with the term “magical realism” in an attempt to link it to “respectable” if someone outré writers such as Borges and Garcia Marquez.’


Reese’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups doesn’t sound like the sort of roots and branches of our shared global culture that we’d bother to comment upon but our resident Summer Queen explains why we are doing so: ‘I have a confession to make. Yes, I have a problem. And that problem’s name is Reese’s Peanut Butter cups. I’m the person at Hallowe’en who looks at the bowl of candy designated for trick or treaters and asks, plaintively, “Could we hold the Reese’s in reserve? Or at least hide them on the bottom of the bowl?” and who will blatantly pilfer from the bowl throughout the evening. And if there’s any left over? Bliss!’

imageIn live music this week we have a preview of a festival of Québécois traditional music, called FestiTrad. It’s being held April 7-9 in St. Gabriel, and will feature artists such as De Temps Antan, Les Charbonniers de l’Enfer, André Marchand & Grey Larsen, and more.


American fiddler Jenny Scheinman has created an album of music to accompany a film that celebrates the legacy of North Carolina Photographer H. Lee Waters. Gary says ‘Here on Earth consists of 15 tunes, all of which stand securely on their own, each a mini-masterpiece of deceptively modern Americana.’

Gary also reviews the new CD from Cory Branan, called Adios. He says of Branan, ‘he wraps up clever wordplay, catchy tunes, ass-kicking music, and tales of woe, love, violence, debauchery and loyalty in one generous package.’

Gary also has a review of an album of some music in a genre called doom. ‘Its antecedents are in Black Sabbath, but the music on Aseethe’s Hopes of Failure seems to come from several circles lower down in Dante’s Inferno,’ he says.

Lars has a review of Battlefield Band’s The Producer’s Choice: ‘So how do you sum up a recording career spanning 40 years, with a number of albums that excludes the possibility of taking one track from each? The answer is you do not even try. Instead their long time manager and producer Robin Morton, once a founding member of Boys of the Lough and founder and owner of Temple Records, have come up with the novel idea to pick on track to represent each of the 19 members the group has had.’

Robert has some thoughts about an album by some of our favorite artists, Kronos Quartet Performs Philip Glass: ‘The thing about chamber works is that the composer often feels free to explore ideas that won’t necessarily work in larger, orchestral works, or might (in the case of Dmitri Shostakovich, for one) result in exile to Siberia. Glass himself said “It’s the way composers in the past have thought and that’s no less true for me.”’


Our What Not this time is the matter of  bees. We have a lot of bee hives here, several hundred at least, and there’ve most likely been hives here for a thousand years. Every culture has its folklore about bees and the Irish are no exception. Gus, our Estate Head Gardener and our primary beekeeper, passed on this article to me, Eimear Chaomhánach’s ‘The Bee, its Keeper and Produce, in Irish and Other Folk Traditions’. If you’re interested in the folklore of these fascinating creatures, this is a must read for you.


We seem to be a bit focused on string quartets today. Robert has some thoughts on that: ‘String quartets, like painters’ drawings and other small-scale works, can offer us a glimpse into an artist’s thought like nothing else. They are intimate and immediate in a way that larger works are not. Take, for example, the third movement of Beethoven’s String Quartet in A minor, Op. 132, titled “Heiliger Dankgesang,” (“Hymn of Thanks”). The story is that Beethoven had recently recovered from a near-fatal illness, and put his gratitude to the powers that be into this piece of music. You can see a performance by the Alban Berg Quartet here, but be warned: there is another story, of the first time I heard this quartet in concert. My companion happened to look over at me during this movement and saw me sitting there, eyes fixed on the stage, with tears streaming down my face. That’s how close these small-scale works can get to you.’

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Leylines


The Kinrowan Estate has myriad ley lines, minor and major ones alike. I’m not sure if they are the reason that the Estate was originally settled but it certainly explains the long, eldritch history of the Estate. So let me talk about that history …

The first folks that noted there were ley lines here, at least according to Journals in the Estate Library, were the hedge witches who mapped them out by noticing that certain forest paths followed straight lines even though that was not the easiest way to get from a certain point to another point. And even the Estate corvids tended to fly along these lines when hunting.

One of the early Stewards who spent his spare time documenting the dolmens discovered that the hedge witches at that time believed that those structures were situated where three or more ley lines formed a node of magical energy. According to his journal, he wasn’t quite comfortable with that idea, but then he was a Scots Presbyterian in the seventeenth century, a Church not known for its freethinkers.

A much more liberal Steward, two centuries later, had his hedge witch document all the ley lines and with the assistance of the Several Annies, our Library Apprentices, she did so. What it showed was this Estate is like a series of interconnected spider webs, each a web of ley lines that exist within this Estate with a much, much smaller number that go outside of our borders.

Disturbingly, a number of the major ley lines intersected the barrow-mounds, where those with The Sight and the Estate Russian wolfhounds veer away without even noticing they’re doing so. Now Iain, who has The Sight, claims that at least one of those barrow-mounds is the restless grave of some ancient evil he thinks was a god who fed off death, particularly that of the battlefield. Something far worse than The Morrigan was at her most bloody.

He also claimed the strong magical energy of those major ley lines was the only thing keeping that evil from awakening, and that scared him. He doubted that any magician, even a necromancer, could break those bindings but he fervently hoped no one ever did.

In my mind the question is, what purpose have the dolmens which are scattered about the grounds here? Were they the sites of sacrifices to gods long forgotten? Were they used to strengthen the magic of the ley lines so hedge witches and others could use them? No one knows and there’s not been any archaeological digs at any of the dolmens on the Estate for centuries now, and I doubt that’ll change anytime soon.


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What’s New for the 26th of March: an Afghanistan music collection, music from Altan, a future Europe and India as well, Tarzan, ‘African traditions’ and other matters as well

I authorised that a model be made of Kinrowan Hall complete with the new Library addition, so that all could see how it would look when built. It will be more than just a bog standard architectural model as it’ll be complete with a real slate roof, tiny leaded windows and such. The library itself will be a open space four stories tall and another two stories below with shelves between the leaded glass windows on three sides and a skylight as well — Steward Jenny Sturgeon in her journal, 15 September 1880


There is nothing quite like a freshly brewed pot of tea to get you going in the morning. I should know as I need at least two large mugs of tea before I’m fully awake. Not black though as I’ve a generous splash of Riverrun cream in my tea.

I once knew a well-regarded folk musician who started each morning with much more than a dram of Kilbeggan Irish whiskey. Seemed to suit him well for the coming day as far as anyone could tell.

So I’m up in my Library office, a pot of  Darjeeling second blush tea at hand, putting together this edition and watching the snow fall rather heavily outside the window. I’m playing a live performance by Altan with you hearing ‘A Bhean Udaí Thall’ from a concert in Phoenix nearly thirty years ago.

Want to see what I’ve got this week? Of course you do.


The novel Gary looks at in this review is set in a richly imagined future India, Ian Mcdonald’s River of Gods. And it’s a bloody good read as well: ‘You can hold whole universes in your hand, between the covers. And as with those old faery tales, you need to pay attention to books like . They contain important truths, hidden inside entertaining stories.’

Kestrell looks into the future to review John Langan’s House of Windows. What does Kestrell have to say of this work of literary horror? Well, this might help — ‘House of Windows can be read on many levels — as a modern updating of the old-fashioned ghost story, as a commentary on the psychological ‘ghosts’ created by physical and emotional abuse, and as a perceptive reading of the overlapping of classic literature with supernatural fiction. Beneath all of these, however, runs the ongoing questions of why we read at all, why do words and stories possess such an irresistible attraction for us, and what these stories can reveal — or tragically fail to reveal-to us about our own lives and experiences.’

There is a very simple formula for determining whether a reader will like Dave Hutchinson’s Europe In Winter, the third book in his Europe cycle. Just ask the hypothetical reader if they like John LeCarre. If the answer is yes, then no time should be wasted in suggesting fervently that they give the Hutchinson a try, because they will almost certainly adore it.

Before there were superheroes, there were — well, the superheroes of an earlier age. Robert takes a look at a book about one of them, Alex Vernon’s On Tarzan: ‘Tarzan is one of those icons of popular culture that has taken on a resonance that runs from the personal to the mythic. One of the ironies that underlies Alex Vernon’s On Tarzan is that old question that I confront regularly: how much did Edgar Rice Burroughs put into that character, and how much have we provided?’


Reynard told me a few minutes ago that he asked Kathleen what her favourite libation was and she waxed nostalgic: ‘Nova Albion of blessed memory – a bright copper, richly hopped ale with an aftertaste of roses. But in the world of beers I can actually get my hands on … maybe Sierra Nevada Southern Hemisphere Harvest Ale, full of fresh new Zealand hops. Or Lagunitas Censored Ale. Or even the venerable Bass Ale — served room temperature, of course. With straw floating on the top. I like hops…’image

Gary reviews Querido Mundo by New York-based Latin rocker Ani Cordero. It’s a follow-up to her critically acclaimed solo debut Recordar, and Gary says it’s ‘an album full of political and love songs she wrote, addressing both current affairs and affairs of the heart.’

Robert got very enthusiastic about an album that’s — well, something different. (Big surprise.) He starts off his comments on Vieux Farka Touré’s debut album with some notes on traditions: ‘There were, in the middle of the last century, over 1,000 languages spoken in Africa, grouped into four large families, not counting creoles and pidgins (estimates have actually ranged as high as 3,000 altogether). This does actually have something to do with the debut album by Vieux Farka Touré: when one speaks of “African traditions,” it is well to remember that those 1,000 languages reflect as many cultures and subcultures, which means there is no such thing as “an African tradition.”’

The same might hold true for another part of the world, as Robert notes while discussing Afghanistan Untouched: ‘I have to admit to a certain feeling of helplessness when faced with a collection like Afghanistan Untouched: it is, much more than entertainment, an ethnographic document. . . . This is borne out by the substantial documentation included in the accompanying booklet, which includes an overview and sections discussing the role of musicians in the life of the various ethnic groups that make up the country and commentaries on the various selections presented.’

Sean looks at yet another of an apparently endless number of Clannad anthologies, A Magical Gathering: ‘For those unfamiliar with the full panorama of the Clannad sound archive, these two discs might come as a surprise, as they contrast the band’s acoustic roots with more recent, perhaps familiar work, which is all too often formulaic, elegiac and in the hands of their most successful scion, Enya, totally commercial.’image

Our What Not this time is again a favourite tune as we asked a Winter Queen, the late Josepha Sherman, what hers was: ‘OK, my dear: I play the folk harp a wee bit (I’m sadly out of practice) and of the older songs, I like ‘Sumer is icumen in,’ ca. 1260 or so, by our old friend, Anonymous. I like it both for the melody and the words, which are cheerful and alive with the image of animals jumping about for the joy of it. It also makes for a cheerful round for several voices. For the earliest songs, though we don’t have the melodies, alas, I love some of the Ancient Egyptian love songs, which are downright modern — such as the one about the girl who sees her boyfriend and rushes out to meet him with half her hair still undone!’ She went on to note that ‘The Ancient Egyptians had our concept of romantic love, btw, clear in their songs. There’s even a sadly fragmentary one of a wife undressing her husband, who’s passed out after what was clearly too much drinking at a party, and how she loves him even so.’


So let’s finish out this week with some more music from Altan performing at Somerville Theater in  Somerville, Massachusets  on the 13th of February 1993. It’s ‘A Tune For Mairéad And Anna’ from their performance at the Folkadelphia Session, 7th of March, 2015.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Speaker to Ravens


Yes, a crow whisperer. Wipe that look of doubt off your face as the story I’m about to tell concerns one such being and his tale of what a crow whisperer is. Well, the tale is true as far as I know. And who am I to say it’s not true even if I suspect it’s not?

You’ve heard the story of the Tower of London ravens and that if they ever leave the Tower, it will be the end of Albion? I cannot say if that’s true, but the person who wondered into our Pub late one Fall evening wanted to tell a story. He asked for a dram of single malt, no water, in exchange. I poured him a Glenglassaugh and waited for him to begin …

First he noted that the commonly accepted tale among the ‘respectable’ press is that the Ravens have been in residence only since the Victorian Era but he said they’ve been there since then, and quite a lot longer. He added that the press is told that Ravens stay there because their wing feathers were clipped, thus they couldn’t fly away.

Neither is true, he said. Rather there’s been a crow whisperer, or to use the much older name, Speaker for The Ravens. Running in an unbroken line for well over a thousand years it is said, each such person was taught by the previous Speaker for The Ravens what the secret language of ravens is. It is an ancient language, predating any human tongue by uncountable years.

Each Speaker for The Ravens is told the story of how the first ancient Albion kings discovered that the Ravens were holders of the magic that bound them to the land, to the people, and to the gods themselves. That so long as the Ravens dwelt in what would someday be London and specifically where the Towers would be built, that Albion would endure. But the Ravens wouldn’t be content if someone couldn’t Speak for them, someone who knew their True Names.

For many centuries, these men, and quite a few women, and some who weren’t actually human, served their roles so well that the unbreakable bonds have never been weakened nor even really tested.

I noticed through the Pub windows that looked out towards the ancient oaks favoured by the Estate corvids that all of the crows therein were watching him intently as we walked away from the Pub. And then they winged about him, cawing loudly, and waiting for his response…


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What’s New for the 19th of March: Spring festivals, wise fools, outlaw heroes, an English country house mystery, chocolate!, and more

“I really didn’t mean to steal it.” Mr. Williams shook his head. He scratched at his chin nervously. “Why not? That’s what they’re there for. Tunes belong to everybody. So do stories.” ― Tallis and Mr Williams in Robert Holdstock’s Lavondyss


Ahhh, there you are! Let me set aside the book I’ve been reading, The Haunted Wood: Britain’s Forests in Fantasy Literature. It’s a fascinating book though more than a bit dry as most academic works tend to be. As James Goldman noted in his preface to his play, The Lion in Winter, ‘Historians and storytellers don’t have much in common, but they do share this: the past, once it gets hold of you, does actually come alive. For scholars, this is troublesome. For writers, it’s the good stuff.’

So if you want something that’ll make for an entertaining read, it likely won’t be The Haunted Wood; rather it’ll be something like Charles de Lint’s The Cats of Tanglewood Forest, or perhaps the more horrific in Ramsey Campbell’s The Darkest Part of the Woods, both where The Wood is intrinsically part of the story.

Now get yourself off to the Green Man Pub, have a pint of our just tapped Spring IPA and keep a watch on Oberon’s Wood out the windows there to see if anything decidedly fey is going on there whIle I put this edition together…


Spring is upon us and Grey has a book that reminds us how longstanding celebration of this and other such dates are: ‘Clare Leslie and Frank Gerace have provided a wonderful resource in The Ancient Celtic Festivals and How We Celebrate Them Today. This slender book (fifty-eight pages) can be read by anyone from upper elementary school on, but younger children would also enjoy it if it were read to them. It is clearly designed primarily for the school and library markets, but “folky” families and those interested in Celtic traditions will also want it for their own libraries.’

Gary has something to say about a different kind of history, as portrayed in Susan Cheever’s Drinking in America: ‘Not only has alcohol been intimately involved in the history of the United States of America, it has been closely associated with some of the key moments in that history, from the very beginning. That’s the argument that Susan Cheever makes in her book Drinking in America: Our Secret History.’

Speaking of academic works, Kathleen looks at Four British Fantasists: Place and Culture in the Children’s Fantasies of Penelope Lively, Alan Garner, Diana Wynne Jones & Susan Cooper: ‘Charles Butler is the author of several fantasies for children (The Fetch of Mardy Watt, The Darkling, Death of A Ghost). He also teaches English literature at the University of the West of England. In Four British Fantasists, he surveys juvenile fantasy through the lens of his professional scholarship, in a detailed analysis of the work of four acclaimed modern writers. He has chosen Alan Garner, Diana Wynne Jones, Susan Cooper and Penelope Lively as his subjects, identifying them — with good reason — as shining examples of the modern Golden Age of children’s fantasy: inheritors of the traditions of both E. Nesbitt and J.R.R. Tolkien.’

Robert takes us on a brief tour of a delightful collection of folk tales: ‘The subtitle calls The Uncommon Sense of the Immortal Mullah Nasruddin a collection of “stories, jests, and donkey tales of the beloved Persian folk hero.” Nasruddin, though, is more than simply Persian — he’s an avatar of the Wise Fool found in folklore everywhere.’

Steven has a look at a novel in a long running mystery series: ‘Tony Hillerman’s Hunting Badger was inspired by a real 1998 case that resulted in the murder of a police officer. The author refers to the case repeatedly but doesn’t offer any clues to its solution. Instead, he uses it as the springboard for a story that plays on Navajo history and mythology, with the “Badger” of the title turning out to be both a legendary Ute warrior and his son, the former having been thought of as a witch by mystified Navajos and the latter perhaps taking advantage of his father’s tricks following a murderous raid on a casino.’


By now we’re all familiar with the story of Robin Hood, in one form or another. Robert takes a look at a graphic novel treatment, Outlaw: The Legend of Robin Hood, scripted by Tony Lee: ‘Anyone telling a story as well-known as this one is facing some built-in constraints, not the least of which is that we know there’s a happy ending, and it’s to Lee’s credit that he makes the telling as absorbing as he does.’


Speaking of mysteries, an English country house murder mystery gets reviewed by David: ‘As traditional as the genres he chose might have been, in Altman’s hand they were turned upside-down, and sideways. Warren Beatty and Julie Christie became anti-hero and opium addict in Altman’s “western” McCabe & Mrs. Miller, set to the music of Leonard Cohen! A laconic Elliott Gould became Raymond Chandler’s private dick Phillip Marlowe in an updated LA for Altman’s “detective” classic The Long Goodbye. Robert Altman has been the most American of directors, and now, in Gosford Park, he takes on the English country house murder mystery. Altman’s Agatha Christie film? What could this mean?’


What’s Zotter’s Labooko Peru Criollo Cuvée? It’s quite a mouthful, in more than one way. Gary tried this Austrian-made chocolate bar, and he says in his review that it’s ‘some of the best dark chocolate I’ve had in ages.’


Jo says that ‘those interested in the Welsh tradition should check out Llio Rhydderch, who studied and toured with the fabled Nansi Richards. For the uninitiated, an explanation is in order. The Welsh have a drastically different style of playing, largely due to the nature of the music itself. Their music is ornamented through theme and variation, a more classical style, rather than through the sort of ornamentation heard in Scottish and Irish music.’ Read her review of Rhydderch’s Telyn for all the details.

Gary reports on a new CD by Jake Xerxes Fussel: ‘When I first listened to this new album What in the Natural World I thought he sounded like someone who has delved into the “old weird” American songbook once championed by the likes of Harry Smith, and I was right. He’s got an ear for a lyric and another for a melody, and he’s a pretty talented blues-style finger-picker of his electric guitar, too.’

The fourth album by Danish rockers The DeSoto Caucus, aptly titled 4, gets a close look from Gary. ‘They play a kind of laid-back desert rock that owes a lot to the sound of Giant Sand, but on this album they’ve added a major country-soul vibe, in addition to occasional elements of psychedelica,’ he says.

‘Cross-fertilization’ is a key concept in the history of any art form, and sometimes leads to amazing results, as Robert points out in his review of Siwan, a collaboration by a diverse group of musicians: ‘People sometimes remark on my taste in music (as in “What on earth are you listening to now?”), and I’ll be the first to admit it’s rather broad. I figure it’s all just music, and half the fun of it is finding the places where it all overlaps — you can always worry about classifications later. ‘


Our What Not this time is a look at the birth of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra: ‘Some groups form in school or college, some grow out of teenage friendships and others from “musicians wanted” ads; nearly all of them are formed with the initial idea of sounding like somebody else. None of the above applies to the Penguin Cafe Orchestra. Nor, for that matter, do most other generalisations about how modern music is and should be made, or why.’  You can read the entire Independent article here.


So let’s finish this edition with some music from Penguin Cafe Orchestra, to wit ‘Music For A Found Harmonium’ from the Glastonbury Festival, the 26th of June, 1994. Oddly enough it’s become a very popular composition among Irish sorts of trad musicians and has been recorded by New Celeste, Patrick Street and Four Men and A Dog to name but some of the groups which gave done so.

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