Category Archives: music

When elves and hobbits sing.

tolk-ens-4-cdI feel a bit foolish, having written in my last book review that I had been put off from “all things Danish.” The fact is, I was that very week exulting in what I had forgotten was a Danish phenomenon, the Tolkien Ensemble and their achievement of composing and performing music for all of the songs in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

It was a blog discussion of poetry that alerted me to the existence of this group, founded in 1995, and their recordings on four CD’s. I’m surprised that I never heard of them in the last fifteen years. As a mom reading the trilogy aloud to my children 25 years ago, I vaguely remember feeling inadequate when we came to one of the many songs in the novels. Tolkien’s verse has meter, and the poetry is affecting, but they are songs to the hobbits and other characters, and one longs to really sing them. I am not good at composing tunes on the spot; I wonder if Tolkien hummed appropriate melodies as he was writing? [Update: evidently he did!]

A 4-CD set was compiled after all of the recordings had been made over several years. There seem to be slight variations in the different editions and collections, but I have all four CD’s now, totaling 69 tracks, which I bought separately and mostly used. I’ve listened to some of songs many times, and I continue to be amazed at the quality of the music, and how each song is fitted with a composition that seems to me to be just right for it. I admit to being an amateur music critic, but I’m going to plow on ahead. If any of my readers are familiar with these recordings and know more about the field of music, maybe you can further instruct or correct me, or just tell me what are your favorite songs.

tolk-2000
Tolkien Ensemble 2000

Caspar Reiff, one of the composers, founded the Tolkien Ensemble in Copenhagen when he was in his late 20’s and studying guitar at the Royal Danish Academy of Music. His former guitar teacher and “multi-musician” Peter Hall joined as co-composer, along with fellow students from the music academy. They are a convincing advertisement for that school.

The Ensemble manages to create a fitting expression for every mood and activity that was put to verse in these books. The song of “Tinúviel” captures the urgency and enchantment of Beren who falls in love with an Elven maid and chases her through the forest and the seasons, calling achingly, “Tinúviel! Tinúviel!” until she in turn falls under his spell, and in her eyes “The trembling starlight of the skies/He saw there mirrored shimmering.” The drinking song Frodo sings at the Inn of Bree is a lot of fun, with accordion and fiddle, spoons and dishes. There are riddles, laments, and even a bath song. We have a hearty upbeat walking song as the few Hobbits are starting out bravely:

Farewell we call to hearth and hall!
Though wind may blow and rain may fall,
We must away ere break of day
Far over the wood and mountain tall.
To Rivendell, where Elves yet dwell
In glades beneath the misty fell,
Through moor and waste we ride in haste,
And whither then we cannot tell.

With foes ahead, behind us dread,
Beneath the sky shall be our bed,
Until at last our toil be passed,
Our journey done, our errand sped.

We must away! We must away!
We ride before the break of day!

Contrast this with Frodo’s more melancholy mood when he sings alone the song he learned from Bilbo. It seems like the theme song for the entire tale:

The road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with weary feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet,
And whither then? I cannot say.

Many of the songs are sad. The whole story is rather bleak, of course, with the growing and unrelenting awareness that the former glory of kings and elves is fading fast and can’t be regained. The unhurried drama enacted in a lumbering musical conversation between the separated Ents and Entwives is heartbreaking, but it is one of my favorites.

They call to one another in their stately Ent voices that convey their tree-like, large physiques and great age. The Ent sings stanzas in a beautiful but heavy tone, with the refrain, “Come back to me,” and she replies, “I’ll linger here,” until the last verses when he says he will come to her, and then they sing in unison of a time when they will converge on a journey to where their hearts may be at rest.

The Elf Legolas sings a “Song of the Sea” that I didn’t like at first, I think because it put me off balance, as though I were on a ship being buffeted by the waves. But after a few times through, I got my sea legs and began to enjoy the feeling of the moist wind in my hair, and the sense of adventure.

The women of The Tolkien Ensemble have lovely voices that one imagines might be heard among those “misty glades” where Elves dwell and sing. They use them to good effect in several tracks about the lands and heroes of these wise and ageless creatures.

What might be called a Thinking Song, “Bilbo’s Song,” is one that he sings meditatively. The guitar accompaniment reminds me very much of the way my own mind can go round and round on a subject, ruminating. The strings are plucked in a quick and repetitive rhythm, perhaps with a drone note coming back frequently.

I sit beside the fire and think
of all that I have seen
of meadow-flowers and butterflies
in summers that have been;

Of yellow leaves and gossamer
in autumns that there were,
with morning mist and silver sun
and wind upon my hair.

I sit beside the fire and think
of how the world will be
when winter comes without a spring
that I shall ever see.

For still there are so many things
that I have never seen:
in every wood in every spring
there is a different green.

I sit beside the fire and think
of people long ago
and people who will see a world
that I shall never know.

But all the while I sit and think
of times there were before,
I listen for returning feet
and voices at the door.

tolk-2007
The group in 2007

gl-rivendell-i-ii

At right is the cover of the set of two disks I first bought, to find out if even liked them. It’s hard to find samples of the music online; you might pull up one or two on YouTube, and then you might find them taken down the next minute. If bought separately, the disks in order of production are:

1 An Evening in Rivendell
2 A Night in Rivendell
3 Dawn in Rivendell
4 Leaving Rivendell

But don’t worrry – not all the action takes place in Rivendell. Those are just the disk titles, and the songs included on each disk are not necessarily in an obvious order, either.

I immediately found so much to love in those first two collections that I shopped sources for the other two disks. And after listening for a day or two, it was clear: I must read the trilogy again to put the newly appreciated songs in their context. That had been my desire after watching Peter Jackson’s film interpretation that was so disappointing, but I hadn’t followed through. So I dropped all my other Currently Reading books to read The Fellowship of the Ring. Now I am on to The Two Towers, still in the Company!

When I am listening to the recordings, and now reading the novel again, I often think about those days when I had my children gathered around me and we were all vicariously traveling across the mountains and wastes of Middle Earth. If it had been only ten years later, we could have paused at each song as it appeared in the story to play the companion track on a CD, and let the music sink into our consciousness and draw us deeper into the story. That kind of enrichment would have raised the quality of our literary immersion a notch, to be sure. The Tolkien Ensemble gave their final concert in 2008, but I’m confident that the fruits of their project will continue to give joy to Tolkien-lovers for a long time.

middleearthlargelargerstill

What can be lacking to them?

I became very gl IMG_2996 lily origfamiliar with these lily plants today, without finding out what their name is. I was at church helping to spruce up the large property. These might have waited to be cut back except that their irrigation lines are going to be re-done. So I bent over each of two or three dozen clumps, grabbed the leaves in my fist as though they were a hank of hair, and snip-snip-snipped, and on to the next.

All the while, I could not keep from humming the tune commonly used to sing St. Patrick’s Breastplate.  A few days ago I thought to memorize the words, and as I’ve never been part of a church that sang it I listened on YouTube and wrote the words on 3×5 cards, and sang along quite a bit one afternoon and evening.

Since then I have only managed to look at my cards enough to memorize the first stanza (below), but those lines have filled my heart to overflowing, as the melody plays night and day in my mind, never without those powerful reminders of the fullness of our faith, and the presence of Christ himself in my song.

St Patrick’s Breastplate

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same
The Three in One and One in Three.
I bind this day to me forever
By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan river,
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb,
His riding up the heavenly way,
His coming at the day of doom
I bind unto myself today.

gl IMG_2993 church

 

 

So, I’ve been humming along with my Companion, as I wash the dishes or take a shower, or dig weeds. I glanced up this afternoon to see a side of the church that I don’t often look at, framed with olive branches and roses, and I had to scrunch down close to the dirt to get a strangely angled picture that takes it all in.

 

 

 

gl IMG_3005 weed

 

 

I didn’t have too many weeds to dig – I took this one’s picture because we have them all over the county this year, and I want to see if I can find it in Weeds of the West to learn its name.

 

 

 

The seed pods of the lilies were intriguing to me, with their shiny black and bumpy contents, about to pop out on to the ground. I brought a few home, wondering how hard it would be to get them to sprout…. gl IMG_3001 seeds

gl IMG_2995

So many people were helping out, pruning olives and wisteria, laying irrigation lines, trimming roses. We seemed to be finished by noon, except: the head gardener wanted four more big rosebushes on the other side of the property to be cut back. I had time, so I did them as the last thing. I had to stand in the middle, surrounded by floribundas, and toss the clippings over their heads into a bin outside of the thicket. This was oddly the best time of the whole day, maybe because I knew it was my last task, or maybe because they were such pure and lovely flowers.

Before I got in my car I took pictures of the Japanese Windflowers (or Japanese Anemones), of which we have two colors at church. I am excited to have some in my own new garden at home, but mine haven’t opened quite yet.

gl IMG_3013 windflower

I had planned to post the quote below tonight, and then the flowers and seeds and St. Patrick crowded in, but I think everything goes together pretty well.

How mistaken are those people who seek happiness outside of themselves, in foreign lands and journeys, in riches and glory, in great possessions and pleasures, in diversions and vain things which have a bitter end! It is the same thing to construct the tower of happiness outside of ourselves as it is to build a house in a place that is consistently shaken by earthquakes.

Happiness is found within ourselves, and blessed is the man who has understood this. Happiness is a pure heart, for such a heart becomes the throne of God. Thus says Christ of those who have pure hearts, “I will visit in them, and walk in them, and I will be a God to them, and they will be my people.” (2 Corinthians 6:16) What can be lacking to them? Nothing, nothing at all! For they have the greatest good in their hearts: God Himself!

~Saint Nektarios of Aegina

 

Wake, and lift up thyself.

GL 10 P1020112 sunflowersWe often sang the last verse of this hymn as a Doxology in The Presbyterian church in which I grew up. I didn’t know until recently that it is composed of many more stanzas of exhortation, including “Wake up!”, which one might speak to one’s soul to good effect. On those mornings when I’m slow to get moving and my thoughts start sinking precipitously, I would do well to use this song to stir up my spirit.

I have heard at least two melodies for the composition; it was the one from the Geneva Psalter that I used to sing, and to which I hope to learn these other heartening words.

Awake, My Soul, and With the Sun

Awake, my soul, and with the sun
Thy daily stage of duty run;
Shake off dull sloth, and joyful rise,
To pay thy morning sacrifice.

Thy precious time misspent, redeem,
Each present day thy last esteem,
Improve thy talent with due care;
For the great day thyself prepare.

By influence of the Light divine
Let thy own light to others shine.
Reflect all Heaven’s propitious ways
In ardent love, and cheerful praise.

In conversation be sincere;
Keep conscience as the noontide clear;
Think how all seeing God thy ways
And all thy secret thoughts surveys.

Wake, and lift up thyself, my heart,
And with the angels bear thy part,
Who all night long unwearied sing
High praise to the eternal King.

All praise to Thee, Who safe has kept
And hast refreshed me while I slept
Grant, Lord, when I from death shall wake
I may of endless light partake.

Heav’n is, dear Lord, where’er Thou art,
O never then from me depart;
For to my soul ’tis hell to be
But for one moment void of Thee.

Lord, I my vows to Thee renew;
Disperse my sins as morning dew.
Guard my first springs of thought and will,
And with Thyself my spirit fill.

Direct, control, suggest, this day,
All I design, or do, or say,
That all my powers, with all their might,
In Thy sole glory may unite.

I would not wake nor rise again
And Heaven itself I would disdain,
Wert Thou not there to be enjoyed,
And I in hymns to be employed.

Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

–Thomas Ken, Man­u­al of Pray­ers for the Use of the Schol­ars of Win­ches­ter Col­lege, 1674

No matter where we are.

GL P1020989 ivy

The air above the beach was cold and still Saturday afternoon when I drove over with a collection of family members for a picnic and a stroll. Our shadows were long, because in the morning I’d kept everyone busy doing repairs and assembly and various other jobs for me. It’s not often one has two handy and willing sons-in-law on the property at once, not to mention their wives whose presence holds me up in every practical way.

GL 2015-11-28 14.58.25 bluffs

But get away we did, and the first order of business on arrival at the coast was to eat our late lunch of sandwiches and Jelly Bellies, on this promontory along the Kortum Trail in Sonoma County.

GL P1020925 crp bluff plants

 

About seven bodies were squeezed on to a little picnic cloth, so I sat nearby on something passing for a tussock and examined the tiny vegetation around me, plants that get walked on frequently, and have to make do with fog for precipitation these days. Their roots must be even sturdier than their micro leaves.

 

green leaves on bluff 11-15

Thin blue sky, the open and fresh air, wide sweeps of dry grasses and bushes leading up to the hills and down to creek beds….the children scrambling on rocks and cliffs, a centipede in the path, the gorgeous ocean….We walked along the bluffs trail for a while, then returned the same way, and even little Ivy didn’t need to be carried, though she often liked to walk along with me and hold my hand. In her aqua fleece (as at top) she makes a bright spot against the grey-brown landscape in many of my pictures.

gl P1020992 M & P sunset glow

Before we got back to our cars, the sun had set.

2015-11-28 17.03.43 sunset

I used my camera liberally all day, then came home to discover that my lens had a smudge on it, smack dab in the middle where I focused most of my shots. I’ve done a bit of cropping, but that doesn’t always work, so I am sharing some of the smudged pictures anyway. If you see something fuzzy just pretend it is an unseasonable wisp of fog.

GL P1020865 table with decor

Yes, we had gathered for Thanksgiving and this was the overflow. It was the happiest of long weekends, stretching out for me from Wednesday through Sunday, with Kate and Tom coming from D.C. first, and most of the other children and their families gathering for at least the day at Pearl’s new place in Davis. She hosted 22 people for a fine dinner. Kit was with us, and two other extra guests on top of the kinfolk.

Her tables were beautiful, with fresh lemons and limes from the garden, and the lemon tree shining through the window, too.

GL P1020856 lemon

Before we sat down to dinner Soldier and I stood and read alternate stanzas for the group, selected from the Orthodox hymn of thanksgiving, “Glory to God for All Things.” It made me very happy to read verses like the following with my friends and family who are all of this mind and heart:

I was born a weak, defenseless child, but Thine angel spread his wings over my cradle to defend me. From birth until now Thy love has illumined my path, and has wondrously guided me towards the light of eternity; from birth until now the generous gifts of Thy providence have been marvelously showered upon me. I give Thee thanks, with all who have come to know Thee, who call upon Thy name.

Thou hast brought me into life as into an enchanted paradise. We have seen the sky like a chalice of deepest blue, where in the azure heights the birds are singing. We have listened to the soothing murmur of the forest and the melodious music of the streams. We have tasted fruit of fine flavour and the sweet-scented honey. We can live very well on Thine earth. It is a pleasure to be Thy guest.

Another highlight of the holiday was gathering in the living room after dinner to talk about the dear person who was missing this year, and share stories about him, stories from his sister,  his children and their spouses, and from me. This was my idea, because I knew that many of us would be acutely aware of his absence, and it seemed only right and helpful to bring that part of us into the open — I think I’m not the only one who is comforted by hearing other people talk about my husband.

gl P1030284
sugary crust from the past

One of my stories was about the apple pies I had baked this Thanksgiving. After we married, it was probably in the 70’s that I made my first pies, for Thanksgiving or Christmas. Early on my husband had told me about how his grandmother, just before she put her fruit pies in the oven, would sprinkle sugar on the tops. So I did it as well, always, and he liked that I kept the tradition.

Last Wednesday I had been running all day, cooking and greeting guests and making gardening decisions. The pies were the last thing to get done, and by the time I was assembling them everyone else in the household had gone up to bed. When I came to that last step, it crossed my mind that the sugary finish didn’t matter now, he wouldn’t be eating the pies. Maybe I shouldn’t bother.

But it only took a split second for me to know that I did want to bother, for his memory and for him. “This is for you, Mr. Glad,” I said, as I brushed on some water, and then scattered sugar from a spoon.  When we bit into them the next afternoon we found them to be really good pies. They were a bit lopsided with drooping crusts, but that is also traditional with me.

GL P1030057 trike better

From Wednesday to Sunday I got help with a slew of household tasks — or more precisely, my family completed these tasks without any help from me! Some of the work that was done:

  1. Watering new plants.
  2. Assembling tricycle.
  3. Assembling quilt rack.
  4. Assembling a floor lamp.
  5. Hanging mini LED light strings.
  6. Rearranging bedroom wall decor.
  7. Troubleshooting my laptop, desktop, phone, and Kindle — yes, all of them!
  8. Drilling 2-inch holes in half barrels for strawberry plants, then moving dirt and filling the barrels.
  9. Repairing the curtain rod in the playhouse.
  10. Fixing a door latch.

I’m sure I’ve ungratefully forgotten to list just as many other tasks that they did. In recent weeks friends and family have accomplished many more jobs that could fill out a very long list, too.

Other satisfying recreational and/or heartwarming and bonding activities we enjoyed:

  1. Six women cleaning up the kitchen after Thanksgiving dinner – so much fun and togetherness!
  2. Ten people sleeping in my house for a couple of nights, and children’s happy voices.
  3. Introducing Scout and Ivy to the playhouse. Ivy was overheard saying, “Grandma built this playhouse just for me!”GL 2015-11-28 19.54.33 sticky snowman
  4. Pulling the children up and down the street in the new cart, because the back yard paths aren’t ready yet for the kids to play with it there.
  5.  Cooking more meals together, and picnicking on the bluffs at the coast. I made another batch of sticky rice and Kit whipped together a rice snowman to delight us and to decorate the table.
  6. Reading before sleep with Maggie beside me in the bed, each of us engrossed in her own book.
  7.  Playing dead bugs: When I reminded Kate and Pippin how to do the dead bug position for back health, I demonstrated with my calves resting on the couch. ( I just learned by way of images that no one else does it this way.) Soon the children joined in and lined up next to the grownups. Ivy couldn’t do it properly that way because her legs just stood straight up with knees locked against the front of the couch.dead bug
  8.  Playing the spoons, with inspiration from this lady. The children continued with the spoons into the next day, and Scout almost took a pair of my best teaspoons home with him.2015-11-28 21.56.04 Ivy spoons
  9. Clapping: Kit taught us the cups-and-clapping game, which was very satisfying to play or merely to observe. I could have watched all night. I got a short video of them along the lines of this one (except that my people appeared to be having a lot more fun.) The little children were mesmerized by the cups game, but found it far easier to keep clapping their spoons together trying to keep time.
  10. My favorite video that inspired us that evening doesn’t even have cups. It is a clapping song that was very satisfying to me because the message of its lyrics seemed to sum up the net positivity of my first Thanksgiving as a widow. The  celebrations were both harder and easier than I expected. If you watched the YouTube video I linked to above you’ve already heard the words, in their upbeat musical context, but here they are plain for posterity.

I’ll think of you as I go, so when I leave, you’re not alone;
and no matter where we are, we will never be that far
‘cuz I will think of you as I go.

I’ll think  of you as I dream,
so when it’s dark, you’ll be with me,
and no matter where we are, we can look up to the stars
and I will think of you as I dream.

I’ll think of you when I’m down,
when my heart is on the ground;
and I will never lose my way even when the skies are gray,
‘cuz I will think of you when I’m down.

(refrain) O it’s a long and winding road, but you don’t have to walk alone,
‘cuz no matter where we are, I will keep you in my heart
and I will think of you as I go.

GL 2015-11-28 15.42.45 Kate & Ivy beach