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The Holiday Bowl

Here we are, just a few days before Thanksgiving and the official start of the Christmas season.  The River will soon be festooned with lights, downtown buildings will sport lights and decorations and cars will sprout antlers and red noses on their hoods.  In my house, there is a slight vibration, a humming sound coming from a kitchen cabinet – and I know what it is.   It is the atoms that make up the special, green pottery bowl; they are quivering with anticipation of their annual holiday turn.

You know there has to be a story here and here it is.  Years ago, I became the current keeper of a large bowl.  It’s an ordinary-looking bowl: made of sturdy pottery, a dark jade green in color and with a wide rim that allows a firm grip.  It holds about 2 quarts, I guess, although I’ve never tested capacity.  I suspect that it may have been one of a set of green pottery bowls, but I don’t know for sure.  Anyway, if it was, it is the sole survivor.

And why is it special, this rather homely green bowl?  Originally, it was in the care of my grandmother, a dairy farmer from Ireland.  Perhaps the color appealed to her, perhaps it was the heft of the pottery.  She was a lady known to be a superb bread maker, and the green bowl would have been just the right size and shape for dough.  Then the bowl came down to my mother.  In my recollection of home, the same home where my grandmother had lived, there was a large, walk-in pantry that smelled of spices and contained rows of mysterious glass jars and bins for flour and sugar.  There on a shelf was everything needed for holiday meal preparation: a big, black roaster oven, ample enough for an enormous turkey, the pot that was big enough for a dozen or more potatoes (not to be mistaken for the sweet potato pot); there was the colander you’d need for the green beans; the pie plates for that special pecan pie that only my mother could make; the cut glass dish for the cranberry sauce – and the green pottery bowl.

Originally, it was in the care of my grandmother, a dairy farmer from Ireland.  Perhaps the color appealed to her, perhaps it was the heft of the pottery.  She was a lady known to be a superb bread maker, and the green bowl would have been just the right size and shape for dough. 

In my experience, the green pottery bowl was only used to make dressing for the Thanksgiving and Christmas turkeys.  (Some call it “stuffing,” but I think that sounds like something you’d put in a mattress.)   Three or four days before the start of the serious preparation began, slices of bread would be arranged on baking sheets and left in a sunny window to dry out.  Then we’d make corn bread that included a little bacon grease in the mix.  And then someone would be assigned to very carefully lift the green pottery bowl from the pantry shelf and wipe it with a dish towel.  In goes the cut-up bread, in goes the cubed corn bread, in goes the celery and spices, in goes the stock — and the magic begins.           

So now I have made holiday dressing in the green pottery bowl for more than 50 years.  It has traveled the world over with my dishes and pots and pans, but is only taken down from its special place for the creation of dressing.  I suspect that this bowl carries within its pottery some very special spices, some magical ingredient that three generations of women have ingrained into it.  It has a little bit of Ireland, a little bit of Texas farm, a smidge of Bolivia, a taste of Argentina and of Brazil and a cold, cold touch of Quebec stored away in its elemental clay.  This is a bowl that knows its place and its role, and always gives its all to every holiday feast.  It has not a chip or scratch, it has NEVER experienced a dishwasher and will be passed on to yet another generation in my family.  It’s probably not worth the pottery it’s made of, but in my family, it is a treasure.

In these coming days, I will carefully lift the green pottery bowl from its place in the cupboard, wipe it out with a dish towel, think of my mother and grandmother, and start making the world’s best dressing!

I hope you too have a treasure and a tradition to enjoy this holiday season.  And here’s to all the cherished green pottery bowls.  Best wishes from your friends, the San Antonio Chamber Music Society.

– E Doyle

An Experiential Concert

Sunday’s SACMS concert, LYRIC IN TIME OF WAR, was not for the faint-hearted.  Utilizing a format unfamiliar to many concert-goers, the American String Quartet wrapped their exquisite music around poetry by Tom Sleigh and Phil Klay’s narrative.  A tribute to Veterans’ Day, the result was far from the “Don’t  Sleep  Under the Apple Tree” genre of music, miles away from the flag-waving parades and jolly speeches and continents away from familiar tributes to “the boys.”  This concert was alternately beautiful, gut-wrenching, shocking and magnificent.  How to do all that in an hour and a half? 

It’s like a puzzle and it took some getting used to.   Beginning with the Bach Prelude from the Well-Tempered Clavier and moving forward to Tom Sleigh’s poetry, the music was interwoven with the lyric narrative and the free verse,  and the whole portrayed war with all its effects.  Assembled finally at the last strand of Beethoven’s Quartet in F Minor, the pieces came together like shrapnel speeding backwards into the grenade.  This was an experience of war as understood by composers, musicians and two writers, and the tone of profound sorrow and awe was conveyed to the audience.

This was an experience of war as understood by composers, musicians and two writers, and the tone of profound sorrow and awe was conveyed to the audience.

We’ve all been to concerts filled with beautiful, soulful music, but usually the experience evaporates after a while and two days later, we’d be hard-pressed to remember most of the selections performed.  Not so with this concert.  I for one did not drive home humming to the car radio, thinking ahead to dinner.  I left this concert with the shadow of ordnance shells overhead, lives lost, the sounds of war, the pain of grief.  The music so expertly performed by the American String Quartet so perfectly meshed with the poetry and narrative that it could have been composed for this very purpose.  Was Bach or Bartok thinking of war when they heard this music in their minds?  Perhaps not – but their music carries the emotional load expressed in the writing.  And Shostakovich, in the unfamiliar Quartet No. 8 in C minor, was most certainly expressing the horrors rained down on Russia by Stalin. There was no mistaking the fear and anger he wove into his composition.  Some of the music allowed pauses for contemplation – just as in war, there are silences during re-loading, I suppose – but the overwhelming purpose of the concert was to express what veterans experience and to help all of us appreciate their courage and the utter senselessness of war.

Our 76th season resumes January 27, 2019, with the exciting Cavatina Duo along with the world premiere of a composition by San Antonio’s own Matthew Dunne.  Here’s a promise of more stellar music!

– E Doyle

Moving Day

I am presently surrounded by all of my worldly possessions: everything from a grade school picture to my mother-in-law’s best crystal candleholders; every possible-sized pot and dishes from at least 3 sets; hair brushes of unknown provenance, pots full of defunct ballpoint pens, 4 oriental rugs of varying sizes, and one forlorn dwarf bamboo in a moldering pot.  And that’s only what I can presently see!  As I relocate from my home of 25 years to an apartment (which I thought was spacious), I have learned some valuable lessons which I will impart to you.

Lesson 1:

The three most dreaded words in the English language are, “Have you seen…” followed closely by “Where is the…” and “It’s here somewhere.”

Lesson 2:

You know you’re getting old when you need more space for your medicine collection than for your makeup (and note that all your makeup, which has been hidden away for years, begins with some variant of “anti-aging”).

Lesson 3:

If you say to yourself, “Where did this ever come from?” or “Is this mine?” toss it!  If you haven’t seen/used it in memory, you don’t need it.

Lesson 4:

If you and your significant other are still on speaking terms after a couple of weeks of this, you’re good for all eternity – or at least until one or the other of you walks out in disgust.

Lesson 5:

Keys.  If you have any idea of what all these keys you’ve accumulated over the years unlock, you’re a better person than I.  Corollary:  put tags on all keys while you still have some idea, albeit vague, of what they go to.  Another corollary: do you know how hard it is to throw away a key?  What if…?

Lesson 6:

Carefully label all boxes as they are packed.  That way, you’ll have a perfectly good reason to burst into tears when, unpacking, you find your good silverware at the bottom of a box of coat hangers.

Lesson 7:

When you just can’t take the sight of clutter as far as the eye can see, when your beautiful, light-filled apartment is pitch black because there are boxes stacked against the windows, when you find one more piece of something you know goes with something else but you can’t remember what and you don’t dare throw it away because you know that sooner or later you’ll find what it goes to, when it’s all just too much – well, it’s time to find a wine glass and a bottle of good wine, put the classical guitar music on and just try not to think about it for a while.  It will still be there when you’ve finished the wine, but you just won’t care.

I feel like a coral reef without the pretty fish!  Layers upon layers of boxes, paintings, pitchers and pictures, lamps and lamp shades, international things that I’m sure caught my eye in Bolivia or Beijing, Egypt or Copenhagen – what is it and why do I have it?  Or does it have me?

How did all this stuff accrete to me?  I feel like a coral reef without the pretty fish!  Layers upon layers of boxes, paintings, pitchers and pictures, lamps and lamp shades, international things that I’m sure caught my eye in Bolivia or Beijing, Egypt or Copenhagen – what is it and why do I have it?  Or does it have me?  I look enviously at refugees, carrying all their worldly possessions in bundles and, while I don’t wish to be in their number, I respect their ability to put all of their really important possessions in a sheet or serape, bring the corners together in a knot and sling everything over their shoulders.

I did miss one very important lesson:  if you can find some clean clothes somewhere, put them on and come to a concert.  November 11th, the American String Quartet along with Tom Sleigh and Phil Klay will be performing at our regular venue, Temple Beth-El, at our regular time 3:15.  You can come inside, shut off the clutter and confusion for a couple of hours and just relax, re-lax.  It will all be there when you get back, but I am a believer in escape, no matter how transitory.  And if you see someone with a serape full of possessions over her shoulder, well that will be yours truly.

– E Doyle

Something Really Extraordinary

This will come as a shock to you, but brace yourself.  I think Dawn Upshaw cheats!  She makes the incredibly complicated seem effortless, the atonal sound melodic and the enormous range of her voice seem expected, controlled and crystalline.  Now you tell me:  how does anyone do that?  Maybe she is super-human; I don’t know, but I do know quality and perfection when I hear it, and I heard it Sunday at the first concert of the San Antonio Chamber Music Society’s 2018-19 season.

Of course, it helps to share a program with the Brentano String Quartet.  These masterful musicians performed – among other selections – a work by one of my personal favorites, Franz Josef Haydn.  The thing about Haydn is that his music in the wrong hands can sound tinkly (is that a word?) and tinny and metronomic.  I should know.  When I was but seven, I was already destined to be a concert pianist, and what do aspiring concert pianists perform (to the beat of a metronome, of course)?  Haydn, that’s what.  But as time went on and my piano career came to a screeching halt in high school, I came to understand and appreciate the works of Haydn.  And I have often thought, as I did Sunday, that if Haydn himself could have listened to the Brentano performing his work, taking full measure of the imagination, the humor inherent in his String Quartet in C, he would smile.  In fact, he would clap his hands in glee as the Brentano brought this beautiful composition to life once again.

…so I adjusted my inner ear and resolved to understand and enjoy… I never thought I would have goosebumps! …the quality of the performance made it irresistible!

Something else I would like to ponder:  the Respighi composition.  Respighi is well known for his tone poems; he brings such wonderful sights to mind as the listener enjoys the range of his music.  Il tramonto (The Sunset) as performed by the Brentano and Dawn Upshaw was a vision of the majesty of a sunset, captured forever in this composition.

And now for the Schoenberg.  I wasn’t too sure I would enjoy this composition as I am not an ardent admirer of the composer.  I’d have to say I’m kind of hot and cold on his work; it’s a mindset, I guess, and also what you bring to it.  Well, I brought an admiration for the performers, so I adjusted my inner ear and resolved to understand and enjoy.  I never thought I would have goosebumps!   Shoenberg and thrills just don’t go together for me in the usual course of events, but the quality of the performance made it irresistible.  So goosebumps it is.

When you have the pleasure of hearing musicians such as the Brentano and Ms Upshaw, you know you have witnessed something really extraordinary.  And I know with equal certainty that the remaining concerts in the SACMS season will also be extraordinary.  Circle November 11 for the next music extravaganza, the American String Quartet with Tom Sleigh and Phil Klay.  Here come the goosebumps!

– E Doyle

Goodbye, Summer

I know when summer’s about played out when the “end of season” catalogues begin stuffing my mailbox.  “Seventy percent reduction,” they scream.  All the wonderful merchandise the shop couldn’t peddle during spring and summer (and some left over from last summer’s sales).  There’s that suit I craved when I first laid eyes on it in the spring catalogue.   “New for summer!” the headline blared.  “Cool, well-styled, just the outfit for office-to-evening,” they promised.  But, oh boy, it wasn’t cheap.  Now it’s the perfect “transitional” suit – whatever that means – and the price is half what it was in the spring catalogues.  I’m not biting.  I’ve gotten this far without it; what’s a couple of months more.

Another catalogue that arrived yesterday was filled with merchandise for Halloween and, yes, Thanksgiving.

Another catalogue that arrived yesterday was filled with merchandise for Halloween and, yes, Thanksgiving.  Oh, pul-eeze!!  I’m sure the next one will be touting Christmas wares.  Can’t we just enjoy the waning and still beach-worthy days of August without the constant reminders that time is marching on?  I don’t know if I’ll even survive until Thanksgiving, let alone decorate my Thanksgiving table with themed placemats, napkins and centerpieces.  Ugh!

In the interests of complete disclosure and truthfulness, I used to write advertising copy for a long-gone department store (remember those?).   The challenge was to grab the attention of the newspaper reader (SALE! In 36 point letters would usually accomplish that) and then to convince them that this was an item he or she had to have.  Oh, and everything had to fit in the space allocated by the evil layout designer, Helen.  I still have my well-worn and thumbed through Roget’s Thesaurus.  How many ways can you say “exquisite”?

And while I’m confessing my sins, I might as well tell you that I voraciously read out of town stores’ ads, magazine copy and even catalogues for bits and pieces I could use.  My boss thought I was a creative genius.   If only she knew….

I recognize the challenges faced by a catalogue copywriter and, really, I sympathize.

So I recognize the challenges faced by a catalogue copywriter and, really, I sympathize.  But just as it was hard for me to gin up enthusiasm for Christmas copy in September, it must be murder for these poor hacks to rhapsodize over fall fashion sometime in April to make their mid-summer deadlines.  If you’ve just walked two or three blocks to your cubbyhole (copywriters don’t get real offices) in the blazing heat of July, it’s darn nigh impossible to switch your gears to contemplate the wools of November.  To write about ski gear in August, swimsuits in January and, gag, Christmas wreaths in September takes a very special kind of crazy.  I know.

Check your personal stack of newly-arrived catalogues, though.  Lurking amid all those incredible bargains and must-have merchandise, I hope you’ll find one that reads (in 18 point), “2018/19: A Stellar Season.”  That’s doesn’t qualify as a “screamer,” as we say in the trade, but I hope it speaks to you.  That’s the season offering of the San Antonio Chamber Music Society and the subscription form.

Lurking amid all those incredible bargains and must-have merchandise, I hope you’ll find one that reads (in 18 point), “2018/19: A Stellar Season.”

If you have to say goodbye to summer, what better way than starting off the concert season with the Brentano String Quartet plus soprano Dawn Upshaw on October 7?  “Glittering clarity” is how The Strad described their music.  Man!  I wish I’d written that phrase!

The season gets better and better and, really, you won’t want to miss one concert.  Just look:

Reverting to my copywriting days – Only $100 will buy a season ticket PLUS 1 bonus ticket that can be used at any concert!!!  AND  any ticket may be used for any of the 5 concerts!!!  And students and active-duty military attend our concerts FREE!

Just call 210-408-1558 to reserve your season ticket or order online.  I will recognize you, you know:  you’ll be the one in the “transitional” outfit, right?

– E Doyle

The Pipes

Lucky me!  I’m just back from a trip to Scotland, Ireland, Wales, the Hebrides and France. The music that remains swirling about my poor, jet-lagged brain is the evocative, mysterious and moving music of the bagpipes. I know you’ve heard the joyful music of “River Dance” and the mournful music of “Danny Boy;” but have you heard the magical music of the Galician pipes the gaita?

Let’s talk pipes, shall we?  There’s a matter-of-fact and altogether boring description in Google:

“Bagpipes are a woodwind instrument using enclosed reeds fed from a constant reservoir of air in the form of a bag.”

Does that even begin to describe the lump in the throat caused by a solitary Highland piper playing in a cathedral?  There’s no explanation there either of the effect on the feet of a rousing Irish pipe melody played in a pub where the beer flows and the dancers twirl and tap.  And then there’s the smile that appears on the listeners’ faces when a well-loved tune like “Amazing Grace” is played on the pipes.

The bagpipes have a long and glorious history, you’ll be glad to know.  Evidence of pipes goes back as far as 1000 BC:  the Oxford History of Music, no less, says there’s a Hittite sculpture showing bagpipes at Euyuk in the Middle East.  The Greeks, too, had pipes and it’s entirely possible that Nero (more famous for playing violin) could play the pipes.  I wonder, was he actually playing the pipes while Rome burned?  Doesn’t sound quite right, does it?  By Medieval times, it seems as though everybody had taken up the pipes.  They get a mention in The Canterbury Tales (1380):

A baggepype wel coude he blowe and sowne, / And ther-with-al he broghte us out of towne.

At the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh 1547 (surely you’ve heard of that), the bagpipes were used to bring the Scottish troops to battle and, they hoped, frighten the bejesus out of the English.  For a’that, the Scots lost and the Duke of Somerset won the day.  T’was a terrible waste of the music.  But this period saw the creation of the ceòl mór (great music) of the bagpipe, which reflected its martial origins, with battle-tunes, marches, gatherings, salutes and laments. [J. E. A. Dawson, Scotland Re-Formed, 1488–1587 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007), ISBN 0-7486-1455-9, p. 169.]

Through the years, the pipes have become increasingly associated with the military – there were pipers in Afghanistan – the police and firefighters.  Could you ever forget the heartbreaking pipes playing after 2011? But I’ll bet you didn’t know that the bagpipes provide the “official music” of the sport of curling!   I haven’t quite figured out curling, but I’ll enjoy the music nevertheless.

So regard the bagpipes, in all their forms and nationalities: Scots, Irish, Spanish, French, Asturian, Portuguese and everywhere they’ve traveled with armies.  The proud music swirls, the pipes with their banners, the bags with their clan plaids lend their special lilt and flair to parades and commemorations.  The wonderful peals of bagpipes are music to the ears of so many people in so many countries, but I can guarantee that there’s nothing like the Great Highland bagpipes as they’re played in the Scottish highlands.

I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, “Piping in” someone or something.  You’ll be that happy to know that we’ll be “piping in” our 76th season at the San Antonio Chamber Music Society.  And if you wish to be piped in to the first performance on October 7, you’d best make haste and buy your season tickets online at sacms.org.  And give a wee listen to the Merry Ploughmen of Dublin.

Have a wonderful summer, one and all.

– E Doyle

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