Monthly Archives: December 2015

All the Christmases roll down

Every person, every family, will have their rituals today.

From food to gifts to visiting, Christmas routines have a durable, longstanding feeling. Even those who dislike the day have their trusted way of doing so.

My habit is waking early on Christmas morning and taking 15 minutes to read a story written by the poet Dylan Thomas.

A Child’s Christmas In Wales, written in 1950 but composed in stages over the preceding years, was famously recorded for broadcast by a cash-strapped Thomas in New York in 1952. The poet died a year later and the story was published in 1954.

A dream-memory of an early 20th century Christmas in seaside Welsh village, on the face of it the story, its characters and movement, are from a different world.

It’s a place one of snow, cats, sleeping old men, postmen on icy laneways, “always uncles”, an frost-bound hibernating town above a “forlorn sea” at the foot of a white world.

It’s opening lines are, to me, a pure seam of Christmas memory and emotion – a childhood distilled, words worth reading once a year.

“One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.

All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street; and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out whatever I can find…”

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Haiku at Christmas

Main Street, Wexford, December 2014. Pic: Cormac Looney

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lights, crowds, families,

”Tis the season’ they sing.

Winter watches on.
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Who’ll Stop The Rain? (and other songs)

rain

Pic: Clare Kleinedler

I’ve got rain on my mind. On my shoulders too, and my shoes, bag and trousers. But mainly on my mind.

It’s been pouring down for weeks in Dublin, or so it seems. If it’s not actually raining it simply feels like a moment of respite, a break in the clouds to emphasise the onset of a new downpour.

Everything is sodden. Thankfully, unlike the unfortunate citizens of Athlone and other areas along the River Shannon, Dublin has not been struck by floods. But it’s been wet – the rain’s been general all over Ireland, and generally all over our psyche.

The skyfall has kept me indoors more than I’d like, an upshot of which is more time spent listening to music. I use it to drown out the noise of the liquid falling outside.

Perhaps it’s cabin fever but this morning, as I woke to the 5am drip and pitter-patter, I thought it was time to combine the two – to play some rain songs.

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Rainslicker – Josh Ritter
“The last 40 days have been rain, the sun is a prodigal one that seems bent upon giving itself a bad name,” sings Ritter, in his song to a girl and her red raincoat.

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A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall – Bob Dylan
Minnesotan Bob knew all about hard winters. He may have written his classic protest song about nuclear fallout but I still think of cumulonimbi, not mushroom clouds.

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Feels Like Rain – John Hiatt
“When the clouds roll in across the moon, the wind howls out your name, and it feels like rain..” A romance in need of an umbrella.

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A Rainy Night In Soho – The Pogues
Or Dublin, or Glasgow, or Portland, or Killarney. Anywhere precipitation meets a hangover.

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Who’ll Stop The Rain? – Creedence Clearwater Revival
Because someone will, right?

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This recording will clear your mind

Arvo Pärt

Arvo Pärt. Pic: Woesinger

Tintinnabular composition – ring a bell?

If so it’s a bell that operates within a triad on the tonic note, accompanied by a melodic voice operating over diatonic scales. Simple, really.

Simple like Speigel im Spiegel.

Even if your commitment to minimalist music begins and ends with the question ‘is that it?’ you’ve likely heard Arvo Pärt’s 1978 composition.

It’s been used in many films and documentaries. Every New Year’s Eve it crops up on the RTE evening news, accompanying a list of the names of the past year’s road traffic victims.

I first heard the piece in full while driving from Dublin to Wexford on a winter’s afternoon in 2007. The full 10-minute performance on radio was a different beast to the clip I’d heard in Touching The Void; I recall pulling over and scribbling down details of the recording.

I wasn’t the only one who had such an experience. Reading an interview with music producer Manfred Eicher last weekend I discovered that he too first heard a classic Pärt composition by chance on a car radio.

Unlike me, as boss of the ECM music label Eicher was able to gather Keith Jarrett and others to make a landmark recording.

I contented myself to seeking out a copy of Alina, the recording Eicher made for his classical imprint, ECM New Series, in 1995 which included Spiegel im Spiegel. I kept the disc for a few years before it disappeared in an apartment move.

Or so I thought. After reading Eicher’s interview last weekend I embarked on a box-ripping quest to find it, digging among crates in storage until I located the stark-sleeved disc, a diamond in the mine. (Unlike most of my old CDs, cassettes and records, the ECM release isn’t available on streaming services.)

The years that passed since I’d heard the piece in full had been busy ones. I’d forgotten the mind-clearing feeling of a deep listen to Pärt’s spare, resonant composition.

I could write more, about stillness, space, the effect of silence and the contrast of piano and violin. But Spiegel im Speigel demands both less and more than this. It’s an experience wrought only by listening.

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