22 March, 2010

Polyphony, or the devil's music.

I attended a concert in a modest little stone church down the road. The night was devoted to Corsican polyphonic music, including traditional, Franciscan and contemporary pieces. The air rang with soaring and dipping human voices--and applause.

The bare voices were a silk scarf pulled through the air, a mighty flock of birds surging and abating in the darkening sky, the ineradicable, rapid turns of Japanese calligraphy. The audience and I were transported. If you have never had a chance to hear live polyphonic music, or chant, try to ferret out an opportunity to do so. Think of polyphony as textural sound. In the history of European music, it was a critical development, which led to the integration of secular, even pagan elements in what was formerly exclusively the domain of the church.

Appropriately enough, given the performance date, the tremendously talented choir Le Remède de Fortune also sang an "Ode to St. Joseph," and it is their finely crafted and magisterial version that I feature in this video, my own little crazy quilt of captured memory. Unfortunately on You Tube the quality of the photos is deplorable (but I couldn't get it to upload on Vimeo, she says in a quasi-whine)...

While the song may linger in your mind, St. Joseph's Day has come and gone. If you're anything like me (and not, say, Italian-American), your response may be a rather tepid "oh?..." Until the 19th, I didn't know anything about Saint Joseph--beyond the wine--either. According to Wikipedia:

In Sicily, where St. Joseph is regarded by many as their Patron Saint, and many Italian-American communities, thanks are given to St. Joseph ("San Giuseppe" in Italian) for preventing a famine in Sicily during the Middle Ages.

According to legend, there was a severe drought at the time, and the people prayed for their patron saint to bring them rain. They promised that if he answered their prayers, they would prepare a large feast to honor him. The rain did come, and the people of Sicily prepared a large banquet for their patron saint. The fava bean was the crop which saved the population from starvation and is a traditional part of St. Joseph's Day altars and traditions. Giving food to the needy is a St. Joseph's Day custom. In some communities it is traditional to wear red clothing and eat a Sicilian pastry known as a zeppola on St. Joseph's Day. Sweets are popular because St. Joseph is the patron saint of pastry chefs.

Upon a typical St. Joseph's Day altar, people place flowers, limes,candles, wine, fava beans, specially prepared cakes, breads, and cookies (as well as other meatless dishes), and zeppole. Foods are traditionally served containing bread crumbs to represent saw dust since St. Joseph was a carpenter. Because the feast occurs during Lent, traditionally no meat was allowed on the celebration table. The altar usually has three tiers, to represent the trinity.

The vernal equinox has also come and gone. It was at 5:32 pm the 20th, this year. Wiccans celebrated Ostara, and I celebrated too: no more excuses or starting then stopping, Mother Nature. Here's a cuppa to keep you going.

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