Poor Frederic

February 29, 2016 at 10:30 am

Alas, poor Frederic’s father had intended his son to become a ship’s pilot, but his hard-of-hearing nanny misheard him, and instead indentured him to be a pirate. And to make matters worse, his contract said he was to be indentured until his 21st birthday, as opposed to his 21st year of life. Normally this would not be a problem, but, you see, Frederic was born on February 29th, and so in his 21st year, he was only a bit over 5 birthdays old …

Throw in a few pirate and policeman choruses, a patter song or two, and corny love story, and you’ve got yourself an opry! (As ridiculous as this plot sounds, it’s fairly normal as operas go.)



The Pirates of Penzance is a comic opera by Gilbert & Sullivan. In this number, the Nanny and Pirate King explain to Frederic the bizarre circumstances that bind him to a life a piracy.

This 1983 movie version of the Pirates of Penzance is like a bang hangover from the 1970s. However, it captures the spirit perfectly, and I can’t deny that I kind of like the electronic orchestra.


Art, rising up from the ashes

February 28, 2016 at 10:00 am

Sometimes it’s the darkest, saddest moments of a person’s life that elicit the most beautiful artistic response.

Herbert Howells is a composer who is mostly unknown except to Anglican church musicians, who tend to adore his music. In 1935, his nine-year old son died, which profoundly affected him and his compositions. A few years later, World War II broke out, deepening his depression.

Out of this sadness came a much-beloved series of anthems, originally titled “In Time of War”. Legend has it that one of these, “Like As the Hart“, was composed as the Nazis were bombing London, where Howells lived. It paints haunting image, and the text used (from Psalm 42) is downright chilling: “Where is now thy God?”



February 27, 2016 at 9:30 am

Hiawatha is an epic poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It’s lengthy, but worth the read; the mythic story is fascinating and the rhythm of the verse will put you in a trance.

Once again I return to Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. His three-part oratorio “The Song of Hiawatha” was such a hit in England that when it premiered, it was conducted by no less than C. V. Stanford, and attended by the great C. H. H. Parry and Arthur Sullivan, who practically had to be carried there because he was on his death-bed – but absolutely insisted on going to hear the performance. In the four years that followed, the work received over 200 performances in England alone.