Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Third Aeolian Advent

Third Aeolian Advent, 5 x 8", mixed media

All the ideas for this posting came together, appropriately, in the inky-dark of an early December morning. I've been cogitating on the sixth chakra, also called the Third Eye, and the Aeolian mode, the sixth of the seven modes that I've been studying. My exercise has been to pair the chakras and the modes, one through seven. At the same time, there was a call out from Performance Today to identify one's favorite Christmas carol. I thought back on this and remembered the effect that hearing O, Come, O, Come Emmanuel for the first time, almost forty years ago, had on me. There was a haunting yearning that swirled inside in me. In the darkness, I wondered if the carol was in the Aeolian mode. When I woke up later in the morning, I tried it out on Redbud, my modal harp. Yes! These three entities come together in a surprisingly close way and offer guidance for today's world.

The Third Eye energy center is all about perception and knowledge. In fact, it is about the knowledge that makes knowledge.  All this knowledge is gathered together and funneled down the feminine triangle (pointed side down). When we use our Third Eye, we are able to see the world clearly. We can "analyze, think, reason, perceive, understand, discern, dream, imagine and visualize."* We also open our eyes to beauty and wonder. Spiritual experience is grounded.  "What we have experienced in the depths must also stand the test of everyday life."**  Arnold Bittlinger, in his book Archetypal Chakras, points out that "everything comes to an end... even the time of retreat".  We must take all that we learned in our introversion and act. Personal will unites with divine will in harmony.

Indigo is the absorbing color of the sixth chakra. Indigo is a mix of blue, the absorbing color of the Throat Chakra, and violet, the absorbing color of the Crown Chakra.  Golden Moon is the transmitting color.  Moon imagery made me think about the cycles of the moon and time passing. This energy center is about understanding the past, clearly seeing the present and envisioning a future.

How does this energy about knowledge and perception tie in with the Aeolian mode? The Aeolian mode is "introspective, plaintive and hauntingly beautiful"*** This describes how I felt on hearing Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel. How odd that Rejoice!  is chanted in such a melancholic sounding tone. Played in all naturals, the Aeolian is based on the key of A minor with alternating major and minor chords. The lyrics are sympathetic to the Aeolian plea and the Third Eye yearning through understanding the past (O come, thou Branch of Jesse's tree) seeing the present (Israel...mourns in lonely exile) and imagining the future (O come, Desire of nations, bind in one the hearts of all man-kind).

Now, I hear you saying, "Kathy, this is not a Christmas carol! It is an Advent hymn!" And, you are correct. Advent is a very sixth chakra season. We are invited to pause, perceive and prepare; and admonished to keep awake. Our weary world is in need of folks opening the presents of the Third Eye; seeing the world as it is and imagining with generous spirits and hope.

* Choquette, Sonia. True Balance: A Commonsense Guide for Renewing Your Spirit. Three Rivers Press, New York, New York; 2000.  The chapter on "Balanced Personal Vision" is very timely reading. I highly recommend it.

** Bittlinger, Arnold. Archetypal Chakras: Meditations and Exercises for Opening Your Chakras.
Red Wheel/Weiser, York Beach, ME; 2001.

*** Mell, Joanna. Modal Musings: Modes & Music. Joanna Mell; 2011.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Back to the Church of Bartok

Bartok Harmony, Opaque watercolor and Cray-pas, 8 x 10"

Growing up, my family belonged to the Unitarian-Universalist Church. At some point, after I had started playing the viola, a small instrumental (mostly/entirely strings?) ensemble was formed. It was called Bartok's in honor of the Hungarian composer Bela Bartok (1881-1945). The thinking at that time (the mid to late '60s) was that Bartok was under-appreciated. Our leader was Dr. Wagner, a chemistry professor at the University of Kentucky. He had high hopes for our little band. I remember him becoming very angry with his son, Russell, our cellist, who went on to become a luthier in the Chicago area. I had only 2-3  years of experience on the viola under my belt and the music of Bartok (which naturally, was featured) was way beyond my skill-set. My older brother, also a violist, was part of the ensemble. He was more adept. We carried on, no doubt propelled by Jenny Wagner, who went on to be the Assistant Concertmaster for the Chicago Symphony. Meanwhile, I muddled through and had great anticipation for what would follow the Friday practice session--our weekly spaghetti supper!

     So imagine my excitement when I learned that our local chamber music society would be sponsoring a concert by the Daedalus String Quartet including Bartok's String Quartet No. 3. And, since they are trying out new venues this year, it would be at the U-U Church. I would be able to actually hear Bartok's music in my old haunt. It would be my chance to hear the argument for Bartok within the decagonal confines of my youth. 
      We arrived on a cold, but sunny afternoon. When the the church was built, it was way out in the country. Now, you have to watch carefully for the turn. It comes up quickly after the houses end in a concentrated suburbia. The church provides a welcome green space in the midst of development. The trees and arbors have been growing for decades and are taking on an ancient quality. The sanctuary space remains decagonal, but where we had sort of a theater-in-the-round quality to the worship space, there is now a modest rise in the altar area. This was the "stage". The musicians walked up from the lobby area in the back to take the stage. 

     The concert began with Beethoven's String Quartet No. 1 in F major, Op. 18, No. 1. Now, I have actually worked on this quartet with the Fauve Five, but that is another story. Before playing Bartok's String Quartet No. 3, the cellist, Thomas Kraines* gave us a little back story. He explained that Bartok's first three quartets are considered "difficult." The harmonies were different for their time and perhaps, still so.  But, the listener can always hear the folk melodies, on which the composition is structured, by listening to the first violin. I kept that in mind as the four beautiful musicians began. I was listening for what had prompted Dr. Wagner to hold Bartok in such high regard. The music is highly textured. There are bits of folklife emerging, but also a surround of dissonance, almost. Ah, there it is. Bartok is the composer for the church of my youth. The Unitarians (as I thought of us) wanted to hang their faith on an easy yoke of tradition and ritual (folk tunes) and all around would be individual voices, which are uniquely harmonious in their sense of freedom. This reminds me of a quip I used to make about the U-U church: most people believe that their faith is the only true one, Unitarians believe that they alone, as individuals,  are correct. I learned something important at this concert. It is not the individual, it is a community of individuals, happy to be together in this warm, but slightly wild world, feeling free, but so contentedly tethered to the common melody. 

The view outside of the decagonal
      Thank you to the Daedalus Quartet for such a satisfying concert. Every member was excellent in their performance and uniquely beautiful (like Unitarians!) What a warm presence on a cold afternoon. Loveliness abounded both inside and out. The setting and the music were perfect!

* David "googled" Thomas Kraines and learned that both his parents are mathematicians. His father is an Algebraic Topologist (Emeritus) as is David.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

A Generous Patriotism

Mary Alice Klingensmith--a hopeful young citizen

This past Halloween we were blessed with an abundance of Trick-or-Treaters. Within thirty minutes, we knew we would have to increase provisions, so I made a run to the closest Kroger. This was on foot because the roads were clogged with happy young people and their families. Walking back, I passed through a narrow parking lot by apartments and I heard musical spoken language. This gave me a little thrill. How much my everyday world has changed! I can walk to the local store, walk in my neighborhood and hear languages from all over the world.
     When I got back home, I spelled David at the Treat-giving post. I was struck by the whole-ness and wholesomeness of the scene. There were girls with long thick braids and and girls with narrow braids. There were enthusiastic boys in all kinds of costumes. Interestingly, there were a lot of girls dressed as fairies. Most of the children were accompanied by what seemed to be the whole family. Happiness, politeness and a generous spirit filled the evening air. It was wonderful.
     When I was a Trick-or-Treater, it was a pretty different scene. We went out with friends for hours on end covering acres and acres of neighborhood. There was a lot of diversity in the costuming (as we were just as likely to have made our costumes ourselves) and not so much in the inhabitants of those costumes or the houses we visited. Our schools were pretty similar, mostly white, mostly middle-class (though class distinctions weren't all that obvious--so I'm guessing.)
      This homogenous quality did not have nearly the impact that Mrs. Preston's elementary school music  class had on me. We sang "Give me your tired, your poor" and "No man is an island" along with "Beyond the blue horizon." If I have been indoctrinated, it is here. I guess music has that effect on me. I was perfectly happy reciting the Pledge of Allegiance as well, but the idealism of a generous patriotism espoused by those songs is embedded in me.
     An incident that is ricocheting across the internet right now makes me think about my mother (whose birthday is today). My mother grew up in small-town West Virginia. It is true that is was a small college town (now University!).  My grandfather was principal of the high school, too. Perhaps it is obvious that education was important in the family. My mother studied very hard and received full scholarship to Radcliffe College from Pepsi Cola.  Studying anthropology was extremely eye-opening to MA. In her small hometown, she had faithfully (and with conviction) attended the Methodist church. Opening up to the world of faith and different cultures was an awesome experience for her. My father was similarly "opened-up" and my parents joined the Unitarian-Universalist church. I am certain that this experience allowed, and allows me to be less fearful of  the"other" and change, as the U-U church, along with a growing University of Kentucky attracted folks from around the world and of different faiths and cultures.
      I do not believe that everyone must hold my kind of patriotism.  I do believe that I come by my patriotism honestly and I remain enthusiastic about what my country means to me. I am grateful for this gift of generous patriotism.

Friday, November 11, 2016


Maybe not YES! but yes...
Of course, I was hoping for a "YES!" result from the presidential election. A hopeful day morphed into a state of stunned disbelief. But some remarkable and surprising outcomes have taken place. These actually started before election day. Five days prior to that day, our Clinton/Kaine sign was stolen from our yard. We were preparing to head out of town to attend David's college reunion. It was also David's birthday and he was heading up the stewardship committee at church--the dinner was that evening. In other words, there wasn't much time.
the original sketch
    A first move was to post on Facebook (naturally) to announce the theft and threaten to re-engage my old fashion illustration skills to make a pantsuit sign. Before I could be egged on by anyone, I had whipped up a quick sketch and posted it with my sign theft posting.
     A few days before, my neighbor Hilary included me in the Pantsuit Nation group. I thought that maybe I should post the sketch there, too. What happened was pretty amazing. Right before me eyes I could see a response. "Likes" were coming fast and furious. I'm sure this is my one little brush with popularity. What I liked even more than this exciting experience was that people were taking the image and adding their own twists and combining it with campaign imagery. My graphic design skills are not that great. (I work with pastels and mixed media. I have a messy aesthetic!) Very fortuitously, a young graphic designer with all the requisite tech skills came along and created a very affirmative image.

Luke Francis's graphic design using the YES! sketch

     So all this was exciting in a head-rushy kind of way. Then the election happened and it became apparent that t-shirts, mugs and pins were not in the cards. However, within 12 hours of Trump winning via the Electoral College numbers, a very interesting thing started happening.  My niece-in-law, a university chaplain, posted the following:
     "If you are a minority and you feel scared, please know we stand by you and will continue to do so, no matter what comes."
Facebook began filling with outlets for people to focus on serving and helping others. A friend invited me to join a Facebook page "100 Acts Against Hate" where people are encouraged to share how they are working to heal and alleviate suffering in our country. This was happening by mid-day on November 9th! What a contrast to Mitch McConnell's response to President Obama's election: that he would work to make our President a one-term president.  McConnell set the unproductive tone for 8 years. What a squandering of potential! But, I am here to say "yes" not "no"...
     It turns out that the pantsuit is a potent symbol for a hibernating population. The secret Facebook page is developing in a grassroots fashion. This gives me the hope to say "yes..." to a long haul effort to make our communities work for all people and for the whole world. Even if we had received the desired "YES!" we would still have to bring along the "yes..." response. Perhaps now it is easier to do that.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

"The World Will be Saved by Beauty"

In just the last few days, I have received multiple reminders of the importance of beauty in our lives. Even today, with the announcement of the winners of the Nobel prize in Physics, there were multiple descriptors of the "beauty" of the discovery of exotic topological matter. In a column today, David Brooks speaks of a "lovely" society. An exhibit of engravings by Fritz Eichenberg at my church in Paris, KY gave me the chance to learn more about The Catholic Worker movement and Dorothy Day. A statement about the work of Eichenberg ends with a quote from Dostoevsky, "The world will be saved by beauty." 

Each of these examples on the surface might not be typical subjects for beauty. Physics and mathematics are often a source of fear and loathing. Lately we are opining about society with scornful words and divisive rhetoric. And working to feed and care for the poverty-stricken does not immediately bring to mind beauty. 

How is beauty connected to physics and society? How can beauty save the world? Seeing beauty and appreciating beauty requires that we keep our eyes, minds and hearts open. The answers are not set in black and white concrete and not readily apparent on the surface. The beauty answer demands a closer look, a deeper understanding. In other words, we must learn to appreciate beauty. We can not appreciate beauty without learning. We must also have perspective. 

I have been thinking about this a lot lately because of a project in my hometown of Lexington, KY. It was a tattoo project where folks took words from a poem by Frank X Walker entitled Love Letta to the Worl'. A phrase from that poem has been popping up regularly around town, "unlearn fear and hate." This is a good sentiment, but how do we unlearn anything? There is only one way, by learning something new that dispels the old learning. We have to learn the lessons on harmony. This is what I learn from the poem. In fact, Frank X Walker's poem is such an all-encompassing and wondrous answer to what I am trying to say here that I will just suggest that you read his poem (and hear him read it), linked above. He takes in the whole world and loves it thoroughly.  I believe his poem can save the world.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

A Playful Interlude

Our haul from the Open Yourself to Play Art Workshop
In my last blog I wrote about building Redbud--the Kentucky Colors Harp. For five weeks I took over David's woodworking space, so I was delighted when the tables could be turned and David would invade 'my' territory: he said that he would be interested in attending an art workshop! Mind you, the actual 'terre' has significant David connections as the location of the workshop was St. Mary's Sewanee and David graduated from Sewanee a few years ago. The Ayres Center for Spiritual Development offers programs and retreats that refresh the soul. I was attracted to Lendon Noe's Open Yourself to Play Art Workshop. We were invited to return to art making for pure pleasure, playing and recreating ourselves. After a very serious gathering of art materials (the only thing I forgot was the pencils!) we set off for Sewanee and our renewal.

Lendon Noe inspires us with the art of Helen Frankenthaler
The first night, we practiced productivity with abandon, creating 3 or 4 (or 5?!) backdrops for the next day's work. I discovered that I really like to paint with my fingers and David particularly took to blowing ink around. All this activity, though in the evening and Central Time was invigorating. Could the work ethic for play carry over upon my return to the studio?
     We got up in the morning, took walks and had a fine breakfast (we were well-fed) and then got to work. We commenced to layer, mask and scrape; cut and glue. We outlined our hands. We wrote our names. We put tiny symbols all the way around and remembered about the sheer joy of making marks and cutting things up. In fact, I am getting a bit itchy right now, wanting to slam shut the laptop and start slapping around some paint!
After the afternoon session and before a wonderful Italian supper, I headed for the woods. This sylvan setting was conveniently located just below the bluffs where we playfully labored. The sun was slanting into the side of the mountain in a rosy fashion. I could imagine the scene in a month's time turning rustic with the autumn leaves. How could this be recreated on paper with my new favorite media combination: Pelikan opaque watercolors and Neocolor II crayons?

Lendon Noe finds the Blobimals and shows us how to find ours in our under-blob paintings
One playful idea lead to intriguing imagery. Lendon Noe introduced us to Carla Sonheim's Blobimals. We prepared our papers by putting down several watercolor blobs with tangents radiating out from them (not knowing that they would become blobimals! David discovered a shape that he particularly liked--and it was not an inverted donut. Very impressively, he began repeating this shape over and over, like a motif.

Can you see David's recurring motif?

My blobs were part of the same story. A carnivorous story, apparently, since there are meatball swans in the mix.

Cat Dreams
Sunday opened with a walk through the woods with my Beloved (David) an excellent breakfast which included hash brown potatoes with kale and quinoa. After that supreme nourishment, we had just enough time to make little gifts for each other. Tiny art is definitely something to take forward in my art making.
     Lendon gave each participant a parting challenge. David's was to: 1) Draw your favorite number 2) and fill it with imaginative detail 3) while listening to Rap music 4) Adding dark and light.  Mine was to: 1)Draw or paint what's up in the sky (look up!) 2. with your friend's favorite medium (that would be numbers, wouldn't it?) 3) while listening to nature music (or Adele) 4. Making red the dominant color. I know folks that have taken my workshops or classes will get a little laugh out of no. 4!
     David and I drove home with refreshed souls ready for what might meet us ahead. That turned out to be a couple of traffic jellies on the way. Still, a week later, there is invigoration and inspiration for new paths! Thank you, Lendon Noe and St. Mary's Sewanee!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Redbud--the Kentucky Colors Harp

A couple of years ago, I was thinking about a new chapter in life and I set my heart on having a green harp. That was not possible at that time and so I ordered a lovely harp, custom-made across the Ohio River in Sunrise, Indiana, and enrolled in a therapy harp program (Therapy Harp Training Program, THTP.)  I started playing harp at the local hospice care center and delved into the THTP material. My idea of what I wanted to do and create slowly came into focus.  People have a curiosity about my harp and they all have unique ways of relating to the music. It seems so appropriate to have a "local" harp. Could it be even more local and tailored to the music making that is called for?

The dream of building my own harp began to percolate, along with the desire to have a slightly smaller harp that was still a floor harp. Was this possible? The answer arrived this summer in the mail. It was a flyer from Musicmakers featuring the "Jolie" harp. It was such a pretty design and simple and the size and range were just right.  So I bit and bought the kit. It arrived within 3 days!

Being true to Kentucky, with a redbud branch design
on the soundboard
Part of my motivation was to have a harp that reflected the "place" of Kentucky. To me, warm cedar green and redbud violet are the true colors of Kentucky. I've written about this (please see Kentucky's True Colors, 3/27/12.)  The design on the soundboard would not be cherry blossoms or Celtic knots. It would be the simple sight of tiny, bombastic redbud blossoms and heart-shaped leaves.
"Clamping" the soundbox with bungee cords. The magic flyer on display
Painting the soundboard was the easy part. Now there was actual woodworking to be done. I now kind of know how to use a cordless drill, wood glue and a sand block--especially the sand block.

Blue masking tape holds the trim on during drying
The beveled edges of the trim had to be trimmed down to fit exactly in the corners. David had a handy little Japanese saw that worked perfectly. The trim goes over the hundred little brad nails that secure the soundboard to the soundbox. The tension of 32 strings on the soundboard will be mighty!

Neck and Pillar attached

Of course, most of the work was accomplished by the master craftspeople at Musicmakers. I am wondering how they cut out the pieces such as the neck and pillar. Screws are used to solidly bring these two together. Then we hide the evidence with little wooden plugs. The Japanese saw came in handy again to trim off the extra. 

The shoulder block and neck

Now comes the tricky--but also artistic--part. It probably would help to be a sculptor. The two parts must fit together, but apparently not absolutely. This was a leap of faith. Fortunately, the folks at Musicmakers were happy to calm me down.  My experience with making things and cutting into expensive fabrics, being willing to see and believe really helped, too. But definitely, the advice to take it one step at a time was priceless. Thank you, Musicmakers!

Sanded down and pegged!

This was very satisfying; to sand this down and shape the shoulder to support the neck.  I even had to do a bit of ad-libbing: using leftovers from the wood plugs to cover the screws on the shoulder block. 
Going green in the backyard

To have Kentucky colors on my harp, I wanted a warm cedar green to be hugging the soundboard. I felt a bit guilty because the cherry wood was quite pretty. A simple varnish would have been lovely. But, now was my chance to have my Kentucky colors harp and I could not wimp out! My stain job was not perfect. For example, the stain (Minwax Emerald) was reluctant to leave the tube, but when it did, it splattered on the pavers. I had to spray the pavers off and it splashed up on the soundbox. Oops. I thought it had dried, but the pattern of the spatters show up in the stain job. But, the rustic finish, with the ruddy cherry wood showing through, is quite a bit like Eastern Red Cedar.  Following were layers of varnish and lots of drying time.

Finished, before stringing

I allowed about a week for varnishing, sanding and drying. The varnish was an easy wipe-on that I was able to order from Musicmakers. I figured they would know which finish was best for a harp! Then I put the harp together. Musicmakers has a very clever design that allows the neck and pillar to be removed for shipping or refinishing. This engineering does mean that at this point, the harp is a bit wobbly. Will it come together and be solid?

All strung and keeping Rossignol company

Yes! It all came together and now I am tuning and tuning, bringing Redbud to a stable state so she can go out and bring comfort to my fellow Kentuckians.