Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Oh du froehliche

A German boys' choir - the Regensburger Domspatzen - singing a cappella for Christmas Eve. This is one of my favourite German carols that doesn't get wide play in English. I'm not sure if it was originally written in German or not, but ever since my high school German teacher made us learn it and lead the school in singing it (speaking euphemistically) I've had a soft spot for it nonetheless.

The choir (the Regensburg Dome Sparrows) goes back more than a thousand years, which in itself inspires thoughts of eternity, doesn't it?

And I would like to wish all readers of this blog a very merry and blessed Christmas and a happy Chanukah season.

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Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Mary, Did You Know?

I came out of my cultural cave to discover this modern Christmas carol just recently, years after everybody else, apparently. I don't know the singer here either, but I very much like what I see. The simplicity of the music is a perfect foil for an acoustic guitar accompaniment and I have a long-established preference for alto voices. Kathy Mattea invests this with passion too, which counts a lot for me.

This carol struck me for another reason. I wrote a carol myself years ago with a similar theme, except I addressed the questions to Jesus, asking him if he told his mother.

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Monday, 22 December 2008

Joy to the World, Yes Sir!

Aretha Franklin puts the joy in "Joy to the World" Yes sir!

Ignore the inexplicable jingly bits at the beginning and end.

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For women writers or men in search of inspiration

Margaret WilkinsonMslexia, a British publication featuring female writers, is sponsoring a short-story contest (and in case you're in lack of inspiration, kickstarts your imagination with a number of interesting prompts.

Think of a true but unusual incident that once happened to you (or to someone you know) involving either: a stranger, a relative, a lover, a child, an animal (or pet), clothes, or money. Write notes about the incident answering these questions: Who? (Characters involved) What? (The action) When? (Time of year) Where? (Landscape) Background? (The news at the time.) Now ask yourself why it happened. This is the essence of the story. Now re-envision the incident, changing one element: the main character; his/her reaction; the climate; the outcome. Or simply transfer your memory to a time in the past (or future) that interests you.

Write in first person but from the point of view of a character very different to yourself: an old woman; a child; a pregnant woman; a new bride; a new groom; a jilted lover; a blind man. Choose one of the following titles: I Got Drunk in an Empty House or I Dug a Hole in the Back Garden. Don’t reveal who you are, but let your (new) identity inform your thoughts and actions as you explore this scenario and its possibilities for a short story.

Choose a seemingly minor reason to produce anxiety: an invitation to a party; running out of milk; a thunderstorm. Write in first person from the point of view of someone who is obsessing about this concern. As the writing progresses, see if you can raise your anxiety levels. Can this monologue build to a revelation? Is there a story emerging?

Find a news item that interests you. Identify a minor character in that story whose point of view you’d like to develop. (It could be someone very peripheral to the events, or someone not even mentioned but suggested by the events.) You might also like to adapt this technique by taking a minor character from a novel and making that person the main character of a new story.

Collect obits that interest you. Cut them up into discrete segments and combine segments from different lives into a single life story. Don’t worry about gender. Just combine the various incidents and achievements and then shape the character and decide on a gender.

There are even more prompts on the contest page. Even if you're not interested in entering the contest, the prompts are unusually good ones, at least in my opinion.

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Sunday, 21 December 2008

What Child is This?

Mahalia JacksonThis Elizabethan ballad has got to be one of the most-used tunes in the history of the English-speaking world, and for good reason. It's an enchanting melody and one that allows the singer to invest a lot of passion in it. Not surprising that it was pressed into service as a Christmas carol, because the best of these capture some of the deepest longings of the human heart.

For those of you who like smooth and modern, here is (yes again, Janna) Josh Groban.

And for those who want deep passion, here is the incomparable Mahalia Jackson. I still have this one on vinyl somewhere, because I couldn't bear to throw it away.

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