Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Photo of the Week 1/30/13

Tea Chai Tē - A Tea Bar
SE 13th Avenue, Portland, Oregon
Monday 1/28/13

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

“Not Said….”

Not Said….

The world’s slowest conversation
can make a heart skip several beats,
and those distant observations
leave the brain stuck on repeat.

A few moments every season,
lost in one compelling gaze.
A slight graze on the cheek
can fill a mind for days.

So much yet unknown,
caught in the fickle web of self.
The fantasies and wayward dreams
tucked safely on a shelf.

And nothing’s ever offered.
There is no goal to be attained.
With no logic to the longing….
It can never be explained.

Barbie Angell
© 2011

By the way, you can read a really good interview with Barbie on The Sill of the World at this link; & if you're not familiar with The Sill of the World, you're in for a treat, because it is an excellent blog! Barbie Angell being on The Sill of the World is just double wonderfulness.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sonata IV in G major by Nicolas Chédeville

A happy Sunday! Time for some lovely music.

We started January out with a piece featuring the viol, & so I thought we would bring the month to a close with the same, though this is a “bigger sound,” with the tenor viola da gamba backed by harpsichord & joined by recorder.

The musicians are part of the ensemble Passacaglia,  which is based in Great Britain. Passacaglia is made up of Louise Bradbury, Oliver Webber, Robin Bigwood, Annabel Knight, Reiko Ichise; Bigwood is playing harpsichord here, while Knight plays recorder & Ichise the viola da gamba. Passacaglia is an active group, & I notice they have some concerts coming up in February that our friends in the UK may enjoy.

Besides this piece’s obvious musical charm, it’s also interesting because it was attributed to Vivaldi for quite some time. Nicolas Chédeville was a musette player & maker, as well as a composer—the musette is a form of the bagpipes that was used frequently in baroque music. The story of his impersonating Vivaldi runs as follows (from Wikipedia):

In 1737 he made a secret agreement with Jean-Noël Marchand to publish a collection of his own compositions as Antonio Vivaldi's op. 13, entitled Il pastor fido. Chédeville supplied the money and received the profits, all of which was attested to in a notarial act by Marchand in 1749. This may have been an attempt to give his instrument, the musette, the endorsement of a great composer which it lacked.
It seems that Monsieur Chédeville was not only a composer of delightful music, but a man with a healthy sense of humor!

Hope you enjoy this lovely piece, which is so beautifully rendered.

Image links to its source on

Friday, January 25, 2013

“Coleman’s March”

A happy Banjo Friday everybody! I know the Fridays have been banjo-less around here in January, but never you fear: I have a fun banjo series planned for February—& I have some very fun banjo music for you today.

If you’re familiar with Banjo Friday, you know that I’m always happy to showcase the banjo in unusual settings, so when I saw today’s video, I knew I’d have to post it. For one thing, as regular readers know, I’m a big fan of Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer, who I think are true forces for good in the music world & indeed in the world in general.  These women have been touring Asia with American Voices Abroad, bringing their wonderful renditions of American old-time music to kids, & of course as is typical, they are teaching & encouraging participation along the way. You can read about their travels on their blog.

Fink & Marxer are also teaming up with some top musicians from the countries they’re visiting, & in this show in Malaysia, they are joined by Kumar Karthigesu & Vick Ramakrishnan of the Malaysia World Music Group on sitar & tabla, as well as by fellow Yank Barbara Lamb on fiddle.

I love this version (though I might wish the sitar were brought forward a hair in the mix)—there is something so odd & yet so right about the mix of banjo with sitar & tabla. If you want a more straightforward version as a point of contrast, here’s a link to Fink & Marxer playing “Coleman’s March” on 5-string & cello banjo respectively.

Hope you enjoy it!

Image links to its source on The tablature is for mandolin.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

the camellia rag

the camellia rag

the spinet piano transmogrified to dormant tree:
an A# diminished scale’s black and white keys
tumbling into this January sky—

there is nothing to resist:
hoarfrost on green lawns, a single camellia bloom
dangles in a welter of branches, a red quarter note.

exuberant felt hammers,
the song sparrows in their boxwood hedges—
the syncopation of breath & step & peripheral vision,

the many walks I’ve taken down this very street
with you, yes, you! arpeggiated white key chords
from the left hand, the right hand’s

fingers holding the promised first camellias
before their season, but barely. holding an envelope
with its cancelled stamp,

holding a ginger snap, holding dozens of
black and white abstractions against the blue
where apartment houseplants gesticulate to the tune.

AK Barkley
© 2013

Image links to its source
Camellia Japonica: from Flore des serres et des jardins de l'Europe: Louis Van Houtte, 1860s. Wiki Commons – public domain

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Chaconne by Robert de Visée

Happy Sunday! I have some lovely music for your enjoyment today.

If you’ve been following along on Early Music Sunday, you’re at least somewhat familiar with the looks & sound of the theorbo, a rather over-sized member of the lute family that was developed in the 17th century & had its heyday in the Baroque period, with its role diminishing through the 18th century. There were several notable composers for the instrument; we heard a piece by Johannes Kapsberger last week, & this week we are hearing a “Chaconne” by Robert de Visée, a composer & musician in the court of Louis XIV, though there is speculation that he was Portuguese by nationality. In fact, de Visée wrote music not only for lute & theorbo, but also for the guitar, though of course this means the baroque guitar which differed from what we know as a guitar in several respects—it was smaller, had doubled strings (like a modern 12-string or a mandolin) & had only five string courses (either 9 or 10 strings total, because the highest pitched string often wasn't doubled), while the conventional modern guitar has six strings with no doubling.

The Chaconne is an interesting form. Although the name is French (or ciaconna in Italian) it is thought to be Spanish in origin, & there’s some speculation that the Chaconne form ultimately derived from Native American music. It is, in the words of Wikipedia:

a type of musical composition popular in the baroque era when it was much used as a vehicle for variation on a repeated short harmonic progression, often involving a fairly short repetitive bass-line (ground bass) which offered a compositional outline for variation, decoration, figuration and melodic invention.

We encountered the “ground” or “ground bass” recently when listening to the venerable “Greensleeves.” In essence, the Chaconne in its baroque manifestation was an opportunity for improvisation.

Today’s performer is Xavier Diaz-Latorre, who specializes in early instruments such as the theorbo, baroque lute & baroque guitar. He studied with the renowned Hopkinson Smith, & has performed with period ensembles such as Hespèrion XXI & Le Concert des Nations, as well as with other respected European orchestras & consorts.



The image of Xavier Diaz-Latorre links to its source at

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Photo of the Week 1/19/13

Portland Panorama with Mt St Helens in the Distance
from the Koehler Pavilion OHSU Observation Deck, Portland Oregon
Friday 1/18/13

Thursday, January 17, 2013

“The Wishing Tree” – the Musical Version!

Happy Thursday! It’s been some time since my own music appeared in this space, but I’m expecting that to change in 2013. My expectation is to post at least one piece, either original or cover, each month, probably on a Thursday.

At one I posted songs as videos & people said they liked that, but I switched to embedded mp3s at a certain point because I was producing a cd of the blues material I do, & the sound quality on the videos was not good enough for that. On the other hand, In Idaho I had a pretty nice little home recording set up, & at least for the time being, that’s not the case. In fact, I’m using a makeshift system, as you can see from the photo: an Olympus handheld digital recorder with a Sony condenser mic; this creates a proprietary software file, which I then convert to WAV & then to an mp3. That’s a lot of converting, for one thing, & there’s no real way to set recording levels—essentially, it comes down to how far the mic is from the guitar! So while it’s not immediately audible, I can tell you there is some distortion here—it’s fairly slight, but it does affect the overall quality.

So: before I got off on that digression—yes, it’s possible I may post some of them as videos along the way. I didn’t do it this time, because I still need to words of the poem to bring the music to mind, & to my mind there are few things more boring than a video of a guitar player staring intently at a music stand.

The poem! It is one of my very favorite poems by one of my very favorite poets & one of my very favorite people, Barbie Angell: “The Wishing Tree.” I was thrilled that Barbie liked the setting. She was extremely generous about the sound quality & the few little performance glitches here & there, & I hope you will be as well. I’m still learning the piece, but this take gives a pretty fair sense of it. “The Wishing Tree” is being played on my Gold Tone resonator guitar (wood body), tuned to open G—in other words, the strings sound a G major tune when struck together.

Barbie also agreed to run the poem again on the blog, so you can find the words after the embedded mp3 player. In terms of the music synching with the words there’s a very brief intro, which I hope sounds sufficiently “intro-like.” The poem’s words would begin about 5 seconds in.

Thanks to Barbie Angell, & thanks to you folks for listening!

The Wishing Tree

Two hundred years ago
in a land so far away,
there was a legend told
to the children one spring day.

The wizard of the town
told the story of the sky.
He said the moon’s a crystal ball
with one all-seeing eye.

He said there is a fence
with a tree along the side
and the moon had seen a girl,
who sat beneath and cried.

And the moon, he felt compassion
for the girl beneath the tree.
He cried a lonely tear for her,
which fell into the sea.

The tear looked like a star
shooting in the night.
The young girl gazed upon it
as it fell far from her sight.

And aloud she made a wish,
and the moon above her smiled,
and he granted her that wish,
for her faith was as a child’s.

And ever since that night,
the moon has watched that tree,
so if you ever sit beneath,
please make a wish for me.

Barbie Angell
© 2012

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

An Interview with…

A happy Wednesday, friends. The photo leading off the post is yours truly in my digs with my new Cordoba guitar—yes, nylon strings! Obviously, this is not a guitar designed for playing Delta blues, & yes, I’m moving in another direction musically. Quite exciting. I won’t be turning my back on the blues, but I have felt for some time the need for a different & softer sound to complement the hard-edged blues stuff. I particularly am interested in getting together a set of music that would be more appropriate for background music, as there is always demand for that.

Which is all a lead in to say that you can read my thoughts on poetry & music on the always excellent The Sill of the World blog from writer Hila Katz. The Sill of the World features first class writing, the always thoughtful & delightful “Week in Seven Words” series, & recently Hila Katz has been running interviews with various creative folks in her acquaintance. I was most flattered to be included in the series. The post is at this link.

I did want to clarify one point in the interview for blog readers: As I mention in the interview, I am quite excited to be working on setting a manuscript of poems by another poet to music—not in the sense of writing songs, but in the sense of providing settings. But I also have recently written a setting for a poem by my good friend & Robert Frost's Banjo collaborator Barbie Angell. In fact, you will be able to hear a rough draft of that in this very space tomorrow! I’ve sort of reserved Thursday for guitar related posts, & am hoping to post some recordings of my own material over time. I’m working with a rather primitive recording set up right now, but I hope that will change over the next several months.

I know the posting has been sporadic at times here, but I expect it will all sort itself out! Thanks for hanging with the blog, & have a great Wednesday!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013



the dark shadow of God
in your face
your eyes
and i dare not look away
not blaming
lot's wife
as the world spins
to darkness, and pain
my last ragged breath
remains a prayer

Mairi Graham-Shaw
© 2012

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons
Lot leaving Sodom, Woodcut from the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493)
public domain

Sunday, January 13, 2013

“Toccata Arpeggiata”

A happy Sunday, friends. It’s been a bit slow here on Robert Frost’s Banjo so far in 2013, & especially last week, but I’m hoping to get up to a more full posting schedule this coming week.

I have a wonderful piece of music for your enjoyment today: David Tayler’s rendition of Kapsberger’s “Toccata Arpeggiata,” played on the instrument for which it was written, the theorbo. Yes, the instrument really is that big! I had the great pleasure of seeing the Oregon Renaissance Band performing at Portland Community Music Center on New Year’s weekend, & one of the program highlights was hearing (& seeing) “Toccata Arpeggiata” performed as a solo piece by lutenist Hideki Yamaya on theorbo.

David Tayler is, as his website bio states, a member of Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, the Arcadian Academy, the Festspiel Orchester Gttingen & Parnassus Avenue. In addition to appearing with a number of other ensembles, he is also co-director of Voices of Music along with Hanneke van Proosdij, & Tayler has made a number of high definition videos featuring that ensemble's work, which are uploaded to the Early Music HD channel on YouTube.  I recommend this channel to anyone who is interested in Baroque & Renaissance music, & really to anyone who just loves good music. The performances & the videos of them are all first rate.

“Toccata Arpegiatta” is perhaps the most standard piece for the theorbo. It was composed by Johannes Hieronymous Kapsberger, who lived from around 1580 to 1651.  Although his family was certainly German, he probably was born in Venice, where his father, a colonel in the Imperial Army of Austria, had settled. Kapsberger himself lived in Italy, moving from Venice to Rome in the early 17th century, & was both a virtuoso performer & a prolific composer, known particularly for his lute & theorbo pieces. 

David Tayler gives a beautiful reading of the piece. Enjoy!

Image links to its source on Wiki CommonsFirst measures of the tablature of the first tocatta of the libro primo d'intavolatura di chitarone ("first book of chitarone tablature") by Johannes Hieronymus Kapsberger published in Venezia 1604
Public domain

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

“Snow Ban”

Snow Ban

A ribbon runs along the bottom of the screen
announcing closings, cancellations, and delays.
Suddenly in all this clutter
comes word from Struthers: Snow Ban.
The city of Struthers has banned snow!
I glide in and downward in my imaginary helicopter.
There it is, the little town, a bustling circle
bordered ‘round in all that white
that’s pushing at the gates,
where life goes on as if they were in June,
and not a car slides, no wheels spin,
no boys with shovels, not a snow angel to be seen.
Only here and there a grumpy fellow
mowing last summer’s lawn.

Carmen Leone
© 2009-the present


Image links to its source on Wiki Commons
Old Ladoga. Towards Spring (1970) - Alexander Mikhailovich Semionov
Permission reads as follows:

I, Leningradartist, hereby publish this image under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 license. I hereby claim that I am duly authorized to do so by virtue of the contract with the author of this image in accordance with Russian legislation.

Sunday, January 6, 2013


Happy Sunday, friends! As you may or may not be aware, today is Epiphany, the final day of the Christmas season—Twelfth Day.

I wanted to acknowledge that fact on Early Music Sunday, but for a while I just couldn’t find a piece of early music that seemed right. I considered the Epiphany section of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, but it’s over 20 minutes long & as far as I can tell, one would have to embed three videos to get all 11 movements. So it just seemed unwieldy for a humble blog post.

Then I stumbled across a video of Jordi Savall & Rolf Lislevand performing “Greensleeves,” & it struck me as somehow perfect, because the tune is associated with Christmas through the carol, “What Child is This,” but also is an interesting piece of music in itself that dates to the 16th century (as the Wikipedia article points out, this tune has been associated with various Christmas season lyrics all the way back to the 17th century.)  The Savall video describes Greensleeves as a “ground,” which Wikipedia defines as follows:

Ground bass or basso ostinato (obstinate bass) is a type of variation form in which a bassline, or harmonic pattern (see Chaconne; also common in Elizabethan England as Grounde) is repeated as the basis of a piece underneath variations.

Wikipedia goes on to compare “Ground bass” with riffs that are repeated by a jazz rhythm section while the soloists improvise on the main melody or “head.”  It’s a similar idea, & both Renaissance & Baroque music were frequently improvisational.

Jordi Savall is familiar to folks who follow early music—he is a virtuoso on the viol (in all its various sizes), & he & his late wife Montserrat Figueras founded such seminal early music groups as Hespèrion XX, La Capella Reial de Catalunya, & Le Concert des Nations. Rolf Livesland is a lutenist who is a frequent collaborator with Savall; he he provides the bass accompaniment on the theorbo.


Image showing the melody line to “Greensleeves” links to its source at  Mandolin tab, too, so you mandolinists get busy with that!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Photo of the Week 1/2/13

Garden Shed with License Plates & Paintings
N. Albina Avenue, Portland, Oregon
Tuesday 1/1/13

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

“Making Wishes”

Making Wishes

I’m weaving a wish
out of peace and a prayer,
and a warm summer sky,
and a day at the fair.

I’m weaving a wish
from threads of the truth,
a beautiful smile,
and an hour of youth.

I’m weaving a wish
to use as you please,
with the strength and the power
of a really good sneeze.

And I’ll send it to you.
It’s for you to keep.
Put it under your pillow
when you’re going to sleep.

There’s more where that came from,
I’ll be mailing them soon.
I’m just weaving up wishes
and they’re woven for you.

Barbie Angell
© 2012

Barbie Angell tells me that she used to subtitle this piece “the ultimate happy poem,” so  what better way for all of us at Robert Frost’s Banjo to wish you & yours a happy 2013!

The poem & artwork are from Barbie Angell’s book of children’s poetry, Roasting Questions, which you can learn about (& purchase!) at this link. If you are one of the lovely folks who pre-ordered Roasting Questions, Barbie reports that the printing run has been completed, & orders will be filled very soon.