Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hope you have a great holiday with lots of delicious food and good company! I'll be back to the blog again soon...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Songs of the Civil War Era: Bonnie Blue Flag Medley

When I was putting together my recent Songs of the Civil War Era concert, there were some areas I already had pretty well under my belt. I've been singing the spirituals and popular songs of the time (like Oh Susanna and Gum Tree Canoe) for quite a while now.

But I wasn't as familiar with songs that were sung on the battlefield. It was very interesting to research these tunes and find out how they evolved. One fascinating example was "Bonnie Blue Flag," and you can hear the whole story by clicking on the player below (again, if you're in Facebook, you might have to go directly to my blog).

If you want to follow along at home (like one of my favorite childhood shows?), here are the images: Page 2, Pages 3 & 4, Page 5.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Henri Cole: To Sleep

This weekend my sister, some friends, and I discussed what a shame it is that we didn't appreciate naps when we had them. Isn't that just the way it goes? As Joni would say: you don't know what you've got 'till it's gone. Just think what you would give now for an hour a day when you're not allowed to do anything but rest, recharge, and maybe sneak a book under the covers.

Then I came across this poem by Henri Cole. What a lovely description of those moments just before sleep.

To Sleep
by Henri Cole

Then out of the darkness leapt a bare hand
that stroked my brow, "Come along, child;
stretch out your feet under the blanket.
Darkness will give you back, unremembering.
Do not be afraid." So I put down my book
and pushed like a finger through sheer silk,
the autobiographical part of me, the am,
snatched up to a different place, where I was
no longer my body but something more—
the compulsive, disorderly parts of me
in a state of equalization, everything sliding off:
war, love, suicide, poverty—as the rebellious,
mortal, I, I, I lay, like a beetle irrigating a rose,
my red thoughts in a red shade all I was.

Photo by Joi.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Grab Bag Friday: Hooray for Philip Hoose & Claudette Colvin!

They won, they won! Hip hip hooray!

Congratulations to Phillip Hoose and Claudette Colvin on winning the National Book Award!

You can read about all the NBA winners at the New York Times.

Publishers Weekly says:
Phillip Hoose’s Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice (FSG/Kroupa), the story of the almost forgotten black teenage girl who refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama nine months before Rosa Parks did the same thing, won the award for Young People's Literature. Hoose called winning the award “unreal” and said that Colvin “took a chance on me. She had never heard of me and was about to be forgotten by history and we saved her story.”
And here's a great little interview with Phil Hoose on the National Book Award website.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Songs of the Civil War Era: Tenting Tonight

I recently received some mp3s of my Songs of the Civil War Era concert/lecture at Bowdoin College, so for those of you who missed it, I'm going to post a song each Wednesday for the next three weeks.

The first is "Tenting Tonight on the Old Campground," and you can listen to it by clicking on the player below (if you're on Facebook or the like, and can't see the player, try accessing it directly from my blog).

The sound guy kindly faded this one out for me, but if you'd truly like to set the scene, picture yourself in a nice crowded auditorium. Everyone's just settled in. You've heard a little intro about what to expect during the program, and this sad, slow song begins. Now as I enter the last chorus (where the fade starts), imagine the piercing bleep bleep of a fire alarm! Just in case you were getting a little *too* comfortable. :)

All turned out fine. We got a little cold outside (in the spirit of things, I suppose) but were able to head back in and finish up. Enjoy...

Monday, November 16, 2009

Phil Hoose: Claudette Colvin (up for the National Book Award!)

On Wednesday, the National Book Awards will be announced, and this year I'm crossing my fingers for a fabulous book in the "Young Peoples Literature" category by Phillip Hoose, who just happens to be from Maine! (And if you stop by Cynthia Lord's blog, you can read the story of how I unexpectedly got to get up on stage and sing with him last night.)

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice is the true story of a 15 year old girl who refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger nine months before Rosa Parks made her historic protest. Claudette Colvin was jailed, ostracized from her classmates, shunned by her community, and yet she persevered. She fought her charges in court (and lost), and later went on to be a key witness in the court case that outlawed segregation on buses and ended the Montgomery bus boycott. She is a truly inspiring unsung hero.

Phil Hoose's book is written partly in the voice of Claudette Colvin, gleaned from hours of personal interviews. She describes exactly what it felt like to hear the jail cell click shut, and to look out from the witness stand in the middle of her trial. Hoose fills in historical details about the Montgomery bus boycott and the events that led up to the trial. It's a fascinating, gripping book that sheds new light on the civil rights movement in Montgomery. A must read.

Here is a video where you can hear some of the story in Colvin's own words. Whether this book wins a National Book Award, I hope it continues to receive recognition and acclaim for many years to come.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Grab Bag Friday: Missed Connections, We Shared a Bear Suit

I can't remember where I first came across Missed Connections. Probably Fuse #8 or somewhere else equally plugged-in to the online world of quirky, whimsical, hip blogsters. Well, whoever pointed me in the right direction, many thanks!

Every so often, Sophie Blackall takes a quote from a "missed connections" page on Craig's List or the like, illustrates it, and posts it on her blog, aptly titled, Missed Connections. The results are startling, witty, beautiful, and always bring a smile.

Here is one of my recent favorites: We Shared a Bear Suit (I love the addition of the fish in the bottom corner). The caption is below.

"Saturday, October 17, 2009
- m4w
We shared a bear suit at an apartment party on Saturday night.
I asked for your number and you gave it to me, but somehow I don't have an area code written down. I had a great time talking with you, and I don't trust Chance enough to wait until I see you in the elevators..."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

My Concert: Songs of the Civil War Era

My lecture/concert "Songs of the Civil War Era" ended up in the news a couple times last week!

First, Daisy Alioto wrote a very nice article in The Bowdoin Orient. She starts with:

"Josephine Cameron '98 sat center stage in Kanbar Auditorium strumming her guitar and letting her melodic voice soar sweetly around the room on Tuesday. She sang "Tenting on the Old Campground," the first piece in a program of Civil War-era songs that offer insight into the popular culture of the era. The song, a song of peace sung by war-weary soldiers, Union and Confederate alike, was truncated mid-verse by the piercing shriek of the fire alarm. The audience, slow to react, could hardly conceal their disappointment as Josie's voice still echoed in the rafters."

You can read the rest of the article here (how's that for suspense?)

And then Tom Porter from Maine Public Radio did a great spot on Maine Things Considered. You can listen to the whole thing here:

Monday, November 9, 2009

Reading On The Kindle 2

Our library recently acquired three e-readers that are now part of the permanent collection. So this weekend, I checked out a Kindle 2, to see what all the buzz is about, and to find out if I really can stand reading a book on a screen.

This particular Kindle came packed with about 100 books, and I chose The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and Emerald City: An Environmental History of Seattle by Matt Klingle (yes, I'm one of those weirdo multi-taskers that likes to have multiple books going on at one time).

I'll tell you straight out that I expected to be won over. At least for traveling purposes. I'm the kind of girl who packs 7 books for a 7 night stay (and actually reads maybe one and a half). For traveling, the e-book seems ideal. Finish a book? Download another. Not in the mood for the book you brought? Find something else. Seemed like a no-brainer.

I suppose I'll reserve judgment until I've finished these e-books, but so far, I might rather lug the extra 10 pounds around.

Here's what I've observed so far:
  • The Kindle 2 is a lot easier to read than a computer screen or even Kevin's iPod. That fancy electronic ink is something else. It's not a book, but it's certainly easy on the eyes.
  • It's convenient, and easy to hide under the table at the sports bar while your husband is watching the Chicago Bears.
  • Formatting is an issue. While reading The Book Thief, I came across a lot of bold, choppy, centered text. I picked up the real paper book to compare and voila! it all made sense. I suppose it's because the screen is so small, but what looks intriguing and visually exciting on paper (short, centered paragraphs...some that are poem-esque), is very messy, haphazard, and distracting on the Kindle. I feel like I'm missing out on some of the heart of Zukas' book.
  • Footnotes are a bear. Maybe there's a way to quickly view a footnote, but I haven't found it.
  • I have very particular paper-oriented reading habits. I didn't realize this consciously before reading on a Kindle, but apparently, I like to go back and re-read a lot. As I'm reading a book, I flip back through pages to re-read great passages, to remember a character's name, or re-absorb a key plot point. On the Kindle, I keep catching myself wanting to flip back, but it's pointless. Who knows how many screens I'd have to flip through to find that spot?
  • The "experimental" web tool is unusable. Simply put, trying to access an article on an online site like is more painful than it's worth.
That said, would I check out a Kindle from the library to take on a trip? Sure. Why not? It's like getting to pack 100 books instead of just seven. I'd probably still pack 2 or 3 (or 4) paper books, just in case. :)

Would I pay $259 for a Kindle (not including the cost of the books)? Sorry, no.

This article from CrunchGear sums it up pretty nicely: 10 Reasons to Buy a Kindle 2...and 10 Reasons Not To.

Here's an interesting article on the evolution of the Kindle by Nicholson Baker in the New Yorker: A New Page.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Grab Bag Friday Movie Vault: Gene Kelly's Film Debut

When I was stuck at home sick this week, I watched a great Gene Kelly movie that I'm stunned I'd never seen. I don't know if it was the decongestant, but I got *completely* caught up in it and even cried into my tissues at the end.

Turns out, For Me and My Gal was Gene Kelly's debut movie. And what a debut! He plays an aspiring vaudeville star who teams up with a girl singer (Judy Garland). Their dream is to perform at The Palace in New York and get married after their first matinee.

Of course, things go awry, and in a very odd plot twist, poor old Gene gets snubbed for draft-dodging. In fact, this movie (with it's "Buy American War Bonds" ad at the end) is so patriotic, I wondered at one point if it could have been designed strategically for recruiting purposes. In any case, it's a great movie with lots of good music and stellar dancing.

Here's the scene where they do their first dance together. Sigh. I love Gene Kelly.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Miles Davis & John Coltrane: So What

My friend David recently posted this video on Facebook. Can you imagine sitting in an audience somewhere in New York in 1959 and actually watching these guys live? I have no words.

Miles Davis & John Coltrane: So What (Live: April, 1959)

Monday, November 2, 2009

Blog Re-run: James Thurber, Many Moons

Since I'm stuck in bed today with a brutal cold, here is a blog re-run of my favorite picture book for when you're not feeling well...

(Originally posted March 12, 2007)
If you know of James Thurber, it's probably because of his hilarious stories and cartoons in the New Yorker, or maybe from his multiple collaborations with colleague E. B. White. But did you know that he wrote an absolutetly sweet, endearing children's book?

Many Moons, illustrated by Louis Slobodkin is a charming, whimsical fairy tale with Thurber's signature goofiness and humor. My sister used to read it to me whenever I had the flu or a cold, and it always brought a smile that made me feel better.

The story revolves around Princess Lenore (age 10 going on 11) who is in bed sick. The king, beside himself, calls in all his wise men to heal her. Each one has a different, equally thourough, equally scientific, and equally useless analysis of the situation. Enter, of course, the Court Jester.

I won't tell you the rest of the story, because I don't want to spoil the fun. Suffice it to say that this book is highly recommended. Even as an adult, reading it never fails to bring a smile. And reminds me that many things in life are simpler (and more lovely) than we think!