the pleasures of fall

This is the time of year I usually read Donald Hall’s poem, “Kicking the Leaves.’

This year the poems came back, when the leaves fell.
Kicking the leaves, I heard the leaves tell stories…
[link to entire poem]

It’s a great poem. Especially nice that it reminds me of walking on the streets of Ann Arbor in the fall each year.

I remember a professor I knew at Notre Dame pointing out that he was recruited in the fall there.  Later he noticed that the fall was the time the campus was most beautiful. Probably true of many campuses.

Notre Dame South Bend

I remember choosing to attend Ohio Weslyan because of the old buildings and the wonderful trees.

Gray Chapel in Ohio Weslyan U in Delaware Ohio

That was where another student taught me about ginkgo leaves.  Brandishing his pipe and looking  like a Dickens character he pontificated about the fact that ginkgo plants were different from other plants in that they were sort of a living fossil. The odd thing is that it turns out he was right.

I found myself kicking leaves yesterday as I walked. This is what recalls Donald Hall’s poem to me each year. The fact of kicking the leaves itself.

This is the image of Donald Hall on the cover of my book. A woodcut I think by Michael McCurdy.

It interests me when people miss beauty or even willfully ignore it. I think that the price of lack of awareness can often be missing the good parts of life.

Now I leap and fall, exultant, recovering
from death, on account of death, in accord with the dead,
the smell and taste of leaves again,
and the pleasure, the only long pleasure, of taking a place
in the story of leaves.

more from Donald Hall’s poem linked above

I was reading an analysis of an organ sonata movement by Hindemith I recently performed. It’s the first movement of his third sonata. It’s based on a lovely German folk melody as are all the movements of this particular sonata.

One scholar quoted by the author of the article was emphatic that Hindemith was absolutely not longing for Germany as he wrote this sonata. I find this a bit odd. Even Hindemith himself insisting that it was the linear design of the melody which interested him in a sort of objective way does not convince me that he did not have emotion in the music itself. I found the movement I performed charming and beautiful.

I did learn that the melodies in this sonata are also used by Hindemith in his Craft of Musical Composition.

It would seem to me to add to the emotional background of the tunes. Hindemith was living in exile in the US like many Europeans during WWII. It can’t have been an emotion free time for him. Often it seems the composers are the last ones to understand just exactly what they are saying in their music.

I will definitely check out the use of the tunes in Hindemith’s text.

I have been thinking for several months of utilizing folk songs in some composing myself. I grew up loving folk music and many tunes. I now hear a lot of the church music I do as sort of folky.

Today we are using the tune WER NUR DEN LEIBEN as the melody for the words, “Jesus describes a forceful woman.” I love this tune. It has a distinctly Germanic folk feel. In my arrangement for my instrumentalists I actually have changed this feel to be slightly more on the Spanish feeling side. Nevertheless I think it feels a bit folksy.

Also we are beginning communion with the African American Spiritual, “It’s me, O Lord.” I plan to do it without accompaniment. This makes sense to me with the African American Spiritual. I don’t always do it, but it always is an option with this lovely music.

The Fisk Jubilee Singers

After church, I will begin rehearsing Distler’s beautiful setting, “Blessed are the Dead.” I had scheduled it but was wavering on whether it would be a good choice for the choir right now. Yesterday I gave in and ordered the entire collection by Distler and made rehearsal photocopies for today. Despite the fact that attendance is so sporadic (I have several absences today), I think I want to reach toward doing this piece anyway. It is so beautiful. And is an interesting take on the feast of All Saints in that it is haunting and beautiful instead of  Anglican bombastic which of course we will also do on All Saints.

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