I've kept this blog, on and off, since 2006. In 2015 I used it to chart daily encounters, images, thoughts and feelings about volcanic basalt/bluestone in Melbourne and Victoria, especially in the first part of the year. I plan to write a book provisionally titled Bluestone: An Emotional History, about human uses of and feelings for bluestone. But I am also working on quite a few other projects and a big grant application, especially now I am on research leave. I'm working mostly from home, then, for six months, and will need online sociability for company!

Monday, December 04, 2006

And we like sheep... Ritual, music, summer (part two)

Over the last eight days, three radically different musical events. Last Saturday, the annual Return of the Sacred Kingfisher festival at Ceres, the environmental park twenty minutes' walk north along the Merri Creek. The festival celebrates the seasonal return of this beautiful migratory bird; but also its return to the creek after twenty or more years' work cleaning up the water of most of its pollutants, reclaiming the tip site for Ceres, and replanting the creek banks with native grasses and trees (yes, we miss the willows, but are learning to live without such "exotics", as they are called).

In some years the festival is well-funded; and it has won several awards. We've seen crowds of school kids taking part in processions of birds and insects; fire dancers and elaborate silhouette shows; ritual narratives of environmental destruction and renewal; political narratives of refugees and colonisation; massed community choirs; dance classes teaching us the "kingfisher boogie". One memorable year we saw a group of Aboriginal dancers and performers enacting Wurundjeri life prior to the invasion of the First Fleet (the local bicycle club, streaming white sails on flags above their bikes as they rode across the grassy playing area). Some way to the side of the campfire, not really part of the main action, we saw one man — fleetingly, unheralded — become a kangaroo. Sprawled on the grass, he twitched his head, and moved a paw to his ear. It lasted perhaps three seconds; and then the Fleet landed.

This year's festival had received no budget, and was thus a much more modest affair, though still structured around a cleansing rite of renewal and rebirth through fire. A singer conducted the crowd of several hundred people in a complex three-part harmony of the lullaby the farmer sings to Babe, "If I had words". As the sun went down, I thought I saw a flash of blue fire disappear into a tree. A visitation from the presiding spirit?

The next day Liz took me to a concert from the Gloriana choir: a program of unfamiliar and diverse music, including works by Brahms and Schumann, Anne Boyd's hypnotic As I crossed a bridge of dreams, and a Mass for Four Choirs by Charpentier. There were only about thirty singers, so that made only about one or two person per musical line. They sang beautifully, in an old bluestone church in Fitzroy. Liz found the Charpentier transcending; and I could see how it might be, but on this, my first hearing, it felt more like listening to an elaborate, absorbing conversation among friends. Heather invited us for champagne on the grass outside the church afterwards, in the last of the afternoon sun as the bluestone shadows lengthened.

Yesterday, another community event: a People's Messiah, performed by amateur choir and orchestra in a white Georgian church in the city, with four excellent soloists and an invitation to bring or hire a score and sing the choruses. I had gone to my first sing-along Messiah this time last year in St Louis, walking through the cold air to Graham Chapel at Washington University, and sung with some very serious and committed singers. The people around me started talking to each other only as we left; they were all singers in choirs of various kinds. Yesterday's performance was of more mixed musical quality; but people sang gladly under some spirited conducting; and an update on the cricket after the break: Australia was 3/187, so we could lift up our heads (o we gates!). Joel and I went with another family, but they left at interval: Lucien was tired, and Robbie had a bit of trouble working out why everyone was singing about liking sheep. This will become a family classic, I think: it's making me smile and chuckle even now. How lovely that translation is, though. The phrase "man of sorrows" has become familiar, but to be "acquainted with grief"? I wonder: is this emotional understatement powerful? or just startling in its unfamiliarity?

Joel and I had afternoon tea at the European: a rhubarb and tamarillo mille feuille that was downright architectural. Imagine cooking rhubarb so it is tender enough to eat, but firm enough to line up in neat geometrical rows and then cover with a crisp rectangle of pastry and then repeat the layers; and to build another little stack of rhubarb logs on the side of the plate. Well fortified, Joel sang snippets of Hallelujahs and sheep and a child being born all the way to the tram.

Sheep? Babe liked them, too.

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