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Gaddi Songs at Ghoomakad

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On our last night in Rakkar, we hung out on the balcony at Ghoomakad with friends and made music. 

When we'd trekked up the mountain a few weeks previously, Foja hummed and whistled a tune that was an earworm. I was really glad that it was played that night with the lyrics explained, too. It's a Gaddi herder's folksong about the difficultly of long distance relationship in the Himalayas. Essentially, "You're from the next ridge, this love is over." 

I got two videos of the song. Shot in the dark around the big slate table lit by a single bulb you can barely see Foja at all, but Christian is visible playing guitar in one and melodica in the other. I wish I'd filmed some of the other songs from that night, but this one was the one I really wanted to remember. The camera pans around, the audio quality is poor but it captured the tune and the moment. 

There's a page of Gaddi folk music with lots of songs in case you want to hear other local tribal tunes.


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You are expecting a rant about summer, aren't you? You know it's not my favorite season.  But I am talking about Summertime by George Gershwin from Porgy and Bess.

Tod & I are learning to play it in our music lessons. Our lessons with Huw that started out as ukulele instruction for me and piano for Tod but recently turned into joint lessons where we are learning to play together. 

Playing together is really a challenge. Tod has been improvising jazz since he was a kid so he gets into his groove and gets lost in the flow of notes. I am a beginner at music and have a limited set of skills. Trying to do things in concert is interesting for both of us. Tod has to listen to what I am doing, and I have to learn about a million better ways to play. All while looking at each other, staying on tempo, and creating a pleasing performance without making mistakes.

So back to Summertime. I imagine you know at least the opening lyrics: summertime...and the living is easy. It's been a popular song for decades. According to a group of Summertime fans, Summertime Connection, there are over 40,000 public performances of this song.

But until I learned to sing the whole thing I didn't realise it was a lullaby. I hadn't seen Porgy and Bess, not even the movie version. I've seen the clip of this song now, thanks to YouTube.

It's a lovely song to sing and delightful to play. Tod finds endless variations on it. We practice it a lot. By the time the summer is over, I think we will have a properly good piece to play together.

My house rule is no practice after 9pm or before 9 am so the neighbors won't complain. But it's 9 am and I am ready to limber up my fingers and run through this a few times before breakfast. 

Matsudai roundup

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I've been away from the computer mainly spending more time in Matsudai. So much happened last weekend that I'm hard pressed to recount it all, but here I go.

Thank you to Hanako Murakami for introducing me to Matsudai and its people. I really do love that town. And congratulations to Hanako for shepherding an amazing performance of mushroom dancing at Nobutai on Friday last week. "Kinseees!" was an energetic, delightful surprise.

Higashino-sensei's dance as the お化けキンコ (mushroom ghost) was exactly the right complement to the old folks doing their dances. She encouraged them, teased out their special talents and made the evening flow. Motohei-san, at 82 the oldest dancer in the group, was so full of joy and humour that it was hard not to whoop and holler during all his little solos. I know how much work everyone put into creating the evening's entertainment, and I think all 160 of the audience members were impressed. I didn't take my camera that evening, choosing to enjoy the event without the lens between me and it - a wise decision, even though it means no pictures for you.

One of the items in the Kinseees! program was each dancer's favorite mushroom. The モグラ was often mentioned, but we don't know "mogura" as a mushroom - it's a mole. Now Tod does cutest impression of a mogura (the mole, not the mushroom) that makes me giggle and ask for encores.

The two days after Kinseees! were the Matsudai matsuri. We hung around town to tour the Triennial art and spent Saturday evening drinking and singing with the adult children of some of the dancers. I had my recording gear and turned the evening into the latest Hanashi Station podcast.

play mp3 Matsuri in Matsudai (10'15" 9.4 MB MP3)

Matsudai, population 4,000, is divided into three sections: Kammachi, uptown; Nakamachi, midtown; and Shimmachi, downtown. We were at the top of the hill in uptown most of the night, where the drunken karaoke and dancing took place. Midtown and downtown were equally lively, but more family-oriented.

Early in the evening, before the party really started, the skilled singers encouraged Tod & I get up and do a duet. You really cannot refuse people who ply you with sake and snacks. We flailed our way through John Denver's Country Roads - one of the few English songs in their midi-based karaoke system. Later on, we were called on to perform again - "Mr. Tod and Kristen dancing please!" - and foxtrotted clumsily to some beautifully sung enka.

The town reporter captured all of this and more with his camera, so I expect there will be at least one photo of us in the local newspaper. Horrors! But I wonder how I can get my hands on a copy of it?

Over the course of the evening, we were treated to many plates of food, cups of drink and little gifts. I was so stunned by the generosity that I took an account: 6 onigiri; 2 bowls of kenchin soup; 2 dishes of pickles; 10 sticks of yakitori; 4 shiso-cheese gyoza; 1 plate of fried octopus; 2 grilled sazae; 1 packet of otsumami; 1 harisen clapper; 1 pink stuffed monkey; 1 pair pink sequined devil horns; 1 pair of sequined devil horns; 2 glasses of tea; countless cups of sake.

All that, plus a few things I was actually allowed to pay for, made up the feast of the evening as we sat around the streetside fire pit. Thank goodness there were a lot of people in our little tribe to share the bounty. I don't think anyone went hungry that night.

After the matsuri, I rolled a very tipsy Tod down the street to Kimie-san's family's second house, where we spent the night with Hanako and her crew. In the morning, before anyone had a chance to sip their coffee, Kimie-san turned up with freshly cooked rice and laid our breakfast table of pickles, simmered dishes, soup and rice. She is such an amazing hostess.

We took our leave of Matsudai the next day, after watching the kids' parade of mikoshi (portable temples). Tod helped to pull one of the huge wagons full of kids. I turn turns with the local police are trying to catch fish with a paper spoon. I took photos which I will develop and post eventually.

If this were my last trip to Matsudai, I'd be sad, but I am hoping/planning to go back in a couple of weeks to harvest rice with Akira-san, Kimie's husband. I may be a liabiliity, but I will work hard and it will be a good experience. Matsudai always is.

How to Call a Frog

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One evening last week in Matsudai, we heard the most delightful chorus of frogs - deep croaking, quick peeps, and a percussive almost wooden clapping. But as we approached the little garden pond for a closer look and listen, the frogs stopped their songs.

Kimie-san started talking to them. She called; they answered. We giggled. She called again and soon they were all chatting away. I was delighted. Her technique was simple.

She made a loud, hollow sound by closing her lips with air in her cheeks and in between her lips and teeth, then opening them quickly while sucking the air in. The resulting sound was a hollow, lip smacking pop. She repeated it a few times and the frogs talked back.

On another night, I went to the pond alone and tried it with the recorder running. It worked! Have a listen:

Frog Call 0'04" 72KB MP3

Celebrating the Earth on Sado


Camping on the cliff above Sobama beach, our group of eight did a lot of relaxing nothing this weekend.

After brunch each morning, we sat under the shadecloth talking for hours about whatever came to mind: halloween costumes, books, travels, work. Lukie showed me how to do contact juggling. Aya sketched. Everyone sweated. We indulged in ocean swims, cold showers, and lots of beverages until it was time to head into Ogi for dinner at the festival market and then to walk up the hill to the evening's Earth Celebration concert.

This year, Kodo played with a dance troupe called Tamango's Urban Tap. As always, each group took a bit of the other's style and incorporated it into their performance. I cannot say I'd ever expected to see four women in yukata and geta doing a tap dance, but they did - giggling like girls as they sang their own accompaniment - and did a fine job of it, too. Tamango led the audience in singing the Zousan song (which made Zoupi exceedingly happy) where he bungled some of the words, then led an African chant where the audience bungled most of the words.

Recording the Kodo concerts is strictly prohibited and I respected that, but I did capture some frenetic drumming at one of the after-concert fringe events. If you'd like to hear the noisy musical atmosphere of the festival market in the late evening on August 18th, have a listen to this:

play mp3 Earth Celebration Fringe Drumming 4'59" 4.6MB MP3

Pound Cake & podcast

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recipe thursdayThis is from Elizabeth E. Lea's 1866 cookbook Domestic Cookery, Useful Receipts, and Hints to Young Housekeepers. This pound cake recipe is the basis for the method of many of the other cakes in the chapter. This is not such an extravagant cake - the fruit cake recipe calls for 30 eggs and a pint of brandy.

Cakes back then were somewhat larger than contemporary cakes and were baked in very large ovens. They also had odd ingredients, though none are evident in this recipe. Saleratus is baking powder. Rose brandy is made by steeping rose petals in white brandy.

I read this chapter for LibriVox today, and thought I'd share not only this excellent foundation recipe, but also the whole of the Cakes section in the form of an mp3. This will be put together with the other chapters to make a full audio cookbook.

Pound Cake.

Wash the salt from a pound of butter, and beat it with a pound of loaf sugar till it is as soft as cream; have a pound of flour sifted, and beat ten eggs, the whites and yelks separately; put alternately into the butter and sugar the flour and eggs, continue to beat till they are all in, and the cake looks light; add some grated lemon peel, a nutmeg, and half a wine-glass of brandy; butter the pan, and bake it an hour; when it is nearly cold, ice it. If you want a very large cake, double the quantity.

You can tell when a cake is done by running in a broom-straw, or the blade of a bright knife; if it comes out without sticking, it is done, but if not, set it back. You can keep a cake a great while in a stone pan that has a lid to fit tight.

Note: if you don't want to weigh the ingredients here are the equivalents in cups.
1 lb butter = 2 cups
1 pound loaf sugar = 2 cups granulated
1 pound flour = 4 cups sifted
1/2 wine glass = 3 ounces

play mp3Domestic Cookery, Useful Receipts &tc. "Cakes" 22'36" MP3 (20.7 MB)


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What happens when seven people get together to read a section of Ulysses in a bar in Tokyo?

Hilarity ensues. We changed tables twice trying to find a quiet place away from the irritating 80s pop background music but failed. We ordered lots of beer, we rattled the microphone, we (ok, I) tripped over words while reading. But it was such fun that we'll likely do it again.

Here's what we recorded, warts, Bangles, and all:

play mp3Ulysses "section 4" 43'25" MP3 (40 MB) Read by David, Kasuemin, Susan, Robin, Tod, me, & Jeremy.

Syd, our official photographer, noticed a poster on the wall at our table--Learn English in Ireland--with a collage of images including a picture of Joyce and the cover of Ulysses. Providence.

If you want to learn more about why we were doing this or if you want to play, too, visit LibriVox and specifically the Ulysses thread in the forums.

Masks and Pumpkins

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Noh performer in mask during Okina, a ritualised Okinawan form of Noh. (photo by Tod, the steady-handed)

Tonight we attended a performance of Noh plays in Shinjuku Gyoen. It was my first Noh experience and although it was a beautiful specta, even the comedic play was way over my head.

Here are two recordings from Okina, the first play. Neither is of the performer pictured above.

play mp3Okina Noh 2'13" MP3 (2 MB)

play mp3Okina Noh (2) 0'56" MP3 (884 KB)

By the intermission, we were chilled to the bone so we left the crowd of 4000 people for the warmth of dinner indoors. A shame, because the only play I knew the plot of was the one after intermission.

After dinner, we stopped to have some Pumpkin Milk. It seemed an appropriate beverage for the day. More importantly, it claims to erase irritableness and I needed it. Not sure if it worked.

Drawing in Karuizawa

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Two-fisted painting

Having quickly tired of the bath and hotel, I spent the second morning drawing a little bit of tree trunk after having another walk around the grounds. I made a recording of birds sounds with a stream burbling in the background (and a bit of a breeze, too).

play mp3Karuizawa Birdsong 1'59" MP3 (1.8 MB)

(Click to see the photo Tod snapped while I was recording--if you listen carefully, you can hear his camera's shutter.)

After lunch, Tod rented a bicycle and scouted out the rest of the complex while I sat on a moss covered rise to execute a a bunch of 60 second sketches as a drawing exercise.

We were to take up the tour again at 14:20, but the bus was two hours late--stuck in traffic on the way from Tokyo. By the time we left the hotel theday was fading. Our apple picking and grape picking were reduced to short hops off the bus at roadside stands in the pitch dark to be handed some fruit and shuffled back onto the bus. Terribly disappointing, as I'd looked forward to standing in the orchard and smelling the fruit and the earth.

We arrived at home 4 hours late. We'll never do a bus tour on a weekend (particularly a holiday weekend) again.

Psmith in the City

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I volunteered with Librivox to read aloud some of the public domain Project Gutenberg texts. I talked about doing this on my own last year, but except for some scattered short stories, never really followed through.

It's a daunting task to read an entire book aloud, so sharing the work with a cohort of other reader is a much more pleasant least for the reader. Who knows what the other readers sound like. Some will be good, others not as good. I'm striving for 'not the worst.'

Today I recorded the first three chapters of P. G. Wodehouse's Psmith in the City, a 1910 account of two college boys who go to earn a living at a bank--their arch rival is the bank manager, Mr. Bickersdyke (what a mouthful, it took me a few takes to get it right).

One of the things that I think will be interesting about this project will be reading books I'd never thought to read before. I read some Wodehous, but not this one.

I don't know when it will be put up on Librivox, or when the following chapters are scheduled to come out, but here it is for your enjoyment (in two different formats):

play mp3Psmith in the City, chapters 1-3 29'45" MP3 (27.2 MB)

play oggPsmith in the City, chapters 1-3 29'45" OGG Vorbis (25.8 MB)

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