Saturday, December 27, 2008

"Mass" and "Missa Brevis" on Minnesota stages

Minneapolis, Minnesota

In the new year, Minnesota stages will feature two major musical works rooted in the liturgy of the Mass and themes about war.
The Minnesota Orchestra will present Mass, A Theater Piece for Singers, Players, and Dancers, at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, Jan. 22-23. Composed by Leonard Bernstein, the work received its first performance at the opening of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Missa Brevis will take the stage of the Northrop Dance Series, Mar. 19. This modern dance classic, choreographed by José Limón, will feature members of the New York-based Limón Dance Company.

Read my Oct. 3 preview of both productions here.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

In the beginning

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Forty years ago, on Dec. 21, 1968, Apollo 8 lifted from its Florida launch pad for a three-day journey to the moon, the first time humans traveled to and from another world. Once in lunar orbit, astronauts Frank Bormann, James Lovell, and William Anders circled 10 times in 20 hours.

During their ninth orbit, on Christmas Eve in the United States, the men delivered a television broadcast showing the lunar surface below them while reading the first 10 verses from the Bible's book of Genesis. It has been estimated that a fourth of all the people alive at the time saw the broadcast.

Apollo 8 returned to Earth on Dec. 27. Time magazine named the three astronauts Men of the Year for 1968. Their command module is displayed at Chicago's Museum of Science & Industry. Seven months later, July 20, 1969, the Apollo 11 astronauts landed on the moon for the first time, touching down on the Sea of Tranquility.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Slavery in the 21st century

Minneapolis, Minnesota

There are now more slaves on the planet than at any time in human history. So says E. Benjamin Skinner who spent four years researching the subject. His A Crime So Monstrous: Face-to-Face with Modern-Day Slavery (New York: Free Press, 2008) provides a firsthand account of the global slave trade and explores why efforts to stop it have failed. An article, A World Enslaved, is adapted from the book.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Minneapolis, Minnesota

Snow today in Las Vegas!

Aren't we glad we did not spend money to be there on vacation right now? Especially since it is time to go outside and shovel the snow that fell on the sidewalks in Minneapolis last night!

I received a call today from the daughter of a decades-long attendee of the Camel Party. This daughter's son had written a paper about Festivus Camelus for school. His teacher, who has never attended the party ("That's really sad!" I heard the son say in the background), had expressed skepticism and asked him to revise and re-submit the paper. The purpose of the call was to do some fact-checking about the origins of the Camel Song and whether the party had been named after the song. (Not!) The young man already had done some original research while attending this year's camel experience, and I suggested to his mother that he cite the blog entry below in his references. About this teacher, what was it Jesus said? "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe."

Four more days until the Winter Solstice!

Monday, December 15, 2008

In the bleak midwinter

Minneapolis, Minnesota

The Dec. 13 broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor took place before a live audience at New York's Town Hall. Guests Renée Fleming, Yo-Yo Ma, and Edgar Meyer joined The Guy's All-Star Shoe Band to perform a special and "must hear" holiday version of "In the Bleak Midwinter".

Monday, December 8, 2008

Festivus Camelus

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Her presence delighted as much as it startled. Neither she nor any of her relatives had attended the previous gatherings, held for 29 consecutive years on the first Saturday of December in a tony neighborhood of Minneapolis. While not prepared for it, members of the clan took her appearance on the scene in stride, feeling a brimming excitement and joy that she had finally joined them in year 30.

Her name was Claudia, and she was beautiful, embodying and confirming hopes and dreams that everything was possible.

She was taller and classier than some had imagined her to be, and her pouting mouth, long eyelashes, and long neck – moving with an easy grace – lent an air of affectionate assurance and captivating charisma. A temperature in the single digits, accompanied by wind gusts to 38mph, turned her exhalations steamy.

Still, she stood on the front lawn for two hours in the new snow, greeting guests with a gentle familiarity that suggested all of them were old friends.
Camera flashes accentuated the floodlit scene as she held court with anyone seeking a record of their encounter with her celebrity. An escort stood nearby to insure safety and propriety. Her daughter had sent regrets, having her own holiday party to attend.

Her family's dynastic name, Camelus Dromedarius, placed her among the 90% of its members with a single hump on their backs, and distinguished them from their Camelus Bactrianus cousins who carry two.

That she had joined the Camel Party festivities in person felt perfectly natural. After all, her family had provided the organizing iconography of the clan's convenings from the beginning. From two original tapestrys, the founders's collection of items camelus grew to include photos, postcards, drawings, and statues small and large. In addition, there is the annual cake, sculpted in the form of a dromedary in repose, covered in colorful icing, and measuring up to three feet long.

The robust rendition of the Camel Song, composed sometime around year nine, opens the last third of songs on the caroling list, while a life-sized camel puppet wends its way through the throng. New verses have been added over the years to mark milestones and reflect the changing zeitgeist. The 30th year introduced lyrics celebrating a dawning era of change.

The Camel Party always celebrates the change within continuity and the continuity within change.

What started in 1979 as a non-sectarian holiday gathering of relatives and friends has evolved into an experience, a production, and a "happening" (a term for those alive in the late 1960s) that has hosted thousands of souls in ways beguiling, bemusing, and sometimes outrageous.

Colored lights. Wreaths. Garlands. Poinsettias. Potluck foodstuffs. Piles of shoes. Dancing socks. Rock 'n roll. Blues. Rhythm and blues. Chicken dances. Instrumental ensembles of piano, accordion, trombone, oboe, flute, guitar. Carols, naughty and sacred. Desserts for days. Wine, water, and soda. Crowds and conversations of hundreds. Welcome and inclusion. Fashions new and old. Santa and elves.

For attendees constant and episodic, Festivus Camelus notes and incorporates transitions of education, career, conception, birth, health, and death. It forever marks its participants who return from all corners of Minnesota, Madison, San Diego, San Francisco, Boston, New Haven, New York, Washington, Canada, Germany, and China.

Along with everything,

It warms the cockles, cockles, cockles of our fiery pagan hearts,
In the cold of icy December,
Wild revelries remember,
The heat of the golden sun! *

* Refrain from
The Camel Song, © 2008, Davies/Schiller