27 December 2011

ByzantineCalvinst youtube channel

A few weeks ago I set up a ByzantineCalvinist youtube channel. Among the items posted are my own guitar arrangements of Away in a Manger and Genevan Psalm 13. I hope at some point to access a venue with better acoustics for recording purposes. But for now this will have to do.

24 December 2011

In þe bigynnyng was þe word

In þe bigynnyng was þe word, and þe word was at God, and God was þe word.
Þis was in þe bigynnyng at God.
Alle þingis weren maad bi hym, and wiþouten hym was maad no þing, þat þing þat was maad.
In hym was lijf, and þe lijf was þe liyt of men; and þe liyt schyneþ in derknessis,
and derknessis comprehendiden not it.

John 1:1-5 (Wycliffe translation)

21 December 2011

A favourite Ravel piece

One of my all-time favourite musical pieces is Maurice Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin, a highly imaginative work that nevertheless follows traditional classical forms. In its original piano version, written between 1914 and 1917, Ravel composed six movements: the Prélude, Fugue, Forlane, Rigaudon, Menuet and Toccata. Each was dedicated to the memory of a friend who had died during the Great War. Despite these personal losses, and despite the title's allusion to the tomb of baroque composer François Couperin, it is not at all a morose piece — except possibly for the Forlane — as can be heard from the Prélude below:

In the months after the end of the war, Ravel scored four of the movements for orchestra: the Prélude, Forlane, Menuet and Rigaudon, changing their order so as to conclude with a moderately fast movement. Although Ravel was a master orchestrator (his version of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition is more frequently performed than the Russian composer's original piano version), he chose not to score the Fugue and Toccata, possibly because the latter would have required a larger number of instruments than he had envisioned for the piece. The orchestral version thus has a somewhat different feel from the piano version. The complete orchestrated version can be heard below:

Many have wondered what the piece would have sounded like if Ravel had scored all six movements. Jack Jarrett has tried his hand at orchestrating the two missing movements below:

The results are intriguing, although I believe that Hungarian conductor Zoltán Kocsis has better captured the spirit of the piece and approximated Ravel's own orchestral timbre in the following performance of the spectacular Toccata:

Whether the following is Kocsis' arrangement of the Fugue I cannot say, but the Chicago Reed Quartet's performance seems very much along the lines of what Ravel would have done, that is, using a small wind group and giving the oboe a prominent place.

What I would love to hear is a performance of the full six movements of Le Tombeau de Couperin, in their original order and with Ravel's and Kocsis' orchestrations. That would be one thrilling concert.

07 December 2011

Question authority. . . unless it's mine

In putting the finishing touches on my manuscript on authority, office and the image of God, I came across this wonderful passage in Thomas Molnar, Authority and Its Enemies (p. 112):
There have always been people like Dr. Ronald Fletcher, who writes: "Never accept authority; whether that of a jealous god, priest, prime minister, president, dictator, unless in your own seriously considered view, there are good grounds for it. . . . Rationalists in the modern world reject the authoritarian heritage of Moses and substitute a set of non-commandments, i.e., principles on which the individual must work out his own conduct when faced by particular problems." One wonders what authority issues (or doesn't issue?) the non-commandments which tell individuals how they must work out their problems, and one is reassured again that the enemies of authority do not allow authority to fade away. If not Moses, then Dr. Ronald Fletcher is in authority.

06 December 2011

Religion and soft drink labels

Many of us are persuaded that religion is not merely one element among many in life but is central to one's entire being. Social and political scientists have explored the implications of this for partisan loyalties, among other things. But could one's ecclesial commitments influence the more mundane side of life? For example, take a look at this map:

Generic Names for Soft Drinks

. . . and then look at this map:

Leading Church Bodies, 2000

I won't pretend to isolate the causal connection, but it certainly appears that what Southern Baptists call coke, Lutherans and Methodists call pop and Catholics call soda. I offer this puzzling phenomenon to the graduate student in the social sciences casting about for a dissertation topic.

02 December 2011

US party reform needed

David Frum, former speech writer for George W. Bush, wonders aloud: When Did the GOP Lose Touch With Reality? The German weekly Der Spiegel carries this article in its English-language edition: A Club of Liars, Demagogues and Ignoramuses. Even if this is rhetorical overkill, the Republican Party's range of would-be presidential nominees is rather less than impressive. Those who were sceptical of Obama's deliberate cultivation of messianic expectations in 2008 hoped he would face a credible opponent in 2012. But thus far the GOP has yet to deliver and shows no signs of doing so any time soon.

It is long past time to repeal the internal party reforms of the early 1970s. It used to be said that any boy could become president. Even if we update the gender reference, we should not be happy with such a possibility. Do we really want just anyone to be the CEO of earth's remaining superpower? I sure don't. When I was a child, delegates to a party's convention actually chose its candidate for president. Party leaders in state, federal and local politics did their best to put forward a candidate they believed was qualified for the position and had a good chance to beat his opponent. Yes, there were smoke-filled rooms. Yes, there was wheeling and dealing. Yes, the occasional Warren G. Harding would somehow make it past the filtering process. Nevertheless, obvious incompetents were generally weeded out before they got too far.

That all changed four decades ago when Democrats and Republicans sought to more thoroughly democratize their candidate-selection process through a series of binding primary elections and state caucuses. Now by convention time everyone knows who the party's candidate will be. No genuine choices have to be made. If the voters have chosen a weak candidate, the party convention is nevertheless obligated to give him or her its backing. Not to do so would be perceived as undemocratic.

Philosopher Yves R. Simon observed that a democratic constitution needs nondemocratic elements if it is to survive and flourish. There is truth in the ancient Greek and Roman preference for the classical mixed constitution, combining the best elements of monarchy, aristocracy and democracy into a stable and enduring form of government. That the current crop of Republican candidates is being taken seriously as presidential contenders is a sign that things have got out of hand. It may be time to make the candidate-selection process within the parties a little less democratic for the sake of preserving the competitive character of electoral politics in the United States. It may be too late for 2012, but let's shoot for 2016.

In crisis: Canada's first peoples

Canada's native reserves are in crisis and have been for a very long time. Stephen Harper's government is under fire for its handling of an emergency housing crisis on the Attawapiskat reserve. Ottawa has ploughed $90 million dollars into the reserve with little positive to show for it. Whose fault is it? Brian Dijkema suggests that responsbility lies with "a complex cauldron of abuse, mismanagement, moral waffling, lies, and other foul ingredients put into the pot by a variety of cooks, including the federal government."

Gary Moore, an immigrant from South Africa to Canada, finds that this country's reserve system bears more than a passing resemblance to his homeland's odious racial policies of the past: Apartheid laws rule Canada’s First Nations reserves.
Change was once in the air in Canada. In 1969 the then Indian-affairs minister Jean Chrétien issued a policy white paper which proposed repeal of the Indian Act, the winding-up of the Indian-affairs department and transfer of its functions to other government departments, equal treatment for aboriginals, interim funds for native economic development, rejection of land claims, and new measures to allow indigenous people to control and own the land. Chiefs and others objected. Mr. Chrétien’s proposals were dropped.

Mr. Chrétien’s 1969 white paper still rings true. It says that to be an indigenous person is to be someone apart in law and provision of government services and to lack power, and that special treatment has made aboriginals disadvantaged.

I am far from an expert in aboriginal affairs, but I do wonder whether our reserve system has not worsened life for our first peoples. Would they be better off under a different régime — one in which they enjoyed equality under the law with their nonaboriginal fellow citizens, and no longer suffered under special treatment? Such a change should obviously not be imposed on our first peoples without their consent, yet something just as obviously needs to be done to facilitate their taking responsibility for their own communities' welfare and to free them from their crippling dependency on Ottawa.


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