June 24th, 2004

Cream City Chorus, “True Stories” 06-19-04

Saturday evening the 19th we went to the Village Church for a Cabaret Concert by the Cream City Chorus. The chorus made bold and effective use of the smallish space by arranging seating on three sides, and by singing from all parts of the room, including the “back” and off-stage entirely. The theme of this concert was “True Stories”, meaning that the pieces were based on fact, historical, biographical, or personal.

The concert was opened with a rousing production of “All That Jazz,” from Chicago, followed by the evening’s storyteller, Megan Schaffer, performing her own composition, “Dance of the Crone.” This was followed by the full chorus doing a spectacular arrangement of “Mytelene’s Reprieve,” a song by folk artist Zeke Hoskins, telling the story of how the men of the Greek island of Mytelene were first condemned, and then forgiven, for daring to oppose their Athenian overlords in going to war with Sparta. Karen Weber of the chorus did a great job of arranging this affecting song for the group, and this piece was one of the highlights of the show. The chorus generally did an excellent job of “selling” their songs and performed with good energy, and some impressive choreography. Other particular high spots included “The Fifties Sound,” an ironic commentary on that supposedly idyllic time, “Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight,” “Join the Circus,” “The Ballad of Mary Magdalene,” “The Egg, (from “1776”), “Big Hair,” and the Spaceflight Medley, combining filksongs by Leslie Fish, Jordan Kare, and Ann Passavoy. A clever running gag involved the character, played by Peter Ringo, who unsuccessfully tries to work his traditional tall-tale folksongs into the concert’s “true story” format.

The Chorus’ next performance will be October 16, 2004, with a theme of “Autumn in New York.”

Burrahobbits, 06-22-04, Picnic and “Merlin of the Oak Wood.”

On Tuesday evening, we gathered on the lovely deck at the residence of Peter Schuessler for the Burrahobbits cookout, which has become an annual affair. As usual, Peter was master of the grill, providing delicious burgers and bratwurst, and mixmaster Dave Hoose made his famous Martinis for anyone that wanted one. We brought my devilled eggs, and Georgie made strawberry shortcake, with fresh strawberries from the West Allis Farmers’ Market and homemade “cakes”. Other salads and snacks were also on offer, so, as usual, it was a delicious time. Even after the food and drink, we managed to have a cogent discussion of “The Merlin of the Oak Wood,” by Anne Chamberlin. This book is the second of her “Joan of Arc Tapestries” series, which has so far chronicled the youth of Gilles de Rais and birth of Jehanne D’Arc in “The Merlin of St. Giles’s Well.” “Oak Wood” continues following the lives of the two main characters as Gilles grows into his career as a warrior and becomes involved in the unsavory politics of France, and Jehanne as she awakens to the arcane life of the earth around her and eventually decides to claim her position as “La Pucelle.” What’s frustrating is that this last event takes place in literally the last pages of this volume, which makes one wonder why both books, which are of modest length by modern standards, couldn’t have been combined into one. Both together would hardly add up to one Jordan or Modesitt chunk. However, one suspects that the inevitable third volume which will have to cover the three years of Jehanne’s glory and martyrdom, would then seem meagerly slim, even padded out with Chamberlin’s somewhat didactic exposition of ideas about the survival of Pagan practices in the war-torn France of the Hundred Years War.

This was one of the most discussed points of the book, not so much in the possibility of continued ancient rituals, which isn’t that unreasonable, but Chamberlin’s fictionalized idea of the underlying philosophy. The concept of “balance” as a goal isn’t new, but the old ways priests’ balancing of “good” and “evil” seems somewhat disturbing, particularly as it leads Yann to take some pretty nasty actions in pursuit of his purpose. We did not think that “moral ambiguity” was a much-debated concept in those troubled times, but “desperate times call for desperate measures” seems to be the byword of everyone in the books and seems at odds with the doctine that means affect ends which is a tenet of much mystical study.