February 17th, 2014

American Legion Speaking Competition

On Sunday, January 26th, I drove over to the American Legion Hall in Marshall, Wisconsin, to act as one of five judges for the regional completion of the annual American Legion Oratorical contest. This is for high school students, and there are scholarship prizes for the winners. This is something I care about, having participated in forensic speaking programs and debate in high school myself, so I was pleased to be recruited by my brother, Harold, who is regional Vice-Commander for the Legion’s Third district, Southwestern Wisconsin.

Each speaker is required to present an 8-10 minute prepared speech, and then to speak extemporaneously on a topic chosen during the completion after a short period of preparation. The main talks are to at least include some significant reference to the US Constitution (with a significant downcheck if not), and the extemp topic is also constitutional.

The speakers were the finalists for each of the counties in the region, and were quite impressive, especially given the age distribution of two seniors, one junior, two sophomores, and one freshman. The overall winner was one of the young men, but the runner up, a girl, was every bit as good in presentation and preparation. The only reason she was outpointed was that the extemporaneous topic, the 13th Amendment, obviously was one of the winner’s heavy preparation points, so he was very strong on that issue.

I had a really good time helping out with the contest, and would gladly do it again in some capacity.

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The Invisible Woman

On Tuesday, February 11th, we went to the Downer Theatre to see “The Invisible Woman,” the new movie about Ellen Ternan and Charles Dickens, based on the biography of Ternan by Claire Tomalin.

In 1857, Dickens (Ralph Fiennes), was producing Willkie Collins’ play, “The Frozen Deep,” a melodramatic tragedy inspired by the loss of the Franklin expedition searching for the Northwest Passage. Dickens was essentially a co-author with Collins, produced and directed the production, and starred as “Richard Wardour.” Dickens staged a production of the play in Manchester as a benefit for the widow of a friend, and engaged actress Frances Ternan (Kristen Scott Thomas) and two of her daughters to play the female roles. When one of the older sisters has a conflict, youngest sister Ellen (Felicity Jones) fills in and comes to Dickens’ attention.

By this time, the great author has become bored and jaded with his loyal but stolid wife, Catherine (Joanna Scanlan), and finds himself irresistibly attracted to the young, lovely, and vivacious Ellen. She, a fan of Dickens’ work, is flattered to receive the attentions of the English-speaking world’s greatest living author, but has no desire to become a mistress, even to an acknowledgedly great man.

The movie plays out how their relationship develops: a gentle courtship on Dickens’ part, a recognition of realities on her part. (She overhears her mother and sister speculating that Dickens might be the best thing for her, since her acting isn’t that good--.)

Fiennes’ Dickens is mercurial and seems quite true to life. He is talented, energetic, egotistical, and charming. He is kindly to Ellen, and brutally harsh to Catherine, announcing their separation in a letter to the London Times that he had not even discussed with her.

Felicity Jones plays essentially two roles. In flashback, she is the young actress, entering into a passionate affair. In the framing story, she is the woman she has reinvented after Dickens’ death, Mrs. Wharton Robinson, the wife of a schoolmaster. As Mrs. Wharton Robinson, she is still haunted by Dickens, since it is believed that she knew Dickens “as a child,” and she is sought out by worshipers of the author’s memory. She is very good in both aspects.

The movie is low-keyed but deals with the subject matter well. All the actors are well cast, and depiction of the 1860’s and 70’s in hairstyle, costume, and setting appears flawless.

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Milwaukee Steampunk Society February Salon

On Wednesday, February 12th, we went to the Humphrey Scottish Rite Masonic Center downtown for the monthly Milwaukee Steampunk Society Salon, which is held in the Double Eagle Pub downstairs.

Featured event of the evening was the Valentine exchange, which we hadn’t come prepared for (although I did end up participating, courtesy of Mary Prince--). We were glad of the opportunity to mingle with friends and acquaintances, and very interested by the calendar of upcoming events. There are quite a few, and kudos to the organizers for reaching out to include such things as music and dance performances of interest.

Next month’s salon will be March 12th and feature a demonstration of bookbinding.

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Ensemble Musical Offering “Henry Purcell’s ‘The Olde Bachelour’”

Saturday evening the 15th, we went to the Cathedral Church of All Saints for Ensemble Musical Offering’s concert, “Henry Purcell’s ‘The Olde Bachelour’”.

Purcell (1659-1695) is well remembered as a composer of opera, sacred music, and chamber music, but he also composed a large body of music for the Restoration Era theatre, none of which had ever been published until very recently. “Incidental music” came to England with the post-Cromwell re-opening of the theatres, which rapidly began to compete with one another by means of the splendidness of effects and scenery, among other factors. Not only did music enhance the performances, it also supplied something to hold the audiences’ attention while scenes were being shifted.

Purcell was commissioned to compose music for William Congreve’s “The Olde Bachelour,” a farce revolving around an old man’s decision to take a young wife. The prospective wife of course prefers her young lover, and thereby hangs the plot. Congreve’s dialog, a popular and talented cast, and Purcell’s music combined to make the play a hit.

The evening’s concert was all Purcell, opening with Three Parts Upon a Ground in D Major, followed by Trio Sonata No. 9 in F Major (“The Golden Sonata”). Then, there was the “Purcell Pastiche in G Minor” as assembled by the Ensemble, which consisted of Prelude to Act V of “The Fairy Queen,” “If Love’s a Sweet Passion,” Sonata for Violin and Bass Viol, and the Jigg to Act I of “Fairy Queen.”

The music to “The Olde Bachelour” had eight short instrumental movements, interspersed with four songs, two of which were from the play, and two that were thematically similar added “to make the point.” These were “What Can We Poor Females Do?” “Thus To A Ripe Consenting Maid,” “As Amoret and Thyrsis Lay,” and “No, No, Resistance Is But Vain.”

The instrumentalists in the Ensemble this evening comprised a “fiddle band,” as used in the theatre of the time. These were: Joan Parsley, harpsichord; Gesa Kordes and Edith Hines, baroque violin; Susan Rozendaal, viola; and Debra Lonergan, cello. They were joined for the singing by sopranos Erica Schuller and Sarah Richardson, and bass-baritone Paul Rowe.

All the playing and singing was very fine. Purcell fulfilled his mission to keep audience interest admirably, with intricate movement and intertwining of lines evident even in the shortest pieces. Ms. Schuller showed off a beautiful bell-like voice on “If Love’s A Sweet Passion.” Ms. Richardson and Mr. Rowe performed “What Can We Poor Females Do?” in a charming Restoration style, with effectively conspiratorial nodding and smiling to emphasize the music. The singers switched off, with Schuller and Rowe together on “As Amoret and Thyrsis Lay,” and the two ladies joining on “”No, No, Resistance is But Vain.”

The concert ended with Jigg: Dance of the Anticks, which brought the evening to a lively close. We were very pleased to have had the opportunity to enjoy this rare music.

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I succumb to Facebook (partly--)

After years of resistance, I’ve given in and established a presence on Facebook, as many of you have already noticed. The primary reason is due to my interest in Steampunk, and, although organizations such as TeslaCon and Milwaukee Steampunk Society have perfectly good websites, the only way to stay current with what’s going on is to follow Facebook.

The thing that has surprised (and somewhat dismayed) me is the number of people that immediately popped up as friend requests or recommended friends (some of whom I haven’t heard from in more than a decade) let alone friends of friends and members of groups, even though I have staunchly refused to let Facebook have access to my own address book.

So, if I haven’t “friended” you, please don’t be offended. I’m still figuring out how to drink from this fire hose, and I’ve already un-friended one close local friend because of the overwhelming number of “cute” pictures she forwards. So, I’m feeling my way.

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