Tuesday, September 29, 2015

MICHAELMAS: Sept. 29–The Day

St. Michael the Archangel (from Hilda van Stockum,
  The Angels' Alphabet, Viking). © 1948 The Estate
of Hilda van Stockum, used by permission.
Today is the Feast Day of Saint Michael in the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox traditions.

This day explains the word "Michaelmas" as a description of the fall term of the Oxford and Cambridge University calendars and those of at least ten other British and Irish universities as well as dozens of schools.

Because St. Michael's Day (currently combined with "All Angels" in the Roman Catholic calendar) falls near the Autumnal Equinox (usually on Sept. 23, occasionally Sept. 22), it is used as a seasonal marker.

The Autumnal Equinox is the day the earth's southern and northern hemispheres are equally illuminated. It happens again on or around March 20 with the Vernal Equinox.

On Michaelmas Day, the daylight hours start getting shorter in the northern hemisphere. In the British and New England latitudes, harvest times and fishing seasons  come to an end, and the hunting/culling season starts.

The old English proverb goes: "If you eat goose on Michaelmas Day, you will never want money all the year round." So traditionally families in England have eaten goose today.

The religious basis for venerating Michael is in the Book of Revelation 12:7. (One other New Testament reference is cited and two others in the Old Testament.) Michael is described as leading the angels against "the dragon", aka Satan, the name given to St. Michael's younger brother Lucifer after he was driven out of the sight of God. He had been attempting to rally angels against God when Archangel Michael put an end to his plan.
And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels. (King James translation.)
Hebrew for Mee-cha-ail, with a  guttural
ch as in Lechaim. It means "Who is like God?" 
The defenders of God rallied behind the cry, "Who is like God?", which translates into Hebrew as Mee-cha-ail with a guttural "ch".

St. Michael is one of seven archangels and in the Eastern Orthodox Church is the preeminent one, the Commander in Chief of the angels; he is Prince of the Seraphim, the choir of angels that is closest to God.

He is the "Angel of the Lord" who was sent to Moses, Jacob and Abraham and is said to have communicated with Joan of Arc. The other two archangels with identifiable missions to earth are Gabriel, who announced the coming birth of Jesus to Mary, and Raphael, who spoke to Tobias.

Michael is the patron saint of paratroopers, police officers, sick people, grocers, and mariners.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

BIRTHDAY: Sept. 24–F. Scott Fitzgerald ("Oxonian" Great Gatsby)

F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1896-1940.
This day was born F[rancis] Scott Fitzgerald, in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1896. His father was an entrepreneur in the furniture manufacturing business, but not a successful one. Fitzgerald said he felt like a "poor boy in a rich town."

His aunt paid for him to attend Princeton. He had five great disappointments in his early life:
  • He failed to make the Princeton football team.
  • When World War I broke out, Fitzgerald dropped out of Princeton and entered the Army, wearing a Brooks Brothers-tailored uniform, but Fitzgerald's time at an officer training camp in Alabama ended too late for him to go to Europe. 
  • He fell in love with a beautiful young socialite who in due course married a wealthy business associate of her father's.
  • His novel was rejected.
  • His fiancĂ©e, debutante Zelda Sayre, called off her engagement when his book was rejected. 
Fitzgerald's revised book came out in 1920 as This Side of Paradise. It was a triumph. Zelda took another look and married him that year, when he was 24. They became the "it" New York couple in the 1920s of the Jazz Age, to which Fitzgerald gave the name. Nancy Milford wrote a book, Zelda, suggesting that Zelda Sayre's talents were not properly recognized and that she contributed greatly to her husband's successes.

Five years after his first successful novel, Fitzgerald published The Great Gatsby. Gatsby is linked in the book to Trinity College, Oxford. Challenged for details in Chapter 7, Gatsby says
I only stayed five months [...] an opportunity they gave to some of the officers after the Armistice [...] to any of the universities in England or France.
An alumnus of Trinity College, Ian Flintoff, has recently published a book that describes Gatsby's "five months" at Trinity College in 1919-20. I have read it and enjoyed it. The book is filled with some authentic background information about what it was like to be at Oxford soon after the Great War. It is written for the non-Oxonian, explaining all the Oxford traditions in great and accurate detail.

Failure later returned to Fitzgerald's life. He and Zelda both drank to excess. He died in Hollywood in 1940, 44 years old, in debt and anonymity. Zelda was in a mental hospital. He said:
Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy.
Fitzgerald's daughter Scottie said about her parents,
People who live entirely by the fertility of their imaginations are fascinating, brilliant and often charming, but they should be sat next to at dinner parties, not lived with.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

REUNION: New College, Oxford Concert, 2015

The Keble College chapel is one of the largest at Oxford.
Sept. 22, 2015 – The New College Choir, with a contingent of young choristers from the New College School, sang in a concert on Sunday at the Keble College chapel.

This was the last public event of the Oxford Alumni Weekend.

The choir is one of the best at Oxford and has been continuously singing since the 14th century, when William of Wykeham created a foundation within New College to support the choir.

It was a great combination of a superb choir with one of the great college chapels, a grade 1 listed building and one of the finest examples of Victorian architecture.

The Keble College chapel has fine acoustics and a superlative new organ.

I discretely recorded snippets of the singing on my iPhone, in the second row.

Unfortunately, only one of my snippets is short enough (25 seconds) to post on a Google blog.

The program was as follows:

1. Francisco Guerrero (1528-99), Duo Seraphim Clamabant (Two Seraphim Cried Out).

2. Henry Purcell (1659-95), I was glad (Psalm 121).

3. Thomas Tallis (c 1505-85), Three tunes from Archbishop Matthew Parker's Psalter. Psalms 2, 42, 67 as translated by Archbishop Parker.

4. Thomas Tallis, Suscipe quaeso Domine, by St. Isidore of Seville.

This is the new organ.
5. Organ solo, Felix Mendelssohn (1809-47), Variations on the Lord's Prayer, from Sonata in D Minor, Op. 65 no. 6.

6. Kenneth Leighton (1929-88), God's Grandeur, Gerald Manley Hopkins.

7. Matthew Martin (b. 1976), In the Year that King Uzziah Died, Isaiah 6.

8. Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625), O Clap Your Hands Together, Psalm 47.

A glorious concert. Timothy Wakerell was the organist and Robert Quinney (one-time Organ Scholar at King's College, Cambridge) was the conductor. Quinney is also the Organist of New College.

Monday, September 21, 2015

ALICE BORN | 150 Years Old—the Book

It's the 150th Anniversary of the publication of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

The author was a Christ Church don who signed himself Lewis Carroll.

A few hours ago I had the pleasure of attending - with Alice Tepper Marlin and my nephew Chris Oakley - the Choral Evensong at Christ Church Cathedral.

It was an occasion of some historical importance.

First, there was an exhibition within the cathedral in honor of Alice in Wonderland.

Second, the Evensong itself was a glorious hour and a half of choral music and congregational singing, with a newly instituted girls' (ages 7-24) choir - the Frideswide Voices, based at Worcester College. I was told that the choir is so named after a medieval girls' choir and that today was the first time in 1300 years that a female choir has sung in Christ Church Cathedral.

The Worcester Senior Organ Scholar, Benjamin Cunningham, played the organ. The Frideswide Voices choir was conducted by Will Dawes.

One of the original illustrations of Alice 
by John Tenniel.
The communal hymns were "Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones," "By All Your Saints Still Striving," and "All My Hope on God Is Founded".

The choir sang Psalm 119, the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis (both from St. Luke), and "How Beautiful Are the Feet" (Handel). I was surprised that on the feast of St. Matthew, none of the readings was from St. Matthew.

The exhibit honoring Alice - and especially the Mad Hatter character in the book - is of sculptures by Peter Eugene Ball.

The sculpture that Ball is holding is a tribute to the illustrator of the original Alice in Wonderland, John Tenniel.

One of the nearby sculptures by Ball is in the Merton College Chapel. It is is of "Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom" and was commissioned in 2014.

I was especially interested in that because there is a college in Barry's Bay, Ontario, Canada called Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom Academy.

My niece Christine Schintgen is a dean at the college. Christine, this post is for you!