It would not be Christmas without the Christmas Revels at Sanders Theatre in Cambridge. This year my wife, son and I joined by our friends Abby, Kim, & Sid took in the Winter Solstice performance on the evening of December 21st. The show was delightful as always with the subject being near and dear to my heart, the music of Irish emigrants as they sail the new world.
The show was a more restrained and simple performance than a typical Revels keeping to the theme of the cast being impoverished immigrants aboard a ship and not having much to celebrate with. After the opening number, lines and gangways were removed from the sides of the stage and notably no cast members went down the steps into “the ocean” except during a storytelling sequence. These restraints did nothing to detract from the beauty of the song, dance, and stories performed.
Highlights of the show for me included:
- Bill Meleady’s colorful telling of The Soul Cages, the exception to the restraint on the performance where the visuals of the story come to life in vivid detail. I enjoyed the dancing crustaceans especially as well as Steve Barkhimer’s portrayal of the merrow Coomara.
- “The Wexford Lullaby” gorgeously performed by Mary Casey along with Jamie Jaffe as a duet and later as a quartet.
- The dramatic “St. Patrick’s Breastplate” swelling as the audience joins the chorus.
- “The Lord of the Dance” is always a highlight and was cleverly worked into the show as being the English ship crews’ contribution to the shipboard celebration.
- The show had several sets of traditional Irish music by The Rattling Brogues and step dance by O’Shea-Chaplin Academy of Irish Dance that livened up the proceedings greatly.
- If there was one minor disappointment is that the show ends with the immigrants seeing The Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. The show is set aboard the Cunard steamship RMS Carpathia and since Cunard had a western terminus in Boston (there’s still an office building marked “CUNARD” on State Street) it would have been a nice local connection to have the ship dock here instead of New York.
A traditional element of the Revels – “The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance” – was not included in the program but as this was the Winter Solstice, the audience was treated to a special rendition of Abbots Bromley after the curtain call. I’d actually guessed that Abbots Bromley was the surprise we’d been promised before the show, but it was still a thrill when the first haunting notes of the recorder came out and the audience reacted with joy.
This was another great Revels and I believe all the shows were sold out. If you missed this year’s Revels, make sure to get your tickets early for next year’s show which I promise will be just as great.
In the coming months I will be singing thrice weekly with a variety of organizations. It looks like it will be a lot of fun, although maybe a challenge for time commitments as well with rehearsals starting this week.
For the first time, I will be singing with the Mystic Chorale. The fall concert Pastures of Plenty – Woody Guthrie at 100 will take place Saturday, Nov 17, 8:00pm and (my birthday!) Sunday, Nov 18, 3:30pm at Tremont Temple in Boston. I’m looking forward to singing songs written and inspired by one of my all-time favorite persons.
My son and I will also once again be performing with SingPositive, JP. This multi-generational, family chorus will be making our sophomore outing with a concert themed on Optimism in Hard Times on Sunday, December 16th, 4pm at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Jamaica Plain. If you are looking for a musical, community experience, I definitely recommend looking into SingPositive which is branching out into other communities in the Boston area.
Finally, my daughter and I will be attending regular classes of Music Together at the Children’s Music Center of Jamaica Plain. There’s no performance with this one but it may be the most fun. I enjoyed singing with my son when he was little and look forward to repeating the experience and introducing my baby girl to music and rhythm.
This post is partially shameless self-promotion to get you to come out to my performances, but I also hope that anyone looking for opportunities to sing and perform music in the Boston area (with or without children) will see this post. I highly recommend all of these organizations and suggest you check them out and get involved if you’re interested. If you know of any good singing and music activities in the Boston area, let me know in the comments.
This afternoon my family and I took in the annual performance of The Christmas Revels at Sanders Theater in Cambridge. The Revels is a family tradition and this marks the tenth Christmas Revels production I’ve attended (including a Washington Revels performance in 1995 and performing as a cast member in the 2009 Christmas Revels). This was also my four-year-old son’s second Christmas Revels and my five-week-old daughter’s first Revels ever. Peter showed exemplary behavior and was deeply engaged by the performance while Kay amazed me by actually appearing to watch the show at times when she wasn’t feeding or napping.
The Revels impress me each year by crafting a show around a theme with consistent narrative that logically incorporates music and dance from various traditions. This year’s production is set in a French fishing village on the Mediterranean that is hosting an annual feast that draws pilgrims from near and wide. Thus we are able to enjoy traditional music from France and other parts of Europe as well as traveling performers from the East playing Arabic music. The Sharq Trio steal the show with sets in both acts of Arabic singing, dance and percussion. The trio seemed to mesmerize my infant daughter at the very least. Salome Sandoval also lends her stunning voice as a soloist.
The center of the performance is three members of the Guild of Fools – Soleil (Timothy Sawyer), Etoile (Sabrina Selma Mandell), and Eclaire de Lune (Mark Jaster) – performing the annual pageant. Amid the music and revelry there is the lurking presence of the skeletal Boney (Linnea Coffin) who seems to be just out of sight of the villagers on stage, but very frightening to at least one four-year-old boy in the audience. At a key moment in the first act, Boney and her skeleton crew seize the light from the world plunging the holiday performance into darkness. The fools thus are given the quest of finding their namesake light sources – the moon, the stars, and the sun – which they do with plenty of song and dance and a nativity play along the way. The Revels crew deserve a lot of credit for the stage design featuring multiple layers of scaffolding for the performers and a Ship of Fools upon which the featured trio sail to fish for the reflection of the moon. The costuming is also brilliant, especially Soleil, Etoile, and Eclaire de Lune’s outfits for the concluding mummer’s play. And the makeup helped make Boney and the other skeletons the scariest things I’ve ever seen in a Revels’ production.
The final performance is Thursday December 29th at 1 pm, so get tickets and go see the show if you can. If you’re reading this after the fact, make sure to check out The Revels’ website for future events.
My son Peter & I participated in Boston’s citywide bike ride Hub on Wheels yesterday, our second consecutive year of participation. Participants could ride a 10-mile route on Storrow Drive or extend it to 30 and 50-mile routes around the city. We did an abridged version of the 30-mile route ending at the Arnold Arboretum since it’s near our home.
The ride started at City Hall with thousands of riders (apparently 5000 total) lined up past the Old State House. It was exciting to turn Storrow Drive into a big bicycle party. Peter enjoyed passing his day care center twice. The route then followed the Muddy River along Park Drive and the various Ways (River, Jamaica, and Arbor) to the Arboretum. Honestly the ride went by almost too quickly for me. We started at 8:08 am and arrived at the Arboretum around 9:20. I’d like to ride farther but there’s only so long one can expect an active 3-year-old to sit still in a bike seat.
The event went off without a hitch, with perhaps the one exception of the rest area at the Arboretum. The portable toilets and snack stands were set up along the road right in front of the visitor center creating a huge bottle neck as thousands of bicyclists tried to cram in. Last year the rest area was deeper in the Arboretum where Meadow Road and Forest Hills Road meet allowing a place for bikes to pull off without obstructing ongoing traffic.
Nevertheless, Peter & I had a good long snack on the hill by the visitor center. The bike traffic cleared out quickly and about fifteen minutes later it seemed that almost all the other cyclists were well on their way. We stayed in the Arboretum to play at Peter’s favorite little bridge, throwing rock and sticks in the stream.
Hub on Wheels is a great event and I love that every year Boston becomes more and more of a bicycle-friendly city. I’m going to have to figure out how to ride next year since Peter will have outgrown his child seat.
Video of thousands of cyclists at the starting line:
On Sunday June 26th, my son Peter & I rode in the fundraiser Bike-A-Thon for Bikes Not Bombs. We were able to raise $376 for this worthy cause (feel free to add to our donations). All-together 464 riders raised over $135,000 to support the work of Bikes Not Bombs!
My photos are online and some other great photographs from a professional photographer are also available.
The 15-mile riders prepare to set out.
- There were rides of 65-miles, 25-miles, and 15-miles in length. We rode the shortest of these, the longest I could expect Peter to stay still.
- Riders were sent off with a “trumpet” blast played through a modified set of handlebars.
- The PA system was powered by cyclists spinning on stationary bikes.
- There were an impressive number of children riding on their own bikes on the 15-mile ride.
- Some of the steepest hills were near the start of the ride challenging everyone especially the young children.
- The first place I’d never been before was the Stony Brook Reservation which featured a bike path through the woods that felt miles away from the city.
- The path rather gloriously zipped downhill, but wet pavement and downed leaves forced me to be cautious.
- Near our rest break there were well-uniformed adults playing baseball.
- We returned to urban Boston passing through the rusty but charming Hyde Park area. The neighborhood was very quiet on a Sunday morning.
- When I finally returned to parts of the city I’d been to before on Walk Hill Avenue, I didn’t recognize it at first.
- Another new discovery is a corrections facility right behind Forest Hills Cemetery. I live on the opposite side of the cemetery and never knew it was there.
- In Franklin Park we saw men playing cricket in the field by the zoo. We were not able to find a toilet or port-a-potty that was open (several were chained shut) for when Peter really needed to pee.
- At the finish of the ride we were awarded medals made of old bike parts! Mine was a chainring, Peter’s a brake lever.
- The Green Roots Festival was a great follow-up to the ride (and very JP).
- Free food for the riders, which was delicious – hummus, beans, salad. Yum, yum, yum!
- Musical entertainment include some great drummers. Peter enjoyed that a band of bucket drummers had left their instruments out for children to play with.
- Children of all ages enjoyed zipping down the hillside on potato sacks down a large strip of cardboard. Peter spent most of the afternoon doing this. There were no real rules other than that you had to get off the slide so as not to be in the way of the next slider.
- Other activities we admired but didn’t participate in included yoga, face painting and massages.
Tired but happy we went home to cool off in the wading pool. I had a great time and would love to do this ride again next year. Come join me!
Susan, Peter & I took a daytrip by commuter rail to Salem a week ago Sunday. It was a fun adventure, especially for our three-year old train fanatic who looked out the window and narrated our journey all the from North Station to Salem.
Our first stop was lunch at Reds Sandwich Shop where the friendly waitresses (and customers) doted on Peter and the plates were full of tasty food. Next stop was the Peabody Essex Museum. After getting admonished by a guard for standing too close to the maritime art we went to the family-friendly, hands-on Art & Nature gallery. Here there was the art of optical illusions, toys, puzzles, books, and a build your own bird station among other treats. I was able to explore some of the other galleries and was impressed by the mix of American and Asian fine arts and decorative pieces, deliberately overlapping to show the cross-pollination of cultures in Salem’s history. Particularly impressive was the FreePort [No. 001] exhibit in the East India Marine Hall where a staid gallery of ship’s models and figureheads is transformed by animations projected on all surfaces. The video below should give the essence of the experience but one really needs to walk into the room for the full effect.
The PEM is an impressive museum and there was a lot more to see – including a special exhibit of Dutch art – but we were all pretty tired by then. As a special treat for good behavior in the museum I took Peter to Ye Olde Pepper Candy Company, reputedly America’s oldest candy story. Peter picked out a package of gummy fish and we ate them on the wharf overlooking historic houses and ships. Salem is a charming town and has a quite to bit to offer especially if you can avoid the cheezy witchcraft exploitation industry.
We had a light supper and then caught a double-decker commuter train back to Boston which made it double exciting.
Earlier journeys in-and-around Boston:
Title: Piglet’s BIG Movie
Release Date: 2003
Director: Francis Glebas
Production Co: Disney
Country: United States
Genre: Animation | Family
Summary/Review: This is the second in a series of contemporary adaptations of the Pooh franchise that Disney has released in the past decade or so. Unlike The Tigger Movie which I found surprisingly good, this is more of what I expect from Disney in milking the classics with some cheesy contemporary references thrown in. A soundtrack by Carly Simon features heavily in this movie almost as if the whole film was a vehicle for promoting her songs. Simon even appears during the credits. The story focuses on Piglet feeling unappreciated because he is small and wandering off and then his friends go looking for him. This is all a framing device for three flashback stories that show Piglet’s heroism. The flashbacks are the best part as they are based on A.A. Milne stories and are true to the originals. It’s a fun, sweet film – you really can’t go wrong with Pooh and Piglet – but they’ve done better.
Title: The Land Before Time
Release Date: 18 November 1988
Director: Don Bluth
Production Co: Universal Pictures
Country: USA | Ireland
Genre: Animation / Family / Adventure
Review: Cute baby dinosaurs trek across a barren wasteland in search of the mythical Great Valley and learn a lot about not being prejudiced and working as a team along the way. I found it uneven over all. The animation is absolutely gorgeous at times and then crappy the next scene (the dinosaurs keep changing size!). Are they going for naturalistic-looking animals or cutesy anthropomorphic dino kids? And the plot is lifted from dozens of family films from Bambi to An American Tail (the latter not-coincidentally director Don Bluth’s previous film). It ended rather abruptly too as if they needed to meet the running time. From what I’ve read online the initial vision was a dialogue-free attempt at creating a naturalistic dinosaur setting that morphed into a family-friendly adventure. The lack focus shows.
I expect kids aren’t going to really notice the difference but I think this could have been a much better movie with a little effort. My son liked it. The Sharptooth was pretty scary for him and the death of Mother Longneck prompted lots and lots of questions. Well really everything prompted lots of questions. But he wants to watch it again.
PS – Spike, the lazy stegosaurus who eats all the time, totally rules.