Podcasts of the Week (s) (July 22-August 11)


I’m way behind on posting anything to this blog.  Here are some podcasts from the past few weeks that are worth your while:

BackStory – Are We There Yet?: Americans On Vacation

An interesting history of how Americans made use of their leisure time in the past.  Oh and try not to get fumed about the idea that people who worked with their brains needed vacations while manual laborers did not, an idea still well ingrained in labor policy today.

Ben Franklin’s World – Rosemarie Zagarri, Mercy Otis Warren and the American Revolution

Mercy Otis Warren – writer and revolutionary activist – is a remarkable women of her time and someone you should know more about.

Decode DC – Should Historians Be Pundits?

Doing a better job of comparing our present political situation with the past, and finding what in the past brought about the political climate of the present.

LeVar Burton Reads“The Second Bakery Attack” by Haruki Murakami

I’m really enjoying this new podcast series, which is basically Reading Rainbow for grownups.  In addition to LeVar Burton’s great reading voice, the production values are really strong.  This was the story that introduced me to Murakami over 20 years ago, and coincidentally I first heard it read aloud on a radio program.

99% InvisibleWays of Hearing

This podcast introduces a new series exploring the changes in sound between analaog and digital audio.  As an added bonus, there’s an appearance by Red Sox announce Joe Castiglione.

Politically Re-Active – Is this what democracy looks like? Jake Tapper & Jessica Byrd give their take

I enjoyed learning about Jessica Byrd who helps underrepresented communities engage in the political process.

The Story Collider Epidemics: Stories of Medical Crises

The first story by Ken Haller is a particularly powerful reminiscence of his personal experience of the first signs of the AIDS epidemic.

Twenty Thousand Hertz – Sound Firsts

Some of the oldest surviving recordings provide a jaw-dropping window into the past.  Check out FirstSounds.Org for more.

 

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#TryPod Day 4: The Story Collider


All this month, I’ve heard about the campaign to spread the news of podcasts called TryPod.  As I am a voracious listener of podcasts (you can see the complete list of my current subscriptions and other recommendations on my podcast page), I figured I ought to participate while I can.  So I will post about one of my favorite podcasts every day for the last 9 days of March.

The Story Collider allows scientists to tell the personal stories of their research, discoveries, and personal journeys in a way that allows them to share scientific knowledge with a novice audience as well as give a human face to scientific researchers.  It’s a great project to bridge scientists with the general public, and there are some spectacular stories.

Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Rochelle Williams: “Potential”
  • Daniel Engber: “Distracting Mark Cuban”
  • Meghan Groome: “Being Brave About Sex-Ed”
  • Layne Jackson Hubbard: “Still Myself”

#TryPod Day 1: The Memory Palace


All this month, I’ve heard about the campaign to spread the news of podcasts called TryPod.  As I am a voracious listener of podcasts (you can see the complete list of my current subscriptions and other recommendations on my podcast page), I figured I ought to participate while I can.  So I will post about one of my favorite podcasts every day for the last 9 days of March.

The first podcast I think you should try is one I’ve been listening to for quite some time. Host Nate DiMeo tells stories of little known historical events in United State’s history in a soothing tone of voice.  DiMeo’s strength is providing vivid descriptions of the sights, sounds, and smells of an event, allowing the listener to experience events as they unfold rather than from hindsight.

It’s a short podcast, so if you don’t want to commit much time to listening to podcasts it’s a good place to start.  Here are some of my favorite episodes:

 

Haunting” – The story of Washington Phillip’s mysterious gospel and blues music
Numbers” – This podcast dramatizes the first nationally televised Draft Lottery on December 1, 1969.
Oil, Water” – Whenever Cleveland is mentioned, one hears about the Cuyahoga River catching fire, but until listening to this podcast I was unaware that there were multiple fires over decades and the considerable damage that they caused.
“Dreamland” – Coney Island’s great early 20th-century amusement park.
“Victory” – The story of a an untalented baseball player taken on as a good luck charm by the 1911 New York Giants.
“Harriet Quimby” –  American aviator from the early days of flight.

The Christmas Revels: An Acadian-Cajun Celebration of the Winter Solstice


 

It’s not Christmas until I’ve partaken of the Christmas Revels which I enjoyed at a Monday matinée with my family at Sanders Theater.  This is the 15th Christmas Revels production I’ve seen including one in Washington in 1995 and the rest in Cambridge from 2001-2006 and 2009 to present.  This years celebration of Acadian/Cajun music, culture, and history is among the best.  As an added bonus, the fire alarm went off near the end of intermission and we got to see everyone evacuate and the Cambridge Fire Department arrive.  My son hadn’t finished his hot chocolate so he was happy for the extended intermission.

Most Revels productions tell a story, but this one has a strong narrative of the French settlers of Acadie in Canada who make the land arable, how they become stuck in the middle of the wars between the French and British, and their exile and resettlement in Louisiana. Such a heavy history does not always fit into the joyousness of Revels, and the scenes of their villages being burned and the Acadians forced to pack up and leave are giving appropriate gravitas. It’s such a Revels tradition to have the “villagers” on stage smiling and warmly interacting, that when during a mournful song the entire cast looks absently into space with somber looks on their faces it is a powerful moment.

But lest you think it’s all sad, there was plenty of joyous celebration.  Here are some of my favorite moments:

  • the large tree on the set, central to the themes of rootedness in the story, but also used to project images relevant to the performance
  • the Revels also have unbelievably talented children in lead roles, and 12-year-old Lola May Williamson may be the best yet.  I even saw her take the time to lift the spirits of a younger child who couldn’t help yawning during the performance.
  • “Le Depart Du Canada (The Leaving of Canada)” feature the long march of villagers leaving Acadia, diagonally across the stage.  I’m pretty sure the cast circled around at least twice to make the line appear even longer.
  • “La Valse Cadienne de Noël” or the Cajun Christmas waltz
  • the part where we threw plush chickens around the audience
  • The Mummer’s Play featuring David Coffin as a caustic alligator
  • It would seem that the character of the doctor in a Cajun mummer’s play would be obvious, but I was totally taken by surprise by the appearance of “Dr. John” (played by Steve Barkhimer) and perhaps the greatest tonal shift in Revels history as he launched into a performance of “Right Place, Wrong Time” followed by the Dixie Cups singing “Iko Iko”
  • The all-women sword dance

The run of the 2016 Revels has ended but you can get yourself the album Valse de Noël and even audition for the 2017 Revels!

Related posts:

2016 Boston By Foot Tours UPDATED


Spring is here, and it’s time to get out and explore the great city of Boston!

One of the best ways to see Boston is on a Boston By Foot walking tour.  The non-profit, educational organization is celebrating 40 years of sharing the history, architecture, and stories of Boston with tourists and locals alike.  This will be my 17th season as one of around 200 volunteer guides leading tours for Boston By Foot.

Below is the list of tours I’ve signed up to lead this season, but I encourage you to check out all our tours and an architecture cruise lead by our many brilliant guides.  If you live in the Boston area, or plan to to visit and take multiple tours, membership is the best deal!  Membership gets you free admission on all regular tours, discounts on tours of the month, and special members-only events!

April 15: The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

April 29: The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

May 20:  Heart of the Freedom Trail – 11am

May 20:  Road to Revolution – 1pm

May 20:  The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

June 3:  Heart of the Freedom Trail – 11am

June 3:  Road to Revolution – 1pm

June 3:  The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

June 19: Roxbury Highlands (members preview) – 2pm

June 26:  Roxbury Highlands – 2pm

July 7: The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

July 14: The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

July 15:  Heart of the Freedom Trail – 11am

July 15:  Road to Revolution – 1pm

July 21: Jamaica Plain – 6pm

July 28: The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

August 4: The Dark Side of Boston  – 6pm

August 11: The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

August 18: The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

August 25: The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

August 26:  Heart of the Freedom Trail – 11am

August 26:  Road to Revolution – 1pm

See you out on the streets of Boston!

2016 Boston By Foot Tours


Spring is here, and it’s time to get out and explore the great city of Boston!

One of the best ways to see Boston is on a Boston By Foot walking tour.  The non-profit, educational organization is celebrating 40 years of sharing the history, architecture, and stories of Boston with tourists and locals alike.  This will be my 17th season as one of around 200 volunteer guides leading tours for Boston By Foot.

Below is the list of tours I’ve signed up to lead this season, but I encourage you to check out all our tours and an architecture cruise lead by our many brilliant guides.  If you live in the Boston area, or plan to to visit and take multiple tours, membership is the best deal!  Membership gets you free admission on all regular tours, discounts on tours of the month, and special members-only events!

April 15: The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

April 29: The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

May 20:  Heart of the Freedom Trail – 11am

May 20:  Road to Revolution – 1pm

May 20:  The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

June 3:  Heart of the Freedom Trail – 11am

June 3:  Road to Revolution – 1pm

June 3:  The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

June 19: Roxbury Highlands (members preview) – 2pm

June 26:  Roxbury Highlands – 2pm

July 7: The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

July 14: The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

July 15:  Heart of the Freedom Trail – 11am

July 15:  Road to Revolution – 1pm

July 21: The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

July 28: The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

August 4: The Dark Side of Boston  – 6pm

August 11: The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

August 18: The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

August 25: The Dark Side of Boston – 6pm

August 26:  Heart of the Freedom Trail – 11am

August 26:  Road to Revolution – 1pm

See you out on the streets of Boston!

Podcast of the Week: “Women in the World” by The Moth


I love storytelling and subscribe to far to many storytelling podcasts.  The Moth is one of the premier organizations for public storytelling and always offer a good variety of stories from amateurs and pros alike.  The Women in the World podcast is a particularly good collection of women from different countries, backgrounds, and ages sharing stories from their life.

The Christmas Revels: A Welsh Celebration of the Winter Solstice


It’s warm and overcast out, and looking to only get warmer as the week goes.  We’re more likely to have a wet Christmas than a white Christmas, but I know the holiday is coming soon.  Today my family and I celebrated the solstice with a matinée of The Christmas Revels.  This is our (mostly) annual tradition going back to 2001.  The Revels this year is set in Wales, a land of beautiful singing traditions, poetry, and mythology.  I’ve never been to Wales but this show gave me a nostalgic longing for the place.

It should be noted that while Shirley Bassey and Tom Jones are famed Welsh singers, their was music was not represented in the show.  There were familiar tunes for the sing-a-longs – “Cwm Rhondda” and “Hydrofol” – which as song leader David Coffin pointed out, “you know these songs just not with these words.”  The familiar Christmas carol “Deck the Hall” was also sung by a choir of children, but in the original Welsh.  The children – who were excellent as always – also performed scenes from Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales.

There’s a beautiful scene near the end of Part 1 where Coffin sings “Daffydd y Garregg Wen (David of the White Rock)” accompanied by Haley Hewitt, while Emma Crane Jaster performing as the legendary bard Taliesen.  Jaster is lit from below and moves her arms like a harpist, casting large shadows on the roll-top desk ceiling of Sanders Theatre.  My daughter imitated the gesture, waving her arms by her own imaginary harp.  (And I was right in my memory that Taliesen is also the name of Frank Lloyd Wright’s estate in Wisconsin). Other highlights include a group of rugby supporter singing a rousing victory song, some fine clogging, and a retelling of “Froggy Went A-Courtin'” with the children.

No matter where in the world the Revels is set, there are the Revel’s traditions.  There was a rowdy morris dance and “The Lord of the Dance” where we all spill out into the lobby singing and dancing (I can never get enough of doing that), there’s the haunting Abbots Bromley Horn Dance and there’s the mummer’s play, this year with the Red Dragon playing the role of the hero vanquishing the White Dragon of England for the Welsh.   We sing rounds, we shout “Welcome Yule!,”  we finish on “The Sussex Mummers’ Carol,” I weep.  Tradition.

I was entranced as – for me – the Revels never fail to please.  My kids were more antsy.  Welsh-language songs make no sense, and my son said even the English was hard to follow.  My daughter wanted to see a dragon and had to wait a looooong time for a four-year-old, but I think the dragon’s eventual arrival satisfied.  They soldiered through and I think they enjoyed themselves, although they wanted cookies too.

Performances continue through December 27, so get your tickets and go if you haven’t already.

Related posts:

Book Review: Out on the wire by Jessica Abel


Author: Jessica Abel
Title: Out on the wire : the storytelling secrets of the new masters of radio 
Publication Info: New York : Broadway Books, 2015.
Summary/Review:

I received this as a free book through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.

Out on the Wire is a comic book about the production of NPR radio shows and podcasts, or perhaps the nerdiest thing I’ve ever read.  Through the graphic art medium, Abel details her interviews, observations, and storytelling processes of the creators of This American Life, The Moth, Radiolab, Planet Money, and Snap JudgmentFor lack of a better term, these programs are called “narrative journalism” and storytelling is central to all of these shows.  I’m a big fan of all of these podcasts and it is fun to see comic representations of the faces behind the voices (not to mention learning how to spell Chana Joffe-Walt). Abel’s approach is an effective way of using art to create a documentary.

Recommended booksFeynman by Jim Ottaviani, Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh, and Fun Home by Alison Bechdel.
Rating: *** 1/2

The 44th Annual Christmas Revels


The Christmas Revels at Sanders Theatre in Cambridge are annual family tradition.  My first Revels experience was in Washington in 1996.  After moving to the Boston area, the Cambridge Revels were an annual event from 2001-2006.  We missed the show in 2007 due to a newborn, and in 2008 due to a blizzard, but have been regular attendees since 2009 (that same year I actually sang in the chorus!).  So, I calculate that I’ve seen 13 different Christmas Revels performances.  Each year is delightful and surprising in its own way.*

This year’s Revels is set in Victorian England, with music halls and the Crystal Palace playing center stage.  The first act shows two teams of buskers competing on the streets of a Northern England town as the Crystal Palace manager Harry Colcord and composer Arthur Sullivan seek an alternate performer after a cancellation.  In the usual Revels’ way, everything comes together as the buskers join forces to create a performance of music, tricks, and a “panto” of Cinderella.  The second act is treated as a command performance at the Crystal Palace (complete with life-size wooden cutouts of the royal family in the mezzanine).

Highlights of the show:

  • comic busking performances by Marge Dunn, Billy Meleady, Mark Jaster, and Sabrina Selma Mandell
  • singing a round of “Row the Boat, Whittington”
  • David Coffin’s solos on “It Was My Father’s Custom” and on the melodic “Christmas Bells at Sea”
  • the sing-a-long and acting out of “When Father Papered the Parlour”
  • the “Panto” of Cinderella, which while not a true Panto (oh no it isn’t!), we did get to shout “Don’t touch Billy’s eggs” several times
  • And of course, the Revels traditions of “Lord of the Dance” (and dancing out into the lobby), “Dona Nobis Pacem,” “The Shortest Day,” and “Sussex Mummers’ Carol.”  Unfortunately, the “Abbots Bromley Horn Dance” was conspicuously absence in this year’s performance.

There are five more performances from December 26-28, so if you’re in or near Cambridge, get a ticket and go!

* I also recently discovered that the Revels website has a list detailing the theme of every performance from 1971 to present.  Now I need to discover time travel technology so I can go back in time and see each and every one.

Related posts:

The 43rd Annual Christmas Revels


This afternoon, my wife, son, and good family friend Craig took in the  performance of The Christmas Revels at Sanders Theatre in Cambridge. The annual pageant of music, dance, storytelling, and drama focused this year on the pilgrimage along the Camino de Compostela in the Spanish region of Galicia.  As a Celtic culture, the Galicians have their own version of the bagpipe called the gaita which featured prominently. Any piece featuring gaita and drums was a highlight for me.  The largest drum resonated throughout the house.

The story of this Revels follows Everyman (portrayed by Jay O’Callahan) on his pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella and onwards to the End of the Earth in Finisterre.  Elements of Don Quixote are woven into the story as Everyman is knighted and joined on his journey by squire Sancho (Billy Meleady, who starred in last year’s show) and the tavern keeper Angélica (the delightful Angélica Aragón).

Usually the theme of a Revels’ performance is an excuse to tie together song and dance numbers, but this story of a pilgrimage actually maintains a pretty continuous narrative built around set pieces along the Camino, in a tavern, at a monastery, at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, and finally at Finisterre.  The sets and lighting are really remarkable in adapting the stage for the different places along the journey.

Highlights of the show include:

  • the talent and hard work of the Revels’ children whose performance more than ever is fully-integrated into the show.
  • the charming line dance when the pilgrims are greeted by the monks to the tune of “Alborada de Ourense.”
  • O’Callahan telling the story of “The Singing Sack.”
  • sing-a-long with choreography to “Fum, Fum, Fum.”
  • puppetry and lights to enact the Galacian version of the posadas ritual.
  • an amazing bit of stagecraft where a giant censer is swung like a pendulum over the performers on the stage (based on the Botafumeiro at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela
  • Jaime Jaffe’s solo performance of “Ondas Do Mar De Vigo.”
  • a mummers play featuring a mustachioed dragon who performed the hammiest death throes.

There were some disappointments.  Jay O’Callahan was hard to understand and I’m not sure if he was mumbling or mic’ed improperly.  Sitting in balcony center meant it took a long time to get downstairs to participate in “The Lord of the Dance.”  It ended just as we reached the lobby.  While I would not rank this among my all time favorite Revels’ performances, it was still delightful and I recommend seeing it if you have the chance. There are four more performances before the show closes on December 27th, so get your tickets now!

The Boston Globe has a more-detailed review for your perusal.

Related posts:

The 42nd Annual Christmas Revels


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.

[youtube http://youtu.be/_tfCs4A1BPQ]

Related posts:

Storytelling Podcasts


Over the last couple of years I’ve become interested in the art of storytelling through a number of podcasts I listen to regularly.  I figured I’d spread the word about these fine programs by listing and describing them here.

  • The Moth is probably the premiere storytelling program both on radio and on podcasts featuring stories told at live performances without notes.  Sometimes the storytellers are celebrities, but usually they are ordinary people and the stories are always compelling.  Subscribe here.
  • The Story Collider follows a similar format although stories relate to the tellers’ experiences with science.  Subscribe here.
  • Risk!, as the name implies, is more risqué storytelling from live performances and studio recordings.  Generally it’s not as raunchy as you might expect and there are some well told stories.  One warning is that the host is pretty annoying and sometimes creepy (especially when he reads advertisements for sex toys).  I generally fast forward about 4 minutes into the podcast to get to the storytelling.  Subscribe here.
  • Snap Judgement is a public radio show which features personal stories told in a studio format with more production and effects than the above stories.  This show has more of a populist, everyman/woman feel to it.  Subscribe here.
  • The Memory Palace is not strictly a storytelling show in the same vein as others mentioned, but it features one man Nate Dimeo spinning short stories about obscure historical events and is wonderfully done.   Subscribe here.
  • Finally, Garrison Keillor is a natural-born storyteller and while his tales are presumably fictional, I still enjoy listening to his News from Lake Wobegon as a podcast each week.

I’ve not been to a storytelling show live although there is a program called Massmouth which holds story slams not too far from where I love.  Something to add to my to do list for sure.  Perhaps one day I’ll tell my own story.

So, have you heard any good stories lately?  What should I be listening to?