It was a musical weekend.

On Saturday we went to hear a Christmas concert performed by Zephyrus, Colin’s early music ensemble:

Another day, another church, another performance. This time it was for the boys’ piano recital:

I messed around with my new Pono MT ukulele, strung with a low G. I’ve never played with a low G before, and at first I didn’t like the sound. I realized, though, that it works really well for darker songs like this one. (Click through twice to hear, this link will bring you to a second page & a second link to):

Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah

Jubilate Agno

I was first introduced to Jubilate Agno in college, when my choir sang Benjamin Britten’s cantata “Rejoice in the Lamb,” based on the poem. I’ve been revisiting the very long and weird poem that English poet Christopher Smart (1722-1771) wrote between 1759 and 1763, while he was in an insane asylum. The poet was afflicted with a religious mania that would compel him to fall to his knees and pray in public places. In Jubilate, Smart refers to the incident which may have resulted in his being sent to the asylum:

For I blessed God in St. James’s Park till I routed all the company.
For the officers of the peace are at variance with me, and the watchman smites me with his staff.

There is some speculation that Smart’s father-in-law committed him to the asylum, not because he was insane, but because they had been bitterly arguing over huge debts Smart had accrued with his extravagant alcohol-soaked carousing and spendthrift ways. If you read Smart’s poetry, though, it’s hard not to conclude that he was, in fact, mad. You can find the full text of Smart’s poem here.

Jubilate Agno wasn’t published until 1939, and only became more widely known with Britten’s musical adaptation in 1943. American poet Edward Hirsch has written a more recent response to Jubilate Agno with a poem of his own, called Wild Gratitude, which you can read on the poets. org website. What I like about Hirsch’s poem and Smart’s is the appreciation for the wide spectrum of experiences that make up our days. Smart writes about the cosmic:

For THUNDER is the voice of God direct in verse and music.
For LIGHTNING is a glance of the glory of God.

But he also writes about everything from the humble Beetle “whose life is precious in the sight of God, tho his appearance is against him” to “NEW BREAD,” which “is the most wholesome-God be gracious to Baker.” Everything is worthy of praise and blessing from the “Postmaster general and all conveyancers of letters under his care especially Allen and Shelvock” to the “ostriches of Salisbury Plain, the beavers of the Medway and silver fish of the Thames.”

The best known lines of the poem are the ones Smart wrote about his cat Jeoffry, his only companion in what amounted to solitary confinement at the asylum. I’ll quote Britten’s text for “Rejoice in the Lamb,” which abbreviates and slightly reorders Smart’s much longer text:

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry,
For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For this is done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For he knows that God is his saviour.
For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.
For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.
For I am possessed of a cat, surpassing in beauty, from whom I take occasion to bless Almighty God.

I was thinking about this poem as I drove to work today and thought about the gamut of experiences that add up to a day. Sometimes it’s witnessing a spectacular sunset while waiting for your kid’s soccer practice to end:

Sometimes the experiences are less obviously remarkable, though perhaps no less worthy of notice and praise. I decided to catalogue and record some of these things just for this one, (extra)/ordinary Thursday.

1. I saw a mother and daughter (from China, I think) waiting on the sidewalk for the girl’s school bus. I realized this morning how much I look forward to seeing these two at the start of my day. Sometimes they face each other, unselfconsciously flapping their arms and doing some kind of calisthenics. Sometimes they are back to back, their arms linked, and the mother is lifting her daughter off the ground and onto her back. The little girl is always laughing with unbridled joy and a huge grin on her face. I wish I could take a picture of them, but I’m sure that would totally creep them out and I might end up in an asylum myself.

2. When I got to work, Henry the vacuum cleaner was hard at work cleaning the carpets:


I know it’s ridiculous, but I have very warm, fuzzy feelings for this vacuum cleaner.

“For I rejoice in Henry that ministers to the carpets with a cheerful countenance.”

3. Then I saw the front page story of the student paper:

It made me giggle to think that the worst injustice the students are protesting so very earnestly, (at least for today), is the banning of Christmas decorations for safety reasons.

4. I drove back home after work past fields with cows and hay bales and a collage of blue mountains in the background and felt richly blessed.

5. After a quick dinner we all piled into the car to head to my 5th grade son’s “Colonial Day” concert at school:

He kept cracking up as he looked out at us. Check out his colonial footwear. I’m pretty sure the real colonists weren’t strumming “Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier” on ukuleles, but that’s o.k.!

6. And now, as I type late into the night, I am contemplating my two cute but rotten dogs:

IMG_1451“There is nothing sweeter than [their] peace when at rest,” (i.e. not peeing on my couch, eating poop, throwing up, trying to steal chocolate, drinking water from the Christmas tree stand…). Colin says I should have just gotten myself a couple of stuffed animals. I hate to admit it, but I think he may be right.

7. And lastly, look what arrived for me today all the way from Hawaii:


Jubilate Ukulele!
Hope your weekend is wonderful in small and big ways.
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The day the music died…

What is it about a broken instrument that breaks your heart?

This is my ukulele:

The kids were playing with it in the basement and it remained down there for a few weeks. When I asked them to bring it back upstairs, they delivered it into my hands with a hole in it. I gasped in horror when I saw it. I couldn’t even speak for a few minutes. (Anyone who knows me will tell you that doesn’t happen very often). The kids pulled out their best puppy-eyed, “Hunh?! There’s a hole in it?” when I pointed it out to them. They hadn’t even realized there was a hole and had NO IDEA how, or even when it happened.

My limited edition, solid cedar top and Hawaiian Koa wood ukulele with gloss finish, shell purfling, pickup, and built-in tuner was such a pretty little instrument. It still plays. But now it just looks like an instrument that lives in a household with three young children, rather than like a beautiful symbol of its owner’s sad little fantasy of being a musician…(a musician, who also happens to live in an immaculately pristine and serene household where terrible tragedies such as this could never happen).

This is what happened to Teddy’s ukulele this morning:

We heard a thud and then wailing. Nicholas and Teddy were so upset they were shrieking incoherently. It turns out that the boys were hanging out on Teddy’s bed when the ukulele fell off of it. When he tried to retrieve it, he stepped on it and snapped its poor, scrawny little neck. This somehow escalated into a crazy hailstorm of caterwauling and shouting this morning. It was Bedlam. Everyone was LOSING it. Not a great way to start the day.

Clearly, we are living too carelessly. It’s not so much the broken instruments, the perpetually messy house, the overloaded schedules…It’s how we deal with these stresses. What’s getting broken that we can’t see? This is what worries me the most. The sense of security and well-being that we should feel at home is what’s at stake here. And if that’s what’s getting broken, that really is heart-breaking.

The other day my husband and I were discussing for the umpteenth time why our once sweet, unflappable-bordering-on-phlegmatic Teddy has become such a grumpy old man. (He even changes into a shabby old bathrobe as soon as he gets home from school). We first noticed the personality change when he had a bad case of Lyme Disease this past summer. He became irritable, prickly, and frankly: pretty hard to live with. A jacked-up dose of antibiotics seemed to knock out the disease, but he’s never fully returned to his Teddy Bear self of old.

Whenever Teddy goes into Grumpy Old Man Mode, I tend to assume that it’s the ghostly whisps of Lyme Disease making their presence felt. Colin’s theory is that we are modeling the crabby behavior. There is far too much stress in our house and we aren’t dealing with it well. Of course, I know that it could be far, far worse. We are lucky to have a home. We are lucky to have each other. I know we’re like a zillion families out there with two working parents, additional duties and commitments, three children with their own crowded roster of activities, two cute but rotten dogs, and a house and yard that look like the set of a post-apocalyptic movie. I’m just pretty sure that we deal with these stresses worse than most. We are crabby, grumpy, yell-y, steam-coming-out-of-the-ears kind of people. I know this is why when I’m waivering about whether or not to go to my yoga class, EVERYONE in my family starts begging me, literally begging me to go.

So we’ve resolved to change the paradigm from the top down. I want to go into the New Year with a calmer, happier household. My husband and I have challenged each other to an Anti-Crabby contest. We will be issuing demerits to each other for bad behavior. We’re still figuring out what the punishment for the loser will be, but it will be bad, really bad.

The Cut the Crab Challenge is ON.

Tell me your best strategy for dealing with stress in the “Leave a Reply” section by midnight Sunday, December 2nd and you’ll be entered into a drawing for a fabulous prize. I’m not sure what the prize for the winner will be, but it will be good, really good. Truly. So come on! Leave a comment! The fact that not too many people read this blog means the odds of winning are HUGELY in your favor!