American Song: The Heavenly Courier

This is a powerful example of Protestant music making, although the guitar arrangement may be a bit modernized by Joel Cohen's superb early musicians performing American Christmas music. The PDF has the lyrics and notes.

The basic idea is that "she" (the soul of Man, seen as a vain woman) tries to avoid "Him" (Jesus, seen as an insistent lover) but in the end realizes her place in the universe and marries with God. At the end, there is a wedding feast.

Orlando Gibbons - O lord, in thy Wrath - YouTube

Orlando Gibbons - O lord, in thy Wrath

Orlando Gibbons was one of the greatest composers of England. This is the music Protestant aristocrats would hear. His dates are close to Shakespeare's.

O Lord, in Thy Wrath, Rebuke Me Not
–Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625)

O Lord, in thy wrath, rebuke me not,
Neither chasten me in thy displeasure.
Have mercy upon me, O Lord, for I am weak.
O Lord, heal me, for my bones are vexed.
My soul is also sore troubled.
But, Lord, how long wilt thou punish me?
O save me, O save me, for thy mercy’s sake.

Only Known Recording of Me Playing with Bob McQuillan

At the Northeast Squeeze-in a few years ago, I took a class with the great Bob McQuillan.  To get started, he went around the room asking each of us to play.  I played the Reel Des Jeunes Mariees on English Concertina and he and others joined in on accordion.  As you hear, I had a rough time getting started. His diplomatic feedback at the end: "That's a great tune..."

What to eat with Fado

A good Portuguese always drinks red wine (vinho tinto) and eats sardines
with white potatoes, and a sauce of olive oil with garlic,parsley and hot
pepper while listening to fado. Where are the sardines? You will find them
abundantly in the land of the three-F's: Fado, Fatima and Futebol. For a
while Salazar kept the people quiet with those elements.

My colleague Nuno Vieira sent me this lovely paragraph.

Bill Morrissey "Birches"

(Bill Morrissey)

They sat at each end of the couch, watched as the fire burned down,
So quiet on this winter's night, not a house light on for miles around.
Then he said, "I think I'll fill the stove. it's getting time for bed."
She looked up, "I think I'll have some wine. how 'bout you?" She asked and he de

"Warren," she said, "maybe just for tonight,
Let's fill the stove with birches and watch as the fire burns bright.
How long has it been? I know it's quite a while.
Pour yourself half a glass. Stay with me a little while."

And Warren, he shook his head, as if she'd made some kind of joke.
"Birches on a winter night? no, we'll fill the stove with oak.
Oak will burn as long and hot as a July afternoon,
And birch will burn itself out by the rising of the moon.

"And you hate a cold house, same as me. Am I right or not?"
"All right, all right, that's true," she said. "It was just a thought,
'Cause," she said, "Warren, you do look tired. Maybe you should go up to bed.
I'll look after the fire tonight." "Oak," he told her. "Oak," she said.

She listened to his footsteps as he climbed up the stairs,
And she pulled a sweater on her, set her wineglass on a chair.
She walked down cellar to the wood box -- it was as cold as an ice chest --
And climbed back up with four logs, each as white as a wedding dress.

And she filled the stove and poured the wine and then she sat down on the floor.
She curled her legs beneath her as the fire sprang to life once more.
And it filled the room with a hungry light and it cracked as it drew air,
And the shadows danced a jittery waltz like no one else was there.

And she stood up in the heat. She twirled around the room.
And the shadows they saw nothing but a young girl on her honeymoon.
And she knew the time it would be short; the fire would start to fade.
She thought of heat. She thought of time. She called it an even trade.

Sung by Bill Morrissey on "Night Train," Philo, PH 1154, 1993.


Comments on the Song "Birches"

Subject: Re: A 3-minute movie...
From: (Peggy Bertsch)
Date: 18 Nov 1995
MessageID: 48jmff$
references: <48asqd$> <48gmj9$>
organization: Hewlett Packard Cupertino Site

JEricL ( wrote:
: While story songs are great. Good ones are few and far between. It is a
: real challenge to write a great one. My point it, that you probably should
: write some of the other types of songs also. The ones that deal with
: things in a short time frame, without a loger story line.

Absolutely.  Variety is important.  Not all songs are meant to be chock full
of dialogue or metaphor or other elements that are so crucial to, say,
short story writing.  But by the same token, some songwriters *never* think
of their songs as short stories, and I was trying to show that sometimes
the two forms of writing can overlap very effectively.

Most story songs seem to hand-hold the listener through the passage of time,
telling the story from beginning to end, not leaving anything to the
imagination.  It's like each verse starts out with a line that tells you
exactly how much time has passed, or which particular significant milestone
this verse is going to cover (e.g., verse 1: meeting your true love, verse 2:
getting married, verse 3: having a child, etc.)  Some do this *much* more
effectively than others -- I personally think "Something In Red" did this
in a very unique and special way; I wasn't, on the other hand, impressed with
"Don't Take The Girl" and the way that *two* of the verses started with the
line "Same old boy, same sweet girl, (X) years down the road"...I felt like
I was being force-fed the scene, instead of being drawn into it. (That is,
of course, only my opinion -- obviously tons of people liked that song a *lot*
more than I did :-)

What I found unique to "Birches" is the way the writer (Bill Morrissey) just
drops us down in the middle of this couple's living room, no introduction,
no background on what has transpired before, and manages to paint the most
vivid picture of what their relationship has come to by letting us eavesdrop
on one simple scene.  It's a skill that writers of great short fiction have,
but which songwriters too often neglect, IMO.  But of course, I obsess over
lyrics to a point that sometimes goes beyond rational :-)

Fado: "Casa Portuguesa" by Amalia Rodriquez

This is an absolute classic. The sound doesn't begin for a few moments. If you search Youtube on "Fado" and you can explore the whole tradition.

The first stanza might be translated
In a Portuguese household, it is a good thing to have bread and wine on the table. When someone humbly knocks on the door, he or she takes a seat at our table. Such a frankness is a good thing to have, there is no denial about that. Poor people's happiness lies on the great wealth of giving, and being satisfied.

Here are the lyrics:

Numa casa portuguesa fica bem

pão e vinho sobre a mesa.

Quando à porta humildemente bate alguém,

senta-se à mesa co'a gente.

Fica bem essa fraqueza, fica bem,

que o povo nunca a desmente.

A alegria da pobreza

está nesta grande riqueza

de dar, e ficar contente.


Quatro paredes caiadas,

um cheirinho á alecrim,

um cacho de uvas doiradas,

duas rosas num jardim,

um São José de azulejo

sob um sol de primavera,

uma promessa de beijos

dois braços à minha espera...

É uma casa portuguesa, com certeza!

É, com certeza, uma casa portuguesa!


No conforto pobrezinho do meu lar,

há fartura de carinho.

A cortina da janela e o luar,

mais o sol que gosta dela...

Basta pouco, poucochinho p'ra alegrar

uma existéncia singela...

É só amor, pão e vinho

e um caldo verde, verdinho

a fumegar na tijela.


Quatro paredes caiadas,

um cheirinho á alecrim,

um cacho de uvas doiradas,

duas rosas num jardim,

um São José de azulejo

sob um sol de primavera,

uma promessa de beijos

dois braços à minha espera...

É uma casa portuguesa, com certeza!

É, com certeza, uma casa portuguesa!


Here is a translation, from a computer:

In a portuguese home, it looks good

to have bread and wine on the table.

and if someone humildly knocks at the door,

we invite them to sit at the table with us

This frankness looks good, so good ,

the frankness which people never deny

the joy of poverty

is this great richness

of being generous and feeling happy


Four whitewashed walls,

a sweet smell of rosemary,

a bunch of golden grapes

two roses in a garden,

a statue of St. Joseph in ceramics

and the sun of the spring in addiction ...

a promise of finding kisses

two open arms waiting for me

This is a portuguese home, for sure!

This is, surely, a portuguese home!


In the humild comfort of my home,

there is the plenty of affection.

and the curtain of the window is the moonlight,

and also the sun, that shines on it ...

Just a little is enough to cheer

such a simple existence

It's simply love, bread and wine

and the cabbage soup, so greenish

leaving trails of hot smoke from the bowl.