July 31, 2010

A Musical-Historical-Genealogical Adventure*: Guest Post by Diane in MN


My grandmother had a cousin who was a concert singer.  He was known to my mother’s generation as “Uncle Paul,” and even though my mother was the youngest of her family, she probably met him a few times and she knew a few stories about him.**  My mother was not the only one in her family who loved classical vocal music, but somehow she ended up with a number of Uncle Paul’s recordings, 78 rpm discs made early in the last century.  After my parents died, I brought the recordings home with me with the vague idea that someday I would take them to a recording studio and have them transferred to digital media so I could actually hear what Uncle Paul sounded like.***  As so often happens with vague ideas, I did nothing about it and the discs stayed in the box until June of this year.

I go out to Massachusetts two or three times a year to see my aunt Gabrielle—Gabie—who is my mother’s older sister, my godmother, and the last of her generation of the family.  She also loved vocal music, especially opera, and as she was eight years older than my mother, had some acquaintance with Uncle Paul and had probably heard him sing.  Gabie is now mostly blind and very deaf, but otherwise in good health, and celebrated her hundredth birthday in July.  My brother in Maine suggested that she might enjoy these old recordings, and thought she might be able to hear them if he put them on his iPod and she used the earpiece.  I thought that was a good idea^, too, which meant I finally had to do something about getting the discs copied.

When I opened the shipping box, I was pleased to find that none of them had broken during the trip from Massachusetts to Minnesota five years ago.  It turned out I had seven 10-inch 78 rpm records, each with one song per side, so even if all were recoverable, everything would fit on a single CD.  Gabie had once told me that Uncle Paul’s voice was not big enough for opera, so I wasn’t surprised that there were no arias.  From the titles, they appeared to be hymns and art songs or parlor songs.  Some of them were duplicate recordings; some had handwritten labels; none of the identified songs were familiar to me.  But all could presumably be played on the right equipment.

I had assumed that there would be recording studios in the Twin Cities.  I would have been very unhappy indeed if that assumption had been wrong, but I was in luck:  I found one studio that does archival copying.  Its web site provided a telephone number, and after a bit of phone tag, I made contact with one of the owners and verified that they could work with these very old recordings.  I had to get the studio address over the phone as it was not provided on the web site, and when I delivered the discs, it was to a numbered but otherwise unidentified building.   Recording and sound editing equipment is, I gather, a prime target for theft, so its owners don’t like to advertise its presence to the world at large.  As instructed, I rang the bell and was admitted to a vestibule, and that’s all I saw of Stealth Studio on either of my visits there.  But the owners were friendly and interested in the project and expected to have it done in a week or so.

Once the copying process was in motion, I went back to my computer to see what kind of information I could find about Uncle Paul.  My family is French-Canadian, and originates in Quebec.  Googling “Paul Dufault Canadian tenor” produced an article in the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada.  I found out that Gabie was right about his repertoire—he sang some French concert arias, French and English songs, and hymns—and that his appearances were limited to the concert stage and church appearances.  He toured extensively in his prime, visiting China and Japan as well as Australia (several times) and New Zealand, and also sang extensively at home in Quebec.  According to the Encyclopedia, his recordings were made between 1911 and 1921.  He retired to Quebec sometime in the twenties, and died there in 1930.  I was surprised to learn that a street was named for him in Montreal, a fact that I’m sure no one in the family (at least the American branch) knew anything about.  I know my mother would have been delighted, and I hope Gabie will be when I tell her.

I also discovered that Archive Canada has quite a few of his recordings.  I hope that they will shortly have a few more, as I mean to contact them about donating mine.   Even if I knew someone who would want the actual 78s, the equipment needed to play them is scarce now and will probably be unavailable in a few years.  It took the folks at Stealth Studio the better part of two weeks to locate a working 78 rpm turntable, and they’re in the business.  As one of the owners said, there’s probably not a lot of time left to convert some of this old technology to digital media.

I collected the finished CDs at the beginning of July and put one into my van’s CD player before I headed back home.  The guys at the studio had done their tech magic pretty well.  The volume had to be cranked up (and UP), but most of the tracks were quite listenable.  Four of the fourteen sides had been in such bad shape that the studio engineer hadn’t bothered to copy them, assuming that the eventual result would not have justified the cost of trying to clean up the sound.^^  The ten songs that made it to the CD included hymns, selections from a couple of forgotten (by me, at least) operettas, and art songs.  The one that sticks in my head is a pretty song by Georges Hue called A des oiseaux, which is still sung—while I was trying (unsuccessfully) to track down the lyrics, it came up in a couple of soprano recitals on YouTube.  There is also a song by Gounod called Chanson de la glu, written in the style of a folk ballad, about a femme fatale who induces her lover, on a whim, to bring her his mother’s heart.^^^  It adds a nice dramatic note to this program.

In the course of doing this project, I found that a number of Paul Dufault’s recordings are available on CDs from Archive Canada or available for download to MP-3.  I’m still glad to have had our own recordings copied, scratchy or not, and to have filled in some gaps in family history.  I hope Gabie can hear and enjoy this music, but even if the iPod doesn’t make that happen, it was a worthwhile project.  Merci beaucoup, mon cousin Paul!



*   Adventure is maybe an exaggeration, but it reads so much better than “educational experience”.

**  She told us, for instance, that he toured Australia and New Zealand with Lillian Nordica in the first part of the twentieth century, and that he always said that the most beautiful country he ever visited was New Zealand.

*** My mother had tried, in the 1970s, to copy them at home.  She put them on her Magnavox console stereo, which could play 78s, and while they were playing recorded them using a cassette tape recorder and microphone.  It was a noble effort, but not very successful.

^   And if it works, she might be able to hear Rosa Ponselle again.

^^  And at $50.00 an hour for his time, he made the right decision.

^^^ This title baffled me—glu? What’s that?—so I went looking for the text and amazingly was able to find it.  It did not enlighten me about glu, but my ancient Encyclopedie Larousse defined it as a sticky substance used in trapping birds.  Like glue, I suppose.  A good metaphor for our femme fatale.

R.M.T.M.A.A.G.S.G.O.B.T.M.G.R.T. Y.H.O.O.D.L.G.Y.V.B.G.I.F.C.D.F.G.G. C.S.W.T.E.P.H.A.D.*

So…Saturday I was waiting for my new book by Charlaine Harris, the 4th in the Harper Connelly series, to come in and I needed a book because this one was taking so long.  So on the internet I looked up books you would like if you like Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire Series…..I found you in this list and the book Sunshine which my library had in stock and was a mile away….I went down Saturday morning to get it…..I started reading Saturday afternoon and COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN!!!!!  I was very similar with reading one after the other in days with the Southern Vampire series of Ms. Harris but yours was so different and I really enjoyed the way you write.  My husband kept asking me if I was ever going to put it down…I said no….

I have never written to an author before but your book was so fresh and unexpected, I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed it.  It was so funny not being able to put it down, I just had to know what happened.  That is the only problem with the library…the waiting for the book you want if it is not in…but if my other book had come in I would not have found you.  I plan to buy the book Sunshine as I often re-read books I really enjoy. (unless I win it in the “I would bake” contest on FB I entered).  Thank you for taking the time to bring Sunshine to us and I am so glad I found it!!!!  I will be honest I did go to the website looking to see if there was a sequel (DONT FREAK OUT) I totally understand why you do not do them and honestly I was glad to read a book that was just one book!!!!!  I loved the ending and think it was great!  I was able to use my imagination with what I wanted to happen next in my mind.  I think that is what you wanted for us.  **

Thank you again from a new fan in [a town the hellgoddess used to know pretty well], Maine

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* Reader Mail That Makes An Author Glad She Got Out of Bed That Morning and a Gentle Reminder That You Have ONLY ONE DAY LEFT to Get Your Virtual Baked Goods In For a Chance in the Drawing For a Glittery Gold Copy of SUNSHINE Which This Excellent Person Has Already Done.^

^ Don’t forget!  Three chances to win!   One copy each on the blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter!

** Yes.

Things That Aren’t Roses


 I was deadheading petunias*, repotting camellias**, and cutting down my last delphiniums*** this afternoon and thinking, actually, I grow a lot of stuff that isn’t roses.  Meanwhile, it’s been a long, rather emotional† day and Daniel’s funeral is tomorrow morning.  Which means I have to get out of bed in time to go.

            So let’s have some photos of things that aren’t roses.  And since frelling WordPress is a frelling frelled-up freller, I’m just going to line the text up here and you can count down and match up the commentary yourself. 

Oh, and yes, the evil semi-tree-shaped star-spawn DID come down.  And now my neighbours at Third House all love me.  It took four blokes, a cherry-picker, and a heck of a lot of tackle†† . . . and I missed it.  It was one of Those Days, of which I seem to have rather a lot.  I meant to go round and get photos of the operation—in Blog Post mode, of course—and just didn’t.  However . . . the tree is gone.  And you’ll have to take my word for it that it was an ugly damn brute, and that my neighbours all had the right idea in wanting it turned into kindling.  Normally I’m a tree-hugger myself . . . but not this one.  And please note how my darling adorable copper beech is now revealed

Third photo:  kitchen window.  The rhodochiton (dangling purple thing on the right edge of the window shelf) is busy sending tendrils indoors.  I’m going to teach it to do the washing up as soon as it grows a little more. 

Fourth photo:  okay, one rose.  Old Blush, and a dark coppery osteospermum.  Oh, and a pansy.  Anywhere there is me, there are lots of pansies (fifth photo). 

But due to bad planning on my part Old Blush, who is clearly lavender-pink, sits next to a large pot of daylilies which are a vivid and delightful salmon pink (sixth photo). 

I could of course move one of them, and the daylily needs digging up and dividing anyway.†††  But I’d much rather find a way, however felonious and displeasing to the artistic eye, for them to get along.  This bright-dark orange-copper osteospermum has done this.  Well, for me.  And I’m the only person I listen to about these things. 

Seventh photo:  wallflowers.  Being a sloppy gardener has its bennies.  One of them is finding out that if you don’t cut them back the minute they start going over, the way you’re supposed to, wallflowers will go on . . . oh, to the end of July, say.  And they look great with the salmon daylily, which only started coming out several weeks after you should have cut your wallflowers down. 

Arrrgh.  WordPress starts gasping and gakking around about the eighth photo, and I have a series of petunias to show you.  And dahlias.  Okay, maybe Sunday.  Also I need to be asleep in twenty minutes.  I don’t think I’m going to make it. 

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 * I swear they need deadheading before they come into flower.  I forgive them, however, because they do flower, and flower, and flower, and flower.  

** Well, one camellia.  There are several more where it came from, tucked about in corners and expressing patience.  One of the virtues of camellias is that they put up with staying in the same pot for years if you feed them occasionally.  You can therefore wallow extensively in guilt and still enjoy the flush of successful virtue when you finally do pot one on.  

*** Which, if you do it promptly enough, and do not stint on the botanical amphetamines, will give you a second glorious upright rush of flowers.  Delphiniums will grow six foot twice in a season.  Wow. 

† Not in a good way.  Injury, illness and death are to be banned, okay?  I want it at the top of the list submitted to management. 

†† And when I opened the bill I screamed. 

††† Daylilies always need dividing.  It’s like petunias and deadheading.

Howling, various


 Today has NOT been one of my better days.  Let’s start over.  It’s 3 am and I’m already asleep. 

Blondel had a wedding in London to sing today and it had occurred to me after we’d already made our plan of a second voice lesson Thursday afternoon that, in my experience of weddings, he might be being a little optimistic about timing.    So I had a plan for an alternate afternoon in Mauncester.  What a pity I didn’t use it.  It would have had to have been more successful than the one I lived through.  Blondel was in fact a little late, but more to the point he arrived tired and ruffled—having managed to get lost finding his way back out of some London labyrinth*—so we ran a little later yet while he had a glass of water** and de-ruffled.***

And then . . . oh gods . . . the lesson itself was a disaster.  Dido?  Dido is spinning in her grave.  And Janet Baker probably has an unimaginably ghastly stomachache of metaphysical, not to say necromantic, origin.†  I was then so freaked out by the destruction I was wreaking that when Blondel suggested we try something else I couldn’t get through Fear No More.  I can sing Fear No More.††  But not today.  AAAAAAAUGH.†††

There were two brief moments when I wasn’t looking around for a sword to impale myself on.  One of them was that Blondel has given me a goofy new exercise that I very nearly have to learn like a new song—but it’s amusing.  Kind of a lot of your warm-up exercises are a snore, they’re just excercises for the purpose of waking your voice up and telling it has to work for a living.†††  It’s not a big deal;  I like scales.   But this one’s fun.

The second not-nearly-long-enough moment was . . . Blondel sang Fear No More—upon request, and I suspect he only agreed because he too wanted to end the Hour That Should Not Have Been Born(e) on a better note than any of them thus far—so I’ve finally heard him sing.  OooooohMy.‡  Maybe I should revert to the impaling scenario.  Siiiiiiiigh.

It was now a good deal later than I realised.  And I had handbells at 5 pm.  Well, I was supposed to have handbells at 5 pm.  I rang Penelope and asked her to please tell Niall I was going to be late.  Half past latest, I said.  But I was still in Mauncester at that point.‡‡  And you may have noticed the way they joyfully rip up the roads in high tourist season.‡‡‡  So by the time I got home I had written several sharp letters to the Hampshire County Council in my head and I was flatlining in both energy and morale—and I had to give poor sad patient hellhounds at least a token hurtle before I went off and left them again.  But my presence for handbells wasn’t crucial, because Titus was coming—which was why it was at Niall’s house instead of my cottage, he of the big enough and relatively tidy sitting-room—so he and Colin and Titus could get on with minor (six bells:  three people) while I sat down for five minutes and ate a nectarine.  And I hadn’t looked at the bob major (eight bells:  four people) enough anyway, so—especially after the voice lesson I’d just had—I wasn’t minding the idea of putting off the revelation of my handbell deficiencies a little longer still.

So it was more like 5:45 when I arrived . . . to find Niall and Titus sitting alone in silence.  Because Colin was not there.  Which I should have known, but I’d forgotten, and I hadn’t written it down.  OH.  GODS.  And the only reason they didn’t kill me is because they’re British.  Also, I suppose, because they still wanted to ring handbells.  Which was what we were there for after all.  Some of us sooner than others.  

Handbells, once begun, were relatively successful.  I’ve told you about Titus:  he’s the one had the stroke fifteen or so years back and only has proper use of one hand—so he rings both bells in one hand, and I cannot BEGIN to tell you how confusing this is, not to mention the inevitability of rather a lot of rows that have seven or eight dings in them instead of the statutory six.  But I stayed late enough that we could stop when Titus’ hand started getting tired, by which time people were even smiling at me again.  Although Niall, who has no conscience whatsoever, while I was still in grovelling and whimpering mode, whipped out his diary with an evil gleam in his eye, and booked me in for handbells in Frellingham with one of his demon ringers on a Wednesday they haven’t got a third ringer.  He’s been trying to get me to Frellingham for months, and I keep weaselling out of it, but this has got harder since I don’t have Wednesday Ditherington practise as a permanent shield and defense any more.  GAAAAH.  I think I’m nailed on this one.

And now I have a little dog to finish.  The way this day is going . . . well.  I’ve already decided I want to put my lament through my friend’s door on my way back from my piano lesson tomorrow.§  It won’t be finished, but the friend is, as I’ve said, musical, and if he doesn’t just throw something large and heavy at me the next time he sees me, he might have some editorial input.  Also I want to have made the gesture some time before the new puppy he  brings home in six months or so reaches its second birthday.

Okay.  Onward.  And I’m hoping for upward. 

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* My immediate reaction was, you drove?  When you’ve got a train station in your back garden?  I’ve got the American’s view of the British train system too—it may make you frelling crazy, and it often does, but it exists.  After almost twenty years here I am still blown away by the sheer fact of the public footpath system, and of the national rail network.  Even if the reason I finally broke down and bought my first mobile phone is so that I could make ‘I’m sitting in a train a hundred yards^ outside Waterloo and have been for the last twenty minutes, and I’m going to be late for lunch’ phone calls.  Which I suppose is the answer to why he didn’t take the train.  The day you’re late to perform for a wedding is the day the wedding will run on time. 

^ Or metres, if you prefer 

** Normal people would have a cup of tea or a double scotch.  Singers are always thinking about their throats. 

*** And we compared notes on the weird stuff some people lay on for the euphonious exaltation of their weddings.  I am forced to conclude that the average level of musical education among the general populace is even worse than the boffins say.  

† Okay, Janet Baker does not have a stomachache of unknown origin today, because if she had a stomachache every time some voice student—even the slightly smaller category of voice students who think she walks on water—mangled something she is famous for singing heartbreakingly superbly, she’d be too weak to get out of bed in the morning, and I’d prefer to think she is still enjoying her retirement.  

†† I didn’t say well, okay? 

††† Note to self:  Do not agree to a second voice lesson in a week.  Not even if you’re planning on spending all night at the piano and beating that frelling G into submission (while Peter is safely elsewhere playing bridge).  Clearly the pressure is Too Great for a spindly amateur. 

‡ Think Keystone Kops.  

‡ Golly gosh wowie zowie eeep.  Geezum.  Gazinklebats.  Bryn Terfel had better look to his crown.  Although one of the things about Terfel is the size of his voice.  He could fill Heathrow.  Tear out all those ugly terminals and put in some bleachers.  And Blondel says that his own voice is not that large.  You couldn’t prove it by me:  he was pasting me to the back wall of his studio clearly without trying.  I can see/hear why people keep giving him jobs.  Although I kinda wish he’d been having an off day when he applied for the job he’s going to the end of August. 

‡‡ Sort of the backwards version of the ‘I’m sitting 100 yards outside of Waterloo’ mobile-phone call. 

‡‡‡ This makes some sense in Maine, where the temperature may drop below freezing and snow begin falling any time, you just get to complain if it happens in June.  In southern Hampshire. . . . 

§ My voice lesson today was the little dog’s fault.  I may have spent most of last night at the piano, but quite a bit of it was about a lament for a little dog, not for a queen of Carthage.

Another Partisan Prod for SUNSHINE



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