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YouTube, A Playlist, Rosa sine spina

from Tuesday, July24th of the year2007.

Last night, I managed to watch the Democratic Presidential Debates via’s streaming magic. I sort of liked those YouTube questions! I’m interested to see how the format works for the Republican Debates on September 17. Watch them in this handily organized format if you haven’t already. Also, for chrissakes, register to vote if you haven’t already done that. I liked those awkward lesbians, by the way. A more interesting question, though, than gay marriage, is of course the Army’s firing size1-armymil-2007-07-17-104914.jpgof the gay people clever enough to have learned Arabic. Every time I hear about this thing I go completely insane. The army as a body would rather not have Arabic speakers (…and imagine all the attendant problems!) than have gay people in their midst. The mind boggleth. I’m not entirely sure what the solution is to this; “writing a letter to congress” isn’t exactly the answer. I think the answer is screaming at the Army recruiters in Times Square, “I’m not good enough to die for my country,” which is, at the very least, satisfying. The last time I did that, the adrenaline kept me high all afternoon. Instead, you could assemble a playlist of music by pacifist teen gays? I’ll get you started:

[audio:02 A Hymn to the Virgin.mp3]
Benjamin Britten A Hymn to the Virgin
Choir Of St. John’s College, Cambridge & Christopher Robinson

This is just about one of the most beautiful things in the world. He wrote it when he was seventeen, and it was premiered when he was eighteen. It is a setting of an anonymous old English text in call-and-response format between English and Latin; traditionally, the Latin choir is a smaller group of select choristers called a “semichoir” and pronounced almost Arabically (seen miim yaa kaaf wow AYN AYN AYN AYN AYN) by the certain choirmasters of a certain age, with an intense shadda over the final ‘ayn.

adapted from
The Oxford Book of English Verse

Of one that is so fair and bright
Velut maris stella,
Brighter than the day is light,
Parens et puella:
I cry to thee, thou see to me,
Lady, pray thy Son for me,
Tam pia,
That I may come to thee.

All this world was forlorn
Eva peccatrice,
Till our Lord was y-born
De te genetrice.
With ave it went away
Darkest night, and comes the day
The well springeth out of thee.

Lady, flow’r of ev’ry thing,
Rosa sine spina,
Thou bare Jesu, Heaven’s King,
Gratia divina:
Of all thou bear’st the prize,
Lady, queen of paradise
Maid mild, mother es

Britten uses a really effective technique (possibly stolen from the Ravel String Quartet?) in the third stanza: a series of ascending scales. Whereas the two choirs are gently dovetailed in the first and second stanzas, the two overlap in the third, and the effect is of a flower slowly twisting up towards heaven. Listen to the altos climbing up at half the speed of the trebles during the line, “Thou bare Jesu, Heaven’s picture-4.pngKing” ““ underneath “Gratia divina” the altos climb higher on the text “Heaven’s King,” all climaxing on a single part on the word “of,” and then a great unison on “of all thou bear’st the prize.” There are few things more satisfying than singing this piece in either choir; in my own choral education, I spent 2 years singing this piece in the English-language choir and I remember with great delight the day our Choirmaster asked me to sing the Latin! It doesn’t take much to amuse an 11 year old, although now I suppose they have slightly more high-tech tastes.

If you liked that Britten, by the way, there are many other recordings of it; I selected that St. John’s College one at random out of my collection. King’s with Cleobury do a nice version with a virgin-mary-2.jpgsassy marcato interpretation of “Of all thou bear’st the prize” and a pretty flexible tempo, for better &/or for worse. Other quality ones with women up-in are Rutter’s from the Faire is the Heaven album, which actually everybody should just buy (it’s just one click away!) and the Robert Shaw Chamber Singers one, just for contrast. Marian worship is a tricky business; is it funny to hear all this supple music sung by men alone? I suppose a later post should be Don’t Ask, Don’t Vibrate: Strategic Essentialism & Sanctioned Sexism in the English Choral Tradition.


  • The Sixteen! You forgot to mention The Sixteen! Their recording is absolute perfection. Plus it has a kick-ass Ceremony of Carols, and A New Year Carol, which I love.

    [Nico responds: Takk fyrir, Árni Heimir. Hún er flott upptaka. æTúnes.

    [Nico opines: Evidently, my grammar is all wrong. Árni helpfully writes, “I know, it doesn´t make any sense because “upptaka” is feminine. But yes, we would say “Það er mjög góð upptaka”. Sorry.” Iceland-people are always apologizing for the fact that their language is completely impossible. They do this thing where if you try to say something up in it, they say the word “ha” right in your face, which as it turns out is not rude; it’s just them completely baffled by the sounds that have just come out of your mouth. Compare to ì–´ in Korean.]

  • A delicious News of the Weird column pointed out [ahoy: that these are not native Arabic speakers being expelled from the military; they have been trained intensively in Arabic by the U.S. government at taxpayers’ expense. Also, “the U.S.-funded Al Hurra Middle East television service admitted that it had recently, inadvertently, broadcast several pro-terrorist programs (including an hour-long tirade encouraging violence against Jews), attributing the error to the fact that no senior Al Hurra news manager speaks Arabic.”

    AMAZING. I’m currently toying with the idea of joining the Army, getting paid to learn another language, and then when the actual work starts, calling in gay.

  • Thanks for the info and comments posted your site – they are very interesting.

    The whole army vs homosexuality thing is really pusling to me. There seems to be something terribly insecure about the army’s sense of masculinity if it feels it needs to be protected against love…for the same sex. They should go through some books of military history to find out that actually homosexuality in the army used to be encouraged to increase its unity, moral and brevity.

    As for the pacifist gay playlist I propose John Cage’s painfully loud ‘First Construction (In Metal)’ played on instruments made from recycled metal from US Army’s weapons and tanks. Anyone up for making this happen – I’m in.


  • Nico, this is completely OT, but it’s a question I’ve been thinking about a lot, and I can’t find an email address for you. So here goes: are composers, at least those who manage to get their work performed publicly, ‘edited’ to the same degree as published writers, or even at all? And if not, why not?

  • Err, the above link should be

    Mikhail, don’t forget Harry Partch! Gayer and more pacifistic than Cage, Partch put together a crazy little orchestra that includes a few instruments made out of US military equipment (see “The Spoils of War,” ). Plus his music is GORGEOUS.