Where Have I Been?

For about the last week or so I’ve been in bed taking Percocet and listening to Gilbert and Sullivan.

I don’t know quite how this combination came to be, but last week, after coming home from gallbladder/hernia surgery, I took my meds, got in bed, and thought, out of the blue, “I’m going to listen to some Gilbert & Sullivan.”

And it wasn’t just a passing thought, either: it was more like “I NEED TO LISTEN TO HMS PINAFORE NOW OR I’M GONNA BURN THIS PLACE DOWN!!!1!”

The weird part is that I don’t listen to musicals, or opera, or Gilbert & Sullivan … ever. I have a sentient person’s knowledge of Pinafore and Pirates and The Mikado and I saw Topsy Turvey and that’s about it.

So, that was odd, and not among the listed side effects of either Percocet or abdominal surgery.

gilbert-and-sullivan-1378135665In the past week I’ve had a barnstorming tour of the whole G&S oeuvre, thanks to a combination of streaming music with multiple versions of each show, this incredibly deep Gilbert and Sullivan Archive, and a helpful discography to serve as a guide through the various performances. I prefer full dialog versions and am partial to the mid-century D’oyly Carte releases on Decca, but I supplement these with odd items like the Ohio Light Opera’s excellent rendering of Ruddigore and Oh sweet mercy what has happened to me? What else did they remove along with my gallbladder?!

Turns out the offending organ was really really bad and likely causing much of the problems I’ve been having the past few months. My surgeon–an army field surgeon with experience going back to the first Gulf War–didn’t seem prone to overstatement, so when he told me afterwards that it was a really rotten gallbladder, I was relieved to have it out of my body.

So, I hope to be back to bloggishness soon and put these last awful few months behind me. Those who follow me on Facebook and Twitter, thanks for your prayers.

One parting gift: Chesterton on Gilbert and Sullivan.

Coventry Carol: A Bit of History

Pageant wagon, with trade symbol

One of the things ultimately killed off in the English Reformation were the regional “mystery plays”: local pageant cycles in which the common folk performed dramatized Biblical stories. (The York cycle is the most famous.) Many of the surviving texts derive from the flowering of Middle English in the wake of Chaucer and Langland, and are of a very high literary quality.

The performances were mounted by various guilds and professions, so the coopers would dramatize the Fall of Man, the shipwrights the building of the ark, the tile-thatchers the Nativity, the butchers the Crucifixion (yes, really), and so on. The plays were done on “pageant wagons”: essentially horse-drawn sets not unlike parade floats. It was a way for a largely illiterate population to learn their Bible stories, but it smacked too much of popery so the authorities forcibly repressed the practice. Fortunately, we live in more enlightened times.

One cycle of plays was the cycle for Coventry, and the play put on by the shearmen and tailors was the slaughter of the innocents. When Hamlet refers to an actor who “out-Herods Herod,” he’s talking about the over-emoting brought to the villainous role of Herod by amateur actors in these pageants.

After the slaughter of the innocents in the play, the women mourn for their lost children by singing them a final lullaby, and this is the origin of “Coventry Carol.” This performance is from the Mediaeval Baebes, and is the most delicate and haunting I’ve heard.

Lully, lullay, Thou little tiny Child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
Lullay, thou little tiny Child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

O sisters too, how may we do,
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling for whom we do sing
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

Herod, the king, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might, in his own sight,
All young children to slay.

That woe is me, poor Child for Thee!
And ever mourn and sigh,
For thy parting neither say nor sing,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

Five Catholic Things to Listen to on Spotify

Spotify has a pretty deep archive, but its poor tagging and search features make it difficult to burrow into the more obscure corners and find the weird stuff hidden below pop songs and other junk. Here are five things that may be of interest to Catholics.


Pope John Paul II: Mass in English is not a whole mass, but the Liturgy of the Eucharist, with oddly mislabeled tracks suggesting this is side two and side one is missing.


Alec Guinness Reads Spiritual and Religious Poetry and Prose has the Catholic convert reading from Julian of Norwich, T.S. Eliot, Hilaire Belloc and others in that magnificent voice.


Ensemble Unicorn: The Black Madonna is an album from one of my favorite early music groups. This one is a collection of early 15th century pilgrim songs from the Monastery of Montserrat, and it’s the kind of alternately vigorous  and pious music I associate with medieval Catholicism.


Fr. Benedict Groeschel & Simonetta: The Rosary is a Place alternates prayers and meditations by Fr. Benedict with songs by Simonetta. The songs aren’t to my taste, but your mileage may vary. You can create a playlist that leaves them out and just have Fr. Benedict’s portions.


G.K. Chesterton: Four Father Brown Stories has “The Absence of Mr. Glass,” “The Blue Cross,” “The Resurrection of Fr. Brown,” and “The Honor of Israel Gow” read by Bill Wallis.

Here’s a bit of Ensemble Unicorn to get you  going.

“The Man Comes Around” [Dark Country: Songs For October]

Series introduction and other entries.

Johnny Cash: “The Man Comes Around”

Really, only one guy could have the final slot in this series: the man who made dark country his motif by dressing all in black. I wanted to end on a note of  hope, and Johnny’s song about the Last Judgement is the perfect way to go. It just doesn’t get any better.

“The Little Girl and the Dreadful Snake” [Dark Country: Songs For October]

Series introduction and other entries.

Bill Monroe: “The Little Girl and the Dreadful Snake”

Mr Bill was asked once about the allegorical elements of this song, which appears to be about parents sending children off into the world to be tempted by the devil and lured to damnation by sin. His answer (and I’m paraphrasing from memory) was something like: “Well, there’s lots of snakes in the woods where we lived, and sometimes one would bite a girl and she’d die. That’s what it’s about.”

Okay then.

“Down From Dover” [Dark Country: Songs For October]

Series introduction and other entries.

Dolly Parton: “Down From Dover”

The one and only Dolly, with one of her most poignant songs, about a woman left pregnant and abandoned by her lover. Controversial in its time, she later recut it for her bluegrass album Little Sparrow. The later version is superior and adds a verse, but I can’t find it to embed.