Wednesday, May 1, 2013
Old Songs In The Poe Room
Above - Longtime meritorious cultural warriors Chris Mason and Liz Downing have a serious moment of sinking into the gravitas before belting out one of their all time best Old Song sets within the lush tome-lined walls of the Enoch Pratt Library's Poe Room.
Above - Marcus Jicklingius, who also put together the Old Songs' new book All Birds.
I have seen Old Songs live almost as many times as an average Deadhead woke up with green pork rinds in their Garcia wigs, but last Wednesday's two sets - the works of Sappho in the first set and Anacreon in the second - were the most sublime I've witnessed. All those beautiful books, book loving audience members, hired gun Don Peyton sitting in on uke and mandolin, and somber portraits of pale Poe gazing down upon them put the fire of Hephaestus in them to "sing of the lovely-haired graces/ To people in public places."
As part of this wonderful show, Mark Jickling put together a book of their translations where he explains in the introduction: "The Old Songs project, begun in 2002, seeks to bring ancient Greek lyric poetry of the 7th through 5th centuries BC to life via music. The few fragments of this poetry that remain have been studied extensively and translated many times, but words on the page can't do justice to verse that was composed to be sung.
"We don't know what the old music sounded like.....Old Songs sets the ancient lyrics to tunes derived from Anglo-Celtic ballads and dance music, Appalachian old-time music, blues....This juxtaposition of musical and lyrical worlds is arbitrary, but it works."
You can hear many of the songs from the book at PennSound:
Above - Sir Chris Batworth Ciaetti, one of many poets gathered in the Poe Room to watch poets sing the words of Ancient poets)
Part of the beauty and magic of Old Songs is that it shows how good writing is timeless and remains relevant, whether it's the beauty of Sappho: "Evening star brings back/ What bright dawn has scattered" or the bluesy grit of Anacreon: "My temples are grey, my hair's turned white/ All I've got left is a little sweet life/ Teeth worn out, charmed youth gone by/ Fear of the underworld makes me cry/ Hades hole is a terrible place/ The road down there is sorry and rough".
But let us end with Old Songs chanteuse Liz Downing's thoughts on eternity from All Birds' preface: "The sameness of the moon's light on Sappho's island as on the island of her lover is the same moon light which connects us to these Ancient poets. This same moonlight connects us to the first creatures who had the inclination to look up. Ancient poets' longing to be remembered is the same longing of poets today and under the same moon"