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Category Archives: Singing

bewilderingly different

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How amazing! It looks just like the picture. Oh, wait. It should. Right? I’ve now finished that dangling row and the fourth is almost at that stage.

Via one of those circuitous routes for which www is (in)famous, I’ve spent a few hours listening to some wondrous renditions of folk music. It wasn’t traditional in the sense of being hundreds of years old with more versions than you’ve had hot dinners, but it dated from the 1970s, so that’s probably traditional enough for most of us, and with enough versions to invite good comparative analysis (which, you’ll be relieved to hear, I won’t be entering into).

I started out with the latest post from one of my favourite knitting blogs, among whose comments was a mention of some lyrics from When Yellow’s on the Broom. That caught my attention because it wasn’t a song I knew. Off I scurried to look it up on YouTube. As you do. Right? I clicked the first I found, and I was hooked. It intrigued me enough that I chose to listen to several other versions and seek the lyrics (which you can find here or here – that one is an odd location but has chords if you’re at all tempted – or in a slightly more readable and informative version here).

Because I was otherwise occupied, I let autoplay take over. Via the Fields of Athenry – again, there are many recorded versions – and a few other unexpected delights, I ended up listening to a version of Eric Bogle‘s And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda. There are many recordings of Eric singing it, too, but I like this one where Eric is older and has unapologetically changed – without oversimplifying – the melodic line to accommodate his older voice.

The version that autoplay happened upon was totally bewildering. I think it’s fair to say we’d all have our own favourite singers and styles. Many would argue that anyone can sing, and anyone can sing anything they want to, if they can. Yeah, I know. I spent many years as a community musician, so I genuinely appreciate the value of encouraging everyone to join in.

To hear what is essentially a folksong sung by an operatic baritone was… unsettling. It wasn’t bad or unintelligent, and he does have a lovely, smooth voice. He has a couple of lazy habits that made me want to smack him – oh, all right, maybe just pull him up sharply in rehearsals and tell him to be more careful. I discussed it with Dr B, because I was struggling with the level of my own discomfiture. The singer’s mix of operatic technique and careful pronunciation with occasional deliberately careless pronunciation or mispronunciation and a few spots where he couldn’t quite make up his mind how many syllables he was going to use (but wasn’t consistent about that), plus the oversimplification of the melodic line (which might have been the arranger’s doing; I’m not necessarily blaming him for that)… the doc and I agreed it didn’t work. Sorry, Nathan. I think it would be a treat to listen to your operatic offerings but, yeah, nah. Leave the folksongs alone, mate.

Someone is going to point out, I dare say, that he’s probably ahead of his time: the day will come when that folksong is only ever heard in quasi-sacred settings in concert halls, and accompanied by an orchestra. After all, someone will say, Gaudeamus igitur began life as a student drinking song. It’s now a fairly serious anthem that gets dragged out for graduations and demands respect. Uuh, yeah. Yeah, I know. I do. I know.

Although I didn’t intend my comment about being hooked as a pun, it’s appropriate because I was, in fact, hooking all the while. I’m now almost halfway through joining the rainbow squares, after weeks of being unable to do much at all (for various reasons, not all Covid-related). I found a method of JAYG that I liked better than the one I originally looked at, which would be quick but leave gaps I’d prefer to avoid. It took me a while to find something else that I thought I would be able to do. I looked at this one, and liked it but decided that I would struggle to make it work with my squares. Someone more experienced could doubtless work it out; but there are days I sadly remind myself I’m first and foremost a knitter!

I dismissed this for similar reasons, and because I didn’t like the end result quite as much. I finally decided that I could make this method work, despite it being also intended for solid squares. Coming from underneath was the trick that sold me on it: you get a nice finish on both top and bottom. Oh, yes, you’re quite right, I could have simply used a (UK) double crochet seam, but that would have given me a ridge. I’m not in the camp that likes ridges. I prefer the join to be a smooth as possible.

My concern now, however, is whether I actually have enough white yarn to finish the job! Bewilderingly, I appear to be running out 😀

 

 

 
 

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Christmas Down Under

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YoungB helped with the decorating this year. I loved how he was able to leansout and casually pop the star in its position 🙂

We had a thoroughly enjoyable, if exhausting, Christmas Day: coffee and panettone for a late, leisurely breakfast; opening presents; a long Christmas lunch to which everyone contributed varying amounts of effort; and then – well, I just collapsed in a heap and YoungB took himself off to the beach! Dr B and Eldest Aunt watched TV. In the evening, we sang, then sat around and took turns to read aloud the first few stories from Italo Calvino’s Marcovaldo. All in all, a lovely way to spend time.

However and whatever you celebrate, I hope you’ve been able to spend time meaningful time with loved ones.

 
 

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oops – lost the title!

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Ooh, look at all that keyboard real estate 🙂

Recently, Youngest Aunt and her friend and I had a rehearsal at the church where, in a few weeks, I’ll be accompanying them as they sing at a wedding. It’s one of the city’s older churches, built in a less secular age, when you might have expected it to be filled each Sunday. I doubt if it’s ever full nowadays, although Christmas might see that singular exception. Many folk emerge to sing at Christmastime. I’m one of them, although it must be admitted that I sing all year – Christmas carols, too. But I’ve explained that before 🙂

We had a longish first rehearsal, nutting out a few performance tweaks. At our second rehearsal, Dr B provided a critical, listening ear. The organ is a fixed point, so we put our heads together as to what we thought was the best location for the performers: one where they could see as well as hear the organ but also one where they could project out into the nave without being drowned out by the organ.

The bride and groom – who were also at the second rehearsal – pronounced themselves ecstatically happy. Well, there you are. That’s all that counts. Right?

May all your rehearsals prove equally as satisfactory 🙂

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Posted by on December 23, 2019 in Singing

 

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the broad inspiration

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Funeral pyre stuff, with Tyrian purple cape.

I hope those long-ago cast members don’t mind my sharing this, which I happened to find after I’d made my current version of the costume.

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Different, but definitely a close relative 🙂

If I’d allowed myself more time, I might have made something closer to this tunic style. I suspect that would also have required wider fabric. Most saliently, anything that required vast amounts of time was never going to happen. Right?! Right.

No more fancy dress nonsense now until Christmas. May your plans for that be making rather more progress than mine 🙂

 
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Posted by on December 3, 2019 in Sewing, Singing

 

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cobwebs

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We managed Christmas in the middle of a building site. And I’m still using the same carol books 🙂

Our house has more than a few cobwebs, not only because I’m pretty bad at remembering to get rid of them but also because, thanks to our raked ceilings, they are often in such high places that they’re not terribly obvious. I get the brush out now and then if I happen to remember.

When it comes to brushing away mental cobwebs to learn some new-to-me music, I have to admit that remembering is something my fingers don’t do as well as they once did. Youngest Aunt and a friend are singing a couple of hymns at a wedding in January, and asked if I would accompany them. I’m more than happy to do so.

Youngest Aunt didn’t have printed music for either of the hymns, but they are not particularly difficult. I managed to locate both via online sources. One was simply the words and melody with a chord chart. I don’t claim great expertise in that area, but it wasn’t beyond me to work out, and Dr B – who is, after all, a composer – gave me a couple of helpful tips. All I need to do now is practise to make sure my fingers can deal with the bits we tweaked!

While I was able to find online versions of the second hymn, they were all more complicated than what Youngest Aunt’s sung version suggested. My idea? Ask Middle Aunt, who is a practising – as in, current – church organist if she had access to the music. Enquiries elicited the response that, yes, she did. A PDF arrived via email the next day. Don’t you love technology when it works?

I’m swapping between them, to keep my mind and fingers nimble, but they’re surprisingly similar and I have had a few tired moments where I can’t make the transition from one to the other without also making mistakes. Hence the practising 🙂

With regard to the photo, taken at YoungB’s first Christmas, we really were in the middle of a building site. I might add that, 80 per cent completion of the pergola notwithstanding, the circularity of being unable to do things – because A is clogged and B needs to be cleared but B is packed to the gills with C and until A is empty it won’t change – is still with us, these many years later.

May all your building projects be truly completed when they are finished 😀

 
 

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neighbourhood noises

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If you don’t have your own barbie, or guest numbers exceed your backyard capacity, many local councils provide facilities such as these.

It’s the time of year when all the neighbourhood lawnmowers are kicking up a racket, and many of them are also throwing lots of grass cuttings into the air. Airborne bits of other highly allergenic plants mean that YoungB is utterly miserable with hay fever. I’m not far behind. But, you know, it’s warm enough that a load of laundry will dry on the outside line, which we both find gratifying because it means our work clobber is suddenly a great deal easier to manage and maintain.

Although the coming week is forecast to have cold nights, the days are definitely improving with regard to temperatures and we now have considerably longer daylight hours. It’s not warm enough to move meals entirely outdoors, but lunch is certainly a viable option for al fresco dining. I expect we’ll soon be stoking up the barbie on the weekend. As you’d doubtless agree, a BBQ can be as simple or complex as you like, but the drifting aroma of fried onion and those “scorched outside and half-cooked inside” sausages is an unmistakable part of the Aussie summer. It’s also far more enjoyable than the drifting grass.

But, hey, who could capture better what an Aussie BBQ is really about than the truly inimitable Eric Bogle? As you’ll see if you go to the link, that’s a 1982 recording. I can only say that, after all these years, I still get a laugh out of that song. I hope you, too, might enjoy Eric’s keen observations of what is a quintessential element of the Australian summer.

May all your sausages not taste like fried toothpaste 🙂

 
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Posted by on September 15, 2019 in Food, gardening, Singing

 

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revisiting your own past

1989-09-24 Armidale NSW_01

World premiere performance, concert version, Claudio Pompili’s “Songs for Ophelia” for unaccompanied female voice. Given in Lazenby Hall, University of New England, Armidale, NSW, Australia, as part of the Musicological Society National Conference concert, on 24 September 1989.

Sometimes, as the years slide past, you forget the details of the good things as well as the bad. In my case, the bad might include mistakes I sometimes made mid-performance but the good definitely includes how stellar some of my vocal performances actually were. Luckily for my memory and the possibility of sharing some of that splendour with possible future grandchildren, recordings can bring a reminder. A few months ago, Dr B and one of his old schoolmates were working on Dr B’s motorbike together. They’re neither of them entirely capable of staying on the point, so their conversation wandered from motorbikes and strayed across many strata of music composition and performance and getting inside the technical stuff; and their physical presence wandered from the shed into the house for some musical evidence.

Some of the recordings Dr B used to illustrate points were of me singing his music (that’s not uncommon). A couple of works I’d practically forgotten, it’s so long since I recorded them and I probably never performed them more than a few times anyway (they were to some extent experiments by Dr B and not well suited to my vocal range or timbre but I sang them anyway in the spirit of collaboration and because they were too beautiful to let such minor details deter me utterly). Dr B’s Songs for Ophelia remain perhaps the most spectacular things I have ever performed, with all sorts of wondrous vocal pyrotechnics whose sparkle and agility still have the power to surprise even me; and I was the one pulling them off.

I would perform them differently now for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which would be that my voice is considerably older and darker than it was then (1989 – 1990) and, because rarely used nowadays, distinctly lacking in the sparkle and agility. I reckon, though, I’d still get the kind of reaction from the audience that I got the other day from the old schoolmate: a recognition of something special. (And a chuckle from YoungB who reckoned the resulting warbles were remarkably akin to those produced by the damn magpies when they start up at about 4.00 in the morning, as we well know from years of being up at that hour for rowing training.)

Now, you’re probably going to ask where can you hear any of this spectacular stuff and, I’m sorry, I can’t upload without going Premium. That’s probably not going to happen on our single income, particularly when this blog is not an essential part of anyone’s life.

However, I hope I’ve added a link to the page of Dr B’s recording where the Songs for Ophelia can be found; if you have time to scroll down the page. Tomorrow is Saint Valentine’s Day is short – we’re talking 22 seconds – but stunning, if you’d like an idea of why I’m pleased to have unexpectedly revisited that part of my past (yes, unexpectedly because, in the normal run of things, you wouldn’t expect motorbike maintenance to end up encompassing the sharing of what are now close to vintage recordings).

I tested the link, and it worked for me. I hope it will work for you, too 🙂 And of course the photo is of me singing my little heart out to a sizeable audience. The recording was made at the Ultimo studios of the Australian Broadcasting Commission (usually referred to as the ABC, the Abe – think the Beeb – or Auntie). I believe the original recordings have since gone the way of the dodo in one of the many clear-outs; but note that the copyright was originally with the ABC.

 
 

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a big, post-election grumble about a lot of what I see

No grumbles with this pattern, which is progressing nicely

No grumbles with this pattern, which is progressing nicely

I sat down to write one post and seem to have written two! Please ignore whichever half bores you 😉

The thing about trawling the web and looking at lots of posts on sewing is that so much of what I see strikes me a bit like Arthur Dent‘s house: it precisely fails to please the eye. I can see that the cut is lovely, or the colour is, or that it’s beautifully made but sometimes? Sometimes the proportion is all wrong or the colour doesn’t suit the person wearing it and the cut isn’t flattering on the figure of the wearer. The bodice of a drop-waisted skirt is too long or perhaps it’s the skirt that’s too short (or possibly long), though the overall length is fine, but together? It just doesn’t work. That is to say, even allowing for the fact that IRL when it’s moving rather than static it might look better, it just doesn’t work to my eye.

There are patterns about which the online sewing community seems to go into raptures and, although I can find individual things to like about each of the iterations I come across, it leaves me cold. Most of the Colette patterns are in that category – and because plainly designed for a body shape that mine has never been and is now unlikely to achieve, I don’t buy Colette patterns – which is a bit sad because I like the idea of supporting Indie designers rather than the Big Companies. The passion for Tilly‘s Coco was a bit similar; it didn’t ring my bells. And that’s OK. We’re not all the same.

With regard to the clothing, I accept that I’m in no position to criticise, because I myself don’t really make much; some might say I don’t make anything at all and that’s perhaps near enough to the truth. But it’s like singing: just as I can still hear whether that’s good or bad and give you very concise and informed reasons why it’s one or the other, though I do so little of it myself nowadays, I can tell you why those patterns don’t work. That doesn’t mean other people will have the same opinion.

Overall, however, it serves to reinforce the notion that anyone who wants to make their own clothing really needs to be able to draft a pattern and/or be able to make drastic alterations to a pre-existing one. That’s quite an ask in an age where these things are not taught at school. I was fortunate enough to learn pattern-drafting at primary school. My suspicion is that the more any person who sews uses a prefabricated pattern from anywhere – Big Company or Indie designer – the more the realisation grows that, no, it’s not going to cut it to keep doing this. You have to draft your own.

While I’m on a roll, something else that gets up my nose big time is the modern penchant for squashing breasts to flatness. I genuinely appreciate the need for comfort and support, I get the bit about not wanting to bounce around too much and I certainly understand the value of a minimising bra; but one that leaves you looking like some weird sort of chook gone wrong? Uuh, yeah, maybe not. It’s not flattering, it makes the clothes hang badly and, in some cases, is decidedly part of why the clothes don’t look particularly flattering. They’re being beaten at their own game by over-eager corsetry. I don’t have a problem with what’s occasionally described as industrial-strength undergarments so long as they don’t make the body shape they’re assisting into something that no longer resembles a normal, female body. (For tonight’s homework, define normal.) Yeah. I’m feeling cranky.

I admit it: that crankiness has been exacerbated by post-election ennui and the still-in-doubt election result.

On Saturday, I spent hours standing out in the cold, handing out how-to-vote cards. Talk about wondering about a lot of what you see! There were people who turned up beautifully dressed and brightened the day, others who’d obviously come straight from work or sporting events, youngsters being shepherded along by anxious parents afraid of looking right or left lest thoughts be contaminated by a leaflet not to their liking, many grumpy people whose expressions said louder than words that they didn’t appreciate having to vote or what a privilege it is to have that right, those who complained about how far they were forced to travel as if that were something we poor volunteers could magically mend, and many who laughed along with the silly jokes we were making as we handed out leaflets for the umpteenth time.

I occasionally regretted that there is no Socialist Alliance in my electorate, I say with tongue in cheek, because reactions would have been hilarious had I been handing out something with that logo. I certainly don’t look the type to be a rabid Left-winger 🙂 You’re fair game, whatever you’re doing, so you need to be thick-skinned. Luckily, I am. I was reprimanded for my not-at-all-radical views by one older man, who told me I should be ashamed of myself because I was old enough to know what I was doing. It’s not part of the patter, but the queue had stalled at that stage. I drew myself up to my full height – which is not great, but greater than his – and shot back that I certainly am old enough to know what I’m doing, and that’s why I do it. I had a little discussion with another, younger, bloke in the queue about hung parliaments and his view that voting for anything but a major party would result in chaos, despite the fact that many such governments exist worldwide and function well. One chap walked past all the leaflets, muttering as he did so that they’re all bloody criminals (he may have a point; it made me laugh). Another wanted to vote for Pauline Hanson. I reassured him that this isn’t her electorate, nor was there a One Nation candidate. I didn’t suggest he ought to move to Queensland, because I thought it was likely he wouldn’t know where that is.

Silliness aside, I was truly astounded – and not in a good way – by the number of people who seemed to have been caught unawares by the election. We’d just come to the end of one of the longest campaigns in many a year and still they seemed startled by it all. Entirely too many plainly hadn’t given any thought to how they would vote. I don’t expect everyone to do what we do – spreadsheets; I’ve said before that’s how we roll – but I wasn’t surprised that several of my colleagues had worked it all out before election day and taken their print-outs with them. A vote is too valuable to waste.

YoungB was doing his bit at a different polling booth – one with a sausage sizzle, I add with some resignation and a great deal of jealousy; there wasn’t one at mine – and he had some entertaining tales, too. He is a very charming young man and learnt early that if you’re polite to people, generally they will respond in like manner. He reported that he had made eye contact and cheerfully, but very politely, handed out his how-to-vote card. The old trick worked, even though some of them, he thought, would rather have responded with a mouthful of vitriol. Dr B was at a different booth – also sans sausage sizzle – and had a good time, doing two two-hour stints so that he could duck up to see Nonna and give her lunch in the interim. I closed my booth, and YoungB came to help me take down the last of the posters that I simply couldn’t reach. We swapped tales of our day when we arrived home, then he and Dr B went off to the party to watch the tally. I was too tired, too cold and too far behind with domestic chores, so I watched at home while I attended to laundry and the like.

Yesterday the boys went for a motorbike ride, to blow away the cobwebs and reconnect with something other than endless spreadsheets comparing political parties and their policies. We’ve voted, made our choice known, and done it unmolested in a democracy where we can be reasonably assured that our votes weren’t tampered with or ignored. We are in a dreadful, and dreadfully ugly, mess, but we remain extremely fortunate. And the queues about which I heard endless complaints on Saturday? At my booth, they extended to the gate and meant the wait was half an hour to perhaps 40 minutes (at most). It wasn’t days. We were out in the open, but we weren’t there for long.

My personal fitness guru, as YoungB has appointed himself, thought that, while they were out motorcycling, I should do a 10 Km training walk in order to be ready for the Bloody Long Walk at the end of next month. That would take me two hours. But I thought that if I didn’t bring in the laundry, we’d have no clothes for the rest of the week. More pressingly, I was convinced that if I didn’t knit some more of his beanie he wouldn’t have it for next weekend. He’ll certainly need it, because he and I will be visiting friends in a cold part of the world. There, I’ll have good reason to be grumpy; except that the warmth of the friendships will ward off the worst of the chills.

So, yeah. I’ve said my piece about practically everything, I think! Back to the knitting now. I’m pleased to report that it is going well, and I’ve taken the plunge and done some of these cables without using a cable needle. The reason why is probably another grumble, but I think I’ve been cranky enough. Pax 🙂

 
 

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patching up after a walk

Early section of the actual Bloody Long Walk route

Early section of the actual Bloody Long Walk route

Youngest Aunt, Colleague J, Dr B and I did about a 10-Km walk today. Dr B doesn’t intend to do the BLW with us, but he was along for moral support and to try out the camera on his new phone. We travelled to the start of the walk and did a loop. Retracing your steps is always a bit boring, but this was gorgeous scenery.

I tore my trousers on a sharp edge somewhere. So I’ve had to mend them!

 

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acknowledging a wounded comrade

Alpino hat with black feather (copied from Wikipedia but a universal image)

Alpino hat with black feather (copied from Wikipedia but a universal image)

Let me say clearly at the outset, we have never been Alpini. The reason I chose this image and post title will become clear, though I should also point out that I don’t mean a comrade wounded in action. But nonetheless, this post talks about a family member who was an Alpino and to this day remains fiercely proud of that fact.

Dr B had a significant birthday recently, so we celebrated by having lunch with Nonna on Sunday (we do it most years, a combined birthday and Mother’s Day affair) and a little chocolate cake – one of those bake-in-a-mug numbers – after dinner on the day itself. We also had a sing-along. One of Dr B’s cousins, Sig A, who’s close to him in age, is presently hospitalised after a major health event. His recovery is uncertain. We’re all somewhat distressed but Dr B is quite shattered. I suppose it’s an intimation of his own mortality though a part of the distress is as simple as knowing that it’s now unlikely he’ll be able to carry out the plans hatched for himself, Sig A and YoungB during YoungB’s visit to Italy (they’re three kindred spirits if ever there were any; when Sig A and his wife visited Australia nearly a decade ago, he and YoungB got on like a house on fire, though neither could understand a word the other was saying).

Sig A did his national service as a member of the Alpini (I hope the hat makes more sense now) and has attended annual reunions ever since. Those traditions are important for him and I well recall laughing at his recounting tales that only hinted at the amount of alcohol downed on such an occasion. My educated guess was “an ocean”. He agreed, surprised, I think, that I’d come to such an accurate conclusion so quickly (several oceans might have been even more accurate, but oceans vary in size. Right?). Singing is also an important part of Alpini traditions and Sig A was very willing to sing with us when he was here. We belted out one of the best renditions of Quel Mazzolin Di Fiori (“That Bunch of Flowers”) I’ve ever been involved in because he had the call and response down to split second timing. So on the evening of the recent day in question, this time accompanied by Dr B on guitar, we sang a few of the songs made famous by the Coro della Società degli alpinisti tridentini (or SAT; and you could try Google translate if you’re really keen). We have a battered, because much used, copy of the Canti della Montagna, produced by SAT, that assumes you know the tune but need help with the words. We need a bit of help with both.

Another of our songbooks is Canti Folkloristici e Di Montagna (being Folksongs and Mountain Songs; and it’s number 5 in the series of Cantaintasca or Song in Pocket albums produced by Ricordi). It’s even more battered but does at least provide a chord chart, which is a useful thing in a family of musicians. The chords are Italian – that is to say, pretty much what you might know as solfeggio – but that doesn’t present a problem for Dr B (and, because there’s a chart at the front, even YoungB could attempt it if he had to, though it would undoubtedly take him longer to nut out). We sorted out the right key and away we went with a very famous song whose melodic contour YoungB loves, Dove Sei Stato Mio Bell’Alpino? (“Where have you been, My Handsome Alpino?”).

We finished with a declared nod to Sig A by singing Sul Cappello Che Noi Portiamo which means “On the hat that we wear” and which is occasionally referred to as Su Pei Monti (“Up in the Mountains”). It relates a story of the Alpini – the long, black feather that serves as a banner (see hat above), how they pick flowers to give the girls to make them weep and sigh, and how [in place of those flowers] they build a barracks and drink to the Corps; it’s beautiful and haunting while being quite a rousing number – and, though there’s a generic version, it’s possible to insert the name of one’s own particular company of the Corps. Nonna, for example, always sings the Ninth, which is what her father used to sing (though he was not a member of the Alpini, having fought against the Italians under Franz Josef; but there you are, he had a favoured company and she fiercely corrects us when we get it wrong).

It’s possible to google either of those songs and find a host of recordings, if you’re keen.

Excuse my definite animadversion into what’s clearly neither sewing nor knitting nor anything at all craft related. I, too, have great affection for Sig A and his wife. It’s tough being on the other side of the world at a time like this. The very least we can do is sing for Sig A. So we did.

PS: I’m sorry, that should be regiment, not company.

 

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