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A day or two

I spent most of the past two days working on a job application, my first serious acknowledgement that I need to get to work and apply to things or I will have no formal affiliation with any institution next year, which would be mighty awkward in the current phase of my profession. The application completed, I went to the post office in the mid-afternoon... only to find it closed for Rememberance Day. Thus it was I came to discover where my closest Mailboxes Etc. is located, 1.91 km away. It's done, it's sent, a scant week after I discovered the post existed in the first place.

The other major part of yesterday was a farewell dinner and Beowulf reading for a Young Canadian Soldier. He's off to join the navy (which got around to accepting him only ten months after he applied...), for basic training, so it'll be a fair many months before he comes back for a brief visit. (Good luck! Have fun!)

We (my erstwhile gaming group) went to an impressively cheap and reasonably good Japanese (not sushi) restaurant on Yonge, north of College, called Tokyo Grill, before heading off to the Beowulf reading. No, reading is the wrong word. The Beowulf performance.

Chris Vinsonhaler, poet and performer, has spent the last seven years reworking and performing Beowulf. Her modern English adaptation is wonderfully clear and communicative, aiming for the meaning of the poem above the word play. The word play doesn't show in the words on paper, but they come through with great clarity in her performance. Her setting and interpretation of the poem is contentious - not wrong per se, but certainly debatable. She argues the probability of the poem being written and performed in the Christian court of King Alfred, after the conversion of the pagan invader Guthrum.

Her performance begins in Alfred's hall, moving through a scattering of modern analogies (Heorot at the Titanic, for example), before coming to the meat of the matter, the two highlights of the poem she performed, since doing the entire thing would take twelve nights. Her lighting was dramatic, a single floor-level spot meant to emulate a campfire. Her 22-string Celtic harp playing was minimal, enough to evoke the odd mood, and stand in lieu of a harper figure. The performance was engrossing, by and large. She's a consummate performer. Her emphases was narrow and dense: she brought out the nuance to every half-sentence, the ironies, the background, and brought her own wordplay to the performance (although it was sometimes rather labored).

I'm glad I went. It's rare to see such a talented performer, even if it was aimed at a more general audience that this one was. We were mostly medievalists. Her performance was designed to be accessible to anyone, which is usually a real merit. In this case, it meant that a few people went away grumbling about her lack of reference to particular scholarship. I was frequently distracted by words and modern references which evoked other songs or tales in my head, but most of the time I found her performance absorbing. I was also glad that I've never formally studied Beowulf, so my head was blissfully free of much in the way of competing interpretations and scholarly claims. I wasn't always convinced, but she certainly did perform well.




Did you know that the T.V. dinner is now fifty years ago? Like so many pieces of food trivia I've read lately, this one comes from fs_appetizers (Better known as Food Section - Appetizers).

Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
maxineofarc
Nov. 11th, 2004 07:30 pm (UTC)
Have you ever seen Benjamin Bagby perform Beowulf?
cliosfolly
Nov. 11th, 2004 08:10 pm (UTC)
What did you think of his performance? I saw him perform a reading--a singing--a few weeks ago and, while I enjoyed it, I wish there had been more scholarship to underpin his musical accompaniment. I imagine the scholarship is there, but what he said basically boiled down to, "As there's no documentation, I play as I think it would have been done." I would have liked to hear more about what shaped his thoughts on the issue.

But I thought he was evocative and dramatic; it was a fun reading, though the language barrier meant that checking the subtitles and trying to listen at the same time could be distracting.
maxineofarc
Nov. 12th, 2004 04:48 am (UTC)
I am not a scholar (though I suspect most everybody else on owlfish's list is!), so I can't speak to that; I simply find his performance enchanting. I tried it once reading the subtitles and once ignoring them altogether and just listening, and the second approach worked much better.
owlfish
Nov. 11th, 2004 08:11 pm (UTC)
Did he perform at UMass while I was at Smith? You would probably only know this if it was while you were still there of course. But now that you mention it, I have fuzzy memories of a man playing an older style of harper performing something, and it could well have been Beowulf.
maxineofarc
Nov. 12th, 2004 04:53 am (UTC)
It's possible. I saw him once at Amherst Early Music (which was being held at Tufts that year, which is nowhere near Amherst.. go figure) and once in a public performance at a church in downtown Boston.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )