Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Noel. . . Noel!

I have a history with this piece. My father had a large and eclectic collection of recordings - we'd call them vinyl LPs now - representing various facets of classical music. He liked compilations, and one of the best was called Pastorales: small woodwind pieces by a diverse group of composers such as Haydn, Stravinsky, Grainger - and Jolivet.

That name doesn't ring many bells, does it - and it didn't then, either. I kept this one with me, however, in some bubble at the back of my brain. Sometimes it would replay there, or parts of it, hauntingly, and it made me want to cry. Couldn't remember the title of it, the composer, anything, and decades went by before I was able to track it down. All I knew was that it had the word "Noel" in it, and was meant to represent four small scenes, musical miniatures from the Nativity.

On the internet, the merest wisp of thread can lead you all the way back to the treasure. Eventually I found a recording of Jolivet's Pastorales de Noel on CD, but it was a disappointment: by then, the original had become deeply recorded and I was stuck on it. The playing was good, but a glaring flaw made me unable to stand it: the flautist took a gasping breath right in the middle of the dramatic sustained trill at the end of the first movement, ruining it.

I found another CD version, but the bassoon sounded thin and the flute less than convincing. By then I was tired of trying to find anything like a match.

I am sure I hunted for a performance of this on YouTube for several years and didn't find it, so it was a nice surprise to discover this. Overall I like this version, though I am driven nearly mad by the way the harpist fusses and fidgets with her music, her stand, her chair. At one point the flautist seems to mimic or even send her up a bit with a little "wait, wait, guys" fidget of her own. Really, this sort of thing should be unnecessary. The harpist's music appears to be approximately three feet wide, the pages impossible to manage. If pianists can use page-turners, why can't harpists?

May I suggest an alternate solution? Opera singers manage to memorize five to six hours of music for Tannhauser and other Wagnerian tortures, so it's obviously doable. Would fourteen minutes really be such a strain?

That said, she does look great up there, her dress matching her instrument, and she sounds even better, the notes golden and sparkling. The weak link is the bassoon, which lacks depth of tone and expression. But he still provides a solid backdrop which allows the flute to really shine.

One glitch - and I'm sorry, but this is the ear I was given genetically - she misses a delectable bit of flutter-tonguing right near the end of the piece, a decoration that turns a plain flute line into a blur of ascending wings. Either she chose not to do it, or it's optional (but I've heard it in every other version), or, at the last minute, like the figure-skater deciding not to risk the quadruple-jump, she shied away.

Never mind, it's a live performance, not to mention a piece of music I was sure I would never hear again.

Bird sex orgy

Birds do the nasty

Bird sex: not all it's cracked up to be

It all started with wanting a bird. Wanting a bird sort of came out of the blue, except that it didn’t. Our cat had just died at age 17, leaving a bit of a hole in the family.

“No more cats,” my husband said, and I had to agree with him. From a 22-pound, majestic miniature lynx, Murphy had dwindled to a sad near-skeleton, clinging to us as his major organs slowly shut down. He left puddles of pee everywhere, barely able to make it to the litterbox (which I was tired of: litterboxes STINK, no matter what you do to deodorize them).

I didn’t even think about a bird, or consider having one, until I visited my sister-in-law in Ontario and discovered she had acquired a parrotlet. A cute little pocket parrot, only about four inches long. She held it in her hand and scratched its neck and it laid its tiny avian head down and blinked its filmy little eyes in bliss. OH GOD, it was cute!  It didn’t do much else, and didn’t even make much noise, but I thought it was adorable.

I HAD to have one. “No impulse buys,” Bill begged. “One bird. ONE bird,” he pleaded, probably afraid I’d come home with an Amazon parrot or a whole aviary of shrieking cockatoos. I went away and did nine months of research before deciding what I wanted.

I found a pet store that believed in carefully socializing a bird before bringing it home. I made a down payment on a newly-hatched lovebird that was barely fledged (a disgusting naked pile of skin), and then when he was being weaned, I came into the store for an hour a day, put a towel on my lap and let him crawl around and explore.

By the time I took Jasper home several weeks later, he was “socialized”, meaning he could scream at me for seeds, come out of the cage and chew on me for seeds, or peep at me adorably (for seeds).

At the same time, he began to do something really weird. He’d open his mouth and sort of pump his head  up and down and emit this sickening sound, a sort of gasping noise like birdie asthma. Sometimes he’d actually throw up on me, this awful viscous seed gunk.

I read on a bird site that I was supposed to be flattered. It meant he was trying to mate with me. Birds regurgitate in each other’s mouths as a courtship ritual, with the males being more vigorous than the females.

I didn’t know how to take it, but I was generally satisfied with the cute little devil. Then a few months ago, for no reason that I could figure out, he began to shriek and scream almost non-stop. I mean, he could keep it up for six hours at a clip. This noise was so shrill that it speared through two closed doors and a set of industrial-strength earplugs.

 I tried everything: turning out the lights; covering the cage; varying his diet; changing the cage around (which he hated; birds are creatures of habit), putting a life-sized plastic budgie that chirped electronically in his cage (I couldn’t find a plastic lovebird). Instead the shrieking only escalated.

Then the other day, I put some of his favourite toys on the floor of the cage. I didn’t want to do this before, because the cage floor is nasty at best, even with daily cleaning and changing the paper. I knew those toys would get pooped upon.

What I didn’t know is that they would get raped.

I mean, raped! Straddled and humped, almost every hour of the day that he wasn’t sleeping. He’d shove a toy up against the corner (the half-eggshell that used to belong to a plastic egg-carton toy seemed to be his favourite, as he can brace the other toys up against it for stability) and go at it. And at it. And AT it.

At the same time, a funny, unexpected and very welcome thing happened: he stopped shrieking. My eardrums, assaulted for months, suddenly and gratefully popped out again. But every time I go in his room now (yes, he has his own room, just like a fractious infant), I don’t see him up on his swings or perches.

No, he’s down on the bottom of the cage doing the dirty deed.

All day. Every day.

This bird is maybe six years old now, and they live to fifteen at the most. He’s fifty years old, for Christ’s sake, acting like some horny middle-aged businessman with an expense account. Birds often drop dead for no apparent reason, and maybe he’s just trying to die with a smile on his beak.

He now has a harem of about six toys, mostly cat toys because they’re small and easy to manipulate (and they jingle). He has a smaller plastic budgie that lies miserably on its side, covered in shit. In fact, all the toys are covered in shit, even though I take them out of the cage and scrub them down each day. He is obviously using that half-eggshell as a toilet.

Funnily enough, it’s kind of hard to find any good pictures of birds mating, except maybe roosters ravishing hens. There are a few out-of-focus budgie pictures, a sort of avian Kama Sutra, but we all know what we think about budgies. A dime a dozen, and they squawk and screech all day. Jasper has two of them, for God’s sake, concubines who are slaves to his birdie will. Obviously, he doesn’t care if his girl friends are real or inanimate. But then, isn’t that true of some humans (see my Pardon me, Miss post of Dec. 1/11)?

He acts very strangely when he mounts his girlfriends, aside from the macho wing-displays and scaly little trampling feet : his beak begins to rattle alarmingly, sounding like bird castanets. I can’t find anything about this on the internet. It’s purely instinctive, some sort of reflex.

And to a human, creepy.

I’m glad I didn’t buy a pair of lovebirds, which some people say is necessary to keep them happy (except that they will bond exclusively with each other and won’t want much to do with you ,except for SEEDS). They would have produced several dozen clutches by now, and I wouldn’t know where to put them all. Or else the female just would have expired from exhaustion.

My bird’s a rapist! Good thing those toys are waterproof.

But at least the house is quieter now, save for the castanet-like rattling of a tiny, horny beak.