It’s been a while since I offered some behind the scenes updates, so I figure I’m due. This time, it’s all about books. Mostly about books. Read on if you’re interested, and you’ll get the idea.
I’m privileged to be a beta reader for Samantha Wilcoxson‘s upcoming historical fiction novel, Queen of Martyrs: The Story of Mary I. Backed by insomnia and enthusiasm, I have finished reading the novel. My review is ready to go. At Samantha’s request, that review will go live on April 13 when the book goes on sale. No spoilers!
Thanks to Audible and time to listen at work, I’ve been making my way through Will Durant’s first book in The Story of Civilization. I can’t believe I sat on this for a generation out of intimidation. As lengthy as this series is, it’s surprisingly easy to read and quite immersive. I can see why Durant is often cited as being the modern Herodotus. This series is off to a magnificent start.
Now that I’m done reading Queen of Martyrs, I’m back to reading some books on Early Music so that I can attempt to shape some thoughts into blogs and wrap my head around the larger idea of writing that book. I’m still running into that same brick wall, however, where my lack of formal musicological training is giving me grief on this front. I’ll be honest: I’m in way over my head. I feel like I’m up for the challenge this presents, but my approach may have to change drastically if I can’t understand what I’m reading. So far, I can’t. I’ve got an ebook of The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Music that I’m working through. This is exactly the kind of book that prompted me to want to write a novice-friendly book on this subject. My enthusiasm for this subject is there, clearly, but the material available to explain it feels more like musicologists showing off to other musicologists. And it probably is exactly that, one of those “publish or perish” kinds of texts that you often find in the scholastic fields. It’s disheartening in the extreme for those of us who simply enjoy the music and want to know more so as to appreciate beyond “that’s an enjoyable little tune.” It’s also maddening as hell because I’m usually pretty good at working past the jargon and absorbing even the most esoteric information on some level. This particular reading of this book is attempt number 4 since I first purchased it a few years ago. I’ve struggled with only the first chapter, and I still don’t really have a clue as to what I’ve read.
Worse comes to worse, I’ve got other books on this subject. I did some library building with this particular topic in mind, in some cases tracking down used copies of noted classics for this topic. I’m thinking there has to be something I can use in here somewhere. Beyond that, I’ve been looking more into the composers themselves. I’m embarrassed to say that I know more about Classical and Romantic era composers than I do their Medieval and Renaissance counterparts. I’ve started with some favorites: the early troubadours (of course), Hildegard von Bingen, John Dowland, and Henry VIII. You can blame Samantha’s book for this last one. It takes very little to nudge me back into the crazy of the Tudor era, and you can’t talk Tudor without Henry looming over all of it. Henry wasn’t what you’d call a great composer, but his music is still fun. If that’s all he’d done with his life, he’d probably have been a likeable guy.
In the midst of building the Early Music section of my library, I got my paws on the first complete English translation book of the Carmina Burana! The book is The Carmina Burana: Songs from Benediktbeuern, 3rd Edition by Tariq Marshall. This is one of those descents into personal madness where after I blogged about it, I absolutely needed a book like this. I’ve looked before, but as I say, this is the first of its kind. Oh, this book is glorious. All the snark the Middle Ages had to offer, right there at your fingertips. Who says history is boring?
When one does research into this music, naturally one wants to listen to it. Recent purchases from the Texas Early Music Project have largely been on my playlist, both at home and on the daily commute. I’ve also started the daunting task of figuring out exactly what I have in my music library on this front. I don’t think I’ve ever truly appreciated just how much of this I have on hand. A 10-CD set here, a 50-pack there… it adds up over the years.
Suffice it to say, at this point I’m basically treading water in a sea of resources that I’ve not yet fully explored. I’m hoping that as I do, I’ll get some insight into how to approach this behemoth I’ve tasked myself with tackling. Meanwhile, there’s a sizeable stack of completely unrelated novels trying to distract me. It’s just not fair. Why couldn’t I have been born with a natural gift for speed reading?