Great Britten!

I thought that one up myself, but that probably won’t hold up in court—it’s no doubt been used before, and as puns go, it’s pretty bad. Yes, pun: there’s a Brittish…errr, a British composer named Benjamin Britten who has been stirring things up around here lately. Indirectly, at least—he died in 1976, but not before writing a lot of really great stuff, and a surprising amount of it is currently being shown off locally.

Big—To Say Nothing of Great—Britten
The biggest Britten item on the local horizon is probably his 1954 opera, The Turn of the Screw, a ghost-story opera that the Dallas Opera is mounting a little later this month. It’s based on the Henry James ghost story about an inexperienced governess in Victorian England who takes up the care of a couple of British kids (parents deceased) because their uncle can’t be bothered with them. Apparently, there was some nasty business in their past involving a former governess, Miss Jessel, and a former manservant, Peter Quint. We’re not told much about what happened, but word has it that James’ Victorian readers would have understood quite well what had gone on, and that it was very nasty business, indeed.

Jessel and Quint are former because they are, as they say, no longer with us. That’s not because they were fired, although all indications are that they should have been. They’re now employed as ghosts, and their main task seems to be deviling the kids, Miles and Flora, as well as the governess and the house worker, Mrs. Grose. These ladies do their best to defend the kids, but that ain’t enough, it seems. 

Britten’s version of this popular story qualifies as a chamber opera, a genre that the composer pretty much invented—it involves just a few people in the cast, a small orchestra, and it’s of modest duration, shall we say. If you’d like something to help you get your bearings, there’s a fantastic film of the opera and a few recordings; Dallas’s production will be different from any of these, I’m sure, but don’t look on that as a problem. The library also has the opera’s musical score in a couple of different formats.

There’s also Henry James’ original; there’s Myfanwy Piper’s libretto for the opera as well as William Archibald’s script for a play based on the story, a script that predates Britten’s opera.  It’s called The Innocents, and there’s a really sharp film (from 1961) based on the play and starring Deborah Kerr as the governess. Our copy of this movie is a Criterion Edition DVD that’s absolutely stunning; and there are some other video adaptations, as well. Each of these versions differs from the opera in some details, but they won’t be all that different from Britten’s take on it.

More—and Just As Great—Britten
Some of Britten’s other music (and there’s quite a bit) was dazzlingly represented locally just a week or so ago by the Dallas Symphony and violin phenom Vilde Frang playing Britten’s Violin Concerto, the most gorgeous punch in the stomach I’ve ever experienced. We’ll have a recording of her playing it soon, mark my words.

Furthermore, the Mu Phi Epsilon Sunday Concert Series features SMU’s Resident Ensemble, the Cezanne Quartet, playing Britten’s First String Quartet, and that happens this Sunday, as in 3/5/2017, here at the Central Library. Sorry for the short notice, but this Britten guy is just all over the place, and he’s worth the attention.

Disagree? Go Argue With Science
Word has it that Albert Einstein was on hand for an early performance of some of Britten’s music, and said something (in public, yet) to the effect that “the kid has talent.” But don’t take his word for it, or mine: go watch the fantastic Tony Palmer documentary on Britten’s life (who’s Tony Palmer, you ask? That’s a subject for a later post). Or read Britten’s (recent!) biography. Read his letters, even.

But time’s short. The Dallas Opera’s Turn of the Screw starts in less than two weeks. The Cezanne Quartet is playing this Sunday (and that concert is free). So clear your calendar, have somebody hold all your calls for the next couple of months—I’m sure there’s more Britten out there, just you wait—and I’ll see you at the Winspear Opera House. Or the Library. Or both.

Posted in classical, music, opera | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I want to do something hands-on this spring. Are there any DIY resources at the library?

We encourage you to take advantage of the Texas springtime with some great do-it-yourself projects inspired by our collection. Explore our nonfiction collection through the online catalog, and check out our step-by-step resource guides from furniture making to home décor to container gardening! With titles such as DIY industrial pipe furniture & décor: creative projects for every room of your home by James Angus, Small apartment hacks: 101 ingenious DIY solutions for living, organizing and entertaining by Jenna Mahoney, or The complete photo guide to outdoor building: from arbors to walkways: 150 DIY projects, you are sure to spring into action.

While you wait for your requested books to be delivered to your branch of choice, remember that the Dallas Public Library has access to online Do-It-Yourself Resource Center databases

Visit the Hobbies and Crafts Center from any computer with internet access for inspiration on how to spend your upcoming Spring Break. With categories like Science & Technology, Outdoor Recreation as well as Home & Garden, you are sure to make the most of this spring!

In addition, our Home Improvement Resource Center has an easy to use A-to-Z Topics search or by category of Decorating, Electrical, Maintenance, Outdoor, Plumbing, Remodeling, and Woodworking. 

For the car enthusiast or mechanic, visit one of our 28 branch locations to use AllData Online for comprehensive automotive diagnosis and repair information. Library staff are here to help you navigate to resources that you find most inspiring. We look forward to hearing about what you will create this spring!

Posted in databases, reference question | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

YA Book Review: How It Went Down, by Kekla Magoon

How It Went Downby Kekla Magoon tells the tragic story of Tariq Johnson, a young black man fatally shot by a white man and how this act of violence affects an entire community. In Tariq’s hometown of Underhill, crime and gang activity is not uncommon and the possibility of death and murder is very real. Tariq’s murder quickly gains national attention because, although there were several witnesses to the shooting and an arrest was immediate, the shooter, Jack Franklin, was set free and all charges dropped. The novel is told from several viewpoints revealing different accounts of how the events played out. 

It required some adjustment to keep up with all the accounts of the event, as there are several perspectives and characters, but when I familiarized myself with all the characters and writing style, the story really began to come together. Every character – local gang members, family, close friends, witnesses to the murder and others in the community – had an emotional and pertinent story to tell. As each tells their stories you begin to see the complexities and dualities that Tariq faced in his life.

In the end, while people’s accounts came together and they learned to deal with what had taken place, there were still several questions Magoon left unanswered surrounding Tariq and the incident that began an uproar in Underhill. The ending of the novel is even more intriguing considering Magoon was influenced by actual events, showing how in real life even those closest to an event may never know what truly happened – and how truths are not the same for all people.

Kekla Magoon is an award-winning writer with other notable young adult titles, including co-writing X: a novel, which follows a young Malcolm X through his formative years.

Posted in book reviews, young adult | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on YA Book Review: How It Went Down, by Kekla Magoon

I’m looking for the lyrics to the song “Up, Up and Away” by the 5th Dimension, but the catalog says it’s a Score in the Fine Arts Division. I’m not sure what that means, and I don’t read music; am I going to be able to get the lyrics from that?

Short answer, yes! To be absolutely sure, you should probably check the “Full Display” for the item in the catalog—that will almost always tell you whether the lyrics are part of it. The Dallas Library System’s Fine Arts Division has lots more than just DVDs and Music CDs—in fact, a big part of that division’s collection is the Scores.

As far as the catalog is concerned, and as far as the place where it’s located on the Central Library’s 4th floor goes, a score is likely to be anything that is mostly printed musical symbols. That includes books of songs like the one you found, and since that one says “Vocal scores with piano” in the Full Display that means it will have lyrics. It will also have a piano arrangement of the music (although it does sound like it includes the actual piano, doesn’t it?), but you definitely won’t need that to make sense of the lyrics.

The collection includes orchestra scores, folksong collections, vocal score with piano, sometimes called a piano/vocal score—and these often include symbols above the melody line so that guitar players can tell what chords to play and when to change to another chord. There are books of practice material to help musicians improve their playing, books that help someone who’s just starting out on an instrument, and even some collections of parts for a group of musicians so that an entire group can play a single piece together.

There’s unusual stuff too. Some of it just looks unusual, like the books of guitar tablature that show a guitar player where the fingers are placed on the guitar’s fretboard; these are easier for guitarists to play than music written on a traditional staff. Some things in the collection just have weird names, like the collection of Fake Books (that’s “FAKE book,” not “fake BOOK”), which are really just collections of the melodies and lyrics of songs with the chord symbols—kind of like a piano/vocal score without the piano. They’re called Fake Books because they have all the information musicians need to “fake” a song—that is, to play the song even if they don’t know it.

And there are specialty items, as well, like The Big Red Songbook, which is an expanded edition of a famous collection of left-wing songs; shape-note hymnals, which are like regular hymnals that you’d see in church, except some of the notes have triangles and squares instead of circles on the staff; and there’s least one score for an electronic piece (Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Studie II) that maps the frequencies of the music onto a grid:

If you’d like to learn to read music, we can help with that in several ways. We have a lot of books that teach you how to read music, but we also have classes on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons; Tuesday and Wednesday, our own Bill Smith teaches music using keyboards, and on Thursday he teaches a guitar class. And we have the guitars and keyboards, so if you can’t bring your own, don’t let that stop you. Stick with us and before long you’ll be ready for our Open Mic Night—we have one of those, too!

Posted in music, reference question | Comments Off on I’m looking for the lyrics to the song “Up, Up and Away” by the 5th Dimension, but the catalog says it’s a Score in the Fine Arts Division. I’m not sure what that means, and I don’t read music; am I going to be able to get the lyrics from that?

Children’s February Reads: Bernard and the Problem Of Too Many Kisses

No more kisses for Bernard!No more kisses for Bernard! story and pictures by Niki Daly

‘Tis the month of lovey-dovey stuff and lots of kisses but some kids hate kisses and Bernard is one of those kids. In No more kisses for Bernard!  his super affectionate aunts Lulu, Lola, Lilly and Tallulah always smother him with kisses when they visit – and Bernard just wishes they would stop! The kisses from his aunts are a collection of “squeaky-sweet-hello kisses, lip-sticky-red-and glow kisses, sneaky-on-the-nose kisses, and smooch-got-to-go kisses.” Bernard finally puts a stop to the enthusiastic affection of his aunts by telling them “No more kisses!”

Initially, his aunts seem displeased with his request, but eventually they all agree to respect his wishes. Aunt Tallulah comes up with a great way to demonstrate her affection: paper kisses! An arts and crafts session ensues where all the aunts give Bernard paper kisses instead. Niki Daly’s illustrations in this picture book are wonderful in depicting Bernard’s frustrations over his aunt’s affectionate ways, as well as the aunts who are relentless in demonstrating how much they love their nephew. I’m  sure many children will relate to this story of too many kisses from relatives that come for a visit. As a child, I always had an exit strategy for these types of relatives but paper kisses sound like another excellent tactic kids need to have up their sleeves.

If you have a smooch-adverse little one at home, be sure to check this story out on your next visit to the Dallas Public Library.

Posted in book reviews, children | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Children’s February Reads: Bernard and the Problem Of Too Many Kisses