Christmas, Tetris, Lenin, and Chanticleer

Happy Christmas to readers in Europe and America! For us in Australia it’s come and gone, and I’ve got another slice cooling for dinner while pondering how I’m going to use the rest of my consciousness allotment for the calendar day. I’ve already eaten waaay more than my share of ice cream, to the point where I don’t think it would be entirely prudent to bake brownies today. Maybe tomorrow evening.

Canberra is basically a ghost town right now. Everything is closed for Christmas Day, and some of my favorite places (Tilley’s and Sfoglia, among other places) are shuttered until mid-January. The establishment from which I had hoped to purchase a proper condenser microphone (for purposes of recording podcasts, books-on-tape and other similar things) turned out not only to not be open — it didn’t even have a brick-and-mortar storefront, relying entirely on Internet retail. I had hoped I could sneak in their front door, buy something with my iPhone and save them the trouble of shipping to me when I could just drop by and pick it up — but no. Most of my Australian friends, meanwhile, have shipped off to Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, the coast, and other sundry destinations that aren’t Canberra. Oh yeah, and my books, wall art and other things that would make this apartment feel more like home are sitting on a loading dock in Sydney, and are unlikely to arrive before, I think, end of January at this point.

The holidays thus find me in a state of much greater than average boredom. Note to self: tomorrow get myself an electric kettle which will make it easier to boil water for tea. Tomorrow also is Boxing Day, which should provide helpful discounts for acquiring things like furniture, but for most of today I’ve been grasping at straws.

Choral music fits in very nicely with the holiday seasons as I’m accustomed to thinking of them back in the States, so I wonder why it took me so long to get there. In my stupor I instead found myself repeatedly watching A Complete History of the Soviet Union, As Told By A Humble Worker, Arranged to the Melody of ‘Tetris’, perhaps because the Melody of Tetris is so darn catchy and also because the animation is hysterically funny. Then followed idle Wikipedia reading about Lenin and Stalin (not even gonna bother linking those), but also investigation into the Tetris theme, “Korobeiniki”. (This translation seems less stilted and formal than the one on Wikipedia.)

Turns out that the song is a bona fide Russian folk song, instead of (as I’d always assumed) some stock video game music which was crafted to sound stereotypically Russian. Like so many Russian folk songs, it is stereotypically sad — the original poem by Nikolai Nekrasov tells a story of young love (consummated? only the night will know) and then cut down in its prime by the untimely death of one or both lovers. The song lyrics form a truncated version of the poem, but I wonder how much of the “life is short” subtext lingers.

What’s more, it turns out I already have a recording of this song, namely, on Chanticleer’s album “Wondrous Love” as track 4, “Oy, Polná, Polná Koróbushka”. You can imagine this discovery necessitated putting that song as well on Repeat 1 (while playing Tetris, even), but the discovery prompted me to then unearth the rest of the album and listen to it as well. While I remember it being good, I find it quite a bit better now than I remember it being. Maybe it’s just what I need right now… ask me again in a few months.

In particular the arrangements really stand out. “Koróbushka” definitely makes me want to slam down vodka shots and start calling everyone “comrade”, but even apart from that the arrangements are lush and somehow each seems appropriate to the cultural background of the song being sung — perhaps not surprising, since the arrangers seem to come mostly from the countries of origin of each respective songs (with such names as Villa-Lobos, Vaughan Williams, Grainger and Shaw & Parker figuring prominently). “Wondrous Love”, the title track, starts with stark, muscular open fifths appropriate to American Sacred Harp music, but in the last verse it then dissolves into something much headier and more impressionistic. The light and festive “Fengyang Ge” (Chinese), “Die Vogelhochzeit” (German) and “Domaredansen” (Swedish) wouldn’t seem at all out of place while trimming a tree, and the ethereal “Sakura” reminds us that it will have to come down eventually, even if cherry blossoms fall more quickly than dry pine needles.

All right, time to curl up with a book and wave to Santa on his way across the rest of the world…

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About Richard

I'm an American scientist who is building a new life in Australia. This space will contain words about science and math, but also philosophy, policy, literature, my travels, occasional rants, all sorts of things I find strange and awesome. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my employer at the time (currently University of Sydney), though personally, I think they should.
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