Lunar Eclipse, Real Time

9:56 PM, EST:  According to online information (I first typed “onlune”!), the moon has already begun to pass into the earth’s penumbra, or larger and lighter shadow.  My telescope is trained on it, and I see no change whatsoever.  The night is extremely cold and clear, with only occasional passing clouds.  Excellent, so far, for eclipse watching, if you are bundled up–and mind you, no alcohol.  Causes hypothermia.

My telescope is the Celestron Omni XLT 120, a good refractor of 1000 mm focal length and aperture of 120 mm–so it’s an f/8.3.  Mount is a Celestron CG4 with German equatorial mount and Orion mount extender.  I am using an ED eyepiece from Agena Astro, 25 mm, yielding ample magnification of 40×.  The 18% moon cover is on the scope so the image is bearable to my eyes.

And yes, I’m bundled up, long johns, T-shirt, flannel shirt, sweater, lined overshirt, parka, scarf and cap.  And blue jeans and heavy socks under walking shoes.  The patio is icy but I’m being careful.  The trees are cased in glaze ice, reminding me of the 1973 ice storm on Long Island.  This icing is much less severe, but it’s still significant–and just as gemlike.

The moon, according to Stellarium, is just barely in the boundary of Cancer.  It is rather close to Castor and Pollux, and there’s no chance of seeing Cancer, dim as it is.  I can see Sirius, Betelgeuse, Capella, Aldebaran, and other prominent stars.  Polaris is visible as well.

Stellarium puts the magnitude of the moon at -12.48.

Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine is on.  Light pollution is hardly an issue right now.

10:08 PM.  I still see no change.  It is painful to look for long, even with restricted aperture.  It is never interesting to look at a full moon in any case;  there are no shadows and all is washed out and featureless.  The best times to view the moon are at a few days’ distance from full.

Of course, that’s a very unpoetic remark.  The full moon is one of mankind’s fondest sights, an endless source of artistic and romantic inspiration.  It’s gloriously beautiful.  But for a close observer, interested in viewing lunar features, it’s a bust.

There’s a lesson there.  For romance to work its full magic, don’t look too closely.  Also, let science and religion look for whatever they seek; there’s enough moon for us all.

10:19.  The penumbral phase can only be seen if there is enough of a magnitude change, which isn’t the case tonight.  The sunlight hitting the moon overcomes the challenge of the diffuse outer bands of the earth’s shadow.  It’s absolutely fair game to look for it, though.  The eclipse has already begun, and we should notice some actual change in about ten minutes, when the moon enters the umbra or full shadow.

10:36.  A little dirtying of the lower part of the moon.  It begins. (Image reversed.)

10:46.  It’s called a “supermoon,” according to, because it’s within a few miles of perigee, or approach to earth, making it look bigger.  It’s the Wolf Moon according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, on the basis of tradition.  There’s nothing mystical going on, unless you feel there is.  For me, Psalm 19 will cover the waterfront nicely.

10:56.  Unmistakable red color developing.  A fainter leading edge to the shadow, perhaps the earth’s atmosphere. Then the dull, somewhat anticlimatic darkness, only now it’s going orange!

11:04.  The astronomer on Slooh just said “her and I will be watching,” and my inner English teacher went beserk.  Scientists oughta talk smart.  The shadow spreads across the lunar surface and the color is more pronounced–still, though, almost entirely through lenses.  To the eye there is shadow and little more.  Of course, my camera battery needs recharging.

11:24.  Beautiful glowing color visible to naked eye.  Moon nearly vanished.  Stars appearing, including the stars of Cancer.  The brilliant moonlight that bathed the icy branches a few hours ago is entirely gone.  The countryside has gone dark.



11:45.  Totality has begun.  The stars are out; I can see Cancer.  Camera, by the way, is an old Canon pocket camera, a modern-day instamatic, held up to the eyepiece.  I have shifted to a Celestron Plössl eyepiece of 40 mm, yielding 25x magnification.  Lower magnification is often the best choice…as in this case.


12:19 AM, 1-21-19.  Maximum eclipse has begun, and massive clouds have rolled in!  But in the breaks, I can still see the dark and still moon and many constellations:  Leo, Cancer, Gemini, Canis Minor, Canis Major, Orion…even Monoceros.  The clouds are a typical disappointment here.  Twenty minutes to first return of sunlight.  If you were on the moon now, you would see all sunrises and sunsets at once in the earth’s atmosphere.

There is little reason to mention each lunar feature in turn as the light leaves or returns.  Full moon, with no light, a little light, or all of the usual light, is (again) not the best time to observe.  This, then, is (again) a night more for poetry, or for simpler forms of observation.

12:46.  The first hints of light return to the edge of the moon.  The clouds are all gone, and the constellations are still shining.  What a beautiful event.

The only thing is the cold.  A branch crashed to the ground in the back yard, and trees nearer the house are creaking in the cold, burdened by their ice.  I hope nothing bigger crashes down.  In Bloomington, on exactly this date in 2000, there was a spectacular total lunar eclipse, but I seem to remember the moon being smaller.  In any case, it was miserably cold, like tonight.

1:20.  The moonlight is returning and the iced branches are dancing again.  Looking up at the moon, at first I thought a flock of birds were circling it–it was the branches of the ash tree.  A lovely valediction.

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Forthcoming Talk

I’m participating in a weekend conference at Syracuse University at the end of March.

I will be giving a paper on the life of Calvin Hampton.

Here is a link to the event.  If you are interested, I hope you will try to come! 

Posted in AGO, Americana, Calvin Hampton, Music, Music History, New York Life, Speaking and Writing | Comments Off on Forthcoming Talk


I’m snowed in today–more precisely, iced in. Church is canceled and freezing rain expected. I hope for a break in the clouds late tonight for the lunar eclipse.

While the skies are expected to clear before totality, the temperature will be hovering either side of zero degrees Fahrenheit, with sub-zero windchill.  I will be careful!

The best thing to do is wait to make sure the precipitation has stopped, and then try to uncover the Celestron mount on the patio.  Then set up the scope so it can acclimatize and get cold with the air around it, gradually.

We’re supposed to drop about fifty degrees today, which is astonishing, but if it’s not extremely sudden the scope should accommodate.

Times are about 9:36 to 2:48 from start to finish, maximum totality about 12:12 AM.

Knowing the weather up here, we’re probably in for a no-show.  Still, one can hope.

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Forthcoming Article

The upcoming issue of The Organ, a quarterly from “across the pond,” will feature a substantial article by me on the topic of Carson Cooman, the gifted organist and composer in residence at Harvard.  It’s been a pleasure delving into this interesting career and some of the best contemporary music for the organ.  I hope you’ll read it.

Here is a link to The Organ.

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The Stalker Returns

I had trouble focusing last evening.  Work that I’d hoped to do before bed became impossible.

What happened is that a stalker re-emerged from the swamp known as the internet.

I was terrified, afraid for my career, afraid for my reputation, afraid for my very existence.

As was the case last time, it took two tries to stop him (after the first request he characteristically escalated).

The last time around–when the same stalker inflicted nearly fatal damage to my career–there was no #MeToo, and James David Christie still had a life.  Things change, don’t they.  Für Christie und auch für seinen Kreis.

In the meantime–while I wait to see if creepy clown appears again–here are resources if you are handling a pathological narcissist, abuser, flying monkey, gaslighter, or other crazy shit-person.

Visit these links at your own risk, and do not regard this post as professional advice–it is not.  I’m not that kind of doctor.  Use your own judgement and proceed at your own risk.

I, Psychopath.  Documentary on the life of Sam Vaknin, who runs a large narcissism website.  He claims to be a narcissist; this documentary says otherwise.  I found it fascinating.  Learn the term “social predator.”

In the Mind of a Stalker.  Article in Psychology Today magazine.

James David Christie’s Downfall.

That’s it for now.

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Cibells and Cebells


A strange title appears in some English keyboard scores of the latter 17th century.  A number of pieces are titled “Cibell” or “Cebell,” or allude to that name in their title (as in Purcell’s “Trumpet tune, called the Cibell”).

Merriam-Webster defines it as a kind of gavotte, origin of the term “unknown.”

However, my score of William Croft (edited by Howard Ferguson and Christopher Hogwood) has a footnote.  It says that “cebell” pieces were written in emulation of a scene in Lully’s tragic opera Atys, 1676.  This opera had an “invocation of Cybele,” which was apparently so very popular that it spawned a mini-genre of emulation.

The “mini-genre” includes trumpet tunes and minuets; the obscure William Richardson has a “Jigg Sebell” in his A minor harpsichord suite. So what is distinctive about it?

The principal feature, it seems, is the unaccompanied bass interlude.  These pieces are odd and quickly recognized by the long left-hand solo lines…I suspect an off-putting feature for many a player today, bursting with Lore and eager to show off.

Another feature is a preference (save in the minuet) for the gavotte form:  four-four time and a two-beat upbeat.  What is not required is a quotation of the original tune!

Eventually, even the bass line became dispensible, and the cebell turned into a sort of gavotte.  John Walsh published The Division Flute, a collection for the flute (recorder), including ground basses, in 1706 and this collection includes a good number of cebells.  (There is even a cebell by “My Lord Byron,” leading one to wonder mightily about the George Gordon, Lord Byron’s musical ancestry.)  These pieces could be keyboard cebells reduced to the soprano line–removing the distinct bass feature but evoking the craze from late in the previous century.  In any case, they are more or less gavottes.

Fuller-Maitland published an anonymous “Cibell” (Contemporaries of Purcell, vol. 6) in what I suspect is a heavily edited and filled-in form;  suspiciously active bass lines have tame right-hand parts, which I rather think Mr. F-M provided.

The selection above, from the second edition of 1709, fills the bill and is surely the model for the cibell. It is Act I, Scene VIII.  The Chorus of Phrygians has just made their elegant entry, to not one but two dances.  (What a title for transcription:  Second Air of the Phrygians!)  Cybele enters and sings a splendid recitative, then the aria “Vous devez vous animer.” This aria has unaccompanied, or nearly unaccompanied, bass interludes.  It is also in the form of a gavotte.

It’s an exciting scene if presented well, in the grand conventionalist ritual of the French opera.

The only way to render this effect at the keyboard is to give the bass line alone, with no chording, in the interludes.  This way–though the original has figures–the effect is preserved.

Louis XIV is said to have loved this opera so well it came to be called “the king’s opera.” It’s a grim tragedy, ending with dead bodies onstage;  if the opening chorus weren’t the Twelve Hours of the Day and the Twelve Hours of the Night, frolicking in the Palace of Time– why, you’d think it was Puccini.

Students:  feel free to quote me, but please give me a footnote.

Posted in Baroque Music, Harpsichord, Music, Music Criticism, Music History, Music Theory | Comments Off on Cibells and Cebells

Choir and Handbell Party

The choir and handbell choir met last evening at a delightful house in this county last evening for a post-holiday get-together.  It was a quiet evening, given to good conversation and good food, but nothing to excess.

I particularly enjoyed a long conversation with the hostess, who is a cultivated woman of taste.  Conversation ranged from a priceless alexandrite ring she was able to examine as a young lady to the queen’s aquamarine tiara (check it out) to boating on the Chesapeake to shared memories of ancestors who rode mules to wonderful local painters to old books to the lore of Philadelphia …to God only remembers what…a conversation to cherish.

Alas, my mother’s chutney cheese ball, a recipe unchanged since the 1970s, didn’t excite.  I gave its mate to a neighbor today in exchange for some homemade quiche, and perhaps I got the better of the deal.  Or perhaps just the more fashionable part…the cheese ball is really addictive, regardless of the decade.

Then again, it was a quiet party, enjoyable but not overly energetic.  The holidays are getting tiring for some of us.  However, the memories, the culture, the context, were all just right.  It was a wonderful party and I will always remember it.

Today, I spent time at church filing and organizing music, and making choices new music for the spring season.  Onward and upward.

Posted in Christmas, Church, Country, Food, Friends, Fun and Games, Music, Seasons of the Year | Comments Off on Choir and Handbell Party

Reiki Presbyterianism

This howler just crossed my digital transom.  I’ll post the juiciest paragraph in its entirety, then go back through it point by pointless point.

This is a Presbyterian-endorsed Reiki workshop, on Presbyterian property.  The presenter is an ordained ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA)–the role that gay people, till 2011, were “too sinful” to occupy.  Precious few occupy it to this day.

I expect, given such rigidity, that doctrinal orthodoxy DAMN well better be hewed to, strictly.  So, let’s see:

You are an eternal energy being having the experience of being human in a dense world of polarity. Learn about the multi-dimensional nature of energy, universal energy principles, vibrational frequency, and gain a new perspective of yourself, others, and the power of God.

Now, phrase by phrase:

“You are an eternal energy being”
–No I’m not; I’m a human, made of body and soul, both of which were created in time and hence not eternal.  Only God is eternal.

“…having the experience of being human…”
–No, I am human, really and truly.  Trust me.

“…in a dense world of polarity.”
–This is what you technically call bullshit; as it is meaningless it cannot be refuted.

“Learn about the multi-dimensional nature of energy…”
Bullshit. The word “energy” is screaming for definition.  I see it literally as matter with the conversion factor of C-squared applied.  Metaphorically, I see it as enthusiasm, zeal, or gumption to do things.  My soul is not “energy”; energy pertains to the material world, unless some other “secret” meaning is hinted at.  Clearly, the presenter is not offering a definition, expecting the reader to do all the heavy lifting.  Uncivil bullshit.

“…universal energy principles…”

“…vibrational frequency…”
Bullshit, unless we’re talking about A 440 versus A 415.  And in any case, “vibrational frequency” is a redundancy, like “heat temperature” or “aquatic water” or “edible foodstuff.”  I once heard a Chicago prison chaplain call himself “theologically ordained.”

“and gain a new perspective…”
–run-on sentence.  And bullshit.

“…of yourself, others, and the power of God.”
–Nice that at least the power of God, if not God Himself, gets a mention.  The key, I suppose, is that wonderful sense of power.

The subsequent paragraph, which I will not kill photons for, mentions “select” Bible verses interpreted through an “energy perspective.”

By strongly suggesting that human beings are actually not human beings, but rather “eternal energy beings” currently “having an experience” of humanness, the presenter denies human nature as the Bible and Christian tradition describe it.  Inevitably, this brings down the doctrine of the Incarnation, replacing it with mere Docetism.  The implied opposition of body and soul (we are “eternal energy,” not flesh and blood, remember?) is Manichaean.  In the wake of these casually-invoked and long-debunked heresies, everything that logically flows from the Incarnate Word collapses, including the visible church itself.

The ignorance is panoramically broad, deep as the ocean, entirely destructive, and horribly offensive.

In other words, this workshop is not, in any meaningful sense, Christian.  I strongly discourage you from attending anything like it, whether you are Christian or not.  For a Christian, it’s a mess of pottage; for a non-Christian, it’s worded so vaguely, pompously, and deceitfully, that it’s clearly worthless to you, too, before we even unpack its bullshittiness.

I mean, cripes: no definition of this all-important concept of “energy”?  How many dollars does it cost to learn what we’re talking about?

But this is what an ordained ruling elder in the PCUSA can get away with.  Said ruling elder, incidentally, is an ongoing student of what’s called “metaphysics,” a term which no longer means what it did when I studied it in college.  It now chiefly applies to anything Gnostic, new age, pagan, or witchy-twitchy.

But gee whiz, people must be staying home because the organ is so conserrrrrrvative.

Posted in Bullshit, Famous Bastards, Nutters and Such, The Agonies of Art, The Lapping Shore of Psycholand | Comments Off on Reiki Presbyterianism

Social Media Metaphor


If the internet is the “information superhighway,” then Facebook, Twitter, et al. are the “information Superfund site.”


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Plough Monday, Distaff Day

Today, January 7, is both Plough Monday and Distaff Day.  The two don’t always coincide.

Plough Monday, as the name indicates, is a Monday:  specifically, the first Monday after Epiphany, January 6.  Distaff Day is the very day after January 6.

The two days mark the return to normal work after the Christmas holidays.  On Plough Monday the agricultural season began, and the men returned to the plough.  On Distaff Day regular housekeeping resumed, including working at the distaff (later replaced by the spinning wheel).

The old rhyme goes,

Yule has come and Yule has gone,
And we have feasted well;
Now Jack must to his plough again
And Jenny to her wheel.

This year, the day after Epiphany is also the first Monday after Epiphany, so the two days coincide.

So there you are.

(This information is drawn mostly from many past issues of The Old Farmer’s Almanac, which I’ve read faithfully since 1976.  Though it’s a reliable publication, fact checking is always a good idea, and was done.)

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