Beowulf, Grendel and others

The Vancouver Early Music Society had two exquisite concerts recently.  

Saturday, I went to see  Benjamin Bagby, founder of the early music group, Sequentia, perform part of Beowulf.  He is an incredible performer – singing in Old English, accompanied by a lyre.  In the ancient story Beowulf slays the terrible monster Grendel, who devours men by night.  Bagby really recreated the whole bardic experience.  Very evocative and atmospheric performance by a superb musician – a tour-de-force.  

Old English verse gets its rhyme not by metre or rhyme, but by illiteration, so it was really a different experience.  Next day, I had caught the Beowulf bug and went to the library to get the novel, Grendel by John Gardner. Grendel is an interesting monster – he would crush men, snap off their head and chug down their blood like Coke.  Well, all copies of the book were out.  Everybody wants to hear the monster’s side of it. 

The previous night, I was at “Music from San Marco” which featured the 16th century Venetian music of Gabrieli played by musicians from Montreal and Toulouse, France.  The music was sublime and I loved the voices.  The organist was wonderful, and I was fascinated by his eyes darting around under his thick brows.  He seemed to be from another century himself. 

After this divine concert, I caught a bus full of shouting young people in Halloween costumes.  It was Halloween night and they were heading to bars downtown. It was an interesting change of energy and I sat in my seat, silently judging the costumes.   My favorite was a young man in jeans, casually holding an illicit beer – his head poking through a small round table top, complete with lace tablecloth and table settings glued on it.


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