An Interview with Charlotte Hoather, My Favorite Classical Soprano

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Today I have invited the brilliant soprano Charlotte Hoather for tea. She’s British, so I know she likes tea. Me, I’ll stick with coffee. I somehow got directed to Charlotte’s blog a number of years ago, when she was first enrolled in the Royal College of Music in the Master’s Program. It was a wonderful blunder because I’ve been enjoying her voice and her professional growth ever since.

           by  Frank Dresch

Since she is the first profession singer I’ve ever met, I have a lot of questions for her!

Charlotte, when did you start singing?

My older brother and I used to watch Disney Sing-a-Long videos from about the age of two, and  I started singing when I was about two, at least that’s what I used to call it, I would watch Disney Sing-a-Long and Barney with my brother. But I started singing on stage from the age of 6, my first role was Thumbelina in a stage-school production. When I was 12, I started taking 30-minute private singing lessons and it has built up from there, culminating with my Master’s Degree at the Royal College of Music, London.

I’m most familiar with your classical singing, but what were the first things you sang?

Disney songs, Spice Girls, Steps and Britney Spears. This then progressed into Musical Theatre songs, then folk songs, then classical songs and arias in a range of languages.

I know you still sing Disney songs. I heard Let It Go which you sang from your balcony. It probably made a lot of little girls happy!  When did you first sing in public?

I won a competition held by Oasis Holiday Resort in the UK at the age of three when I sang 5,6,7,8 by Steps, completely unrehearsed. The prize was a free meal for all my family and free cinema tickets, much to the despair of my big brother who had also entered with a practiced routine.

I would have liked to see that! When did you decide you wanted to become a professional singer?

 If you asked me at 11, I would have told you I was going to be a dancer. I studied ballet, tap, Latin, ballroom, contemporary and jazz dancing with a real passion. However, from about the age of 15, I began to explore operatic singing and fell in love with the flamboyance and difficulty of this genre. I could use the dancing and stagecraft skills towards this but potentially have a longer performing career.

That was a pretty momentous decision. How did it change your life?

I went to a state school with very few opportunities for training in classical music. I was lucky that I had a very supportive family, who traveled the northwest of England with me so that I could participate in music federation competitions. At these events, I could learn from other singers for the first time and get intensive feedback from experts in the genre. These opportunities made me realize how much I wanted to follow this passion into a career.

I was aware of how big a part of your life your family is from your blogs during your days at the Royal Academy of Music. Even though your secondary education did not support musical training, was there some important thing you learned during those years?

Secondary education in the UK is from 11-18. The most important thing that I learned from High School was to do what you love and seek out your own opportunities to achieve it. I found external teachers, educational programs, competitions and I studied hard to complete my compulsory subjects alongside my music passions. I learnt to be educationally independent and this skill has helped me tremendously throughout my degree and now as I embark a career in opera.

I doubt many of my followers know a classically trained singer. Is your chosen profession difficult to break into?

 Yes, because it is extremely competitive. I am a trained soprano, there are more sopranos than any other voice type. For example in ‘By Voice Alone’, a 2019 competition in London, their statistics showed that 61% of the competitors were sopranos! And that’s lower than normal. In international competitions, 85% of competitors are sopranos, with the remaining 15% making up the other 5 voice types.

Charlotte Hoather, winning the prestigious Pendine International Voice of the Future competition at the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod

So you are facing the biggest challenge because of your range! I’ve often wondered if singing professionally is like acting.  Are you nervous before a performance? How do you calm your nerves?

I do always get some butterflies before walking on stage, but once I begin, they start to settle, and I can release into the performance. Here are some coping mechanisms I use:

  • Acknowledge your preparation. You have put the hours in, you know your music, you know your character – trust that you will deliver.

  • Try not to focus on external judgement, when you are singing/speaking in public, you can only hear your own thoughts so be kind to yourself and accept mistakes with a smile and aim to tell the story.

  • Breathing exercises. I close my eyes and breathe in for 4 counts and out for 4 counts. I will repeat this until I feel calm.

Great advice! I used to do the same thing when I gave guest lectures and lectures at international meetings. Except maybe for the breathing.  🙂 What do you do each day to exercise your voice?

Every day I try to do technical exercises for 30 minutes. These consist of lip trills, a variety of scales and arpeggios. Each exercise builds on from the previous, I will extend the range sung or change the speed. Usually, I will sing these exercises to pure vowels (i, e, a, o, u) and then introduce consonants to warm up the tongue. I aim to sing for at least 2 hours per day. But there is lots of work to be done away from the piano too.

I remember your posts on learning different languages and emotional expression. Tell me, do you have to try out for parts in an opera? How do you learn of these roles?

 Yes, every job I have had to date has involved an audition. This process is similar to an interview, except at this interview I have to present my skills straight away. Usually, I will prepare for the audition 3-5 Arias. I try to select pieces which are relevant to the production so the casting director can see that I would be a good fit. For example, if I am auditioning for Sophie in Werther, I would try to present her aria and another aria from a character in different opera with similar traits (young, positive and carefree).

Learning an opera role is a huge task! But a very fun and rewarding one. I begin by reading the full libretto (all the text in the opera). This way I can understand the story. If it is in another language, I will try to find a translation. I will then highlight my part and divide it into categories: arias, duets, trio, small ensemble (4-5 singers), large ensemble (6+), finales, recitative and spoken dialogue. This helps to break up the project into manageable tasks. I find larger ensembles and recitatives trickier to learn so I begin with those. If it is Bel Canto, I will scour the score for coloratura passages that will need regular practice. I will also decide if I need to ornament the repeated melodies. I listen and watch previous productions to learn the score, for enjoyment and to build a profile for my character. Then learn, repeat and play! I find that if I inject a bit of fun into the learning it is always more successful. For example, dressing up like the character whilst learning the words or listening to the music whilst looking at a storyboard of the lyrics helps the text and music to sink in.

I had no idea your preparation was so labor intensive, but I like the idea that you can put some fun into it. You’ve sung in a fair number of operas. Which was your favourite?

I adored singing Juliet in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ for Arcadian Opera last year. I studied the play a lot during high school, so I was excited to be able to take on the challenge of presenting Juliet. The music changes throughout the opera to follow her journey from innocent child excited by extravagant parties to a young woman, who has to make heart-wrenching decisions in the name of love.

Some scenes from Romeo and Juliet

              Charlotte in Mansfield Part                                                 Charlotte in a Pop-Up Opera

You must learn the music of many different composers, Who is your favourite?

My favourite composer is Richard Strauss. When I listen to his music, the melodies sparkle and twinkle throughout the vocal range. I enjoy that he plays with extremes of emotions and images, such as in ‘Schlechtes Wetter’ (Bad Weather) where the music bounces across the piano keys like roaring rain on the pavement or in Muttertändelei, (Mothers song). At the start of this song I sing a string of fast-changing notes, to depict a mother’s overjoyed squeal of admiration for her baby.

Richard Strauss is one of my favorites, too! I know you have been quarantined in your apartment with your partner, certainly better than being apart! How did you meet him?

My Partner in life and music is George Todica, who can perform Rachmaninoff with a flourish and also make a wonderful cup of tea! We first met in 2013, when I was nominated to represent the RCS at the Kathleen Ferrier Annual Bursary for Young Singers competition. A few weeks before the competition my accompanist withdrew, and I was introduced to George by Aaron Shorr, ‘Head of Keyboard’ for the RCS. George kindly accepted to play, and we worked extremely hard together in a limited time. On 27th October we managed to win the Audience Prize, which commemorated the 60th Anniversary of the death of Kathleen Ferrier. We have been singing songs together ever since, and I am happy to say we will get married on 31st October this year (fingers crossed).

Congratulations! I think surviving all this time together in an apartment is a good indication that your marriage will be a strong one. I won’t ask you if there have ever been some tough days! But my followers should know that you and George have been performing for you neighbors from your balcony. If you go to Charlotte’s website:  https://charlottehoatherblog.com/ you can listen to some of their performances.

 What are your plans for the future?

 At the moment I am planning to record another CD with George. We are thinking outside the box and exploring different recording methods to see if we can record whilst we are working from home in lockdown.

My ambition in a post-COVID-19 world is to sing a role at a National Opera house in the UK or abroad.

I predict that will happen, Charlotte. Thanks so much for sharing your life with my followers!

I can’t end this without letting my readers hear Charlotte sing! Here are three selections she sent me.

This is a YouTube link for ‘O Luce Di Quest’Anima’

https://youtu.be/IPSyGSjGwi0

This is a YouTube link to ‘Interlude’ written by Ben Moore who is an American Composer

https://youtu.be/wmImTlaeGso

Baby Shark from Balcony Concert

https://youtu.be/yKVq4LiieiU

and here are Charlotte’s CDs:

BRAVA!

Book Review: Threads by Charlotte Whitney (@CWhitneyAuthor) #RBRT #Depression Era fiction

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Threads is my introduction to Charlotte Whitney and I have discovered a talented writer. Threads follows the lives of three sisters growing up on a hardscrabble farm during the depression, and the story alternates among their points of view. Nellie is the youngest and in second grade, and she has the most pronounced mid-Michigan farm dialect. Irene is in sixth grade and a definite middle child. She and Nellie attend a one room school. The oldest sister, Flora, is in high school.

Nellie is a real tomboy with a vivid imagination. One afternoon, while she explores the meadows and woods surrounding the farm, she spots a tiny black hand poking out of a mound. Nellie is terrified and listening to her parents talking that night – she can hear them if she puts her ear to the heat register in the floor of her bedroom – she learns it was a baby boy. The sheriff had been called but no one had any idea about whose baby it was. Her parents worry they will be blamed.

Irene is sassy, intelligent, and has become the pet of the school’s teacher Miss Flatshaw. She thinks Nellie is stupid. Flora is on the cusp of adulthood. She is a caring and perceptive young woman who has considerable responsibility in the work of the farm and realizes that her life will be one of a farmer’s wife, despite her desire for a career.

The three girls’ personalities are wonderfully wrought – you can hear their voices in your head. You live with them over the next years, through all the details of running a farm, struggling to put enough food on the table to feed everyone, the penny-pinching and making-do, the sharing of whatever they have with those more in need, and the whims of the weather on which their livelihood depends. The descriptions take the reader into life on a farm, into a loving but stressed family, and through all of life’s transitions: from one grade to another, graduation, first love, surprising traumas. Woven in is the continuing mystery of the dead baby’s origins. I particularly liked the last chapter, which presents us with the girls as adults with lives of their own.

I highly recommend this book. It was a joy to read. The author’s knowledge of, and passion for, this era shines through.

About the author:

Charlotte Whitney grew up in Michigan and spent much of her career at the University of Michigan directing internship and living-learning programs. She started out writing non-fiction while at the University and switched to romance with I Dream in White. A passion for history inspired her to write Threads. She lives in Arizona, where she loves hiking, bicycling, swimming, and practicing yoga.

You can find her

On her blog: https://charlottewhitney.com/books

On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CWhitneyAuthor/

On Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/cwhitney2171/

On Twitter: @CWhitneyAuthor

Threads can be found on Amazon:

 

 

Pop Goes the Weasel! And Clowns.

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In my last blog I showed you a spinners or knitters weasel. It is a mechanical yarn-measuring device consisting of a spoked wheel with bobbins at the end of each spoke, around with the yarn winds. The spokes are attached to a something that looks like a clock with an internal mechanism the makes a ‘pop’ sound when the desired length of yarn has been wound – usually a skein. According to Wikipedia, the weasel’s gear ratio is usually 40 to 1, and the circumference of the reel is usually two yards, thus producing an 80-yard skein when the weasel pops (after 40 revolutions).

Some of the early weasels were made without the gear mechanism. They perform the same function, but without the pop to aid the spinner in keeping track of the length of thread or yarn produced.

The mechanism making the pop sound on the spinners weasel is the possible source for  the nursery rhyme Pop Goes the Weasel.

All I know is that the crank-handled jack-in-the-box my son had as a toy when he was little scared the whey out of him the first time we cranked it up and the clown popped out.

I am not a fan of clowns – I am a coulrophobic, but these figures in the Jack-in-the-boxes aren’t really clowns but something called augustes. Clowns have white-face make-up and usually wear pointed hats and ruffled collars. Augustes are the red-nosed guys with oversized trousers and squirty flowers in their buttonholes. So I know why I liked my very first real ‘clown,’ Emmett Kelly, who was an auguste.

From Clownpedia/Fandom. Emmet Kelly, an auguste, with a clown on either side

Emmett Kelly was a world-famous American circus performer, who created the clown figure ‘Weary Willie’, based on the hobos of the Great Depression in the 1930s. Kelly’s creation of Weary Willie revolutionized professional clowning and made him the country’s most familiar clown. I first saw him in the Ringling Brothers circus.

‘Jack in the box’ got its name from the name given to a swindler who cheated tradesmen by substituting empty boxes for the full ones that were expected. Such a ‘Jack’ is found in James Cranstoun’s reprinting of Satirical Poems of the time of the Reformation.

‘Jack in the box’ was also the name given to a type of firework and this is found in John Babington’s Pyrotechnia, 1635.

So old Jack is an auguste, a swindler, or a firecracker!

Book Review: Katherine – Tudor Duchess by Tony Riches (@tonyriches) #historical fiction #Tudor era

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I was first introduced to Tony Riches historical novels when I read the books in his Tudor Trilogy, about the founding and growth of the Tudor family. The history is compelling. For Mary – Tudor Princess, and this book, Katherine – Tudor Duchess, the reader experiences the Tudor family from a woman’s point of view. The author hasn’t lost a step in the transition.

Katherine Willoughby was born at Parham Hall in Suffolk in 1519, daughter of the 11th Baron of Willoughby and his second wife, Maria de Salina, who had come to England as a lady-in- waiting to Katherine of Aragon. With her father’s death, Katherine inherited the barony. Her wardship fell to King Henry VII, who sold it to Charles Brandon, the Duke of Suffolk, his brother-in-law.

Her story begins as she is about to leave to join the Duke’s household. Her mother, who will continue in her service to Queen Katherine, sees her daughter as a good match for Henry Brandon, the Duke’s five-year-old son who is in the line of succession to the throne. Katherine is not so sure.

After traveling to the impressive Westhorpe Manor, Katherine becomes a part of the Brandon family, joining Henry and his two sisters, who are close in age to Katherine. She immediately is drawn to the beautiful, clever and elegant Lady Mary, wife of the Duke and sister to the King. (See Mary – Tudor Princess). When Katherine meets the Duke, she is immediately drawn to this rich and powerful man.

When Princess Mary dies after a lingering illness, Katherine mourns her deeply and is surprised when the Duke proposes to marry her. She is but fourteen and he is forty-nine. Beating the odds, theirs is a long and successful marriage, weathering the vicissitudes of the King’s many marriages and the reigns of Henry’s children. Katherine’s quick wit, devotion to learning and outspoken advocacy for the English reformation help her navigate the politics of the time. Through Katherine’s eyes, you meet the famous women of Henry’s court: Anne Boleyn, Katherine Seymour, Catherine Parr. You suffer with the deaths of her children and experience terror when Katherine’s faith puts her and her entire family in danger.

As impressed as I was by the story of Princess Mary, Katherine’s life left an even more indelible vision of an indomitable woman who not only survived a tumultuous time, but thrived. As always, the author’s attention to detail and depth of knowledge of the intrigue of the English court is superb.

I highly recommend yet another well-written and richly ornamented book by Tony Riches.

About the author

Tony Riches was born in Pembrokeshire, West Wales, and spent part of his childhood in Kenya. He gained a BA degree in Psychology and an MBA from Cardiff University and worked as a Management Consultant, followed by senior roles in the Welsh NHS and Local Government.

After writing several successful non-fiction books, Tony decided to turn to novel writing. His real interest is in the history of the fifteenth century, and now his focus is on writing historical fiction about the lives of key figures of the period. His novels Warwick, The Man Behind the Wars of the Roses and The Secret Diary of Eleanor Cobham have both become Amazon best sellers.

Today Tony has returned to Pembrokeshire, an area full of inspiration for his writing, where he lives with his wife. In his spare time he enjoys sailing and sea kayaking.

Visit Tony online at http://www.tonyriches.co.uk, Tony Riches Author on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @tonyriches.

You can find Katherine – Tudor Duchess at Amazon Books:

 

Wait, wait, it’s coming….

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Anxiety is building. My new book, The Last Pilgrim, is scheduled for release on June 1. The final version of the PDF has been uploaded and we are just waiting on the person creating the book jacket to do his thing.

 

The artist who painted the cover for me had it framed, and it’s now on my wall!

Here are some of the line drawings, done by moi, for the book. Do you know what they are (except for the house)? Give me some guesses if you don’t know…

When the time comes, I’d love some help disseminating the news, if you are so inclined!

Nervously yours,

The author

Book review: The Reluctant Heir: A Dr. Adam Bascom Georgian Mystery by William Savage (@penandpension) #Georgian Mystery

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I am always eager to read any of the books in the two Georgian mystery series by William Savage: The Adam Bascom series and the Ashmole Fox series. This new one did not disappoint.

Adam Bascom is born the younger of two sons of a country squire, and, unable to inherit, he pursues a career in medicine and sets up practice in the small town of Aylsham, not far from Norwich. In the previous books in the series, he discovers he has a talent for solving mysteries along with practicing medicine. In this outing, Dr. Bascom has made a love match in his marriage to a young and wealthy widow and has inherited, as her husband, a baronetcy, along with a large agricultural estate and a considerable amount of money.

Part of the story is his struggle to adapt to his new circumstances. He has no experience managing an estate, must adjust to being local royalty rather than a lower class country doctor, and has had to give up his medical practice to his former partner. These personal problems are never far from the new investigative case in which he becomes embroiled.

The son of a local landowner is found dead on the lonely country road leading to his father’s estate. He has been pierced through from back to front by a sharp implement wielded with some force. He was then either pulled or fell from his horse and the killer left him tidily arranged by the side of the road, face up. The father of the victim wants now Sir Adam to find the killer.

The victim, one Fredrick Dalston, is an odious and profligate young man who gambles and involves himself with women of all kinds. As the oldest son, he is bleeding his father’s estate dry by requiring money to pay off his gambling and other debts. The father is loving but ineffectual and cannot refuse his son anything. Frederick was on the way home to demand even more money, enough that would bankrupt the estate.

Unlike some of the previous Bascom mysteries, this book starts off quickly, following upon Sir Adam’s return from his honeymoon and his recognition that he is bored with his new social condition. With the encouragement of his very intelligent wife, Lady Alice, Sir Adam leaps at the chance to investigate. The heinous nature of Frederick Dalston and the many different dark alleys from which the murderer may have come are perplexing and seemingly disparate.  The author leads the reader on a merry chase down many of these paths and had me convinced, like Sir Adam, that this one…no, the next one…no, another one… was the solution.  I love to try to figure out these who dun its and finally figured out the answer at about the same time Sir Adam did.

As with all his books, the author does a spectacular job with the historical background, social issues, and crimes of the time. He has created memorable characters in Lady Alice, Peter Lassimer – Sir Adam’s best friend and an apothecary, Sir Adam’s mother and the various members of Lady Alice’s family.

The pace of all of William Savages book is deliberately slow, as befits the time. This is no investigation by Kathy Reichs or Michael Connelly – after all, it is set in a time when life moved at a careful and enjoyable pace without electronics, phones or cars. The reader must sink into it and enjoy the social interactions that lead Bascom in his thinking. In this book, I also found the descriptions of the countryside were a source of great pleasure.

I highly recommend this book and encourage readers to dip into the others in this series and the Ashmole Fox series. Every book is a stand-alone, although the characters progress in their lives during each series.

Awaiting the next book and hoping that Sir Adam finds a way to worm back into his medical practice – a great source of characters, gossip and medical history.

About the author:

William Savage grew up in Hereford, on the border with Wales and took his degree at Cambridge. After a working life largely spent teaching and coaching managers and leaders in Britain, Europe and the USA, he retired to Norfolk, where he volunteers at a National Trust property and started to write fiction as a way of keeping his mind active in retirement. He had read and enjoyed hundreds of detective stories and mystery novels and another of his loves was history, so it seemed natural to put the two together and try his hand at producing an historical mystery. To date, he has focused on two series of murder-mystery books, both set in Norfolk between 1760 and around 1800; a period of turmoil in Britain, with constant wars, the revolutions in America and France and finally the titanic, 22-year struggle with France and Napoleon.

Norfolk is not only an inherently interesting county, it happens to be where the author lives, which makes the necessary research far easier. The Georgian period seemed natural choice for him as well, since he lives in a small Georgian town, close by several other towns that still bear the imprint of the eighteenth century on many of their streets and grander buildings. It also had the attraction of being a period he had never studied intensively, and so far he has not regretted his choice.

You can find The Reluctant Heir on Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Reluctant-Heir-Adam-Bascom-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B086K3N3YZ/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=The+Reluctant+Heir&qid=1587222200&s=books&sr=1-2

William Savage’s blog is Pen and Pension:  http://penandpension.com I highly recommend his blog for his fascinating posts on all aspects of life in Georgian England.

You can also find him

On Twitter: @penandpension

And on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100009908836774

I had a light bulb

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Writers are probably not finding this shut down, sheltering in place, forced to stay home – whatever you want to call it – tremendously difficult. Except for maybe getting exercise. I think I might end up putting on the Covid 15..or 50.

 

 

 

 

Anyway, I thought about it and then had an idea.

Since we can’t market our books except on line, why don’t we help each other by posting a review of a blogging buddy’s book once a week? That might drive sales and spread the word.

Whaddaya think?

 

 

In the meantime, here’s something to brighten your day.

How About a Little Beauty to Brighten Your Days While You Live in Place?

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 I wrote an A-z series on Renaissance artists a while back, and thought perhaps you could enjoy a little beauty to brighten your days keeping in place and social distancing! So here’s Raphael!  Let me know if you like this, and I can post more art!

Raphael Self Portrait

Raphael Self Portrait

Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, or Raphael (1483 –1520 was an Italian painter and architect of the High Renaissance.  With Michaelangelo and Leonardo da Vince, he forms the traditional trinity of the greatest artists of that period.  His artistic contribution is the clarity of his painting and the ease of composition, with a visual ideal of humanity.  Vasari, in his Lives of the Painters, called him the ‘Prince of Painters.”

Urbino, at the time of Raphael’s birth, was a cultural center for the Arts. Raphael’s father, Giovanni Santi, was a painter for the Duke of Urbino and taught the young Raphael basic painting techniques.

Self Portrait (with an unknown friend, foreground)

Self Portrait (with an unknown friend, foreground)

Because of this, he was able to experience the intellectual life of the court and the principles of humanistic philosophy. Giovanni died suddenly when Raphael was eleven, and his son took over the task of managing his father’s workshop. He became Urbino’s leading painter at age twelve and quickly surpassed his father.

The Three Graces

The Three Graces

In 1500, the master painter Perugino invited Raphael to become his apprentice in Perugia, where where he was working on frescoes at the Collegio del Cambia. During the next four year, Raphael gained knowledge and hands-on experience, as well as developing his own unique style.  The Three Graces (circa 1503) and The Knight’s Dream (1504) date from this time.

Knight's Dream (Vision of a Knight)

Knight’s Dream (Vision of a Knight)

By the time he was 21, Raphael had moved to Florence, where he was exposed to, and influenced by, the work of Michelangelo and Da Vinci.  Studying the details of their work, Raphael began to develop an even more intricate and expressive personal style.  From 1504 through 1507, Raphael painted a series of Madonnas, evocative of da Vince, culminating in 1507 with La Belle Jardine. That same year, he created his most ambitious work in Florence, the Entombment, evocative of the ideas of Michaelangelo.

The Entombment

The Entombment

The Bell Jardine

The Bell Jardine

Raphael moved to Rome in 1508, and his last twelve years were both hectic and triumphant, working for two Popes and their associates.  He became an enormously productive painter, running a large workshop.

School of Athens, Fresco in the Raphael Rooms of the Vatican

School of Athens, Fresco in the Raphael Rooms of the Vatican

The four Raphael Rooms in the papal apartments of the Vatican Palace are famous for their grand fresco sequence, painted by Raphael and his workshop. Note the excellent use of perspective,

School of Athens, Fresco for the Raphael Rooms of the Vatican

School of Athens, Fresco for the Raphael Rooms of the Vatican

taught to Raphael by his father, who studied the work of Mantagna.  Raphael painted an additional fresco cycle for the Vatican, but those in the Raphael Rooms are considered the best. This is my favorite:

Madonna of the Chair

Madonna of the Chair

He also produced another successful series of  Madonna paintings,  the famed Madonna of the Chair and one of my favorites, the Madonna with the Goldfinch.

Madonna with the Goldfinch

Madonna with the Goldfinch

By the time Raphael was working on his largest painting on canvas, The Transfiguration, he had begun to work on architecture.  The pope hired Raphael as his chief architect in 1515. With this commission, he designed Rome’s Santa Maria del Popolo Chapel, various other chapels within Saint Peter’s new basilica and also palaces, incorporating ornamental details that would define the architecture of the  late Renaissance and early Baroque periods.

Santa Maria del Popolo

Santa Maria del Popolo

Raphael died suddenly on his 37th birthday.  His funeral Mass was held at the Vatican and his body interred at the Pantheon.

Despite his early death, Raphael left a large body of work . Michelangelo’s influence overshadowed his until the 18th and 19th centuries, when Raphael’s more serene and harmonious qualities again led him to be regarded as the leading artistic figure of Italian   High Renaissance classicism.

Did the Pilgrims Disembark on Plymouth Rock?

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In doing primary research on the Pilgrims, I discovered there are no contemporary references to the Pilgrims landing on what is now known at Plymouth Rock. Neither William Bradford’s description of the Pilgrims coming ashore in Plymouth for the first time in 1620 nor the 1622 book called Mourt’s Relation mention any rocks in their accounts. A huge granite rock was mentioned as something marking the site where the Pilgrims would land, but not that they would land ON it.

The first written mention of a rock was made in 1715 when it was described in town boundary records as “a great rock.”

                                    The Landing of the Pilgrims, by Henry Bacon, 1877.

Perhaps its identity was transmitted from father to son, because in 1741 Elder Thomas Faunce documented his claim that Plymouth Rock was the landing place of the Pilgrims. He was 95 years old at the time and had to be carried in a chair to the site. The Rock was under the bank of Cole’s Hill, and he assured those present that his father had pointed the Rock out and told him of its importance. Faunce’s father had arrived in the Plymouth colony aboard the ship Anne in 1623 two, years after the Mayflower landing, and Elder Faunce was born in 1647 when many of the Mayflower Pilgrims were still living, so his assertion made a strong impression.

Colonel Theophilus Cotton and the residents of Plymouth decided to move the rock in 1774. In their attempt to relocate it, the Rock split into two parts. The bottom portion was left behind. The top portion was first displayed at the town’s meeting house, then in 1834 moved to Pilgrim Hall (1824), the oldest public museum in the United States in continuous operation.

In the meantime, the Pilgrim Society had a Victorian canopy built over the lower portion of the Rock. It was designed by artist and architect Hammett Billings, who did the original drawings for Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and completed in 1867. The top of the rock was moved from Pilgrim Hall to rejoin the lower portion in 1880, and at that time the date 1620 was carved into it.

In 1920, the rock was moved yet again so old wharves could be removed and the Plymouth waterfront re-landscaped. The rock was then returned to its original site and placed at water level, so it was tide washed. The original canopy was removed and an imposing Roman Doric portico constructed, designed by McKim, Mead and White, architects for among other buildings, among them those on the campus of Columbia University.

It is not surprising that during its many journeys, numerous pieces of the rock were taken, bought and sold. There are pieces in Pilgrim Hall Museum, as well as in the Patent Building in the Smithsonian and a 40-pound piece is set on a pedestal in the cloister of the Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims in Brooklyn Heights, New York. Tourist and souvenir hunters chipped away at it in its early days on display. The original rock weighed some 20,000 pounds but only one-third of the top portion is on display under the canopy.

“We have come to this Rock, to record here our homage for our Pilgrim Fathers; our sympathy in their sufferings; our gratitude for their labours; our admiration of their virtues; our veneration for their piety; and our attachment to those principles of civil and religious liberty, which they encountered the dangers of the ocean, the storms of heaven, the violence of savages, disease, exile, and famine, to enjoy and establish.”  Daniel Webster, 1820 (the same Daniel Webster that debated the devil at what is called Jabez Corner in Plymouth, in the short story by Stephen Vincent Benet).

Over the centuries, Plymouth Rock has become a national icon and crept into America’s historical consciousness through the imagination of authors, painters, and, yes, politicians, To some it is a symbol of white oppression. I tend to agree with Daniel Webster, especially based on the relationship of the Pilgrims with the local Native Americans.

Book review: The Alexandrite by Dione Jones (@DioneJonesAuthor) #rbrt #historical and modern fiction

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I purchased the book for review as a member of Rosie Amber’s book review team.

This book covers multiple generations of the titled Scawton family of England. The center of the story is the current Lady Scawton, Pamela, who discovers the body of a stranger in the woods near the family home of Ashly House.

Pamela represents perhaps the last generation of the English upper class raised to be waited on and respected for their title alone, but she is, in fact, rather down to earth. She endured years of emotional and psychological trauma at the hands of her husband, CJ, and her only son, Charles, now Lord Scawton, is as selfish and overbearing as her husband.

In the pocket of the stranger is a letter addressed to Lord Scawton and an odd stone, one which changes color from green to pink, depending on the light. Pamela has no idea why the stranger, who had come to England from New Zealand, wanted to see her husband, what the abbreviated letter means, nor the reason for the stone. Eventually, she, against the strong wishes of her son, she travels to New Zealand to get answers. The stone, an alexandrite, mined in Tsarist Russia, gives its name to the book.

The book has numerous flashbacks to scenes involving the family and their servants during the two decades after WWar I, and from Ashly House to New Zealand farmland. Pamela’s trip reveals how the flashbacks to events after WW I are woven into the present.

I enjoyed the book, but for me it was a long read, with a great deal of exposition and some confusion with the many characters in the various time lines and places and multiple points of view. A character list at the beginning of the book would have been helpful. The site transitions within chapters also created some difficulties for me as I struggled to identify and remember the characters.

That being said, the author does a wonderful job creating the main characters. I felt pity for Pamela having such a difficult married life, knowing she was trapped there, and having a son who treated her disrespectfully. She is such a good character that I wanted to shake her and tell her to stand up for herself. It was gratifying that eventually she did. Her son Charles; the butler Godfrey; Ginny, the daughter of Pamela’s friend Di Williams; and Theodore Cook, the brother of the dead man and a shambling old wreck in and out of his memories, made strong impressions. I also liked the scenes set in New Zealand, where the author resides, especially the sheep shearing and Karekare Beach.

Another strong element for me was the description of the different roles of women set against the British class system, class conflicts and changing societal values.

This book had much to recommend it, but the numerous characters and their relationships are  difficult to sort out through the various stories winding within the book.

About the author

Born in England, Dione Jones has been a New Zealand resident for years. Married to Chris and with two adult children, she lives on a small farm in South Auckland. She has had varied pursuits: at one stage she flew and helped sell aeroplanes and at another ran a laboratory in an abattoir. Her interest now encompasses her family and grandchildren, dogs, horses and polo, the business world, the environment we live in, historical changes in society – and of course good books.  Writing is a long held passion and she is now a Master of Creative Writing.

You can find Dione Jones

On Twitter @DioneJonesAuthor

And on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DioneJonesAuthor/

The Alexandrite can be purchased on Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Alexandrite-Dione-Jones/dp/B07YQGP79R/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Dione+Jones&qid=1584200601&s=books&sr=1-1