TBT^2: On Ghost Stories

It’s that time of year again—the so-called “spooky season,” when Halloween decorations go up, scary stories get told, and overwrought bloggers with delusions of grandeur stage over-the-top concerts from their front porches (well, maybe that last one is just me).  As the weather turns cool and the leaves begin to fall, it’s almost impossible not to settle in with some hot coffee and a good collection of ghost stories.

So, for the second year in a row, I’m looking back this TBT to 2019’s “On Ghost Stories,” a post that now will hold the distinction of being a perennial favorite.

One might think that as scary as the real world is, we’d spend less time reading spooky fiction.  It seems the opposite is the case.  Perhaps the idea that malevolence is not necessarily the result of human frailty, but rather due to wicked supernatural influences, is oddly comforting.  That evil is the result of our fallen nature—and, of course, the malignant supernatural influence up on it—is a bit easier to forget, perhaps, when reading about some ghostly figure wreaking havoc in the English countryside.

More likely, it’s just that we enjoy being scared—when we can easily flip off the television or close the book.  Horror is fun when there are no real consequences attached to it.  Then again, just watching horror movies probably isn’t healthy (I’ll report back if I suddenly get any macabre urges).

Well, whatever the reason, a good ghost story is hard to pass up.  With that, here is “TBT: On Ghost Stories“:

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TBT: Soda City Market

Earlier this week my little town of Lamar observed National Night Out, and the local neighborhood watch put together an organic, decentralized street festival to celebrate.  Regular readers know I am an avid fan of festivals, especially this time of year, and I look forward to visiting them—the weirder, the better.

With the proximity to National Night Out and the excitement of festival season in the air, I thought I’d dedicate this week’s TBT to a post about a much larger weekly festival, the so-called “Soda City Market.”  It’s been months since I attended, but it still holds a fond spot in my heart (and my stomach).

Here’s hoping that more of these open-aired autumnal festivals make a comeback this year.  After the long drought of The Age of The Virus, we could all use some fun.

With that, here is “Soda City Market“:

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TBT: Monday Morning Movie Review: The Empire Strikes Back

Earlier this week I reviewed 1977’s Star Wars, the film that started a craze that is still raging nearly five decades later, despite Disney’s best efforts to destroy the franchise.  What I didn’t realize is that nearly a year to the day earlier, I’d written a review of 1981’s The Empire Strikes Back, quite possibly the greatest Star Wars film ever made—and, I would argue, just one of the best films ever set to celluloid.

Naturally, I had to do a throwback to my review of the film, which I think was my first Monday Morning Movie Review.  Kind of crazy to think that I’ve been doing regular movie reviews every Monday for a year.  It both seems longer and shorter than that.

Well, no need in going any longer.  Here is 28 September 2021’s “Monday Morning Movie Review: The Empire Strikes Back“:

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TBT^2: The Joy of Autumn

Well, the first day of autumn was yesterday, although my Middle School Music students came into class Tuesday saying that their Geography teacher told them 21 September, rather than 22 September, was the first day of this glorious holiday.

I have little idea when the seasons calendrically begin, other than it’s always in the low-twenties of the month:  Spring in March, Summer in June, Autumn in September, and Winter in December.  As I’ve noted before on this site, in South Carolina it’s all pretty much one big season—summer—with some intermittent sprinklings of the actual season throughout the year.  That can even mean a cold front in the summer (Thy Will Be Done) or an unseasonably warm “Indian Summer” in mid-January.  I’ve sweated on New Year’s Day and Thanksgiving many times, and it’s always muggy on Halloween.

But I digress.  The discussion about when autumn really begins (some Bing!ing revealed it is 22 September this year, not 21 September) led to an impromptu crash course in songwriting.  We began listing all of the qualities of the fall, and the qualities of the then-soon-to-be-departing summer.  The students then crafted those into verses (about all the fun summertime stuff that was disappearing), with the chorus being all about how great the autumn is:  pumpkins, scarecrows, falling leaves, etc.

The kids ate it up.  I made up some cheesy crooner melody to go with it as a placeholder, but a precocious seventh grader began experimenting with an unusual C-Db-Eb chord sequence, which completely changed the melody.  I broke the students into groups to begin writing new verses, and another student took it upon herself to compile the lyrics into a master Google Doc.  Another student—a visual artist trapped in Music class—supplied the artwork for our soon-to-be-hit single, featuring a scarecrow and some other creature dancing around a flaming pumpkin (it’s pretty awesome).  Our little scribe-compiler mentioned that we needed a bridge, so we’ll have to get hopping on that.

It was completely unplanned—one student even suggested, snarkily, that I hadn’t planned a lesson that day, so I created this one out of thin air.  It’s only half true:  I did have a lesson planned—we were going to write, clap, and count rhythm lines—but the discussion of autumn sparked the idea for a much more engaging lesson about writing songs (which is, essentially, writing poetry, but better—there’s music attached!).

Anyway, here’s to autumnal weather to come—and good, middle school-penned songs to go with it.

With that, here is “TBT: The Joy of Autumn” (thanks to Pontiac Dreamer for today’s picture!):

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TBT: Music Among the Stars

It’s been a musical week here at The Portly Politico, so I figured, “why stop now?”

I’ve dedicated more and more space on the blog to musical and cultural matters, especially in the last year.  Among the posts I most enjoy writing—and of which I am most proud—are those I write about music.

This week’s TBT feature, “Music Among the Stars,” is one I really enjoy, and I think (humbly) it’s one of my better posts.  It’s about the golden records aboard the Voyager I space probe, and about the true purpose of music—to worship God.

I’ll let the essay speak for itself.  Here is 8 September 2021’s “Music Among the Stars“:

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TBT: Walkin’

The big “hit” piece (that is, the successful, well-liked post, not a piece attacking some famous personality) this week seems to have been my post about driving to and from Athens, Georgia.  In the spirit of forward motion and scenic trips, I thought I’d dust off this chestnut from 5 August 2020, right before the previous academic year began.

I’d just gotten into walking right before school resumed, and was hoping to get in a couple of miles every day.  That goal sure fell part quickly, and I realized I did not walk nearly as much as I thought I would at work.  It turns out that 10,000 steps a day is actually a lot of steps.

That said, I did manage to get in over 30,000 steps in a single day once in the past year:  when I spent an eighteen-hour day at Universal Studios.  Needless to say, I slept until nearly noon the next day.

But that outlier aside, I did not come close to achieving that dream.  When I dog-sat my girlfriend’s German Shepherd, we took some lengthy, sweaty walks.  I was hoping that Murphy and I would do the same, but the old girl doesn’t go much beyond the yard before she is ready to turn back for another round of water, snacks, and naps, so my dreams of long, energetic dog walks have been smashed on the arthritic knees of my ancient dog.

Or I’m just making a bunch of excuses for myself.  With that, here is 5 August 2020’s “Walkin’“:

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TBT: Things That Go Bump in the Night

Despite my griping about South Carolina weather in yesterday’s post, the first day of September was surprisingly cool and overcast, giving the slightest taste of the crisp autumnality to come.  This time of year always gets me thinking about Halloween and spooky stuff, especially as everything feels more magical.

Our modern minds have diminished and dismissed the supernatural as mere superstition, often accompanied with attempts to explain away supernatural phenomena with explanations that themselves require faith to believe.  That “faith” is in scientism, a counterfeit “religion” built purely on a material understanding of the world.

We see but through a glass darkly.  There is more to our world than meets the eye—more to it than what we can observe.  God tells us much of what is there—at least, what we need to know—and Scripture seems to suggest we shouldn’t go looking for things beyond Him and His Son.

Seems prudent to me.  With that, here is 2 September 2021’s “Things That Go Bump in the Night“:

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TBT: Benjamin Britten’s “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra”

The new year school year is back into full swing, with this week being the first full week of classes.  Needless to say, yours portly is tired, but very much enjoying the academic year so far.

I’m teaching Pre-AP Music Appreciation again this year, so I’m excited to dive back into some of the works we discussed last year—and some new ones!  Of course, we’ve kicked the year off with a listening to “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra,” a favorite for introducing orchestral instruments.

My Pre-AP Music class this year is quite small—just five students—which makes for a more relaxed classroom environment.  We’re able to explore tangents as they arise (and, based on my frequent use of em dashes and parentheses, you can imagine I go off on them frequently), and generally take the time to enjoy the music, which the students seem to be doing.

I don’t have much more to add that I didn’t write a year ago.  Britten ingeniously weaves a whopping thirteen variations on a Henry Purcell theme, featuring nearly every instrument in the orchestra—including the percussion section!—in solo or soli.  Even the neglected double basses get some love with a melody of their own.

With that, here is 31 August 2020’s “Benjamin Britten’s ‘The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra’“:

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TBT: First Week of School in The Age of The Virus

School is back, and while I’d like to think The Age of The Virus is in its twilight death throes, the powers-that-be seem intent on foisting fearmongering variants upon us, no doubt as a pretext to strip us of more of our civil liberties.

Regardless, we’re starting back normally this year—as normally as possible—with a whopping 408 (and counting) students.  Considering we had fewer than 100 students a decade ago, that’s a pretty huge change.

Hopefully we won’t have any major outbreaks this year, as we largely avoided last school year.  We managed to get through with only a few isolated cases among students and faculty, and finished up with life largely back to normal in the final two months of the year.

It’s interesting looking back to the beginning of last school year and seeing how the year progressed.  The fiasco of using Loom lasted about two weeks for yours portly; I quickly reverted to using the desktop version of Google Meet to record my lectures.

I’m also relieved that I won’t be livestreaming classes anymore.  I don’t have anything to hide; it’s just a huge hassle getting online kids logged in, much less engaged.  There’d frequently be times when I was ten minutes into class and a student would log in after being marked absent; sometimes I wouldn’t catch that the student had entered class, and the student would then complain about the absence.

More frequently, students would log in the moment I’d sent the attendance e-mail to the registrar, so I’d have to resend the e-mail.  Sometimes the registrar wouldn’t see that second e-mail, and I’d get a call in the middle of class asking if the “missing” student had logged into class.

Those were minor issues when compared to bigger problems with the online platform—students suddenly switching to distance learning on test days, for example—but still headaches.  It probably cost a good five-to-ten minutes of class time just to take attendance.

Well, here’s to the normal amount of craziness and bureaucratic overreach of the typical school year.  With that, here is 28 August 2020’s “First Week of School in The Age of The Virus“:

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