Monday, December 31, 2007

100th Times Square Ball-Drop

picture by Shannon Stapleton / Reuters
(used with permission)
The Times Square New Year's Eve ball is raised during a test drop
in New York on Friday, Dec. 28, 2007.

Did you know that 2007 marks 100 years of dropping a decorative ball atop a high building in Times Square to celebrate New Year's Eve? Sitting in my company's Times Square office, directly across the street from this year's much heralded new ball, I became curious about it and spent some time reading the websites that appeared in response to my "Times Square Ball" Google search.

First off, I learned that the idea of dropping a ball to signal the passage of time did not originate with Times Square promoters. In 1833 the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England, installed a rooftop ball which would drop at one o’clock every afternoon so that ship captains could set their chronometers for accurate navigation. Based on the success of that venture, approximately 150 public time-balls were installed around the world. Only a few still work, and the Times Square ball has become the most famous. Watched by over one billion people around the world on New Year’s Eve, it has become “a universal symbol of celebration and renewal.” *

There were only four balls used in Times Square before this one.

  • In 1907 the first ball to be dropped in Times Square was made of iron and wood and lit by 100 25-watt light bulbs.
  • In 1920 a ball made entirely of iron replaced it and was used for 35 years.

  • In 1955 an aluminum ball was installed. The aluminum ball saw many years of use and underwent various modifications, particularly in the 1980’s when the lights were red and the addition of a stem lit in green transformed it into a Big Apple.

  • On New Year’s Eve 1999 a new ball, made by Waterford Crystal in Ireland, was installed to usher in the year 2000. It featured 504 crystal triangles of different sizes, all bearing images related to the theme of peace. It was lit by 600 halogen bulbs.

This year a new ball was created, again by Waterford, in honor of the 100th New Year’s celebration in Times Square. Following this ball's theme, Let There Be Light, the new design includes technical innovations which allowed for the addition of 168 more crystal triangles. In addition, all the triangles are cut on both sides which will maximize the light refraction. 9,576 Philips Luxeon LEDs equipped with solid state wiring will make this year’s ball more than twice as bright and capable of millions of colors and billions of patterns. Should be quite a sight!

So... there's some trivia you can share with friends as you watch the ball drop tonight. Happy New Year!

* This quote and most of the information in this post comes from the Times Square Alliance website, in particular the pages About the New Year's Eve Ball and History of New Year's Eve in Times Square. Please visit those sites to read more details and to see the interesting pictures found there.

© 2007, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Lessons and Carols at MMF (2007)

With my recent spate of Irish music performances now concluded, I was able to give my full attention to planning the 2007 Lessons and Carols service at Manhattan Mennonite Fellowship (MMF). Since I prefer the traditional format of paired readings and music, I decided not to include a pageant like we did in our 2006 service. Instead, I organized an adult choir, a children's choir, and a couple of duets.

Here is the order of service used on December 16th, 2007, and a few pictures taken by my friend, Mervin Horst. 62 people attended this year's Lessons and Carols service. 27 were involved in reading and presenting music.

Prelude (Mory Ortman, pianist)
Welcoming Greeting (Sylvia Shirk Charles, pastor)
Introduction of visitors
Candle Lighting of the Third Advent Candle
Opening Congregational Songs:
"Oh, how shall I receive thee"

(we sing this song every year in memory of our former pastor, Arlene Pipkin, who introduced it to our congregation in Advent 2001, the year before she died.)

Lesson One: Psalm 96: 1-4 and 11-13
Praise to the Lord, the righteous judge
the First Carol: "Let the heavens be glad"

(MMF Adult Advent Choir)

Lesson Two: Matthew 25: 1-13
You know not when the Lord will come
the Second Carol: "Sleepers, wake!" (congregation)

Lesson Three: Luke 1: 57-79
Zechariah prophesies the birth of the Savior
the First Carol: "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence/Bless’d Be the God of Israel"

(Linda Hood - flute, Robert Charles - guitar)

Lesson Four: Isaiah 9: 2-7
The prophet Isaiah speaks of a child who is born for us
the Fourth Carol: "O come, all ye faithful" (congregation)

Lesson Five: Luke 1:26-31 and 46-56
The angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will conceive a son, Jesus
the Fifth Carol: "My soul is filled with joy" (congregation)

Lesson Six: Luke 2:1-12
The birth of Jesus in a stable in Bethlehem
the Sixth Carol: "The Friendly Beasts/Away in a Manger "
(MMF Children’s Advent Choir)

Lesson Seven: Luke 2:13-20
Angels and shepherds praise God at the birth of Jesus
the Seventh Carol: "O Holy Night"
(Sharon and Sarah Hewitt - vocal duet, accompanied by Mory Ortman - pianist)

Congregational Carol: "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing"
Prayer of Thanksgiving for the Offering
Offertory Music: Concerto for Violin, by Antonio Vivaldi
(Maya Petkovitch - violin, accompanied by Mory Ortman - piano)
Pastoral Prayer / Congregational Prayer

Closing Congregational Song: "Keep your lamps trimmed"
Postlude - Boil the Cabbage, a traditional American tune
(Anya Petkovitch - violin, accompanied by Mory Ortman - piano)

The Children's Advent Choir was this year's big hit. The age range of the kids pictured above was 3 to 13. We had only two rehearsals. The first one left much to be desired, and I was sure my inspiration to pull together a children's choir was symptomatic of some holiday lapse of sanity. However, one of the nonreaders practiced every day and memorized the words. All the kids worked hard at the second rehearsal, and in the service they were transformed into a choir of angels! They sang two songs - The Friendly Beasts and Away in the Manger. They pronounced the words clearly. They sang in unison on pitch. They held onto the tune against a varied and flowing piano accompaniment. Some children even sang solos on the internal verses of The Friendly Beasts. I was so glad I hadn't lost my courage. They were quite good, and I was very touched by how hard they worked and how happy they were to be part of the service.

As is our custom, the Lessons and Carols service was followed by a potluck dinner at Menno House. SoupFest was the theme of this year's Christmas potluck which featured four delicious soups and various salads as well as many homemade desserts. We all enjoyed time to visit with each other and bask in the glow of the service.

To all of you in various parts of the world, let me extend Merry Christmas greetings. I hope you find time amidst the frantic shopping and holiday parties to enjoy warm moments with people you love and to be engaged in activities that bring meaning to your life.

Photos by Mervin Horst, used with permission.

© 2007, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Washington Square Harp and Shamrock Orchestra performances

Graphic by Scott Spencer, used with permission.

Hello again! No, I didn't fall off the face of the earth or give up blogging. I've just been really busy. The primary activity that's been swallowing up all my leisure time is practicing flute and whistle for the many recent performances of the Washington Square Harp and Shamrock Orchestra (WSHSO), New York University's student/community Irish ensemble in which I play.

On October 24th the WSHSO played for the cocktail hour at the Irish Georgian Society dinner at the exclusive University Club on Fifth Avenue. The Georgian Society preserves historic architecture in Ireland. Posh though this fundraising event was, we were not impressed as there was some mixup about our food and the chef threw it out before we ever got to eat it! In fairness, I will add that they treated us to dinner at an establishment of our choice, but it was not the same as eating at the University Club.

On November 28th the WSHSO played 30 minutes of cocktail music for an event at the Torch Club, a private facility where NYU faculty events are hosted. Another fundraiser, this time money was needed to digitize and catalogue Mick Moloney's collection of Irish-American music and memorabilia which documents nearly two centuries of Irish- American popular culture and music, particularly between the years of 1860 and 1940. Mick has donated it to the NYU library. For more details, click here. After we played, we attended the sit-down dinner and heard Mick's fascinating presentation. For those of you who know him only from concerts and recordings, rest assured that as an academic, he's everything you'd expect from a University of Pennsylvania Ph.D (in Folklore).

On November 30th the WSHSO performed at NYU's Skirball Hall at the World Music Institute's concert of Irish-American National Heritage Masters. Headliners were Mick Moloney & Friends, Liz Carroll & John Doyle, Joe Derrane & John McGann, and the Donny Golden dancers. Mick often performs under the name of Mick Moloney & Friends because he plays with a few core people, then adds whoever else might be in town for the event. On this particular night his group included piper Jerry O'Sullivan, fiddler Dana Lyn, pianist Brendan Dolan, accordian player Billy McComiskey, guitarist John Doyle, singer Robbie O'Connell, flutist Joanie Madden, and the indomitable WSHSO. Well! I think this may have been the most extraordinary musical event I've ever been part of. During the 3-hour concert, the WSHSO was on stage for only three sets - two of them at the very end - but it must be said that our bits were among the most exciting bits of the evening. The final set of reels was electrifying! I overheard someone tell Mick we were the "big guns" adding fire power!

On December 10th the WSHSO played 90 minutes of music at the Irish American Bar Association of New York's holiday party at Glucksman Ireland House. The Irish lawyers gave us a warm reception and indicated they'd like to employ us for future events.

And on December 13th we performed at the Airneál na Nollag: An evening of traditional music and song at Glucksman Ireland House. This annual event is organized by NYU's Irish Language Lecturer Pádraig Ó Cearúill. In addition to WSHSO's music, Padraig's students performed songs in Irish, and my friend and singing teacher Ashley Davis sang as well. The lovely evening was followed by appropriate seasonal partying.

This Sunday evening, December 16th, the WSHSO will be leading the session at Jack O'Neill's pub in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn.

I'm having a blast. I am appreciating how lucky I am to live in NYC and to rub shoulders, sometime even share the stage, with some of the world's finest Irish musicians. While I can't sustain this pace forever, I figure I can sleep through January and February. That way I'll be rested up for the St. Patrick's Day onslaught of performances!

© 2007, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement