A Visit from Trio Sefardi

Trio Sefardi
Trio Sefardi (Howard Bass, Susan Gaeta and Tina Chancey). Photo by Jeff Malet, MaletPhoto.

Here’s an instruction I haven’t gotten before: “I need you to channel your inner Fiddler on the Roof.”

Tonight was our first time practicing with all three of the members of Trio Sefardi – Susan Gaeta, Howard Bass, and Tina Chancey. They’re a local group that plays Sephardic music.

When Tina instructed us to find our inner Tevye, we were singing “Quando El Rey Nimrod,” one of the Sephardic songs in this year’s Christmas Revels. In the song, Nimrod, a king in the Bible, goes out to the fields, looks at the sky, and foretells the birth of Abraham.

Nimrod seems like a funny name for a king. But of course the king came first; it was only recently that his name came to mean “stupid person.”

I thought maybe dictionaries could tell me how that happened. The first one I tried only gave two definitions: the great-grandson of Noah, noted as a great hunter; a person expert in or devoted to hunting.┬áThe next dictionary was the same. The third, a dictionary of word origins, skips the issue entirely, going straight from “nimbose” to “nincompoop.”

A brief internet search tells me this question comes up a lot. One possibility is that it was because Bugs Bunny used “Nimrod” sarcastically to describe Elmer Fudd. Because he’s not a great hunter – get it? (The Online Etymology Dictionary refers to this hypothesis as “amateur.”)

Anyway, the song we were working on is about King Nimrod. It’s lovely, with flowing, melodic choruses and a bouncy refrain. Tina, Howard, and Susan sat facing the chorus, playing instruments and, in Susan’s case, singing. Tina leapt out of her chair to demonstrate how the song’s refrain should move and dance. And we all got even more excited about the music we’re singing for this year’s Christmas Revels.

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Happy Halloween

Nerluc in flames (pumpkin carved by Barry Galef). Photo by Barry Galef.

Every year, Reveler Barry Galef brings us a special treat: One of his carved pumpkins. These aren’t the jack-o-lanterns you’re used to, with the triangles for eyes and the half-moon for a mouth. He treats the pumpkin as a work of art, carving a detailed scene into their orange skin.

The pumpkin always relates to the theme of the Christmas Revels. We had a flying canoe for the French Canadian show in 2008 and Henry VIII for 2007’s Elizabethan show. (Hey, he was Elizabeth’s dad.) So during the break in tonight’s rehearsal, we all filed upstairs to the mezzanine to ooh and ahh over this year’s offering.

The main pumpkin this year has the tale of Saint Margaret and the Tarasque. The Tarasque is a sort of dragon-like creature with lots of legs. It makes an appearance this year in the Christmas Revels, as the monster in the mummers play. In the story, the Tarasque ravages the town of Nerluc, in Provence, and sets it on fire.

Taming the Tarasque (pumpkin carved by Barry Galef). Photo by Barry Galef.

A young woman goes out with a jug of holy water, tames the Tarasque, and brings it back to show everyone how calm it is. But the angry townspeople kill it anyway. In remorse, they name their town “Tarascon.”

You can see some more of Barry’s pumpkins on his website.

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