Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Send These People to Transylvania

The Tree of Life Adult Choir assembled before a multi-Church concert in McHenry County.  They had no match.


That’s right, I want you personally to send all of these smiling singers to far off Transylvania, a Hungarian speaking region of Romania best known as the stomping grounds of Vlad the Impaler and his alternate persona Count Dracula.  The isolated a mountainous region was also the home to John Sigismund, world history’s only Unitarian King who in 1568 issued the Edict of Torda, the world’s first document guaranteeing religious liberty to different and opposing sects.
The plucky Unitarians of Transylvania survived, against all odds, subsequent persecutions at the hands for both Reform Protestants (Calvinists) and resurgent Roman Catholics, as well as by the Ottoman Turks, the Kingdom of Hungary, the Hapsburg Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Nazis, and the brutal post-World War II Romanian Communist Regime.  They are today the oldest body of Unitarians in the world.
Which explains why the folks in the matching shirts and stoles want to go there.  They are members of the Tree of Life Unitarian Universalist Congregation from McHenry County in Illinois.  Their Choir Director, Thomas Steffens, got it in his head to take them on a tour to perform in Sfantu Gheorghe, Brasov, Targu-Mures, and Cluj at some of the richly historic Transylvanian churches.  He calls it a musical pilgrimage.  On the trip, scheduled for the summer of 2016, the group will also visit Bran CastleCastle Dracula; the Black Church in Brasov, and the frescoed church of Szekelyderzs, the world’s only Unitarian UNESCO world heritage site.

Székelyderzs/Darjiu Fortified Church, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


It will not be the first time a Unitarian Universalist choir has toured Transylvania.  They have reciprocated, sending the talented Glee Club of the Unitarian high school, John Sigismund Unitarian Academy, located in Cluj-Napoca—known in Hungarian as Kolozsvár, the historic center of the faith—to perform at a UUA General Assembly and tour several churches, including Tree of Life.
American Unitarians and their successors in the UUA have maintained contact with the Transylvanian church since the World Parliament of Religions in 1899 and since World War II the relationship has been deepened by the creation of the Partnership Church Council which pairs congregations in the two countries.  Both bodies are also active members in the International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF) and International Council of Unitarians and Universalists.
The Tree of Life Choir tour is also both a swan song and career capstone for Thomas Steffens who is retiring at the end of the next Church year.  By the time of the trip Steffens said he hopes a new Director will have been hired and will accompany the choir on the trip as a passing of the baton.
Steffens has been a musician with the congregation for more than 30 years.  He first served as accompanist on piano and the pipe organ that was in place at the congregation’s old home when it was in Woodstock and known as the Congregational Unitarian Church.  He also led the band for Dille’s Follies, the Congregation’s popular annual revues.  Currently he also leads the Frothy Boys, a fun loving male close harmony/doo wop group that frequently performs at charity events and organizes and hosts the Congregation’s quarterly Haystacks Coffee House and Open Mic Nights

Thomas Steffens at work, Carrie MacDonald on guitar.
Under his leadership of the choir, it has grown in numbers and quality and is now regarded as the finest church choir of any denomination in McHenry County.  It is an a capella ensemble, although guest musicians are sometimes added for concert performances.  An accomplished arranger and composer in his own right, Stephens has expanded the choir’s repertoire far beyond expected hymns and church music to include jazz, pop, Broadway, rock, gospel, and world music particularly African and Jewish.  He has in the choir several accomplished soloists and sometimes adds his own rich baritone.
On the side Steffens has worked extensively in regional musical theater and performs in the Irish folk duo Nippersink Rogues and plays trombone in the German Ompah band Die Musikmeisters.
All of the members of the large choir want to go on the trip of a life time.  Many can pay their own way.  Several, however, cannot and are going to need assistance.  That’s where you, yes, you come in.  To kick off fundraising which will include a public Holiday Concert this December and a likely CD of that performance and grant applications, the choir has launched a crowd funding appeal with a goal of $5,000 on Faithify, a U.U. platform similar to sites like GoFundMe and Kickstarter.  There are only 7 days left to meet the goal.  As I write this they are just shy of half way there.  

I’ll be sending my contribution later today.  Please join me.  Just visit http://www.faithify.org/projects/a-musical-pilgrimage-to-the-cradle-of-uuism-transylvania-and-romania/



Monday, July 27, 2015

The Slender Thread that Spanned the Puddle

A contontemprary proutomotional map showed the reout of the cable.


On July 28, 1866 permanent telegraphic connection between North America and Europe was established when a new trans-Atlantic Cable was completed. It was the fifth attempt to make the connection.  The first in 1857 failed. 
The second attempt in 1858 did establish a connection.  Queen Victoria wired her congratulations to American President James Buchannan.  Despite this engineering triumph for the company launched and guided by Cyrus West Field, that cable failed within a month when excessive voltage was applied while attempting to achieve faster telegraph operation.  A second attempt that year to lay a replacement also failed.  

A shore-end cross section of the innovative  cable that made thie connection possible.  The copper wire was wound and insulated with hemp.  Insert hippy joke here.                                                                                                       
Although the brief operation proved the project was feasible, the great expense and technical challenges—and the intervening crisis of the American Civil War—delayed further attempts until 1865.  By that year successful underwater cables in the Mediterranean and elsewhere led to the development of an enduring and well insulated cable.  According to Wikipedia the new cable…
…core consisted of seven twisted strands of very pure copper weighing 300 lb per nautical mile (73 kg/km), coated with Chatterton's compound, then covered with four layers of gutta-percha, alternating with four thin layers of the compound cementing the whole, and bringing the weight of the insulator to 400 lb/nmi (98 kg/km). This core was covered with hemp saturated in a preservative solution, and on the hemp were spirally wound eighteen single wires of soft steel, each covered with fine strands of manila yarn steeped in the preservative. The weight of the new cable was 35.75 long hundredweight (4000 lb) per nautical mile (980 kg/km), or nearly twice the weight of the old.
Advocates of modern commercial hemp and old hippies can use that in their campaigns for legalization.

The SS Great Eastern was one of the largest and most celebrated steam packets plying the Atlantic  before she was converted to a cable layer and sailed to even greater fame.

In 1865 S.S.Great Eastern captained by Sir James Anderson began laying the improved cable heading west from Foilhommerum Bay, Valentia Island, in western Ireland.  After 1,062 miles the cable snapped and the end was lost to the bottom of the sea.  Anderson had to return to Britain and Field had to scramble to raise new capital for another attempt the following year.  He formed the Anglo-American Telegraph Company, to lay a new cable and complete the broken one and sold enough stock to try again in 1866. 
This time the Great Eastern completed its task bringing the cable to its western terminus at Heart’s Content in eastern Newfoundland.  Displaying its usefulness the first message from the continent in addition to praise from The Times contained word that a peace had been signed between warring Prussia and Austria. 
After a few days in port, Anderson turned the Great Eastern back to sea to try and locate the lost end of the 1855 cable and restore it to operation.  It was an epic search conducted by dragging a grappling hook over the sea bed a mile and a half below.  The cable was snagged and lost once before it was finally recovered and spliced to new cable in the ship’s hold.  On September 7the ship returned to Heart’s Content and two cable connections were soon functioning.  

The completion of the cable was celebrated on both sides of the Atlantic.

When the Transcontinental telegraph between California and the America East coast was completed on one end and Russian telegraphy stretched to the Pacific on the other, much of the world was connected.  And London was the hub of world communications.
Messages over the vast distance were not instantaneous.  Only eight words in a minute in Morse Code could move and took several minutes to cross the ocean.  None the less, connection was made and valuable information—especially commercial news and stock quotations, were quickly going back and forth. 
In the next few years seven other cables laid by companies from Britain, the U.S., France, and Germany.  By the 1870’s improved technology allowed duplex and quadruplex transmission and receiving systems to relay multiple messages over the cable.  It was then literally possible to have  a conversation with questions and answers across the ocean in hours. 

When the Transcontinental telegraph between California and the America East coast was completed on one end and Russian telegraphy stretched to the Pacific on the other, much of the world was connected.  And London was the hub of world communications.
Messages over the vast distance were not instantaneous.  Only eight words in a minute in Morse Code could move and took several minutes to cross the ocean.  None the less, connection was made and valuable information—especially commercial news and stock quotations, were quickly going back and forth. 
In the next few years seven other cables laid by companies from Britain, the U.S., France, and Germany.  By the 1870’s improved technology allowed duplex and quadruplex transmission and receiving systems to relay multiple messages over the cable.  It was then literally possible to have  a conversation with questions and answers across the ocean in hours.