Creating the Book of Song

What is the Book of Song?

In late 2008 I was getting tired of lugging around the thick three ring binder that held all the songs my little troupe of folk musicians had learned up to that point. Over time the lyrics to the songs we did, complete with chords and sometimes with some of the history behind the tunes had been stuck into a binder. The separate sheets had ended up in plastic sheet protectors, and I’d gone so far as to create a table of contents page just so I could actually find a specific song in what had become a huge tome of tunes. This meant I had to pencil in page numbers on each page and keep the pages in order in the binder. The book had grown to several hundreds of pages thick and was ornamented here and there with artwork I (and others) had drawn, it included some sheet music for melody lines to the less well known songs or instrumental pieces which were included in haphazard fashion but the thing was growing too darn heavy, and keeping up with the Table of Contents was a pain. We each had our own books that had grown in similar fashion so we wouldn’t have to look on with each other when we got together. The different books might have notes specific to the part we played, sometimes things were crossed out or alternate keys were scribbled in. It was hard to mark up the sheets since they were in sheet protectors – if something changed you had to take them out first which was a pain. I decided that I’d compile and lay out a complete “Book of Song” with all our notes which we could print using an online print service (I’m a fan of so we could each have a nice professional looking bound copy. This would also serve as a sort of “yearbook” marking all the tunes we knew to that point. Its now many years later and the time has come to make a new Book with tunes learned since the last volume was created and this time I wanted to do it all with free software if I could. This is the story of how I created these two song books. Warning: this is a LONG post.

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First impressions of the B&N Nook

My wife has been reading books on her palm pilot for years but when the prices began to fall on the e-ink e-readers recently I urged her to get one of those instead. The e-ink screens aren’t backlit, so you have to read them in a lit room or outside but they’re reflective (like real paper) so they’re much easier on the eyes than what is, on LCD screens, essentially staring into a glowing lamp. We looked at the Amazon Kindle, the Sony e-reader and the B&N Nook. I’m a long time Amazon customer, so it seemed natural that we’d go for the Kindle, but the Kindle doesn’t support the electronic book formats that our library uses and I’m not a fan of vendor lock in like that. Also, we were afraid that we’d end up spending a lot of money for Amazon content that we weren’t planning to do because it would be so easy. Sony was out because I’m a rabid anti-Sony person – I won’t buy anything made by that company for multiple reasons no matter how great it might be – don’t get me started. The Nook runs Android, supports our library’s file format (ePub, an open but DRM-able format), costs less. While I don’t like the idea of the separate touch screen, at least it doesn’t have a bunch of stupid blackberry-like buttons on it, so we decided on the Nook – here’s some quick first impressions:

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The Parliament of Fowls

Chaucer wrote The Parliament of Fowls in 1382 to honor the first anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II to Anne of Bohemia (they were both 15 years old when they were married shortly thereafter), but it has become associated with the present day celebrated as Valentines Day over the centuries since it is the first time Valentines Day is found “packaged” in such a manner, and probably in error (evidence the mating of birds referred to in the poem doesn’t occur until spring). The saints day for a bishop of Genoa named Valentine is celebrated on May 2nd and this may be the saint’s day Chaucer was referring to in the poem. It makes so much more sense to associate love with the flowers and rebirth of May Day, doesn’t it?

The narrator seems confused by love and hits the books to try to understand the situation and ultimately fails. The poem is filled with historical allegory which is invisible to the modern reader who is unfamiliar with the court politics of the day, the major characters, and their motivations or relations to the King and his bride.

The following excerpt from eChaucer, a modern English translation online hosted by the University of Maine

And when this work was all brought to an end, Nature gave every bird his mate by just accord, and they went their way. Ah, Lord! The bliss and joy that they made! For each of them took the other in his wings, and wound their necks about each other, ever thanking the noble goddess of nature. But first were chosen birds to sing, as was always their custom year by year to sing a roundel at their departure, to honor Nature and give her pleasure. The tune, I believe, was made in France. The words were such as you may here find in these verses, as I remember them.

“Welcome, summer, with sunshine soft,
The winter’s tempest you will break,
And drive away the long nights black!

Saint Valentine, throned aloft,
Thus little birds sing for your sake:
Welcome, summer, with sunshine soft,
The winter’s tempest you will shake!

Good cause have they to glad them oft,
His own true-love each bird will take;
Blithe may they sing when they awake,
Welcome, summer, with sunshine soft,
The winter’s tempest you will break,
And drive away the long nights black!”


Watchmen, the graphic novel

It’s been about 20 years since I first read Watchmen, but in anticipation of the movie coming out this week I felt it was time. Perhaps especially so, because Alan Moore hasn’t participated in its making at all. I gingerly removed my single bound graphic novel version from the shelf. The pages have only slightly yellowed over time, and I began to read. The story is a cross between a satire, a parody, and an homage to the classic superhero comic genre. The heros of Watchmen aren’t typical heros. They have depth, and each have aspects which range from the merely un-heroic to the un-admirable to just plain ugly. For the most part the protagonists are revealed to be normal folks who (mostly) want to do good, but who haven’t otherwise been granted any real superhuman characteristics… except for one, and it is the presence of a true “super-human” entity that throws the world into imbalance in the first place. There are several story threads going on at the same time, usually in parallel – each echoing the other’s dramatic theme.

It is a dark story, with adult themes – the book was not written for children. I devour the Watchmen again and find it hard to put down. I wish there was more. I am left with a feeling that it will lose something in the translation to film, but despite my normal pessimism, I will attempt to remain optimistic. Scott Kurtz has his own homage called the Ombudsmen running on PVP if you need help getting light-hearted again. If you’d like your own copy, click the image below to find it on Amazon.