Cantigas de Santa Maria

Photo on 2-25-19 at 7.37 AM

Before last night, I had never considered how Christianity, the Middle East and the European Medieval times were so interconnected. I attended a performance by the Schola Cantorum of Syracuse yesterday and was struck by the beauty and eeriness of the music. These medieval lyrics and instrumentals were so moving, ancient yet familiar. Sung both in Spanish and the last Cantiga in English, I could hear the hope and sadness in the beautiful voices of the vocalists even though I could not understand all the words.

The musicians utilized authentic handmade instruments created by studying illustrations of medieval manuscripts. Daniel Yost built and played the 4- and 5-stringed guitar-type instruments, a Moorish guitar and an Anglo Saxon lyre. The citole is another medieval stringed instrument, which reminded me in appearance and sound of a dulcimer. The bowed instruments were Renaissance viols, similar to violins or violas. Also included in the band were percussion instruments from India and Pakistan called a tabla, daf and darbuka; the tambourine-like instrument was square instead of the round shape most often seen today.


photo from Medieval manuscript

This program focused upon “El Ray de las Cantigas,” and the poetic works of King Alfonso X who ruled in Spain during the 13th century. Alfonso X was a warrior and an intellectual. He was dubbed the “Wise King” as he loved knowledge and the arts. Alfonso patronized scholars and was responsible for Siete partidas (Seven Divisions of the Law), which not only preserved details of Medieval customs, it later influenced Spanish law. The Wise King also was interested in science and astronomy, supporting scholars of various backgrounds to compile the Tablas Alfonsies (Alfonsine Tables), focusing on planetary movements, and the Libros del saber de astronomia (Books of Astronomical Lore), designating astronomical instruments (, 2019).

Alfonso X ambitiously sought to record world history and had his scholars compile both the Primera crónica general (First General Chronicle) and the General estoria (General History). Although his scholars mixed fact with fiction, they ultimately provided a real testament of the medieval interpretation of the past.

Troubadours from many regions of Europe and the Middle East visited the Wise King’s court. During his reign, which occurred during a tumultuous time in history, his love for the Virgin Mary prevailed. Of Alfonso’s satirical and love poems, the most momentous are the Cantigas de Santa Maria (Canticles of Holy Mary), written between 1257 and 1279 in Galician-Portuguese. The canticles are written in troubadour style and not only contain a wealth of descriptive detail about medieval life, show just how intertwined the regions of Europe, the Middle East and India were in Medieval culture.

This music was from 800 years ago, and yet, I can imagine it in a soundtrack for a drama, as part of a rock song, as background for a documentary, and included in a Christmas concert; old-fashioned while contemporary. When I left the performance, I felt a connection to the past and realized we are not all that different from people all those centuries ago – seeking wisdom and knowledge, relishing in the arts and music, and giving praise to the heavens.

To hear an instrumental of Cantiga de Santa Maria, visit youtube:  Le Lutin d’Ecouves Published on Jan 23, 2008


“Alfonso X.” World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved February 02, 2019 from

Schola Cantorum of Syracuse. “El Ray de las Cantigas” program. 2019, February 24.


Repetition and Variation

Repetition and variation. The combination of those two actions is the key to a full life. Repetition and variation working together is also the key to a great work of art.

“Birches” by T. Cook

That was the most profound bit of information I took from high school. I learned a lot in school, I am not saying that I didn’t learn other important aspects about life and learning and art, because I did. But I learned about the significance of repetition and variation from my most favorite art teacher ever, Mr. George Benedict. While recognized in music and poetry for eons, it could be argued that Buddhists showcased repetition and variation in their mandalas as early as the ninth century (Lamp, 2018), or perhaps it was the Italian Renaissance painters who were the first to utilize repetition and variation to create their masterpieces (Williams, 2016), but it was Mr. Benedict who brought meaning to those words to me and hundreds of his students in central New York.

George Benedict with oil pastel portrait

Artists often use repeated patterns to create interesting designs and for a variety of effects.  Pattern and other repetitions can work to form a unified composition and provide stability in a piece of art.  Variation adds interest to the work, with size, color or with the introduction of new images or techniques. Remembering to include repetition and variation is a sound motto to maintain in a composition as well as in life, since

repetition helps creates unity and order, while variation helps create interest.

oil painting by George Benedict

I still remember the dark classroom from the early 1980’s, illuminated with spotlights around the room, the smell of oil paints and turpentine, and many miscellaneous props, animal skulls, photographs and mirrors to prompt creativity. The room was not comfortable for everyone, but it was my favorite classroom, and in that room I was able to be a painter. Many other students benefited from Mr. Benedict’s five decades of enthusiasm and direction in his classroom; and after high school many of his students, like me, let their creativity direct their futures (Tashkovski, 2014).

Even after I had graduated and he had retired, I would go for long walks with him, go out to eat, and attend figure drawing classes in his basement, yet always he was “Mister” Benedict, my high school teacher who encouraged me and challenged me and believed in me. His direction included using dramatic shadows, thick and thin lines, play on color – repeating and then slightly or dramatically altering the brush stroke or pencil line. And in life, our routines are the repetitions we maintain for order and stability, while spontaneity, dramatics and risk taking keep our lives exciting with variation.

If not for Mr. Benedict, would I have gone on to study art? Probably, because I have always loved to art and my family was very supportive of my creative and artistic endeavors. But what about now, as I am working to get my teaching license and master’s in art education? I think Mr. Benedict, who passed in 2010, would be delighted to know that repetition and variation are still influencing my life and art.



Lamp, L. (2018.) Design in Art: Repetition, Pattern and Rhythm. Retrieved from

Tashkovski, K. (2014.) Go To Your Happy Place, Ms. Tash. Retrieved from

Williams, R. (2016). Repetition, Variation, and the Idea of Art in Renaissance Italy. Retrieved from:×227

Being Creative in the Kitchen


It’s apple season and I read an article in the September/October 2018 issue of The Good Life, Central New York Magazine about apple fritters. “We’ll fry if we want to,” are the opening words to MJ Kravec’s story  – with a recipe for homemade fritters. The apple fritters looked so scrumptious, I decided it would be a great day to get creative in the kitchen.

I heated the cast iron skillet, collected the ingredients, peeled a couple of apples….


Apple Fritter recipe:                                                                                                                         ingredients

  • 2 New York State apples, diced
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 cup unbleached flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • shortening or oil for frying
  • 1 cup sifted confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla


Heat oil in cast iron skillet.

Combine flour, salt, baking powder and cinnamon; add egg and 1/3 cup milk, then stir in apples.

Drop batter by ice cream scoop sized spoonful into hot oil. Fry until brown, approximately 5 minutes, flipping once halfway through cooking time. Drain on paper towels.

Make glaze while fritters are cooling by mixing powdered sugar, vanilla and 1 tablespoon of milk. Drizzle over fritters and enjoy!


Yummy, perfectly sized apple fritters. What could be better on a breezy autumn day?