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Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
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Thursday, 22 December 2011

Feed the toaster; make a noise

Am I a snob? Of course I am. Despite dressing down to the point where Mrs LdP prefers to walk ten paces in front I spoil this raggedness by using big words when I meet a neighbour. Merely admitting to opera turns me into un grand prétentieux. As does italicised French through my blog.

Yet, left to myself, preparing my brunch, I sing hymns. Nothing snob about hymns. Often I mock them for their naivete. Now it’s time to list my favourities.

I like When I Survey The Wondrous Cross because it was my Granny’s favourite. The tune is upbeat but, as usual, I go for good (or goodish) lyrics. Here’s the concise last verse;

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
It were an offering far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.


In The Bleak Midwinter (“Snow had fallen, snow on snow.”) has already been mentioned as has Love Divine All Love Excelling (“Changed from glory into glory.”)

But what about Christian Dost Thou See Them? Mainly for the lines that immediately follow:

While the hosts of Midian
Prowl and prowl around.
Christian up and smite them…”


Muscular Christianity, you would agree.

Another favourite was inherited from my mother, a quondam churchgoer: Wondrous Things of Thee are Spoken, because she always broke off to laugh at:

With the camp of God surrounded,
Thou mayest smile at all thy foes.


This is the season for forgiveness so perhaps a gesture towards my birthplace, the West Riding of Yorkshire (now West Yorkshire). This one starts well, but fades.

Hills of the North, rejoice;
River and mountain-spring,


Perhaps when the technology’s improved a conference-call sing-song with like-minded unsnobs. The pic’s York Minster.

11 comments:

Plutarch said...

Snobbery and music are what I most fear and respect. A spectrum of taste based on understanding makes sense to me. I am a snob on several subjects - wine for example and poetry, novels and grammar and sytax, even spelling which I can't do - and I understand your mode of thought and behaviour, singing hymns while preparing brunch. And in tune!

My problem is summed up in the awful phrase "I know what I like". What is awful about what I like is that it is based on no recognised framework, no set of technical references, and not even on a consistent portfolio of taste. A reference to the random MP3 list of "tunes" which I have built up recently will confirm the wild and haphazard nature of what I like. From time to time people have poured scorn on many of my beloved "numbers" ranging from Elgar pops including Pomp and Circumstance through A Bridge over Troubled Waters, Blowin' in the Wind and Philip Glass to Die Grosse Fugue to Philip Glass. The latter I owe to you and I would rate essential on my desert island. The main thing is that Tone Deaf might be made for me, a prompter and very present help in time of trouble. It gives me courage and makes me feel confident that what ever else it might say, it would hold back from judgements on my tast or lack of it.

If you have noticed my absence from the Followers heading it should be noted that I have extricated myself from it, through no disrespect or lack of desire to follow, but because its egregious position seems presumptious and intrusive in the domain of the great Lorenzo da Ponte. The Marriage of Figaro is for my money is the greatest of all operas and is likely to remain so. And if Beaumarchais deserves some credit, so what!

Lorenzo da Ponte said...

Plutarch: All this adds up, more or less, to a mission statement for Tone Deaf although no mission statement has ever been so quirky, so comprehensive and so entertaining.

Snobbery and music - I threw away the conjunction in a few words at the beginning of "Feed the toaster"; it deserves a thousand. Its manifestations come thick and fast. I hate orchestral musicians being dressed up in dinner jackets - a truly pointless form of apartheid. And my teeth grate as announcers on Radio 3 talk in that special, precious, knowing way about music, as if everything were a masterpiece and antipathies have no place in this gathering of holy sounds. (And my reactions are milk-and-water compared with Mrs LdP's.)

And that's another clean-bowled - "I know what I like", a barely coded message for "I am too lazy to get my mind up off its backside and gather just a few crumbs of articulacy." In fact it's worse; it's a confession of betrayal. A willingness to ignore the fact that we have, if we claim to be members of the human race, an obligation to works of art that move us. We should, must, try and pass on our views. Recognised frameworks and technical references can come later so long as we see pieces of music as two-way streets: they demand response not secrecy. We must be prepared to be vulnerable on their behalf.

Your emotions appear to overcome you towards the end of the second para and I cannot tell whether you are grateful to me for Phillip Glass or Grosse Fuge. Not that it matters, really. Except that Grosse Fuge is the perfect example of the why and the how of music. It is not initially congenial, perhaps even (favourite word coming up) rebarbative. It requires a little persistence. But the final reward lies not just in the denseness of the music but in the exhilaration of having been persistent. The risk is that by adding GF to one's Desert island disc list one may be thought of as a snob. It is at that point - having digested this magnificent, assertive, craggy masterpiece - that the notion of obligation becomes clear. Like an ex post facto John the Baptist you are now required do your best on its behalf.

Thank you for the comment. Exactly the sort of reaction I hoped for though it remains to be seen whether Tone Deaf, still struggling to define itself, actual deserves something as good as this.

Lucy said...

Ah, hills of the north!

And what about

'His chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form
And dark is his path on the wings of the storm'

Now isn't that enough to awestrike you into belief, or at least inadvertently spreading marmalade on top of your Marmite?

I meant to say before when you mentioned 'There is a green hill' how certain lines do transport us. I always liked that one too for that egregious use of 'without' as the opposite of 'within' rather than of 'with', which is one of those instances of weird, sometimes faux, archaic language in hymns jolting our assumptions and widening our ideas about the nature of it. Also of how 'Did you not hear my lady' works very well as a cloze (gap-filling) exercise in English teaching, with clear rhymes and varying structures, with the melody instantly engaging the attention.

None of which has much to do with music. Proving what only truly became reality to me when I met Tom, that there are those who hear music with words incidentally attached and those who hear words set to music. I had always assumed, solipsist to the point of autistic as I am, that everyone must do the latter, since that was what I did.

So when I said 'how can you like this the sentiments expressed are so repugnant...' or similar, he would ask what was actually being said, as it had never occurred to him to listen to the words before, and songs from the likes of Bob Dylan or Elvis Costello would pass over him leaving little or no positive impression since he didn't make any effort to consider the words.

I used to like the Radio 4 version of 'Dead Ringers' take on Radio 3, with the precious whispering tone 'This is Radio 3, quiet, isn't it?' Though it tends to be the simpering and chuckling at references that can't possibly be funny that get to me on Radio 3 more than the reverence. Their news bulletins are often better than the other stations, though.

herhimnbryn said...

For me 'Bread of Heaven' is a favourite. It makes me cry and smile and remember my Welsh Nanna!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U1fLiDjLf5c

Lorenzo da Ponte said...

Lucy: Oh, gosh.

Perhaps rather than doing posts I should merely ape the noticeboards outside some churches. "Today, the Rev Lorenzo da Ponte will give a sermon on music and snobbery" or in your case "music and meaning", say nothing and leave it up to my magnificent and generous commenters.

"Chariots of wrath" (No, no, first I must list and explain the rationale of the LdP brunch - no I mustn't, those days are gone. Music must be food enough). First let's give the writer his byline - Sir Robert Grant. He deserves it. In my limited judgment that is poetry. Surely? More, he's edging away from his brief here and elsewhere. In theological terms it doesn't really matter whether Jahway's path is dark; in poetical terms it's vital. By the way it's OK to like Grant for himself. He was an MP and "a strenuous advocate for the removal of the disabilities of the Jews, (twice carrying) bills on the subject through the House of Commons"

Green hill. You may call "without" egregious; I on behalf of the under-educated would go further. It is a malign error of sense. It deflects both singer and listener away from the hymn's meaning, emphasising the fact that anyone choosing to take up the message is going to have to swallow a heck of a lot of contradictions. OK in my case, less so in those who were beginning to see Yahway as charming.

The case of Tom (and others). Indeed. In trying to analyse pop, I find that many of the words don't stand up to close analysis. or even tangential analysis. And yet the songs I'm examining are not the Yah-Yah sort, where words have been turned into sounds, they have long, long lyrics which I assume are meant to be taken seriously. I am interested you mention Bob Dylan because I'd arrived at an independent judgment on him two decades ago. The Times They Are Changing sounds superficially magnificent but what are we to make of:

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don't criticize
What you can't understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin'


"Guitar-playing, son," I said as he lolled in front of my wide-screen telly. "Your wish has been granted. You are now an adult. You are now in charge. The next mortgage payment is tomorrow. I'm off to smoke pot."

Radio 3 and "jokes". (I hope you are granted at least one more meeting with Mrs LdP. Ask her about this and watch the transformation. Remembering all the while that she likes to be thought of as middle-class). You are talking about Sean Rafferty, let us say no more.

HHB: It is a great metaphor. Alas I can't play it at the moment (It's 07.30 and Mrs LdP slumbereth) but I will. Having grasped its meaning it's important to hear it sung in Welsh, proof that Welsh, like Italian, was devised for singing.

Lorenzo da Ponte said...

HHB: Finally got around to playing it. Definitely a Welsh male choir - the tenors outnumbering the bass/baritones about three to one. What's more they sing it faster than one tends to expect, thus making use of the tenors' cutting edge. Pleased to see they switched to Welsh in the coda. Wipe away a tear, HHB, wipe away a tear. As I am.

herhimnbryn said...

I thought you would enjoy it.

Plutarch said...

Die Grosse Fugue. It features in a poem I wrote some years ago called how to keep cheerful. Maybe I will send it to you to see if you want to include it in a future posting of TD

Lorenzo da Ponte said...

Plutarch: Please do.

Lucy said...

Haven't got around before to coming back here to fail to defend the awfulness of 'The Times they are a-Changing' the adolescent petulance of which you nail adroitly.

I don't think he was ever much of a protest singer really, which was rather confirmed by Joan Baez in the Scorsese doc about him; he often came across as such as petulant, disingenuous or sanctimonious. What he was often good at, even back in the early days, were songs of loathing like 'Positively 4th St'

'... When you know as well as me
You'd rather see me paralyzed
Why don't you just come out once
And scream it?'

or of excoriating bitterness, like the later, aptly named 'Dirge' where he spits out

'I hate myself for loving you
And the weakness that it showed...
I can't recall a useful thing you ever did for me
'Cept pat me on the back one time when I was on my knees
We stared into each other's eyes 'till one of us would break
No use to apologize, what difference would it make?'

In fact I've not listened to anything much he's done since he turned Christian in the early 80s, and no longer own anything since the demise of vinyl and cassette tapes. I'm not inclined to think very highly of him as a person really either, but one either did or didn't, or just didn't want to, come of age on stuff like 'Blonde on Blonde', 'Blood on the Tracks' and 'Planet Waves', and if you did you know that once you heard him sing lines like

'Beauty walks a razor's edge someday I'll make it mine'

and

'Something there is about you, that strikes a match in me...'

something inside was changed.

Too much too long. Still, I can't keep it up on all your posts thankfully! Anyway I'm 68% (not quite like a chunk of pages on one side of your thumb and a smaller one on the other but the best the Kindle can do to approximate) of the way through a rather good novel about a flying woman so I'll be off now.

Lorenzo da Ponte said...

Lucy: During the brief period when I downloaded pop tracks, I came upon a version of Sounds of Silence with the vocals shared between Paul Simon, Dylan and (I think) Baez. SofS is a pretty good song but thank God this wasn't my first encounter with it. For no good reason Dylan slowed down the tempo and whined/droned the lyrics (Hello darkness my old friend, I've come to talk with you again) to the point where it was unrecognisable. So on top of everything else he was either a Philistine or an incomptent.