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Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
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Sunday, 1 July 2012

A lugubrious celebration

Since this is my hundredth post (as LdP) and I am demonstrably old, I am using the hymn tune, Old Hundredth, to celebrate. Despite my atheism hymns represent my introduction to music. My mum sang them round the house and I copied her. Briefly, inexplicably, I joined a church choir. Hymn words and music are still embedded, three-quarters of a century later.

OH is a lumbering TUNE usually played very slowly, as here. It becomes risible when attached to these words:

All people that on earth do dwell

since the second line is distinctly contradictory:

Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice.

OH is not cheerful. Later the words become repetitive and then acutely genteel:

Praise, laud and bless His name always
For it is seemly so to do

When was the last time you did something seemly?

The tune also accompanies a four-liner also known as the Doxology.

Praise Him from whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him all creatures here below, etc.

The Doxology is not the scientific study of detergent but “a short hymn often added to the end of canticles, psalms, and hymns.”

None of which is very interesting. What is interesting is that you can sing Good King Wenceslas to OH. It’s difficult but possible. Doing so tells you a good deal about how the brain’s cells work for and against your inclinations. Your instinct tells you what you’re doing is wrong, but another set of cells supports this inventive and adaptive act. I urge you to try this. It will cause you to love your brain.

The recording is by the Westminster Abbey choir, sharpened up strategically by London Brass.

7 comments:

Lucy said...

Well, you sent me to bed trying 'One song to the tune of another' with those two; I think I went to sleep before it was fully accomplished but it seemed just about possible. It's been said that you can sing any Emily Dickinson poem to the tune of 'The Yellow Rose of Texas'.

Another anecdote is about a soloist in a carol service who started the unaccompanied first verse of 'Once in Royal David's City' to the tune of 'Hark the herald angels sing'. Which went fine, the corpsing of the rest of the choir notwithstanding, until they got to the end of the verse of Once in Royal, which is four lines long, and were left with the remaining two lines of melody of Hark the Herald to fill in, which I gather they did by singing 'la la la'.

I like the word 'doxology', it reminds me of that quote about 'orthodoxy is my doxy, heterodoxy is another man's doxy'.

I can't recall the last time I did anything seemly. I quite often do unseemly things but only in the privacy of my own home, I hope.

Off to find some more good names of hymn tunes.

Avus said...

A bit like trying to rub one's tummy and chest in the same direction at the same time!

Plutarch said...

I don't think that I have ever consciously done anything seemly. But I suspect that at times I have sought seemliness as a virtue. Seemliness seems to me to be a modest and unostentatious way of behaving well, neither intruding nor assailing, just getting on with people as best you can.
If I sang to the Lord, which I fear would not be pleasing to the Lord to hear, because of my inability to sing in tune, I would certainly want to do so with a cheerful voice. Me, I am dead keen on being cheerful whenever I can. It would scarcely be called praising the Lord if you did so with a whining or wailing voice. My recollection of OH is not so much that if is not cheerful, but rather that it has the sort of plodding forbearance associated with a long walk in the rain with wellies on the large side. I suppose that it is a seemly hymn.

Lorenzo da Ponte said...

Lucy: In forcing myself to sing Good King W to the tune of OH (to Mrs LdP's acute displeasure as we walked to Tesco) I was reminded of a talk about the brain's complexities given by the lush Susan Greenfield at the last Hay Festival. She characterised the brain as a benevolent "other" much cleverer than its host, constantly devising unconscious strategies in the host's best interests, yet so subtle that such strategies can be overridden provided the host exerts him/herself sufficiently. It is the fact that we remain unaware of many of these strategies (until we unconsciously bring them into play) that fascinated me for they tend to confirm a micro-cosmic version of Darwinian evolution - but on a much more compressed scale. I was struck that my mind became a battlefield of opposing forces where, eventually, one side graciously gave in and allowed me to do this thing that my brain had initially rated as stupid. When I talked about loving one's brain I did so without over-romanticising. My brain is my best friend.

Also I'd never thought of hymns having any use until now. But this exercise made me realise that a huge chunk of my mental capacity (and yours too, I suspect) is devoted to holding hymns accessibly in my memory and thus they have become a personal and very powerful force. That my mind has the computing power of a small inbuilt MP3 player.

Avus: Exactly. And concisely put.

Plutarch: The word's shape and euphony seem - for me - to characterise the best of being middle class, as your expansion goes on to suggest. But then in a true middle-class way the word remains comparatively obscure as proof that the middle-classes don't care to talk about their emotions.

Cheerful voice. You only cite God's reception of your efforts. Consider too the person next to you on the pew who has a better sense of pitch and a wider range than you. He is having to suppress his anger at the inharmony you are both creating. Is this what God wanted?

Plodding forbeance. Perfect!

Rouchswalwe said...

♪♫ Happy 100th! Now I go to ponder seemliness whilst drinking a cold ale for the first time in days.

mike M said...

Have always liked Old Hundreth, but at the much quicker tempo we employ locally. Your robot filtering sign in is getting more difficult.

Roderick Robinson said...

MikeM: I truly appreciate the way you are taking my archives out for a second walk. Two for the price of one, if you like. Playing music faster or slower can transform it out of all recognition. My favourite version of the Beatles' Ticket to Ride is by Karen Carpenter: dead slow, molto espressivo, turns it into a ballad. You didn't mention whether you'd tried singing Good King W to the tune of the Old Hundredth.