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Sunday 29 April 2012

Stuff caught in the colander

Saying I know nothing about pop is not strictly true. Pop gets through - like the cockroach. Here are some titles that did (and why).

All Of Me. Took on new dimension in ballroom dancing sequence by Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin during credits of eponymous movie

The House of The Rising Sun. Friend, hearing this on a pub jukebox said, “Pwoah, it’s almost like classical music.” That stuck.

Both Sides Now. Heard it sung by Bob Dylan; searching for its identity I referred to it as "Dylan’s cloud song"; months elapsed before I discovered its true name and its creator (Joni Mitchell).

Ode To Billie Joe. This stuck because of its plethora of multi-syllabic words (McCallister, Tallahachee).

Heartbreak Hotel. Loathed Elvis but couldn’t escape a parody by Stan Freberg
Kermit’s Song. Revelation to hear it sung by Frank Sinatra.

American Pie. String of non-sequiturs sung as if it meant something.

The Band Played Waltzing Matilda. Requested on BBC3’s intellectual version of Desert Island Discs called Private Passions. Presenter, Michael Berkeley, composes posh music. Excellent anti-war song.

Rio (Duran Duran). Price one pays for having teenage daughters

Let It Snow (Dean Martin). Didn’t make any impression until I heard it used comically at the end of Die Hard movie.

The Shoals Of Herring (Ewan MacColl). Folk singing striving uncomfortably to be folksy.

 Born In The USA. Unavoidable; like the passage of a lorry. Privately re-titled The Hernia Song.

 The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Drawn to it by it… well, its title.

 Summer Holiday. Eternally memorable as a yardstick of British pop’s wetness.

 Ferry ‘cross The Mersey. Eternally memorable for celebrating lack of geographical ambition.

 That’s enough

Wednesday 25 April 2012

Right from the horse's mouth

It’s pleasant to loll on your couch (Naked, if it’s summer), before your own loudspeakers, listening to Symphony For A Thousand then switching to Sinatra’s Stars Fell On Alabama. No restrictions, physical or artistic. You could also get drunk except Sinatra doesn’t go with wine.

But it only works via self-delusion. The Mahler can involve four or five hundred instrumentalists and choristers. Listen again to your speakers. Does that really sound like hundreds of voices? It’s a mere summary.

For high fidelity go to the concert hall. Voices in unison throb in a way that neither CDs nor LPs can catch. True sound. As with the perfectly rendered coughing - always in the ppp passages; always taken up by copycats. Plus the sight of the elderly shufflers, one of whom had a heart attack at Birmingham two months ago. Lifelike sound and lifelike viewing. Sometimes they’re a curse.

 I have a dream for the wedding anniversary. A real-life soprano or a string quartet in our living room. Benylin in brandy coasters. Twould cost a couple of grand but it would be ours, and unmediated. Two hundred and fifty years ago we could have booked Mozart. Or would Carol Anne Duffy reading her own stuff be a goer?

DEHYDRATED SONNET Tone Deaf’s competition for sonnet with fewest words. Must include one reference to music. Great prizes for just entering. Entries to LdP in time for June 1 posting. Additional spec: title may be long or short; words used are not included in total (A great opportunity for cheating!).

BLEST REDEEMER (66,534 words so far). Plutarch’s first provisional pass: add more dates; Hitler Youth anachronistic; height disparity between two chairs; camp up Imogen; it’s not really meditation; etc. 

Saturday 21 April 2012

Calligraphic polyphony

HHB (Perth, Western Australia) is into the graphic arts and it shows in her handwriting. Lovely, legible, regular yet full of character, adding force to whatever she chooses to inscribe. I dropped a comment raving about her recent transcription of A POEM and fantasised about having her transcribe the three-line message which explains Tone Deaf’s aims here on my home page.

A woman of few words she asked to see a sample of my handwriting. Aware, I think, I was beaten regularly for illegibility at Bradford Grammar School which I left with relief for the local newspaper, embracing a typewriter and resolving this defect at a stroke.

Above is a sample (Click pic to enlarge)  but if anything it’s got worse over the years. The sonnet is legitimate meat for Tone Deaf since it’s about singing in a church choir. I have posted it before but to anyone coming to it for the first time there’s a reader-friendly crib below.

Sonnet – Wednesday night practice

The darkened nave entailed a womb of light
Gilding our boyish group. Standing, we sang
The Nunc Dimittis, Angels ever bright,
Stainer – all proof our aims were Anglican.
The words were null, my job to recreate
The notes with an unthinking treble voice.
I soared the heights towards the perfect state
Where notes become a licence to rejoice.
Fatigued by descants, holding volume low,
I left betimes starved like a refugee,
Ate Marmite toast then turned my face from woe
Dispensing with the evening’s ecstasy.
Oh wasteful child who lost that gift along the way
And deeded me this false reed in decay.   

Wednesday 18 April 2012

Jazz for grownups

Bebop (bop) jazz developed by Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk is easier to recognise than define. Best to dwell on what bop isn't. I like "it strove to counter the popularisation of swing (eg, Benny Goodman, Glen Miller) with non-danceable music that demanded listening." - a crusade launched to stamp out depraved dancing then.

The technical definitions are confusing. Certainly fast tempi and instrumental virtuosity are essential bop elements but being "based on the combination of harmonic structure and melody" doesn’t distinguish bop from other jazz. I agree with this Wikipedia pearl: "(it had) an air of exclusivity, the 'regular' musicians would often reharmonise the standards in order to exclude those whom they considered outsiders or simply weaker players." Of all music bop is easily the most elitist.

Most find it hard to sing along to bop solos, let alone whistle them. Either they're resolutely minor key or possibly atonal, which I take to mean unattached to any formal key signature. So how are we supposed to appreciate them?

Well, it's always fun to watch and/or listen to any activity based on the My-Next-Trick-Is-Impossible text. Here's Dizzy with SALT PEANUTS - note his second solo starting about 4 min 20. Professionals only need apply. Funny, I like this but hate deliberately difficult posh stuff like Tartini’s Devil’s Trill.

Bop is no doubt serious music despite the verve with which it’s played. I don’t think we’re meant to listen to twenty bop tracks one after the other. Not me, anyway. Also I reckon we’re asked to applaud the sheer technical skill as something separate from the music – a tribute to human endeavour if you like. Oh yes, here’s a plus – bop is never sentimental.

Monday 16 April 2012

Uh uh, technology again

Thursday, April 26, 2012: The Blogger’s Retreat. The Aldwych, London. (Plutarch).

Theoretically this is a social event: we meet, drink champagne, eat curry washed down by Kingfisher beer, walk across Waterloo Bridge, drink more beer at the pub on Roupell Street.

And talk. I’d like to think the talk is wide-ranging but I’m not sure it is. Some reminiscence (we worked on the same magazine between 1963 and 1965 and between 1972 and 1975, on related magazines between 1975 and 1978), guidance with my novel writing, guidance on poetry, wine (probably), Plutarch’s hats, blogging. Often we invite acquiescent others to join in. We avoid the weather and the disintegrations of old age. The talk is virtually continuous and initially incoherent as we start and break off subjects until a true give-and-take line is established. On the fast train from South Wales to Paddington I sometimes make notes about points I want to raise for neither of us is inclined to waste time on silence.

That agenda worked when I did Works Well. Now I’ve switched to Tone Deaf music is also discussed since Plutarch reveals a much wider interest than I suspected and is willing to talk about music’s abstractions.

But music requires a change in what was previously a simple modus operandi. Music requires musical references. A mouth organ (played quietly) might help but is a poor way of rendering orchestral themes. Neither of us has a congenial voice. The logical solution is an MP3 player with two sets of earphones to overcome the hygiene problem of earwax. But now I foresee some problems. Silence will reign as the MP3 player is used. Passing the player backwards and forwards hints disagreeably at the shared hubble-bubble. We will be depending on batteries and I for one am a battery-phobe. Aid please.

Thursday 12 April 2012

Misguided aid for kids

Touching to find that Lucy and Plutarch also had a bit of previous with I Know Where I’m Going (see last post)

FigMince, who’s good at sarky comments, had further suggestions about modifying the lyrics but it occurs to me I didn’t make myself clear about the song’s appeal and how the bowdlerisation horrified me.

The key lines for me are:

Some say he’s black
But I say he’s bonny

Thus the singer (always a woman) loves Johnny who is not merely disadvantaged but the victim of neighbourly racism. Subsequent meddlers, presumably with miscegenation on their mind, decided to protect children singing the song by inserting “poor” instead of “black”, missing the point of the powerful original lines. We’re all against poverty; fewer of us (I hope) are against blacks and whites commingling.

The song is Celtic in origin. Mrs LdP tells me that in this context “black” can mean criminal, a tearaway. Even if it does, this does not justify the substitution.

Am I breaking a butterfly on the wheel? I don’t think so. Music makes sentiments stronger and more memorable. Consider “Some say he’s black”: four notes for four syllables ending with the abruptly snapped-off K sound. Whereas the twin-syllable/twin-note “bonny” is softer, more affectionate and can be extended.

This is a lovely little song which says something worthwhile about love. Please use “black” at the washing-up bowl, in the bath and while stuck in traffic on the M25.

Tuesday 10 April 2012

Three good companions

I write hoping I’ll do it better today than I did yesterday. Mostly it’s just work, sustained by memories of music and knowing that YouTube can open up voices and instruments if things get tough. Or if I need to dawdle.

What caused the folk tune I Know Where I’m Goin’ to flit in? Who first sang it to me: my mother or Mrs LdP? I don’t know. The words are by esteemed Anon and include the affirmative “Some say he’s black but I say he’s bonny.”

Two of my characters, close to an argument, avoid confrontation and discover they like each other. It’s as good a time as any. I make a shocking choice, unleashing a quartet of sleekly dressed God men, singing a different tune, different words, happy to be going to heaven. I wish them a sincere Godspeed and turn to Maureen Hegarty who plaintively announces she has “stockings of silk, shoes of fine green leather”. A simple song but how rare is true simplicity. I can add nothing that would enhance it. Very short at 2 MIN 16 SEC.

From spareness to rich adornment: Brahms’ Alto Rhapsody by the thrilling German mezzo. Brigitte Fassbaender. A rarity in the concert hall since it’s only 14 min 52 sec long and requires a full orchestra and choir. Here it’s cut in two. But at least the second part CHOSEN HERE begins magnificently as the choir swells against the aviational solo voice and Brahms poses for us the tearful question: why did the Romantic period ever need to come to an end?

I believe Brigitte has retired. See her in her lovely pomp PRESENTING THE ROSE to the Sophie to end all Sophies, Lucia Popp, in Rosenkavalier

Saturday 7 April 2012

It's quite mysterious, really

What happens when you hear music? Different things.

FAMILIAR MUSIC. Conventional songs. Immediate and precise anticipation of rhythm and melody ● Identification with singer ● Lack of apprehension ● A sense of “friendship” ● Isolation from other stimuli ● A need to separate words (meaning) from words (sounds) ● Increased emotional sensitivity (sometimes to embarrassing levels) ● Pride in being able to recognise structure ● Being tempted to participate.

FAMILIAR MUSIC. Instrumental, orchestral. Recognition of rhythm, melody and structure can be source of relief ● Disappointment (often acute) when recognition fails ● Minor surprises when theme is carried (or echoed) by different instruments ● Occasional irritation when small phrases and figures prove predictable (eg, parts of cadenzas) ● Loss of self in fff passages ● Increasing sensitivity linked to crescendos and diminuendos ● A sense of apprehension as instrumental volume drops to very low levels ● Refined delight when instrumental “layers” are detected in orchestral tuttis ● Identification with conductor ● Pride at being part of the event.

NEW MUSIC Search – often frenzied - for known historical parallels ● Disproportionate relief when parallels are recognised ● Squaring the fact that keeping track of the immediate past and present (in order to grasp the structure) can leave listener melodically adrift ● Deciding between concentration or passive acceptance ● Shutting out intellectual processes regarding meaning, originality, plagiarism, etc ● Suppressing one’s sense of inferiority ● Withholding judgment en route.

NOVEL PLUS BACH I ease Blest Redeemer (50,779 words) along with performances from YouTube. Today I was comforted by 16 min 24 sec of Andras Schiff doing Bach’s GoldBerg Variations. Ordered the disc even though I have it by Glenn Gould. Different performances can in effect be different works

Friday 6 April 2012

Getting ready for Easter

Elder daughter (Professional Bleeder) is visiting. Grateful for her pop recommendations (The Smiths, Bowie) we force-feed her opera, not necessarily the easy stuff. Last time Britten’s Turn Of The Screw, this time Mozart’s penultimate La Clemenza Di Tito. A grey, bone-chilling day dawns and more opera beckons that evening. PB’s amenable but demands Don Giovanni because she “knows the story”. I have it on CD but not DVD. The phone-up radius gradually widens (Worcester to the north, Bristol to the south) and all I get is “Nah. Haven’t got that mate. We’ll order.”

Finally a treasure trove. Abergavenny Music offers a choice of four which I boil down to two. One has much beloved Thomas Allen as the libertine but Don Ottavio is Mark Padmore, a passionate tenor in St Matthew Passion but generally conceded to be the worst operatic actor in Britain. I opt for the 2008 Royal Opera House (Covent Garden) version with Simon Keenlyside in the title role, the slightly comical looking but creamy Ramon Vargos as Don O, Marina Poplavskaya and Joyce DiDonato as the two wronged ladies and a superbly mobile Kyle Ketelson as Leporello.

The last time we attended Covent Garden in person our two seats cost £176. The two DVDs cost £29, to which I must add fifty miles’ worth of diesel, an irritating expense since the previous day we gave in to another middle-class impulse and shopped at Waitrose – also in Abergavenny.

To drink there was a Wither Hills sauvignon blanc from NZ, once the most powerful form of that grape, now somewhat more polite. Plus a gran reserva rioja which was beginning to fade.

In the pic, the Commendatore is sending the unrepentant Don G down to Hell – an interesting moment of contemplation for all atheist opera lovers.

Wednesday 4 April 2012

Britain's answer to the Prague P

BBC TV carried a ninety-minute programme on Jonathan Miller, the man whose polymathism I most envy: doctor, biologist, comic actor ( Beyond The Fringe), TV documentarist (the human body, atheism), play director (a good chunk of the BBC’s Shakespeare series), opera director (about eighty works worldwide) and abstract metal-welding sculptor. Plus bits in between such as director of a dramatized version of St Matthew Passion (His own comment: “Not bad for a Jewish atheist.”).

He seemed to have directed the BBC programme too, certainly shaped it. And, we think, chose the music. At one point the LvB fourth piano concerto fluttered, at another the Schubert quintet. And then, like a personal benison for me (this version is sung surprisingly in Yorkshire - well I never said Tykes can't sing) this hymn:

Immortal, invisible,
God only wise,
In light inaccessible,
Hid from our eyes…

Unresting, unhasting
And silent as light,
Nor wanting, nor wasting,
Thou rulest in might.

Perhaps it best describes the scope of his abilities. If so, so be it. But it’s a hymn I had temporarily forgotten and I’ve subsequently washed many a plate bellowing out its unrestrained sentiments (Thy justice like mountains, High soaring above.) in our wonderful kitchen acoustic. Thanks JM.

VERIFICATION I’ve noticed some belly-aching about Blogger’s renovated word verification system. Too difficult they say. My view is different. As long as I can handle it it’s proof I’m sentient. And I’m hanging on to that.

Monday 2 April 2012

Who cares how many years

It’s Schubert’s anniversary and here’s his birth-house in Vienna. Offering wall-to-wall Franz BBC Radio 3 ditched coyness and repeatedly insisted “he died of syphilis at 31”. Had it been typhoid the Trout might, presumably, have become the Mackerel.

For me Schubert is songs and chamber music. The orchestral stuff doesn’t cut it. My (our!) little nosegay has nothing obscure. Why bother since FS says it all in the song most people know: An die Musik (To music). Here’s a slightly over-charged translation:

Oh lovely Art, in how many grey hours,
When life's fierce orbit ensnared me,
Have you kindled my heart to warm love,
Carried me away into a better world!

How often has a sigh escaping from your harp,
A sweet, sacred chord of yours
Opened up for me the heaven of better times,
Oh lovely Art, for that I thank you!

But you get the idea. A permanent text for Tone Deaf’s sermons even though I also read books, dream about rock climbs I’ll never do and motorbikes I’ll never ride. Putting aside a Janet Baker version (Murray Perahia (!) at the joanna) how about a very early LUCIA POPP.

In the String Quintet in C major the additional instrument is another cello. The music is thus sombre but not solemn. The showboat pianist, Artur Rubinstein, didn’t say he wanted it played at his funeral but while he was dying. Reflect on that and listen (on Mrs LdP’s recommendation) to the ADAGIO by the Cleveland with Yo-Yo Ma.

The Trout seemed obvious but Mrs LdP, getting into her stride, said why not The Wanderer fantasy for piano, Schubert’s muscular equivalent of LvB’s Hammerklavier. Note: It can be wilder than this BRENDEL version (eg, by Pollini) and still work.

But let this be the humblest of springboards. There’s so much more.