Wednesday, April 30, 2008

in the beginning

     In the beginning, the still, small, voice said, "Go into the land of the Webfooted Ones, and create a Blog."
And so I went and did exactly this, with a lot of help, and the voice said, "It's about time." And I thought: Father Vincent McNabb, OP, was suspicious of technology, and even created farms in defiance of it, but he would have liked these machines.
    They're as quiet as monks, they go universal - even into space? - and when you're preaching your sermon, you don't have to listen to anyone cough or snore.
     Mind you, you can't hear them laugh, either. But no created situation is absolutely perfect, so we'll just be grateful for what we do have.

     And speaking of perfection, I'd better make it clear at the off, as the English would say, that perfection is mainly what this string in the Net is all about, no matter how widely it ranges over, around, and through other topics. I mean spiritual perfection, of course, as it's the only kind of perfection I've really understood for decades, although there are some other kinds that might be discussed from time to time, and perfection in the process of teaching music is going to be discussed very soon.
    I bring up perfection right away from hard experience. I don't want to get any readers interested under false pretences. Back in the late 70's,when I was slowly closing in on the right beginning for my first completed novel, "Contemplatives", I thought for a time that a chapter describing a deer hunt would get the reader's attention. And I was right, for the reader said, "It made the hair on the back of my neck stand straight up."
     But she also said, "And then you started to write all that stuff about theology and it was suddenly really boring."
     Therefore, when I did settle into the real beginning, on Saint Patrick's Day, l980, I made sure there was no doubt about the heart of my theme and I right away brought up perfection, sanctity, and the transformation in Christ as described by the great Catholic mystics. Of course I lost all the readers who only wanted deer hunts and banjo riffs, but I kept all the readers whose opinion I was really concerned about, people who were either mystics to some degree, or thought they would like to know something about mysticism, especially Christian mysticism. The popular writing of the day has wandered far, not without merit, into the ideas of Eastern mysticism, even though, as it knows little of the Cross, it is unlikely able to play spiritual poker with a full deck.
     I also wrote a lot about music and singing, although throughout the music parts - as distinguished from the singing, for this I also know a considerable amount - I was always a touch nervous, for I knew there was still so much about it that I did not understand. In fact it was not until a couple of years after I finished the book - it's as long as "War and Peace" -, in 1988, on the feast of Louis de Montfort, April 28, that by taking on my oldest granddaughter, aged six, that I began the real process of getting to what I know today and am about to discuss. In those days I could only chord a guitar or a banjo, and my left hand at the piano was a raucous pattern of octaves and fifths. My learned son called this "stride piano" and could list off the names of the inventors. It was good enough for parties, it was good enough for teaching the mechanics of singing, but it was impossible for little Anna's little hands.
Thus began the search for a method that would do two things at once: teach the student to play by ear and analysis and also to read music.
     We were very successful very quickly. As a folksinger and one-time school teacher I knew lots of songs for children, and as Anna's parents took her to church, she knew a few hymns. In those days, in spite of the flood of garbage that modern Catholic hymn writers have been allowed to inflict on the liturgy, there was still some genuinely singable stuff around. (I admit that some of these creations are not too bad at a campfire but I refuse to believe they have any place at a liturgy, and as a mystic, I am rendered incapable, by the Holy Spirit, of singing them.) To make a long story short, I'll simply say that little Anna was so keen for my method that she had to be told to get off the piano bench on early Saturday mornings. Her parents wanted to sleep in.
    And no rapped knuckles!
     Her younger sister followed suit, and seemed to have the same kind of mind, for they both played thirds in two hands quite quickly. They were also learning to read music. You know, Leila Fletcher, etc. Around the books, I was always somewhat discontent, but you have to go there sometime.
     But their father was sent to work l200 miles away, so class was over. Briefly. My next guinea pigs, again two young sisters, this time the children of my senior agent, had different mind sets. The younger especially, the incomparable Catie, had a left hand like Oscar Peterson. At age eight, she wanted to boogie on our big old Gerhard Heintzman, and not with thirds. This was the beginning of my understanding that counterpoint was the beginning of wisdom, although it was still to be some years before I could accurately distinguish between what the Bachs did and didn't understand.
     Here endeth today's lesson.

1 comment:

Dan Nicholson said...

Hey Ken:

Nicely done. I have a daughter that is currently enrolled in piano lessons. I look forward to reading more about this instruction method. I'm also fond of mystics and mystical thinking. I've put the site into my bookmarks.