Friday, June 6, 2008


As Saint Augustine says, you never know from one day to another who will be your ally. Old enemies become new friends, and vice versa.
Take for example the Frederick Harris people, the music publishers, who produced the famous - or infamous - "Brown Scale Book". For some years, as I plugged away at changing from a 'stride' player to a competent interpreter of Bach and Beethoven, I wondered if the conservatories that license teachers and not only Harris, but all the publishers of scale and studies texts, were in a conspiracy to keep the cottage keyboard teaching industry alive and well by deliberately blinding students to the actual facts of the arts of music. My puzzlement might strike some as extreme, but as the logic of applying numbers became more and more clear, as well as more and more essential to my musical peace of mind, it was not easy to find a loftier motive. Everything seemed to focus on memory, and I've never been very fond of memorizing for its own sake.
Not that I understood the art and the science of music all that well myself, as these pages indicate. Plainly, I have been feeling pretty cocky about the irreplaceable need to understand the unique genius of the third finger, but it is only in the last 48 hours, since my last lesson with the remarkable Hayley, who is this week-end also graduating from high school, that I can start to swagger over my finally grasping the basic discipline of genuine five-finger exercises. And, as always, the swagger is actually a joke, because I basically find myself amazed at how long all this has taken me to sort out. It is, in the last analysis, so damned obvious, and so well understood by so many working musicians, that it is amazing that to a man - or woman - they have been unable to put it down on paper.
But, of course, most musicians are dedicated to performing, not to writing text books. It is peculiar characters like me, who find audiences highly questionable, and individual students, delighted to get it, the real satisfaction.
"Mr Lamb, can we sing 'The Bear Went Over the Mountain'?" Thus little Miss Bergermann, grade two. Or was it one? Long dark hair, big brown eyes that got bigger, when I said "yes" and began to strum the relevant chords. When you've known this, who needs 80,000 drugged up punks, or an audience at the Arctic Club? I once enjoyed a jazz musician at the Arctic Club very much but he up and committed suicide.
On the other hand, if 80,000 young people came docile to learn something I would thoroughly enjoy showing them how the pentatonic scale was made for the 5-string banjo. And just imagine that number of voices singing the scale to the numbers after a few good lessons in diction, which means, to a singer, resonance and 4,000 pounds per square inch pressure from the diaphragm.
They would be even louder than the Welsh at a rugger match in Wembley Stadium. But the latest info on some research poll indicates that this younger generation has grown up without the sense of guilt. Hah hah. The young are by definition guilty, and so are we all until we've figured out all that irksome stuff about sin. Original sin, venial sin, mortal sin.
Interesting things, numbers. Seven notes in the diatonic scale, seven deadly sins. They were horsing around a few months ago, the public journals, trying to avoid calling social sins plain, old fashioned, greed. Avarice. "The love of money is the root of all evils." Thus the downside of multi-nationals and all those people fiddling with the food supplies. Or herb supplies. Or water supplies.
Listen, jerks, I've been in hell. Got put there in May of 1957 by the Almighty. It's a real place. Indescribably agonizing. I wasn't there long, thank heaven, but long enough to get the point and pick up a further boost in the direction of reformation. A raging fire in the middle of one's being, and there's no way to put it out. It only goes away when God takes it away. Not that I was reformed immediately, but it was a marker along the journey. The start of the final phase came a year later and was called the Virgin Mary. I had a vision and got a scolding. Very kindly, very maternal, but still a reprimand.
Meanwhile, back to Frederick Harris. Today I dropped them an email, inviting discussions on music teaching. A decade or more ago, when I was starting to get more and more convinced that there were some pretty terrible gaffes in the business of teaching music, I started to think of computer devices that might help. But so far no one has invented any replacement for an old-fashioned book on an any-fashioned piano, so perhaps Harris may get interested.
You never know with establishments, which is why we need our so-called radicals. Actually, radicals are not necessarily all that exciting, as radical is from radix, which simply means root.
Well, not that exciting to the frivolous. For those who have the sense to honestly pursue philosophy, roots are profoundly exciting.
And speaking of philosophy, I today found a useful quote from a philosopher I never read, Schopenhauer. It resides in the spring 2008 edition of the "Kootenay Carnival" a magazine dedicated to art and culture in the Kootenays, and was offered up by the editor.
"All truth passes through three stages: First, it is ridiculed; Second, it is violently opposed; and Third, it is accepted as self-evident."
Schopenhauer died in 1860. I think this is more or less the time at which printed scale studies relying on the primacy of letters instead of numbers were just coming into their own. Unfortunately, they were not realistic enough to run into the second stage, after which they would not have been accepted as self-evident. Now there's some Zen for you.
I was sent out at noon to take instruction and scout equipment in the shops that have to do with the stuff we need for our studio. I actually still need instruction more than we need equipment, but with knowledgeable countermen, I'm catching on. For example:Don't get too sophisticated, as the present state of broadband can present delivery problems. It's nice to feel the Muse unlocking within my brain all those compartments he's kept sealed up for so many years. I can actually listen and take some of it in! (Spiritual Canticle, 2nd redaction, stanza 26, n. 13)

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