Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Old Man and the See

As Red Green use to say on the Telly - and still says on re-runs - it's been a big week up at the Lodge.
On the 28th of this month, actually my middle brother's birthday, and two days after the date in May when my mother died five years ago, a story of mine was finally printed in a mainstream publication that was not a newspaper. I've never been ungrateful for the opportunity to be read in humble newsprint, of course, but anyone who aspires to fiction or essays that are at the same time genuinely literate appreciates even more the adventure and significance of landing in a journal with a far reaching and quantitative circulation.
I've mentioned Kootenay Mountain Culture before, at a time when it was beginning to look that I might wind up in it, and now that the deed is done, I can mention it again. I was positive then about our locally produced journal, with good reason for it on its own merits, and now I can simply be grateful that its merits just may include myself and my references, with gratitude, to Ernest Hemingway.
As I learned in theatre, from my first play onward, there is usually at least as much drama, if not more, in getting the play on the boards as there is in the play itself. And there are also omnipresent symbols in the process as well as the tale, not more indicative to me than the fact that this edition of KMC is the 15th.
Now as any good Dogan knows, 15 is a sacred number, the complete list of mysteries in the ordinary rosary, that form of prayer which is utterly concerned with the Virgin Mother of God, and that form of prayer which does more for mental health than all the psychiatrists in the world. And prayer is what I have had to be about even more than writing. I was reminded of this - my temperment is always having to be reminded of this - years ago, when in regard to my writing Mary said to me, and I quote, "What has been put into my hands, has been put into My Hands."
I had been pondering the disposition of my fiction. Obviously, so had she. And, being omniscient by participation in the attributes of the Infinite, she had the end of May, 2009, in mind. I didn't know that, then, of course, as KMC was not even in existence. It was just one more of those entities that would come to be as our neck of the woods exercised its acquired prerogatives, while I puttered along at my own duties to the prayer life and inspirations toward the arts, chiefly literature and music, and an eye on the film industry.
They did a lovely job of the presentation of the simple tale. They changed my title, for the better, once you see the whole of it all within the context of the magazine's reality, and found a magnificent photo of Ernie and a Cape Buffalo in the JFK archives. The other publisher, Peter Moynes, had told my wife on a visit to the museum that they had found a good picture of EH, but I had assumed only a mug shot. To open up the magazine yesterday morning and see the hunter with the hunted and the gun created a startling impact. I was reminded of the best experiences in theatre and the music scene in Nelson that started showing up in the later 60s, and perhaps even pleasantly astounded at the professionalism, the sense of magnificence, always a potential in this part of the world, but not always realized in earlier years, which was why I had to go to Rome in the early 80s.
Between KMC and a Capuchin bishop, it seems not too bad to be back.
Especially when there are more tales coming.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Charge of the Fifth Estate

To tell the truth, I have not been at all anxious to acquire more music students, aka fellow researchers. I've been content with my tiny band, as the research behind it all still demands enormous concentration, and then there's the writing, and of course the contemplative obligations that never go away for long. But I may have picked up the perfect final addition to the group, just by deciding it's time to test the Press again, although to tell the whole and complete truth, this came about not nearly so much from an involved decision making process as from a simple recognition of an opportunity a number of other people had worked long, hard, and well to create.
Last evening's Nelson Daily News carried a story on the grand old lady mention many posts ago, Amy Ferguson, for decades a Nelson institution as a teacher of piano and voice, and profoundly successful choir director. That is to say, the news story mentioned her hugely, although the point of it was really the story of a student of a student, a lad in the finals for this year's American Idol contest. Young Adam Lambert has studied for some years with Jennifer Paterson, head of California Music Studio, the largest school of its kind in the state, just as Jennifer, a Nelson product whom I actually had never heard of, studied for a decade with Mrs. Ferguson, before settling in southern California via UBC and the London and Boston opera scenes. Given the empathetic handling of the story by the writer, Timothy Schafer, whom I had regularly read but actually never met or talked with, I wondered if I would get an ear for the founding idea of this blog. I had noticed his name on a lot of articles covering the arts. And of course I would in time have some interesting anecdotes to share about the great lady.
So I dropped in on him this morning, hoping that my habitual enthusiasm for jumping at opportunities wasn't premature. It was not. We had, given the pressures in a news room late in the morning, a rather leisurely chat, and I got heard. I asked him if he knew much about music, and he said he did not, that he knew more about hockey.
But this mean that he's already had a lot of rather technical physiological smarts pumped into him, as opposed to a lot of wrong and discouraging information about music, which I find a distinct advantage. And, to fatten the sense of timing, while he did not seem to know of the Ontario legislation, he was able to tell me what I did not know, that a number of American states have preceded Ontario in making music a mandatory subject.
Now if this other Tim has any ear at all, he'll be a perfect candidate for common sense as applied to a keyboard or guitar neck, and that will solve all problems with the communications industry as to getting the word out. And his information about the American legislation means that my market is already bigger than I knew.
At any rate, he was very attentive to what I had to say and we will probably be getting down to some serious discussion by the weekend. I was most insistent that there is no rush. After all, I'm only on my third week of knowing how to practice the modes on keyboards and guitars both classical and electric, and as recently as five a.m. this morning was temporarily confused over the numbers for some of the harmonies in Mode II. That's the plagal form for d. (Oh, how nice to be able to show off after so many decades in darkness.)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Short Story Alert

And so another episode of the hikers of Lions Bay, with, as I said earlier, its new title, "Innocents Aloft". Following Mark Twain, of course, and his "Innocents Abroad", which I looked into briefly as a youngster and looked out of again. Twain was unquestionably talented, and some of his books will always be read, but as with so many who write a great children's book, his metaphysics were not quite mature enough to hold the charm elsewhere. I've been realizing this vehemently in my recent reading of "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court". Attacking injustice is a good thing, and there is a lot of highly enjoyable humour in the book, but his hatred for the Church blights the last half of the work so badly that the best thing that can be said about it is that it would be a good working model for someone to use to deal with the current American programme for jailing a greater proportion of its citizens than anyone else does. Especially if they're black and even if they've been involved in such a negligible nusiance as a sniff or two of funny tobacco. Not that I've ever had the habit myself, but it's hard to equate the use of smelly leaves with serial killing, or even armed robbery. And nowhere in the text did I find him pointing out the joys of working long hours in a New England factory in the nineteenth century, when the workers had to get up in the dark to get to a very early morning mass on Christmas day, so great was the charity and faith of the mill owners.
Ah, yes, living in glass houses, yet refusing to put away the sling shot.

But why be negative on a day like this?
On a day like this when instead of having ten thousand devils waiting for me when I awoke from my afternoon nap - early this morning I was not only practising on the rubber keyboard but before that making bread - I had MT handing me what just arrived in the mail, my eagerly awaited 'free introductory copy' of the Parish Book of Chant, kindness of Jeffrey Tucker of the Church Music Association of America. A couple of weeks ago we set out to order that volume, following her researches on the Net, and as we prefer using mastercard over the phone to mastercard on line, I get to talk to people. Invariably more interesting, and in this case profitable, as Jeffrey was so pleased by our interest that he insisted we were his guests.
They say one bad book can destroy a monastery. Can one very good book restore the American Church? (I include Canada, of course, as it has pretty well been the tail on the US Mongrel over these decades of dumb dumb.)
Outside of my theologians and the breviary, this may just be the most propelling text I've seen since Father Smith Instructs Jackson, which I think I have recently referred to. The Adoremus Hymnal is very useful, but there is simply more Latin in the PBOC and I like the uncompromising use of the old four line staff. This lets the modes move about as they were intended to, and will play right along with my own personal affection for tanks because it forces study. Study is always painful for the Mongrel, I know, especially where it involves clergy, but as Aristotle says, a little pain now can produce much pleasure later.
Yes, it was somewhat painful to straighten out my confusions over chant, and to get the math right once I had enough common sense and English text in my hands, but it's going to be immensely pleasurable to start learning every line on chant on every page of the PBOC.
And guess what? I finally get to have a reason to have mercy on poor Miss Glover of Norwich, who brought movable doh to the English school system. Her source was not really her own personal misunderstanding of the needs of singers and a critical absence of mathematical sensitivity - well, not entirely - but she was indeed seduced by the Scarlet Woman. It was Guido done it, latching on to movable Doh instead of movable One as well, in order to keep pitch relative.
Maybe Guido flunked his grade six math. Or maybe someone after him - was it actually Francis of Assisi, whose boys did a lot of other stuff for chant that was excellent - who forgot the first rule of metaphysics? Tutt Tutt. All those Franciscan apologists who try to make their founder out as superior to the man who started up the Dominicans.
Anyway, all of this was before Mr. Fender, with whose ghost I will probably make everybody annoyed for a while. Anytime the mystics take a guitar - or guitars - to chant, you know there's going to be trouble. It's an old custom. The ploughman always goes out before the sowers.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Guido d'Arezzo

I think I have mentioned earlier the high school principal that mentally abused a former student of mine by blatting on at her about how if Maryland had been founded by Catholics, in the early 17th century, how come it was on the side of the South and its slavery policy in the Civil War? At the time she mentioned this to me I did not own that most excellent of publications, the Appleton Catholic Encyclopedia of 1910, and could not tell her that by 1861 Maryland was no longer demographically Catholic. It was not until the spring of 1965 that an off-loading of surpluses from the library at Notre Dame University of Nelson made it possible for me bring home to my household library the invaluable resource of those fifteen volumes, and I have mined them ever since whenever I suspect I have the ravenous jaws of error gnawing at my boots.
And now, in 2009, what a lot of dogs, what a lot of teeth, but actually, what a lot of effing boredom threatens the music students of the old ancestral province of Ontario. A few hours ago I googled up the grade seven test priorities for that jurisdiction's music programme. On the one hand I was sorry for the kids, on the other relieved to find that the labour of 82 posts is by no means wasted. One really must commit to a lot of hammering before the walls of ignorance and sloth are battered down. And, moreover, I suspect one must admit to fear that the Catholic part of the education system, is actually going to co-operate with the intellectual slavery, meaning that that poor high school principal of an earlier era, thick and vicious though he was about Maryland, may be dead on about Catholic education in Ontario. Even a considerable number of Catholics may now be finding their way back to Gregorian, but I doubt their ability to make the music of it a straightforward affair, as it should be, to young students.
Who was it talked about those with ears to hear with'?
It seems that Guido had a lot of the same resistance from the general whatever that I feel that I'm getting. Now that was a comfort. I do not enjoy being original. As there really is nothing new under the sun, at least not since Mary and Jesus, a little 'ho hum here we go again' is a great comfort. So that part of his history is actually useful.
But the rest of his history was actually the more significant. It was a great help in providing the missing pieces of the puzzle, which is all about how did we get into such a confused and so often discouraging situation in the first place?
The answer lies in the old adage about there being no scientific blessing which did not also bring a curse.

Once upon a time, you see, there was no sol-fah, or solfege as some texts have it and maybe I'll use from now on. At least this will provide me with a chuckle, always useful when the subject I have to write about puts me in a temper. These next words, as you might already have guessed are from later musings, and following a conversation with a talented check-out clerk at the grocery depot. She is well trained, as I know from her recent album, but she had not heard of Guido of Arezzo, and had come away from her music school thinking that the chap who invented solfege had it named after him.
And I even may be able to stop getting riled at government! The dance show I was briefly reviewing a year ago staged itself again, and last night, just before the music started, I spotted a lad who grew up with my musician son, and has since become an internationally known composer of film scores, yet still lives in Nelson. The old body recovering from two days in the yard shot out of its seat like Tris Speaker going up for a long ball trying to escape the diamond, and I extracted a promise of interest. Donny had been on my mind as a target a while ago, but I had not yet anchored myself, especially on the guitar, in the modes, nor had the fantastic experience in that morning's music class with Hayley, or hearing her discover, on her own, as we
settled into the G mode, the simple joy of exercising her hard palate simply on the O's. Soh, Doh, Soh again. Then the Fah and the Lah, the Me and the Te. We left Re for another day, on which she will also get a lecture on how not to murder that vowel as the Irish are so fond of doing. Later on, Abba, in 'Dancing Queen' was somewhat harsh with their 'EEs', and as Hayley was actually sitting beside me there too, I pointed it out.
Is there anyone in L.A. who can guarantee that this scene could have happened at a Beverly Hills high school performance?
Yes, there is something about going home to the modes that has cleared up certain puzzles I was left with in the voice studies.
Now for Guido.
Somehow I can't believe that the rational Greeks had no such thing as drills for individual vowels. But it would seem that if they did have such, they never wrote them down. It also seems hard to believe that such drill was not present in the Hebrew synagogues, which had chant, nor in the Christian communities, and eventually in the monasteries before Guido - he died in 1050, when the Benedictines had been around much longer than most empires have lasted. And it may be that the Greeks did write them down after all, because they used the first fifteen letters of the Greek alphabet, which meant a nice assortment of mostly two or even three syllable utterances over the course of two octaves, and there are even some oo's, with mu and nu, that were not included in Guido's list for his vocal hexachord. Thus doh, re, me, fah, soh, lah. The si, or ti, was added later. It seems that Guido was content with six because there were no Gregorian runs, ascending or descending, larger than six notes.

Napoleon is still picking up potential allies. The great McDaniel has been working on our provincial election campaign. Apparently he's very good with signs. But he's also been rather vocal about our music studies, with the man who could be our next MLA. It's rather nice to think of being able to relax on the political front.
And after Tim's lesson, analyzing the numerical and alphbetical basis of authentic and plagal modes, , plus a little more wee small hours meditation, I now have the next question for the check-out clerk. When she was taking her instruction in modes, did they show her how you can do them all on one guitar string? And then add a drone to make it all a genuine musical event?
I'll be very surprised if I get a yes.
But one of these days any properly instructed grade fiver, let alone a seven, will be able to do it.
Will it happen in BC before it happens in Ontario?

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Return From Elba

I was pondering earlier this morning the situation in Heaven, assuming that both Wellington and Napoleon eventually made it there. When it came to the Church Napoleon was a total jerk, whereas the Iron Duke, for all that he was an Irish Anglican, was part of the loosening up of the Tudor and subsequent madness that recreated emperor worship in Britain, yet Nappy had his points, like Lenin, and I can see mercy taking the game away from justice just so he and his eventual conqueror - with not a little help from Blucher and his Prussians - could sit on a cloud together discussing the good old days.
"Your weak point, Bonaparte, was that you didn't quite grasp how to use cavalry."
"Ah, but you were a dolt about artillery, Arthur,and your grasp of supply . . . ."
And so on. Heaven doesn't change our memories, it completes and perfects them.
I had the little corporal in my mind as I recollected my most recent post in the light of certain showings of the Old Guard that have been occurring since I made and open declaration of war on all agencies defiant of Vatican Two's obvious intention to retain and make primary the place of Gregorian chant in the liturgy. Small but satisfactory stirrings of some Old Guard personnel and intentions have already occurred, days if not weeks faster than I anticipated. But as Napoleon proved in his salad days, sometimes nothing is more effective than a sharp taste of grape shot, especially when dealing with a rabble, particularly when the rabble has lost its edge.
One of the problems with living in a diocese that was run by a criminal - with a host of criminal associates - for thirty years, is that recovering the bloody thing, returning it to ordinary standards of decency in things like liturgy, preaching, confessions, a proper level of parish and diocesan spirituality, takes a long time. The mood of such leadership, the mentality of those who made deals to compromise with it, linger on. An extraordinarily strong bishop might have brought us back to the norms more quickly, of course, but the Borromeos and de Sales ride through infrequently, and my beloved Meinred Schwartz, of 'Contemplatives' fame is, sadly, merely fictional. Although the sanity of my last thirty years has been his view of a diocese, and the joy of my years to come will be the detailing of a bishop who, backed up by mystics, knew how to shoot first and ask questions later, my own real capacity for maintaining the right has extended no farther than family and the closest friends and spiritual associates. So, I have not had much reason to hope for the church at large except in the general way of believing that under the present Pope the situation will slowly improve simply through his choice of suitable appointments.
But, thanks to MT on the computer, I have been able to realize that there is more hope out there, in other dioceses, than I heretofore knew about, just as I also have to admit that Ignatius Press, even though it would not publish my novel, has been immensely useful to me and my researches with its Adoremus hymnal and related publications. My stubborn, probably God-given, refusal to go with mere memorization of written arrangements has mightily born fruit, made leaps and bounds in the acquisition of skills to make proficients out of beginners with astonishing rapidity, simply because Adoremus has not only provided the old Gregorian four line staff and the modern five line staves between the same covers, so that even a dolt like myself can make comparisons, but they have provided a three part arrangement of the melodies. Thus I can play with one note in the bass and two in the treble, or, vice versa, reading as I go. This fits in very nicely with all the other basic formulas I have been discovering. It works for numbers, it works for sol-fa, and it really works for me.
And seeing the Gregorian in print in a good working text, being able to pin its extremities - for the adult male voice from A below small c to e above middle c has started to bring that old familiar capacity to concentrate on voice quality that the Muse has been so stingy about, so long as I hadn't nailed down the essentials of a good procedure.
So, if anyone is interested in a little practice, start learning the A minor scale. I still don't know what they call it in Modeland, but I know it is necessary. That's the natural minor. No black keys. Lah, ti, doh, re, me, fah, so, lah, ti, doh, re, me. Twelve notes. I've not actually yet spotted an e in any of the chant tunes I've studied, but rounding the scale off to the fifth is practical as well as musically reassuring. This gives two ones and two fives, very essential to making good harmonies when that step arrives, and you've grasped the rule of numbers. You can sing the numbers here too, if you like, but don't get so thick that you think lah will always be one. Or six, as a certain Benedictine once dreamed.
But, for Christ's sake, go slow. The great subliminal chant line of far too many groups goes like this:

The sooner we get out of here the sooner we'll get to break

Yes, it's Ambrosian. Everything on one pitch, give 'break' two or three beats, and the same for 'fast', one whole note lower.

I mean, after all, all you need for great chant is perfect diction, the state of grace, and Slow enough so God is actually interested in listening. And, I suspect, a good lead guitar or two.

And anyone who thinks I'm too old for this is invited to my back yard the next time I have to take my twelve pound sledge to those 200 pound rocks that keep showing up in it, as I was doing an hour before I sat down to finish the latest chuckle.
Shawn really likes asparagus, and MT has been at work with two more trenches of the stuff.