Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Guido d'Arezzo Continuo

Most of me would like to get on with the 'creative recollections', as I have been pretty much jack- booted into labeling them for the managing editor of Kootenay Mountain Culture magazine. It had occurred to one of my agents, in the course of some back and forth with Tara Cunningham over the precise academic designation of my kind of writing, that Tara might have thought my stories had been made up out of thin air, or at least a severe proportional preference for imagination over historical fact. So, not wanting to have this particular agent upset, as this might disturb my eating habits, I leapt to the Net to inform Tara that, for the moment at least, as I have been severely severed from Contemplatives for some weeks, I am not writing what is ordinarily thought of as pure fiction, but rather autobiography with a twist that changes names and respects the fact that no one can remember the dialogue precisely as it went. In this reporting came the inspiration for the classification, which took me back half-a-century, to when the Lord said I would eventually have to step off the fiction trail and rattle on about his part in my life specifically. This was rather nice, because it has not always been easy to make fictional moments of times and events which already had an enormous amount going for them. I really wanted to simply tell it as it was, so pleased as I was for how things worked out and the people who made them do so.
But, like the juggler, I have to keep all the balls in the air at the same time. And, I have been noticing on Sitemeter that it is no longer true that most of my out-of-family-circle hits are from persons looking for information on Tai Chi and dojo shoes. I think I have mentioned Socrates' declarations about the education of the guardians, that it began with phys ed and music? There has been much searching on my blog for the phys ed, or gymnastics, as the Athenians would have it, but now the scientific curiosity about music is catching up. In only a few days, I've had a preponderance of hits looking for Guido d'Arezzo, the monk, initially much abused by fellow monks, who thought up the music staff as we know it, more or less, and solfege. And the last of these was even about Guido for kids, which of course got swiftly to the ticker.This is encouraging, as sometimes the culture seems brain dead on this question, especially at a moment when it seems possible that the film industry might, finally, start to catch on to the significance.
Or not. It doesn't really matter to me. The blog lets the philosopher do his job, that is, put his thoughts down on electronic paper as no one else is given the grace to do, as original thinking is what the philosopher, and only the philosopher, is all about. And of course, nowadays, except in countries ruled by imbeciles who are even stupider about poets than Plato was, the philosopher gets to think all around the world, so the cultures can all take turns laughing at each other for dropping the ball, simply by failing to read.
Yes. What is being, really, and what is truth?
Can they be found in art, and if not, why not?
Is the artist simply a half-wit? Yes, more often than we would often like to think. It's always interesting to watch artists attack politicians and then make, in terms of real being, and real truth, precisely the same mistakes. Or perhaps even worse mistakes.
Which takes us back to Guido and the principles of music instruction, and the plethora and plague of errors, conscious or unconscious, that have been created and sustained by those who ignore or pervert what he accomplished, even in the process of trying to keep alive the traditions of the best liturgical music, that is, chant. That the Catholics have done this here and there goes without saying, and the Anglicans also. But both have made and promoted profound pedagogical errors. Miss Glover and the other one, Curwen, in England started jiggeting about with movable doh, which destroys voices as well as science and math, and the Church educators allowed, aided, and abetted the nunnish reduction of mathematics as the ruler of music by making numbers behave like the letters and the solfa syllables.
The teacher, of course, is known by his students. My excellent guitar student, having been both an expert business man and an expert construction worker of many skills, has come to understand the common sense of the modes, and applies to them a concentration and appreciation of them for their own sake that would shame a Benedictine abbot. With the numbers under his belt, as well as in his brains and hands, he now begins to take on the solfege.
At Monday's lesson I sketched out on paper the d mode, authentic and plagal, with solfa, numbers and letters, just because it comes first, the protus, but when it came to the playing and singing part, we fired up the e mode, that being the sixth string of the guitar and an easily accessible drone when it's boogie time. Being a low-voiced coot like me, Tim is at this point only responsible for the plagal scale, B to b.
And with all this good order and discipline safely under way now, on the Monday evening after we watched the final part of an Adam Dalgliesh episode, the still, small, voice led me to the piano and the solfege vocalization, big time now, of Bach's Two Part Inventions.
That, let me tell you, makes most of Wagner simply a lot of mindless racket.
Interesting, is it not, that Providence should have me winding up precisely this post on the feast of John the Baptist?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Iron Ballerina

I have been at the keyboard for some time, now, dealing with an editor, an old friend, and a Pope, but I've yet to hear the call for lunch, so I'll start up a post.
Yes, I am admittedly late on this year's review of the annual dance show that features two of my beautiful granddaughters and their hard working compatriots. The show was great, they were great, and I was once again educated by a section of the arts I have never played a very great part in. This time, especially by the boys.
You never know from one year to another how many of the male gender will show up. There are always a couple or three of the little guys, some years even quite a lot, but the ongoing general failure of western education - and possibly this stupidity works a wider circle - keeps making it difficult for boys to grasp the essential and irreplaceable wisdom of dance as one of the ultimate, if the not absolutely ultimate, factors in fitness, to say nothing of all the good it does for their minds, nervous systems, sense of balance, self-confidence, and so on.
And that is exactly the pitch that the mistress of the whole affair, Sabian Clover, took to the soccer fields last autumn as the Nelson second season got under way. I wasn't present for her address to the assembled jocks of the own, but I gather it went something like this:
"You think you're in shape now? Come to dance class and you'll find out what real shape is. Besides, you'll meet all sorts of girls."
So, a few came. Sabian already had her sons go through the process, and the plural is important here because a little drama occurred just before the year end show hit the stage. The spring performance plays just after the soccer season starts. Her middle lad went off to his soccer game - obviously he was not under a shooting contract with Warner Bothers - and broke his leg. But the show must go on, and the older brother, who had gone on to other things outside Nelson, came home and took his place.
Now I particularly appreciated this little saga, because the eight or so lads who were on stage, all quite skilfully tossing the girls about, and at the same time demonstrating very good body language, left an image in my head that a very few weeks later turned out to be, I think, as my father used to say, "the one we're looking for", that is, the last image I needed to fill out my own research into a fitness programme that totally satisifies my particular prefences, although I've no objection to anyone deciding that it's also the cat's pajamas for him or her.
This is the "Iron Ballerina", my 17 pound bar bell held aloft over my head while I skip about to the early morning's choice for dancing in the world of a Walkman and its cunning little earphones. The choice is still Emmylou and her musicians. James Burton we saw and heard again on Roy Orbison's "Black and White Nights", and Albert Lee, I realized from a little study of liner notes, is the main man on guitar on the album I began with, back in 78, "Quarter Moon".
When I started with the ukulele, I had a lot of questions neither my little instruction book nor, I suspect, anyone else in the music world could answer. That situation has changed, much for the better. This morning I had to ponder taking the five-string to Baker Street. Instruction in the modes and their preferential option for perfect comprehension has to start sooner or later. I could set a useful trap, parking myself outside the Royal Bank and strutting up and down in the E mode, both authentic and plagal. Amidst the inevitable tapping of feet and amazed faces, at some point someone who was as ignorant as I was a month ago would advise me that I was doing something dumb with E minor. That would lead to an interesting conversation.
Likewise, from the moment I stepped into the gym I started to have questions no one could answer until I'd finished my almost decade of research, and probably which I could never have answered in a million years if I hadn't happened to be doing my sun salute cool downs at the same time Eric Tuttle was standing still as a stone doing his wu chi.
Yes. The irreplaceable element of motionless exercise. Of course it moves, eventually, once the mind learns to take all its cues from its own body and not some book or trainer inflicted decisions, for all that these are also part of the general educational process. But there can be no true joy or in the body, or even genuine acceptance, without full understanding of just what the hell is going on.
So I had got around to a lot of stillness, a lot of gentle overhead stuff, and then, after watching those lads and later finding my beginning-of-the-yard-work-season-shoulders lacking in endurance at the wheelbarrow and our uphill climb with it, I had the moment of inspiration. My dancing legs were in pretty good shape, so now bring in the upper body with a musical barbell!
My upper back muscles complained very little, so long as I kept my habitually aggressive ambitions to myself, and got into the spirit of it all very quickly. I suspect that to push up over one's head is a more natural first-thing-in-the morning activity than to pull up, as I have been doing for some time with the ladder into the attic. In fact I am more inclined to hit the ladder consistently AFTER I've held the iron ballerina aloft for a bit.
It feels really good, by the way. My shoulder blades have a new life. In fact it feels good even to think about it, which is a well-known sign of Tai Chi wisdom.
In another fitness area, that of arm work that can also be felt in the shoulders, I've now off-loaded two rubber flex bars to people who listen up when I insist on their genius for proving how naturally intelligent it is to start slowly and gently from absolute zero force. The responses are raves.
But perhaps the biggest news, as it covers such a huge cultural front, is that I may have found a way to get the BBC involved in the music question. That probe was launched only yesterday morning, so it might take a while to know one way or the other.