Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Blogging Business

For some time now I have been ruminating on a comparison, turning over in my mind what precisely it is that this lovely new blogging process is similar to, at least in spirit if not in fact. There really is nothing new under the sun, as Hemingway said, following Ecclesiastes. The Greeks, the Hebrews, the Christians, really did get it all organized long ago, and the best we can ever do for ourselves is to figure out just how they accomplished it, then apply their rules to kicking the crap out of the distractions and deceits of our own time.
Science makes scientific advances, of course. Technology opens up wonderful new opportunities. Nobody knows this, for the moment, better than myself, who after decades of puzzled brooding over the fate of my novel, undeniably the first of its kind, yet much neglected or abused from a broad variety of publishers, not excluding certain tedious intellects in the Eternal City itself - as far as I can see - can now via the excellent and incredibly democratic services of, lecture, even totally trash, certain sinecures of pharisaical thinking.
From my own experience, we learn best how to do this at university, and this is what these early phases of blogging remind me of.
A university, of course, is a great collection of subjects, professors, students, and certain characters among the student body setting themselves up as authorities. Or, at least interesting characters. The very experience of the place simply boggles the mind, and with any luck at all, quite upsets the baggage of sociological, philosophical, and artistic preconceptions that a freshman bring to the campus. This does not mean that the much tumbled valises will not return in some recognizable way to their original positions on the great train platform of life, but they will at least have experienced a new depth of appreciation, and their contents, hopefully containing a classic or two, will be spirited aboard the train with deepened appreciation and gratitude.
Writers are exploding all over the place, on Blogger, just as new faces came at me in droves in my first weeks on the UBC campus. There were ten thousand students then, certainly enough to jostle the mind, with all their manifold passions and concerns, and that meant at least twenty thousand angels as well. Half of them good, half of them not.
In high school it was not quite the same free-for-all, because we were all much more subject in our will to our teachers and the ever looming presence of the principal. This was by no means a bad thing, but it was not the same thing as the great freedom of a university, with its lovely option of cutting classes for the sake of even more profound experiences than a lecturer droning on about elements of fact that any soul that could actually read could pick up for himself.
It was then, I would say, that I learned how to deal with the other blogs that now swirl around this terminal, actually more for Marianne's attention than my own, unless she calls me to one. There are a lot of them out there, and that is good. But I am reminded of the flash characters that showed up to dazzle freshmen, and, not infrequently, freshettes. As they laboured through their subsequent years on campus, they became identified as characters who could only survive because there was a new crop of freshmen - or freshettes - each year.
Out in Bloggerville, it is rather similar, and when some of the people you met at university announced themselves as poets, or novelists, you had to wonder if they really knew what they were about, or if writing in any of these or the other genres were just a temporary interest, something to try on like a new coat. Sometimes they even got themselves published, in the campus literary magazine, which was a way to find out how much they really had to say.
The problem with young 'literary' types, of course, is just how much they want to talk about themselves as opposed to how much interest they have in the world and its citizens in their immediate neighbourhood. Chances are that the more actual talent they have the more likely they are to be struck dumb by all the other talent they find around them. Certainly this happened to me, so much so that although I knew was living a very full life amongst my fellow students, I found it so full of inspiration that I was entirely lost over the possibility of finding a plot through which to detail my experiences.
But significant as this situation was, it was not the major problem. My greatest difficulty was that although I lived by a visible light, I had neither inspiration nor permission to use it as a factor in story-telling. When it came time to start pounding out the text of a novel, a few weeks after I had settled into my first year routine, I fled the campus entirely and set the beginning of the tale four hundred miles to the north, in a town I'd never seen, and quickly moved my cast to a boat. My one concession to a college ambience was a brief discussion of Milton among the three young men. I think that was it for purely intellectual give and take. The rest relied on the usual fodder of adventure tales, so I got my principal satisfactions writing about the outdoors and the water, which I genuinely loved and always had satisfaction from. And, as I have said earlier, I discovered that I could write dialogue quite easily. This was a hugely pleasant shock for someone who generally hated writing high school essays. It also took away any serious doubts that I had a genuine relationship with the Muse, although it was also plain that there were other elements of good prose I would have to work hard at to make that friendship stick around.
And this was the beauty of the university tri-weekly, the "Ubyssey". It was the perfect place for a student writer to learn how to work with words, and work objectively, as any real writer must do, by describing what other people are doing. Furthermore, I got to watch my fellow students, male and female, doing the same thing, although I can't remember much talk about their becoming novelists or even playwrights. If they were not moving on to academic or professional careers, they intended to be journalists, not a few of them eventually some of the best known in the country. I felt myself very lucky to be among them.
But I also learned very quickly, in no more than a fortnight, that most of the first years students who had initially shown an interest in the paper didn't have it to keep it up.
I remember vividly the first meeting of all the hopeful, the gathering in the dingy basement of the North Brock of those who had read in the first 1953 edition of the "Ubyssey" the call for new blood. The rooms were packed, and for a list of reasons I will explain in the next post or so, I beheld, coming in a bit late, the light of the angels telling me I belonged in this arena, mundane as it might seem to the uninstructed eye.
Good Lord, I thought, what a mob! Will anyone notice that I exist?
Within a fortnight, that mob had dwindled to a handful, of which, of course, I was one. Had the rest of them felt the threat of time against their studies? The scrutiny of editors destined for the hard-edged world of journalism? Or simply the stark ugliness of the basement rooms themselves, probably even more Spartan than any newsroom I have seen since, although the Nelson Daily News runs a very close second.
I stayed. I was accepted. I finished my assignments. I was quite quickly promoted to a minor editorial post that enable me to study the spirit of every university in the country, and some American campuses as well.
If this blog works on the world stage, much of the debt is owed to those most fortunate days. The more I see of the competition, the less I apprehend of that kind of experience.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Testing Hogtown, Testing the Kootenays

I reminded of my days as a journalist, learning how to write a news story so that in case of a sudden need to redesign the news pages, the story could be cut from the bottom up, leaving only the first paragraph or two and still presenting the essence of the tale.
Thus: A Kootenay-based writer and researcher into the modern history and problems of music education waits to hear results from his two most recent attempts to find intelligent readership in opposite ends of the country. On Wednesday of this week, K.B. Lamb contacted a major text book publisher in Toronto, and two days later he had provocative letter published in the very popular and much read New Denver "Valley Voice".Both contacts provoked a great deal of healthy spirit, Lamb said, and he awaits further developments, albeit with an eye on the parable of the sower. He also said that he felt enough encouragement from these contacts to be inspired to scrub two unfinished posts, which if published at this point, might have been confusing. Furthermore, he felt moved to add, he had recently been receiving some most interesting hits on his blog from Asia and Europe.
Meanwhile, Lamb spends his writing time most happily with his most recent blog, as it allows him to catch up with fifty years of backlogged adventures.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Thinking Outside the Box

One of the greatest mysteries in my life as a music student, which has been mostly in class with myself as the teacher, is the contrast between the initial inspiration and expectations I had in purchasing the complete Hanon. The "infamous" Hanon, as at least one teacher and writer has called him. I cannot say that he was totally useless, for I did get some good rattles on the Veritas School upright grand with his text, and learned that he had a theory for strengthening the fourth and fifth fingers on the pianist's hands, but neither did I find his doctrines sustainable. So why so much confidence in the first place?
Not long after Hanon I acquired the first of many copies of the Frederick Harris "Brown Book of Scales" and made better use of that, learning to do the crossing over of the middle finger and passing under of the thumb, with both hands together, over the course of two octaves, in a number of major keys. Initially I was quite proud of myself, and then puzzled when I realized none of this was any use at all when it came to studying anything more complicated than a melody line, and even then it was confusing, and in retrospect, profoundly damaging to the settling in of the necessary arithmetical relationships that lead to effortless and tuneful reading of the classics, or indeed anything else worth playing. I have not returned to Hanon very often, although I've kept the text, probably hoping that eventually it would make sense to me and I could not only use it myself, but show a student or two how to make it work.
But the Brown book I go back to regularly, not because I am afraid of being sued by Harris company for my contumely, but because ever since I took up the study of voice very clinically, thirty years ago, I've been fascinated by the process of solving technical and motivational problems in aspiring students, so I want to know the history of the decline in musical intelligence, whether for singers or instrumental musicians. And, in these days of economic recession, it is not a good time to waste or spend money replacing anything that can be made use of. Most family budgets need all the help they can get. And further, because I have a lot of other work to do, when I am not shackled to the demands of passive prayer, my own time for labouriously writing out my own scales designs is gravely limited. It only makes practical sense for everyone to find a way, if possible, to incorporate the literature in place, to the degree that it is possible. Building on sand, of course, is not the perfect answer, but even those who live by moving around in the desert know the virtues of temporary shelter.
It's interesting that the brown book ignores the study of fourths as an entity unto themselves. They do turn up in triad and four note studies, but only in part. Thirds get a treatment unto themselves, and sixths, and octaves in those puzzling escalator passages that introduce every second page. But the escalator passages are neatly laid out, so after you've simply gone up and down, one scale at a time, and then both together if you like, with one finger - it doesn't really matter which one, but I like to start with the third - then move on to using the ring finger in the right hand, and the thumb on the fourth note down, and plunk away. Thus you play G below the C, A below the D, and so on. As you doodle away, meditate on the facts that C is also doh, and one in the C scale. G is so and five, etcetera.
(The one finger thing is for studies in nomenclature. You have to know all the names of each note: letter, number, solfa. Thus, C is one and doh. D is two and re. But this is as long as you're in C. When you get to the D scale, either major or minor or modal, D is one. Some idiot nuns and others called it two, decades ago, and thus began the collapse of intelligence.)
Then do the same for the left, using the thumb on the C and the ring, or fourth finger, on the G. C is always doh, no matter what octave on the keyboard. The numbers, bless them, fly all over the place, as numbers were meant to do, but the letters and the solfa - in sane cultures - are constant.
Totally ignore the fingering set down in the brown book. The exercise those numbers dictate is not totally useless, but it is much less use than its publishers would like to think of, and any conservatory thinking them significant, or worthy of examination, takes a ridiculous position.
On some of these issues, I have finally written a letter, hopefully, for publication, to a local editor, to see what intelligence I live amongst in the general community. It is backed by some recent discoveries much more complicated than listed above, having to do with chord progressions on the scale of ritual enchantments such as the much too worshiped Eastern religions never dreamed of.
And probably no great rock guitarists either, although I would dearly love to be proved wrong.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Month of the Dead

No man, no matter how talented or learned, can fully appreciate genuine leisure unless he understands the after life. In heaven, we will have perfect leisure, and we need to know this in order to understand how to use our time here; and in purgatory we will have a kind of imperfect leisure, and in that we will realize how we failed to use our time on this earth.
Both in heaven, until after the general judgement, and in purgatory throughout, we will not have bodies. No senses. No eyes, no ears, no tongues, no skin. No imagination, either. In a sense, we get to be like the angels, finally: living, knowing, understanding, only through our intellects and wills.
Such a supposedly rarified modus operandi should be a cause for celebration. I mean, can we really be equal to all those spirits who have been around almost forever, nearly as omniscient as their Maker, and who, above all, have never been utterly stupid, wretchedly embarrassed, and in no need of the confessional? Nice work, if you can get it, that's for sure.
Well, nice work in heaven. Damned uncomfortable in purgatory, and unthinkable in hell, where, let me remind you, God once put my sorry ass, along with the rest of me.
Actually, he's done it more than once, although the subsequent immersions were brief, as I was by than no longer in mortal sin and the strict logic of His own thinking allowed Him to inflict only a brief participatory reflection on Protestant theology. (Brief, but still bloody uncomfortable) I was reading some Ralph Connor on of these occasion. Ralph Connor,although an entertaining novelist, and much featured on my grandparents' bookshelves, was a victim of the ridiculous excesses of Luther and Calvin and thus little qualified to be discussing the judgements of Christ. But the less theology men actually know, the quicker they rush to declarations more "infallible" than any successor of Saint Peter would dare to make.
This is the condition of living among the world, the flesh, and the devil that make novelists so useful, simply because no story can ever proceed well unless, through the dialogue among its characters, it reflects the reality of the human situation, caught between heaven and hell, limited day by day, even hour by hour, by the vicissitudes of life on earth, and reflecting on the passing of time and events with a depth neither historian, journalist, or film-maker/playwright can hope to equal. Each of the talents, or charisms, has its own special contribution, and the novelist's contribution is depth in its most profound sense, because only the novelist, being also a theologian if he is really up to the mark, has a full hold on silence. Journalism and film, for all their uses, are full of noise, and not even Henri Daniel Rops, and most readable and lovable historian of the Faith, can devote a full forty pages to the significance of a single Sunday afternoon in the household of a saint.
From the summer of 1959, in the weeks after my incredibly literate beloved and I were married, I mostly remember two writers: John of the Cross, from the copy of "The Ascent of Mount Carmel" she had given me as a wedding present, and Malcolm Lowery, author of a novel then getting a lot of notice from the academic community, "Under the Volcano". I actually never read the book in its entirety, although much later I did see the movie starring Anthony Andrews and company, and also the documentary of Lowery's troubled life. Like my late brother, he was an alcoholic.
But I did register great respect within myself for Lowery's opening lines, which were wonderfully simple, completely satisfactory according to the requirements of exposition, and referred to the Mexican way of celebrating November 2, the feast of the souls of the dead. Oh God in Heaven, I wondered, when will I ever get to write something so significant?
Twenty-one years later the answer came, and my author's field of observation had most definitely been moved up a notch or two: I opened my perambulatory narrative not by talking about souls headed for punishment, but about those in the short route to glory, those who knew perfection as well fitted as a pair of handcrafted boots, even up to possession of the Transformation in Christ, as the mystics know it.
And this time around, I am moved to get on with some pertinent studies of the angels and how they affect the life of individuals, especially individuals fortunate enough to be aware of the presence of these most interesting companions, counselors, rescuers.
This morning at the mass for all saints, I was particularly aware of how the angels are included in the reference to the holy men and women. I have never been more aware. This being the month it is, dedicated to the holy souls and their relief in, or relief from, the halls of purgation, I had been intending to concentrate on them. But the angels seem determined to insert themselves as well into my daily considerations of the parish, the town, the world, and the universal Church. The chapters of the latest blog are part of their reasoning for this richer than usual manifestation of the winged ones, but I suspect they have other reasons, perhaps even more concrete, for showing themselves so much.
All this confirmed, I think, by the Transformation coming for a lengthy visit at the end of Mass, although none of it was inspired by the external manifestations of liturgical music or clerical spirit.