Sunday, December 19, 2010

Mary Christmas, Keyboarders

How come Mary instead of Merry?
Because the most recent stop on this long and complicated journey to get to music fundamentals that every child should and can know came through Gregorian Chant Mass IX, traditionally the mass used to celebrate a feast dedicated to the Virgin Mary. In my early years in the Church, before everybody got so busy either misinterpreting or downright disobeying Vatican Two, while I did chant quite steadily, it was usually Mass VIII, that of the angels, at least the Kyrie of which was not in old mode D. This was good as far as it went, and infinitely better than all that slop written by second rate priests on fourth rate guitars, but it was by no means old mode D, which was created in the mind of the Eternal from way back, and might even lead to the conversion of Mark Knopfler and Eric Clapton, etc, once they realize how it cranks a Stratocaster into outer space, right up there with the angels, their boss of the feminine version, and the Face everybody both longs to see and is afraid just might show up. Grace builds on nature, as Saint Thomas was always saying, and there's nothing more natural than old mode D, especially on a git-fiddle. I haven't had time to sort it out on the 5-string yet, but we'll probably get there.
The funny thing was, Santa's little helper in all this discovery was something of an old enemy, that is, just one more publisher who wouldn't publish my novel, and was none too bright about it. But as Augustine says, the guy you let you down today just might be the guy with the helping hand tomorrow.
 Ignatius started off well, with us. In 1985, they published The Ratzinger Report,  a modest little volume that did many things for my piece of mind, but the principle effect of which was to reassure me that John Paul's theological alter ego was good at his job - running the Sacred Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith - and had few illusions about the idiot factor so rife in the Church. But when Ignatius couldn't grasp the obvious significance of Contemplatives I had to write them off with that old bromide that superintendents of  schools use to mercifully identify a none too effective teacher: "Works well under supervision."
 But then in 1997 they worked very well indeed, and certainly without any supervision of me, in an area for which I was most unqualified, when they brought out Adoremus, the parish hymnal that contains all sorts of chant - although no Latin Credos - all nicely laid out in a mere three parts, making life all that much easier for the beginner. The ancient melody, from the days of no accompaniment, no harmonies, in the treble stave, with fairly simple two voice arrangements in the bass. This ordering of the notes was not original with the publisher, as  I thought too gratefully at first, but was simply in line with the original practice, as was proved by photographs from old manuscripts in a book Marianne ordered, concerning the legendary Monsignor Richard Schuler.
Nonetheless, perhaps with the interfering aid of the Muse's finger, I found the two-voices not to my taste, and then came out of my agonies with the realization that I should create a predictable, musically logical, schedule of two voices, that would do for numbers practice - eventually solfage practice - in every key. It is, after all, the fingers, not the eyes, that make the actual sounds.
I have given this for guitar, in my mind at  least in old D mode with a dropped 6th string. Here it is for keyboard. I would recommend the initial run in C major. I write it for two octaves, with the single right hand finger, preferably 3, ranging from tonic to tonic. It comes first with the smaller intervals in the left hand, 3rds and 4ths, and then with the larger, 5ths and 6ths.

 1    2    3    4    5    6    7    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    1             middle   c         =  1

 3    5    5    6    1    1    2    3    5    5    6    1    1    2    1            e above small c    =  3       

 1    2    3    4    5    6    7    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    1            small c               =   1

 1    2    3    4    5    6    7    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    1            middle c            = 1

 3    5    5    6    1    1    2    3    5    5    6    1    1    2    3            e above small c     =  3

5     7    1    1    3    4    5    5    7    1    1    3    4    5    5            g below small c    =  5

The second schedule provides the richer sound, of course, because it creates real triads, not modified triads like the first schedule. But it is naturally harder to grasp, because the melody is hidden in the left hand. I`ve been quite close to it for years, but never so precisely as now, never so able to use it for initial reading studies, never so flooding my thoughts with images of a cathedral organ using real music theory to bring the congregation back to its senses, in the way that only chant can do.
If there are any gainsayers left out there they should be advised that the angel Gabriel was big around here last week. That`s the fellow on trumpet.
When you get good at alternating on these patterns, from the small to the large intervals and back again, you`re close to reading.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Mary Christmas, Rockers

I suspect this is going to be a long one, sort of a novella unto itself, and done in chunks, like morning around the Christmas tree, with one present after another to open. On that occasion, in my trinitarian household, we always have breakfast first, and make sure there's lots of coffee, and of course my coffee always get laced with brandy or single malt. It was the same when we were happily stocked with six children
Another familiar image to keep in mind is the school teacher's blackboard, with plenty of chalk, an eraser for the inevitable mistakes that seem to come when a newly discovered doctrine is being exposed for the first time, a good old fashioned pointer for whacking on the board to wake up the nodding heads, or to point out the essential stepping stones in the crossing of the troubled and confusing stream known as music theory.
The tree, in this case, is the old fashioned D Mode, the one they used for a couple of thousand years, possibly, before someone thought of adding the Bflat, the first of the accidentals. It went like this, for a simple octave only:

 D    E    F    G    A    B    C    D

That's right, no Bflat. This means that the second half-tone comes between the B and the C, or, in the all essential numbers that no publisher other than myself seems to know how to think about, 6 and 7.
So let's have all the numbers, for just an octave, for now.

  1    2    3    4     5     6     7     1   ( This one is also known as 8.)

Furthermore, to make the schema complete, and also to smack the crap out of the tradition of the theoretical foundations of the thinking of the Teutons and their offspring - English, Dutch, Scandahoovian, etc., let's bring up solfage.

Re    Me  Fa  So  Lah Te  Do   Re  (I give the lah an 'h' for future reference.)

Now, any really good music school will teach you all three of these names, but I'm not so sure that such music schools exist more than in theory. In my long life around music I'm the only teacher I know who has the common sense - a very favourite term of Thomas Aquinas - to start absolutely with numbers, especially in instrumental studies, and I've no history at all of leadership that has anything to do with music wheeling out the incredible dynamics of an individual or a group waltzing around with enormous effect with the syllables of solfage, when it comes to vocal instruction. It's as if Guido D'Arrezo never existed, and everyone's forgotten the story of how his fellow monks hated his guts and only the Pope of the day was able to see the light and shut their goddamn mouths, and thus put  the icing on the cake that was Gregorian, at least until the polyphonists created their own versions of chaos and confusion, and lost the body of the one really important choir, the people in the pews. Nothing ever really changes, right? Christ is forever having to put the Sanhedrin in its place.
This doesn't mean that I don't like great choral music. God forbid. Everyone knows that such a creation provides an enormous sense of the choirs of heaven, of there really existing such a community as the angels, especially for those who cannot read Saint Thomas on the same subject and only get the buzz through music. But what I really love is to hear an ordinary congregation, led by a good voice or two, getting all that  love, grace, salvation, and perhaps even a taste of perfection, out of the ordinary food of the mass, Gregorian Chant. Nothing else can bring the Holy Spirit so fully, so evident.
The following, by the way, works on anything, especially an organ keyboard, but what  I have in mind this morning, following the nifty practices of the last couple of days, is the guitar.

 1  1  2  3  5  5  6  1  1  2  3  5  5

 5  6  7  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  1  2  3

 1  1  5  1  5  1  1  1  1  5  1  5   1

Now, goddammit, and beating the shit out of the blackboard, get it in your imbecile head, that it is the MIDDLE line that leads the way, and that, on the guitar, is in the MIDDLE of the instrument. The 5, happily, is the fifth string, the A, open. And the 6, the 7, and the 1 continue on the same string. Only a fool, such as I was in my chords-only early days, jumps immediately to a higher string. The docile student will do well to work on just this scale, dividing it into its logical numeric parts: 5,6,7,1; 1,2,3;   3,4,5;   5,6,7,1;  1,2,3. This simple bit of common sense and humility, as opposed to the incredibly-idiotic-because-mentally-stultifying-whole-scale-method-of-interpretration, will make a Clapton or a Knopfler of the beginner more quickly than even Johann Sebastian Bach or Carlos Montoya could imagine.
In this schema, for the moment, one never even gets to the First string. Don't worry. It becomes useful, especially in the higher modes. Musicians always have to learn how to make the middle of the scales sound interesting. (Especially when they're singers.)

The upper line is, of course, the harmony. Just thirds, with the odd fourth. How simple, how neglected, like a lot of simple things. And I would recommend getting a good handle on just this basic double-stopping, as dear old Amy Ferguson called it, before too much ambition for the piece de resistance, that is, the adding of the bass line and therefore the real butt-kicker. Just as it took me so damn long to realize that the heart of the guitar was in the lower line as the melody, so I was sluggish to realize how to use dropped D.
This was to a very large degree the fault of the practical operation of the Roman Catholic Church and its insufferable neglect, amongst its modern bishops, to apply the norms of its own rules and advice, following Vatican Two, and the insistence, in the document on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium,
that Gregorian Chant be given the pride of place.
Had the various collections of bishops North America has had in the last decades ever got their act into gear, I might have caught on sooner. Singing garbage, or the second rate, teaches us nothing, surrenders no insights.
You will, of course, need three fingers. All music resolves in three notes. Thus it imitates theology, which always resolves in three  persons. Eat your heart out, all religions other than that which has been drawn up into the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
And yet , I must admit, it is the Virgin Mary who provided me with the insights on the D mode. Mass IX, from the good old XII century, when was born Saint Francis of Assisi, troubadour turned founder and stigmatic. 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Ivan Turgenev

Many months ago I came home from yet another lesson in the real essentials of music - numbers, numbers, numbers - with Tim McDaniel, to find that I had received a virtual flurry of hits on my blog from Russia. In spite of the absolute necessity of spiritual perfection for getting into Heaven, the spiritual writer must always settle for relative anonymity, complete lack of notice in his own time, and never seek to expect the fame that comes to those who deliberately write for the attention of the world, sending up the traditional sops to the thinking of the earthbound, especially in the lamentable areas of gratuitious violence, sensuality, and the acquisition of wealth and power; and in religious  writing, the simple minded sentimentality of those who know nothing of interior suffering, and imagine that babbling about spirituality makes for devotion; so this snow storm of attention, relatively speaking, both flabbergasted and delighted me.
Like any true lover of literature, I have, of course, enormous respect for the Russian story tellers and playwrights, and value my considerable experience, all other things considered, of their genius. For one thing, hugely important to a soul like myself whose childhood relationship with nature, with the visible earth, was unquestionably a religious relationship, the Russian love of landscape, of the fields that grew their food, had always been incredibly evocative. When I taught grade six geography, it was almost like reading the Bible to have explained to me how milleniums of birch leaves had created so many feet of top soil, and when a young friend gave me Gogol's "Dead Souls" to read I was not unaware of the humour of odd way of reckoning personal wealth among land owners, but I found the descriptions of the estates even more interesting, a most acute reminder of my own time among the fields and farms of Canada, that other great expanse of territory, so much of it virtually empty. So the fact that I could be read in Russia, thanks to the wizardry of Blogger and the Net, is such a return to some very happy and purposeful days of the past.
Keep in mind also that my widowed Nana's second husband was Russian by birth, orphaned in England, and that where I live in the Kootenays makes it impossible not to be cheek by jowl with the Russian accent of the Doukhobors, who have been here in quantity since the very early 1900s. They too are great lovers of what you grow cabbages in, and all the Anglos around here have learned their recipes for borsch.
I wonder if these Russian readers have hung in there, shifting over to Google Reader. In daily life, in the quite constant encounters with new acquaintances, I invariably strike fire as an artist, a listener, a man committed to the universal presence of a basic human interest in the spiritual life, but the good ship of open exchange and conversation also quite constantly hits a reef at some point after the inescapable fact - in my life - of Catholicism crops up. That most useful phrase of Thomas Aquinas - obediential potential - seems to be a factor of individual human growth very few souls can recognize, for one reason or another, and the ignominy of relating sincerely to someone who actually believes in the need for a Pope and a carefully structured, dogmatic, Church, looms with frightening inconvenience to a variety of deeply cherished personal preferences.
Russians, of course, like everybody else, have deeply cherished personal preferences. Mostly to a man, they stick to their schismatic predicament, even if it threatens to drive them crazy, or to vodka, as the statistics show it does to an alarming extent. One can, of course, with impeccable justice, lay much of the blame on the general depression of the land of the bear created by the evil genius of Josef Stalin, and the mentally clogging filth of atheistic communism. Talk about galley slaves mired in their own excrement.
But the Russians also knew their good and useful talents of great calibre, Turgenev by no means the least. For the perceptive writer, there are magnificent weapons in his arsenal.  One might consider them amongst the most effective in the unique Russian weaponry, a gifted sensitivity for dealing with a selection of the enemies of life even longer than he imagined, and perhaps more universal.
That the Czar and his minions should have put him under house arrest indicates the sickness of the anti-Western mentality in Russia he was trying to overcome, and forecasts the need of the revolution, and that Turgenev should have chronicled so well the death rattles of his society provides a wonderful index of folly in all sociological entities. His ghost rages through so many factors and elements in modern Catholicism, where leadership behaves so slavishly imitative of his tiresome government officials.
What a price we pay for illiteracy, especially in leadership.