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. 

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