Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Microstation Minstrels

The Launch

    So, this Wednesday I did not have to scoot downtown after my afternoon nap to buy a new flapper,  or drain valve, for the toilet. A week ago we were set to film some keyboard method, but the bathroom emergency blew that intention out the window, and it looked like my hope of getting some of the scheme out to the children and other beginners of the universe before Christmas was not going to be fulfilled. A household primarily given over to the prayer life simply cannot get creative just any old time it feels like it. It's not easy to find a time slot that works as well as Wednesday afternoon. Oh, well. Patience, jackass, patience, as the old joke says. And anyway there was still some consolidating to do with the busted triads, as I call them, which are turning out to be the most mellifluous and meaningful "arpeggio" studies I have ever seen and heard. It's taken 23 years to get there, but the journey was worth the trouble. Just imagine being able to contemplate the Trinity and practice your scales and harmonies at the same time. On this earth, you don't get much closer to heaven. But there were no surprises today, and at two p.m. I was summoned to the studio by Madame Producer/Director, and everything went reasonably smoothly for a beginning.
    There's nothing like arpeggios or indeed any kind of harmony on the first episode of Microstation Minstrels. Just the D mode, mode one, in its 11 note range, in four segments, with some historical chatter by myself, the first words of which actually came to me as I was walking back up the hill with the new flapper in my pocket. (Two days later I bought a back up. There is no negotiating with a malfunctioning toilet.)  MT, of course, valiantly, oversaw the raconteur and handled all the controls. I realized recently that on and off, she and I have worked together in a variety of performances for 40 years. We always wondered about a time when we would record the old Bluemantle Trio, but never thought about putting the music scheme on the Net until this summer, when Garry Waldie told me he would film the keyboard segments and send them privately, on YouTube, to a journalist at the Vancouver Sun, my old employer. Thus the spark of the ultimate connection was born, and the ultimate technoklutz realized he'd have to acquire some sophistication with the audio-visual aspects of cyber world. Then came the equipment I have mentioned before, some trial runs, and finally, this afternoon.
    And then the good clean fun of sending the message to family, friends, selected media, and even a well-placed soul in the American film business.

Friday, December 13, 2013

King Korg

    The Korg microstation is now in place, picked up from the music store this morning while I was at Tim's, watching him growing so nimble with the numbers that he is now charging into solfa. The ladies handled the purchase, and the list of instructions that are the sort of items I have hitherto studiously avoided, happy to leave the technical side of things to those better qualified to deal with it. And it was Marianne of course, not I, who handled installing the device in the studio.
    Until I actually have to come to grips with something, I very often make mistakes about the thing. Margaret Mitchell, I got it into my head at some point long ago after I had seen the movie of Gone With the Wind, was a spinster school teacher. (She was in fact a married woman, and a veteran journalist, as I discovered after I researched her history in the course of draughting songs for an opera based on her novel.))  And the first time I ran into the Korg name, some eight years ago when I bought an little electronic tuner, I picked up the idea that it was Swedish. Not so, as everyone but me has always known; it's a name from Japan, made up from the first letters of the founders of the company in 1962, the year I learned, as a classroom teacher, that there had come into middle school math classes a system for reorganizing the numerals so they could be used for the simple on/off calculators at the heart of computer technology. Arithmetic when I was a child had been all about base 10, suddenly it was just as interested, in some cases more so, in base 2.
    So now we have a recording and film studio, compared to the normal facilities of the industry at its grandest, about the size of a microchip. But you know what they say about small packages. And it's that time of the year, when the Infinite came down as a very small package indeed, considering what He really was.
    For once in my pitta/vata determined life, I'm not in a hurry to put the Korg into the ultimate performance mode. Experiment and research, trial and error, rehearsals in blue jeans and street shoes, yes; but the final version of the opening presentation on YouTube is waiting on a number of factors, probably some of them not even known to me.
                      #                       #                        #                        #                      #

    For example, since I wrote the above, Tim has acquired a determination to start mastering Gregorian, now that he can read a bass staff as well as waltz around the modes via the numbers. So he and I together will start charting, beginning with the Kyrie from Mass VIII. We have our choice of melody lines. The Parish Book of Chant has it in old notation, in Mode V. Adoremus contains a three voice version in C - a single line of melody with two voice intervals in the bass staff - and Achille Bragers Vatican Kyriale, carries the ball with four voices, in Eflat. As Tim is not a little adroit with the numbers, we'll ramble about in all three, perhaps transposing as low as A, just to have the exercise of growling a bit, pretending we're Tibetan Buddhist monks.
    But that will be for horsing around and general exercise. The serious work, as we're both only STUDENTS of composition, will be to create an entire first harmony of thirds and fourths only. That, of course, will be done in C, inasmuch as C is most normal pitch for that Kyrie.
    The other surprise, which happened on the same day as Tim announced his new ambition, was that of running into someone, from the very heart of the ordinary music education establishment, who has expressed an initial interest in learning more about my ideas.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Retiring the Roller

    Well, the old faithful rubber keyboard, the Roller, has been retired. Not from my armchair, where resting on a small plank it has been my study device for years in the wee small hours, but from the recording studio. The Roller, insists Madame Director and Producer, has a few too many limitations by comparison with a Korg sequencer/sampler/synthesizer we spotted last week in Donny Stewart's music store. Once we had been instructed by Don on the remarkable virtues of this masterpiece of technology, I realized that it would make the perfect packaged chamber orchestra to back up the songs from the opera. Marianne had already moved into the studio the Edirol powered speakers we bought some years ago, when we thought we might be recording music on an Edirol Roland MP3 digital recorder. The MP3 did get some work with some historical sketches recorded for the museum, but no music was involved with the recorder, while the speakers only functioned on my behalf, so I could listen to the television on earphones.
    The Korg first caught my eye not because of its abilities with sound, but because of its size. It is made with narrower keys, and produces five octaves of music with about the same length as the Roller uses to render four. This gives more scope and a pretty complete two-handed picture under the webcam. This will provide the maximum opportunity to present the method in all its simplicity, order, and completeness.
    Talk about having all your ducks in a row!
    We would have zipped down to the music store and picked up the Korg right after this afternoon's session in the studio, but it happens to be Sunday, and that part of Baker Street is pretty quiet.
    I really did want to present the method on the dear old Roller, so kids and other beginners could see how much could be learned about essentials on an inexpensive and very portable device, but music is, after all, all about the sound, so we have to take the opportunity that shows itself. And I suspect that the Korg will offer much to confidence and inspiration. Just imagine Christopher Columbus setting off to discover India in the battleship Missouri.

Sunday, September 29, 2013


    So, with a little research, I find out that Autumn Leaves and September Song are actually two separate ballads, written a decade apart. It was not difficult to be confused, for there was not only something of a sharing of themes and seasons, but in places a distinct similarity in the melodies. No law suit, as far as I could see on the Net, and in those days there was no Net where I could have researched the words. I was moved to recall that I actually ran them together, although I had never recalled the words of the second one until just recently.
    And another correction: in other writings I have been talking about the left index finger as the digit of choice for exploring the modal scale we are beginning with, Mode One, or D minor. This choice was even filmed, on our first attack on the process last week. But further plunking about indicates that the best choice is the thumb. Not only is it the strongest digit and thus more readily effective for beginners, but also it is more readily visible on camera, being ready to hold away from the rest of the hand. And when it is the left thumb that is employed, to read the melody note of an arrangement an octave below its printed setting, the student naturally gets the male range, which is much more inspiring than trying to execute a tune that sounds an octave above the normal comfort zone.
    This is especially true when studying chant, which was originally sung by adult monks, not school girls.
    We filmed again today, finding that the mike boom can be raised nicely to create a wider view of the Roller keyboard, all the way from Great C to f above middle c. I had been dealing with Chant as if its highest note were an e', but with the thought lurking that I had somewhere seen an f'. I found the higher note today, quite by accident, in Gloria 1. Being able to see right down to the lowest note Bach had to work with on the keyboards of his youth provides full information on harmony.
    And the f' as the highest note brings a bonus to the singers. The solfa for f is FAH, thus a most relaxed vowel and thus a comfortable note to old for the end of the singer's phrase, whereas my original gaining the summit at Me (Mi), thus EE, leaves the conclusion holding on to one of the most tense of high vowels, and thus much more difficult to sing with ease, at least in my experience. The company and expectation of the Ah sound great helps the EE to relax. (Irish singers take note, please.) This rediscovery, just before lunch, was an encouraging comfort. I learned it years ago, when researching with my son, but in this diocese had never had the chance to put such wisdom to use with Gregorian Chant.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Autumn Leaves

    I learned the words and tune for that dear old melancholy classic, September Song, back in 1957, from my tent mate, Alex Doulis, a native of Victoria, student of the UBC school of engineering, and all round lover of music. We sang it along the left bank of Mosley Creek, a major tributary of the Homathko, the river our employer, the BC Power Commission, intended to dam for the purpose of lighting up thousands of homes and businesses on Vancouver Island. Along with a couple of other ballads concerned with loves that had come and gone, it became a standard for singing in my car when I got back to Vancouver and the university. I never learned the chord structure for party performances. It's also been a tune I've plunked out on the piano for learning purposes, trying to decipher, with only partial success, the musical arithmetic for the minor keys. The Muse has coached me through many problems, but only very recently have I come to grasp some of the secrets for moderating the extremes of all-minor harmonies, and recently set forth in narrative form in another blog, Mr. Cameron's Conservatory. I haven't tackled September Song for some time, so it will be interesting to take my new-found knowledge to it.
    Just singing it acapella was a great vocal exercise, of course. It's the perfect student song: slow, beautful words even in translation, and a painting as well as a song. It's also extremely easy to spoil, as are all things as simple as they are lovely. Even without banjo or guitar chords, it made a significant contribution to my self-designed vocal studies programme.

    "Those autumn leaves drift by my window,
    "Those autumn leaves of red and gold . . . ."

    I haven't thought of it for some time, what with all the other stuff going on, but it came around again this afternoon after Marianne put me through another rehearsal for "The Scientific Piano" and, in the triumph of that, I turned to some old journal notes. My instinct for date was bang on: for on this day in 1983, the old feast of Our Lady of Ransom, I made references to the attempt to make a record that my oldest son and I were setting out upon. It came a cropper, as I have mentioned earlier. God simply robbed my voice of its upper octave. The recording engineer, Del Detmar, a one time rocker performing in Wembley Stadium, London, was delighted with the lower range, but he never got to hear the other half. God simply cut the mystic off at the usual throat passages that lead to loftier moments.
    Thus throughout this recent journey to the World Wife Web, I've naturally had to live the apprehension that the divine garotte would make a return visit. No idle apprehension, the vocal interference has been a constant, relentless, unyielding companion of this research process, all for the sake of getting the numbers and fundamental fingering into their rightful perspective. This must be happening, finally, because the high notes have more or less returned. I get the feeling that the less can be made up for by adequate practice, which was not unknown to me way back when. As with other athletic activity, the secret is in sufficient warm up. And of course, divine permission going hand in hand with the right technology, in this case the Windows 7 live movie, and a microphone and earphones which let me hear my own voice accurately. I feel like a classroom teacher again, this time with wiring.
    I thought of the old ballad because of the September Song not only of 1983, but also previous autumns when my son Francis seriously considered enrolling in our local college music school, but then decided against it, resolving simply to carry on with his rock bands and the singing trechnique he had learned so diligently with his father. In those weeks of the falling leaves, which is also the time when the northern hemisphere goes back to school, I would always experience a deep sadness, or melancholy. I really did not know what it meant. I attempted an exegesis, of course, but getting no farther than to wonder if I were just sad because my boy was not enrolling in post secondary education, which had done so much for both me and his mother. But in 1983, after he was married, he did enroll locally as well as attempting the task of producing my record of folk songs. Yet, with the crash of the studio attempt, the melancholy really turned up again, and obviously it had nothing to do with him.
    Only recently have I recognized the significance of the mood. It was the sadness of Christ, his sorrow over the evil times that fell upon music instruction and Gregorian Chant after the Renaissance, up to and including the deplorable state of so much parish music, and the unmistakable sign, recurring again and again in many forms and circumstances, that has led and dragged me through the epic of research that began in 1990 with my oldest granddaughter.

Friday, September 6, 2013

First Rehearsal

    My mind goes back to my very first post on the Ranger, when I wrote of Father Vincent McNabb, the English Dominican of the last century who was wary of technology. I know nothing about his tastes in music, but it's difficult to imagine a good priest, as he most certainly was, being an enemy of Gregorian Chant. And therefore he would approve of a technology that could educate the universe on the merits of the finest music the Church will ever know for the purposes of worship through the liturgy.
    I've read his biography only once, and that at least two decades ago, so I also don't know what he thought of theatre, but I know what I think of theatre, and that is also a subject on my mind as I ponder what we are about to present over the Web. The exercise of the morning was to make sure the Shure was relating to the computer. Finally, it was. ( I sit helpless until MT has mastered the gadgetry, but once I hear my voice muttering through I'm okay, and my brain resumes normal functioning.) Then it was time to consider the initial webcam. It was a cheapo, and it's been around for a while. Odd colouring on the computer monitor, and a very slow time delay. My fingers were good to see in action on the Roller keyboard, but they most certainly moved in slow motion.
    The slow motion was not all that bad, because when presenting music understanding and technique to beginners of any age level, slow and repetitive is Job One, especially when you can use the voice to sing and explain. But I had an instinct that computer science had improved, and I was right, as we discovered in our trip to the computer store.
     I'd been in the store, some years ago, with the previous owner, when I had to tell him that the software he was offering me for the sake of piano instruction had been put together by someone who didn't know what I was learning. When we went in today I enjoyed informing the new owner that we were hoping for an improved webcam, because now that I'd finally learned all that I needed to understand to make a sound beginning, we hoped that the technology he had for sale could facilitate distribution. He did have, bless him, just the thing, and now a very nice little Logitech webcam hangs on the mike boom, right beside the mike, so when its action on the set we can swing it right over the piano keyboard, and I'm right in there with Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore, only we'll call it "Numbers and Music", instead of "Words and Music". Well, there will be words, and lots of them, but the purpose is to restore music to its proper relationship to mathematics. So there will also be lots of numbers.(Too bad Sesame Street didn't know how to put the Count to this kind of labour.)
    Numbers here, numbers there, bloody numbers everywhere. They're even annoying at first, if you haven't been raised with them. The only thing more intellectual than numbers is sheer metaphysics itself, but knowing how to use the numbers in music is almost as comforting in the long run, to a musician, because of the mental security, than metaphysics is to a real philosopher.
     "Today's show is brought to you by the numbers one to five, going backwards." Once that priority is established, perhaps we can sponsor a lesson by the letter "D", inasmuch as D is number one not only in the D scale, major or minor, but also numero uno in the D mode, which also happens - oh, oh - numbers again, to be Mode One.
    "Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to be . . . ."

    Lovely song, of course, and very well done on stage and screen, but reiterated universally in classrooms, somewhat inefficient, because it too masked the essential role of numbers. So here's the opening lyrics for a film called "The Sounds of Common Sense".

    "So you think you are a singer,
     And a star you'd like to be,
     Then sit right down, and go to town,
     Understanding the Mode in D."

    Do I hear all the conservatories, music faculties, and publishers absolutely outraged because I have ignored dear old C major for the opening day of theory class? I can't really blame them, of course, because until I knew better it was always the way I started a beginner myself. And if I had never learned the natural superiority of numbers over letters I would still be starting that way. And of course C major also plays a key part in explaining modal theory. One simply cannot do without it, even though it also must be admitted that certain promoters of the modes have done awfully strange things with it, from failing to grasp the ancient rule of numerical foundations.
    So to completely avoid such blunders, and to establish the genius of the numbers right off the bat, we open with Mode One, that is, the scale modern music calls D minor. There are possibly a dozen reasons for this beginning, to be explained as occasion arises.
     For those who like fiction, some of those explanations have already been set out in a different blog, Mr. Cameron's Conservatory.


Friday, August 30, 2013

Side Yard Productions

    Well, I'm still no self-starter on the computer. Anything I learn about the little beast, and eventually get how to romp away with on it, I learn from Marianne. She's as fiercely capable with the technology of the Net as she is with the kitchen, the garden and yard, alternative medicine and so forth, and this is good because the lad who was to make a tiny film about the piano fingering for a journalist is still busy about something else, so MT has been investigating the possibilities on the Dell and the Philips and tells me that both Picassa and Google Plus provide small film-making facilities that can off-ramp to You Tube. As she has, from long ago, enormous credits in stage experience, not only as an actor and musician, she will bring no little skill to the production side of things.
    She's already begun by changing the desktop. We had, for months, Chris Rowat's lovely photo of Tatlayoko Lake, then for a bit a study of the famous Orange Bridge that connects Nelson with the North Shore and the road to  Kaslo, and now we have a stunning shot, hers, of the yard on the west side of our house, looking north past the bergamot and lavender and other flowers over the hedge to the lake shore. The photo is taken from one of the chairs sitting in this location for summer socializing.
    I'm reminded of the day in 1982, also in August, when she asked how one applied for a job as a literary agent. Three months later she was sending, with a small covering letter of her own concocting, the first three chapters of my novel to John Paul II. The rest is history, culminating with his canonization, now scheduled for the end of April.
    Communications technology has been much revolutionized since the early 80s, and now writers, teachers, performers can send anything to anyone anywhere in the world where there is a computer. It's so democratic that the receiver doesn't even have to own one. He only needs a public library, a cafe, a friend that can lend him a keyboard, and he's got his hands on whatever is aimed at him.
    So now MT presides over this experiment in music instruction. The sketch of a harmony scale that was initially thought of for a journalist's private viewing is now in preparation for the world wide application of You Tube.


    Less than 24 hours later, Madame producer and I sauntered into our local music store and laid hands on a Shure microphone that will plug into a USB port. I sound so knowledgeable only because I was eves dropping on the conversation between MT and Rylan Kuen, the store's enormously knowledgeable - and funny - counterman.
    Hello World! Are you ready to rock?
    Hello Mystical Body. Are you ready to be taken back to the liturgy Saint Francis of Assisi brought from France to the Roman Church?


    And now the room is rearranged. Gone the old eight-foot folding table that everything sat on, replaced with a real computer desk, just given us by neighbour Lynn, who is moving to smaller quarters in Vancouver. Then there is a separate set of shelves for other parts of the equipment, and the two pieces are set up at right angles so all the connecting wires and related devices are visible. I'll have to learn more about doing things for myself. Thus back to my cadet days, when I was taught how to run the radios they used in tanks.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Short Film Career

    My film career went as soon as it came. Antonio and I will continue to talk about his magnum opus, but my little part, small as it was to be, is still too big for a music methods researcher not quite into the full swing of being able to demonstrate his findings. The final patterns are substantially in place, but my fingers are too far from being able to rattle them off as I know I must for the skeptics. Our culture is by no means rich with philosophers. As Maritain said long ago, few have the mental talons to be able to seize an idea. And besides: this is Nelson, and there are a number of actors around here who can play the part as well as I can, and none of them in danger of being distracted by my pressures of the moment.
    I'm glad I know something about Christopher Columbus. Over and over again, as I've come up with yet again a brilliant bit of structural understanding I cannot find in theory books, because they have forgotten that music is a child of mathematics, I remember that he really was a nut case, according to all the known facts of ocean navigation and the real distance between known continents. History in the hands of some has inclined to abuse the Dominican experts at the court of Spain, preferring to forget that they really did know what they were talking about: India was simply too far for the navigational abilities of 1492. But the sea dog from Genoa had an intuition, something that always, eventually, defeats an only apparent science.
    Unlike Columbus, I have not kept two logs, one of which is a false journal, conceived to deceive his restless crews  and save him from mutiny. But I have constantly failed to see all the complications of my process of discovery, simply because, like South America, what was there was hitherto unknown. Thus, I could agree to take a part in the film and devote a fair amount of time to dealing with the role and the process.
    The role was tempting because it would have given me a chance, as designed by Antonio once he saw the inside of the cathedral, to swank out a little on Gregorian chant, that poor aborted foetus of the vast majority of modern bishops, traitors to the plain stipulations of Vatican Two and facilitators for possibly the ugliest worship music the Church as ever known. Just a little chant, mind you. This was a cameo of cameo appearances, possibly a portent of greater things to come, but for the moment only a taste.
    But I was becoming a man divided, wanting to be helpful with film and seeing a small window on behalf of real liturgy, yet at the same time racking up other film and media contacts who just might facilitate the more foundational opportunities of what I must insist is the most intelligent and genuinely musical set of studies ever offered to student of the piano and organ. And still, of course, not myself caught up in the deftness that would make the pros take notice.
    And speaking of pros, Shawn and I yesterday ran into Antonio downtown, I think just going home from the gym at the Civic complex. The film goes forward. He takes it all in his stride.
    And this weekend the Alberta Three do my Bluebell song at the Fort Edmonton Storytelling Festival's Twenty-fifth Anniversary. The universe continues to unfold.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Lost Actor

    A few months ago I wrote a letter to the Nelson Star using the very technical theological term "locution", and the Star, although it is by no means the mouthpiece of the local Catholic Church, printed the letter. I was both grateful and relieved. Grateful, because no writer likes to see his efforts wasted; and relieved because the previous letter I had written to our local newspaper had not been sent to print, the editor having decided it contained too much criticism of persons and an era he was not familiar with. I was disappointed over the rejected letter, but as someone who believes in the relative sacredness of conscience there was no way I could argue with the editor's decision. The rejected letter had to do with the late Bishop W.E. Doyle, a scoundrel if there ever was one, and all his harm had been committed long before Bob Hall, the editor, came from Edmonton to work for the old Nelson Daily News.
    The locution, that is, words from the mouth of Almighty God delivered to the mind of one of his creatures, a young man utterly puzzled by much of his life at that time, was exactly this: "The university is going, but the movies are coming." It came to me in the spring of 1965, as I was walking down the 600 block, Mill Street, thus heading in the direction of the Cathedral of Mary Immaculate, at that time the centre of the diocese. I had been in Nelson something like eight months, was still spinning through each day in utter amazement at all the turns my life had taken since I had arrived here, but fundamentally secure, thanks to my daily reading of John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila, and confident that "God was in His heaven, and all was right with the world." I had by then left the little Catholic university I had enrolled in, the previous autumn, had started once again with the dear old "Yacht Novel", and as well as that put in three weeks at the building site of the Duncan Dam, getting my tail frozen as a rod man on the survey crew.
And a few weeks ago, as I sat in my chair in Oso Negro, an over-the-top coffee outlet a block south of Nelson's world famous Baker Street (how many films, paintings, etc, now?), all by myself with a little ring binder in which I have been trying out the first words for a poem which just might be longer than The Iliad, I noticed across the aisle a young man I had never noticed before. (To me, a man of fifty is young.) And he was alone.
    He was not unimpressive. A body builder's physique, and a face born to play both tragic and heroic roles. Long hair. And, as I was to learn, a writer who brooded in the spirit of Victor Hugo and Sir Walter Scott. I knew absolutely none of this last, of course, but I was about to find out.
I decided there could be no harm in speaking to him. "Are you having a good day, so far?" I said.
He said that he was, and more than that, he became completely attentive. We exchanged a few more pleasantries of the kind that often come up come up between hitherto perfect strangers in Nelson. but also quickly got to the point where we knew we both might have very much in common, so much in common that we had to admit that such a "chance encounter" was in fact no chance at all but utterly providential, in fact, predestined. He brought his cup of coffee and himself across the aisle to my table, and we got to it.
I discovered quite quickly that he was a fellow novelist, and more than that, was at the moment making a feature film based on his book. The book had won an award in Quebec, which could have resulted in a publishing deal, but he had decided to look for a larger market than would come to him through that route, was wondering about a bit of rewrite, and meanwhile making the film.
I had in fact heard a little about the movie a few months previous, from someone who was actually in it, but at that time my mind was either in the Chilcotin Cariboo, Rome, or the music researches. With the conclusion of the questions still to come, but knowing they were near, I could not be distracted.      But by that morning the Cariboo had quietened down, Rome had acquired a new Pope, and I was so happily at the end of my investigations into theory and fingering that I was relating to a prospective publisher and a prospective graphic designer. Life was nicely levelling out, and thus I was free for a new challenge.
    Or rather, to be absolutely precise, a wrapping up, thanks to divine providence, of a lot of old challenges. He turned out to be a vigorous laddie, my new acquaintance. And one destined to be in the thick of things. Consider this. Last evening an email from him, telling me that the chase scene in Saints and Outlaws, not in automobiles, but on horses thundering across the fields of Napoleonic France, (aka the fields of the Slocan Valley) was all done, in spite of the current heat wave. A few hours later, as I fired up the computer to talk to a Vancouver Sun reporter about the music matter, I see a Telus news note about 3,000 souls handed evacuation notices because of a truck loaded with helicopter fuel finding itself in a Slocan Valley creek, inadvertantly offloading 35,000 gallons of its volatile and poisonous cargo. I must admit I was praying for Antonio Bastone and his cast and crew to get gracefully through their day. And so, wherever he was, was our Capuchin bishop, who only last week had nodded his permission for me to be filmed in his cathedral. Antonio has decided I should play the good cardinal who has come to straighten out some bad churchmen.
     And as if that weren't enough action, later on this morning I meet with a Nelson lad, not born here but adopted and raised here, who has recently opened a recording studio. He was, with my oldest son, something of a daredevil when he was young, and as an adult turned that imagination into running light shows for major entertainment groups. Rock stars and all that. He's just home from jazzing up the visuals for Michael Buble, in England, he called to answer my phone message of previous days, and over the next month he and I just might come up with some of the most interesting and useful scale harmonies ever recorded on film.

     As Chuck Berry said, and everybody sang, "Roll Over, Beethoven."

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Lost Chords

About a couple of months ago I wandered upstairs and took from the philosophy section of the study shelves a very old favourite, Jacques Maritain's Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry, but I only read an initial page or two, then left it in the shelves beside my living room chair until I was truly ready to give it fuller attention, something that could not happen until I was closer, very much closer, to my goal with the music research. Maritain's writing is always a comfortable challenge to the mind, but so was the music research, relying as it did utterly on the intelligent application of the wisdom found in the books of wisdom: "I have ordered all things by measure, number, and weight." And in fact at that point I had actually not yet found the absolute heart of the complete application of measure and numbers as it applies to the keyboard and the fingers that play it. Providential timing wished, I think, for Tim McDaniel to have a real summer holiday. This latest, and I hope, last, major discovery will require the most concentration of any of the study units we so far have come up with, so it is best left for the fall and the energy that returns to a task after a good holiday. Besides, that gives me more time to apply my own concentration to seven distinct three-note patterns, each so close together as to leave plenty of room for mutual confusion.
I have, of course, designed a lot of patterns over the years and decades, especially for the left hand, which is the first and best place to learn this one. That is, it is studied three notes at a time in the left hand, but actually applied by using only two notes in the left while the third note is that of the melody, played by the right hand.
I am quite honestly astounded that such a musical, intriguing, and practical method for learning the essence of harmony and deadly accurate fingering should never have turned up before, in some curious mind other than my own. I can only explain the lack of such common sense to myself by thinking that learning by rote is much more popular with more teachers and students than it has ever been with me. Or perhaps that most people who are happy learning music via letters and/or solfage believe themselves too artistic and creative to bother with grubby old arithmetic, reminding them of long, boring, hours with long division, book keeping, or counting returning salmon. There is something so utterly plebian about plain old numbers.
And yet, once you see and hear them at work within the challenge of learning an instrument, especially an instrument built to provide harmonies, you realize the sheer and utter magic of plain old one, two, three as they unlock the mystery and the great overburden of befuddlement that greets the untutored and probably much frightened beginner.
The fallen minds of men have quite possibly never created a more impenetrable mental jungle than music theory and advice as they can appear to the average beginner. (Now that I can wander blissfully around the summit of the mountain and the forest I have been climbing up and through for so many years I can't really call the directions all those texts attempt to give "instruction". The best title I think they can claim for themselves is advice, and we all have had experience of how much easier it is to give advice rather than really teach.)
But a little concrete improvement, outside these blogs, may be on the way. Now that the world knows that John Paul II, my old spiritual client, is to  be canonized in December, Nelson and district seems to be returning to its pre-1982 modus operandi, and Providence has been very busy helping me find useful associates, here and elsewhere. Some very satisfying meetings, formal and informal, and the inspiration for a number of provocative emails.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Easy Runner

I think it's three years since I involved myself in a training schedule based on jog-walking.
Should I invent a new word: jalking? Or jolking? It might make some sense to do so, especially if the essential definition insisted that the jolker had to honestly admit that his schedule included a walking gait any time his oxygen supply felt compromised. Or his mind felt that it was losing its meditative edge and the ordinary buoyancy that usually comes with modestly regulated excercise.
I remember that two years ago I simply did not have much inspiration for getting out on the running routes. Part of my motivation for years had been weight control, and by that time Marianne as cook had well settled into the Ayruvedic routine of the biggest meal at noon followed by a very light supper. The waste line was thus under relatively easy control, and of course, my principle concern was no longer to prove the advantages, to the long term athlete, of nasal breathing, but to get down to the continually elusive secrets of a common sense methods for studying instrumental music. Each little discovery - always so monumental as to make me convinced I had come upon the final solution - seemed much more useful to mankind than any mileage programme I might have in mind.
Yet I did not stop thinking about running, and assumed that some day, probably when the music research was done, I would go back to it.
So I'm back to it, very happily, but probably with more discretion than I've ever had before. I've no interest whatsoever in accumulating mileage or setting some kind of speed record for a senior's age group, in my case under 80. As far as I can see, my prime goal is to use jogging as an aid to balance maintenance and keeping my lower limbs as nimble as possible. This means I feel, so far, none of the over-achiever's usual ambitions. Three trots on the concourse at the Community Complex now, and in each case I'm content with a mere mile. In our building that's basically eight laps, and never did I finish even one lap without a good proportion of walking, until my third outing this Sunday past, when I did manage a single circuit that was all run. I also managed to share some of John Douillard's wisdom with a complex employee. She had never heard of nasal breathing, but was going to try it the next time she was out for a run.
All this was as symbolic as it was enjoyable, because it is such a good sign of the basic music research being done. The numbers have proved themselves over and over again, continually getting me out of jackpots, to the conclusion of a number of assignments. Not only is Tim McDaniel happily reading a tune in three voices, but he is reading it in a delightfully foundational format, a pattern that simply invites logical building of harmonic understanding. Furthermore, circumstances have unearthed a very promising publisher, as well as an experienced and talented graphic designer sympathetic to nature's principles. This pair is indeed to promising that the situation has provoked my first letter to the new Pope, to invite him to stir up the Church to help with the distribution of this information.
And to cap it off, I was moved yesterday, as well as given the insight, to rearrange a Gregorian harmony I found quite unpleasant. The lesson? When harmonizing a melody in Mode One, use a major chord built on the seventh, unless there is a profoundly good reason for some alternative, any time the tune calls for a second or a seventh.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Gunfight Six

This post almost had a different title: Malbec.
As wine connoisseurs know, Malbec is a wine, although originating in France since before the Middle Ages, that is considered the "flagship" grape of Argentina, which some think produces a better Malbec than France does. I am not a wine conoisseur, of course, but I am happy to have made the acquaintance of a bottle of Malbec recently, and I am, as a writer, profoundly fascinated by the coincidental use of the word "flagship" that is used to honour the vintage by its Argentinian promoters. Every country, every culture, needs images and items of excellence that identify its uniqueness in an inarguable fashion.
Now, as my readers know, I have used the term "flagship" in my most recent post to label a book written by an Argentinian from the nineteenth century, Domingo Sarmiento, who not only wrote, but served his country as president and minister of education, and perhaps even more startling for my purposes, had something to do with introducing Malbec to his homeland. I even used the phrase "flagship novel", I think, to designate his "Facundo", generally considered the first Argentinian attempt at "fiction", the claims for which I initially took in good faith. With a new Pope from Argentina I was concerned to learn more about a culture which I had hitherto not known very much about except that it had been especially prolific at producing dictators, and recently suffered severe financial difficulties.
I was even totally ignorant about Argetinian wine. Chilean we had sampled occasionally, but our main supplies from the sun drenched southern hemisphere have been Cawara, from Australia, as Shawn waxed sympathetic toward a faltering Antipodean wine industry; and then Obikwa, from South Africa, in honour of Father Matthieu, who, though from the Congo, lived and worked in the more southern country for a time. (Father was also almost killed there, when a robber creased his skull with a bullet fired at point blank range.) Both those brands produced a litre-and-a-half bottle of excellent vintage at a modest price.
You can see the path clearly. With a habit of using wine to celebrate events it was only natural, after the papal election, to try something Jorge Bergoglio - whom I doubt for all his concern for the poor is a teetotaler - had probably tasted and was proud of.
My first choice was not Malbec, but a different grape called Dos Cardos - The Thistles - and it was so good that I instantly became interested in Argentina's stature on the world wine stage. So I've learned that the prime wine producing area of that country is Mendoza Province (or State), named after the Spaniard who led the 1536 expedition to search for gold and silver. His party found none of these minerals around Buenos Aires, so it headed north to Paraguay, but not before leaving behind a substantial quantity of breeding stock: cattle, horses, sheep, and goats. Left wild on a virtual ocean of all season grasslands, the pampas, they became the raw material of the bootleg hide industry that eventually led to Argentina becoming the wealthiest country in South America, and the home of the gaucho culture. A friend of mine said she had known how good Argentinian wine was for some time, and also told me Mendoza lay in the same latitude as the wine belt of Chile.
With the introduction of gauchos to these deliberations, the images of weaponry change. Although in the civil wars of Argentina in the earlier part of the nineteenth century there was no shortage of guns, and even cannon, the gauchos as individuals much preferred the knife for duels in small numbers. Have they ever made a movie: Knife Fight on the Buena Vista Hacienda?
I think I have seen only one Argentinian film, a strange film, to me, about some women, and I bailed fairly quickly. Last night we bailed from two films certainly not Argentinian just as fast or even faster, and settled down to thoroughly enjoy Trouble With The Curve, with Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman and a baseball that went like a rocket and was indeed the weapon of choice in its own way. For most of the film, the weapon was a bat, wielded by a big kid whose great natural strength had not undergone the needed element that good coaching so necessarily provides. But in the end it was the ball that won.
In its own way, the film was disarmingly simple, substantially aimed at kids, snarling at racial prejudice, and in Atlanta Braves scout Eastwood, letting out a couple of the secrets pretty well known only to the hitting coaches of the major leagues. For my particular purposes, one of the most useful sport films I've seen. God bless em all, and I think it will be a while before I've thoroughly digested the symbolism.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Gunfight Five

As I have said before, my computer skills are always a bit wanting. This was never more evident than a few days back when I prematurely punched Gunfight Four into cyber space. It's a short piece, obviously, and perhaps a bit choppy, because I had intended to say more and then, as usual, take some time  to edit. But there was a problem either with how Blogger was behaving - it's been odd before - or, more likely, with my understanding of how Blogger was behaving. When did they bring in this "update" thing, and what exactly is it for? In fact I had no idea that I was not in draft, and was actually published, until Marianne was on the machine at the close of the day and told me what had happened. So I got her to let me see how it looked, and decided to let it fly. I wanted to register as soon as possible that I cannot possibly agree with Pope Francis flaunting canon law. Style, as some say Saint Paul has shown, is never more important than substance, especially in such high profile circumstances.
It also turns out that I wanted as much time as possible to think out the next steps after the new pontiff's disturbing decision. Anyone who has taken the time to cruise through these blogs in their entirety should be able to appreciate, should he have any genuine skill in theology whatsoever, that I am not exactly uninformed about the mind of God. The Seventh Mansion has enormous advantages in understanding the true nature of the Mystical Body. Those who participate within the relationship of the Trinity and the Virgin Mary, the angels and the saints, at that level automatically carry more spiritual authority in some areas than even a Pope does, as John Paul II was quick to acknowledge, both privately and officially, and their wrath is not a thing to be trifled with. Ordinarily, their prayers are for the support of ecclesiastical labours, but if those labours turn corrupt, they have no choice but to petition God for punishment and correction of the guilty.
Unquestionably, Francis has given comfort to the enemy. Therefore, his punishment is certain. To Heaven, he is a marked man, in spite of his other virtues. God always chastises those He loves, to make them more loveable, but in my experience such correction is usually private, or, if "public", only among spiritual friends. But a decision like the Pope's over the foot washing, to include females, against the plain law of the Church as well as the example of Christ, suggests to that his spiritual life is not so excellent as to automatically merit the private route. This is a Jesuit, it seems to me, who has not proceeded as thoroughly as he might have through the little book the founder of his order took so many years to perfect. He needs to revisit, and soon, the paragraphs on the discernment of spirits.
Mind you, I didn't like what was done to another canon in the days of John Paul II, when they removed the rule that Leo XIII had introduced, insisting on some minimal studies of Thomas Aquinas. To me, the corner stone of the slippery slope had already been laid, once that happened. After all, if Aquinas was no longer mandatory, then no one was reading that bit in the Summa where he condemns "ridiculous" practices in the liturgy. As nothing could be more ridiculous than altar girls, who actually needed a canon? Eventually, after what's been going on, they'll put one in, but perhaps not until the reign of a an African Pope. Had he not been just too old, I would have prayed for Cardinal Arinze to be the next successor of Peter. He was not afraid to use the term "mortal sin", he would have got rid of altar girls, and he knew what a load of the unprintable the current North American craze for standing after communion is.
Yet, once Jorge Bergoglio was brought out on the balcony and identified, I felt that the crowd would not have been ready, yet, for a black Pontiff, and I was quite content, started reading about Argentina, got out a couple of our Spanish texts, and ordered a copy of Facundo, in translation. The last is Agentina's watershed novel, from the nineteenth century. I'm interested in comparing Sarmiento with Zane Grey and Owen Wister, and also comparing gaucho culture to cowboy.
Then came the news on the foot washing, female, and I realized I had some rather unpleasant work ahead of me. When is the Church going to remember how much Christ loves simple obedience?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Gunfight Four

'Tis the season to be surprised.
Benedict XVI resigned as Pope, the College of Cardinals elected as his successor, for the first time in history, someone not from a European see, and your humble scribe, who also putters about in the land of music from time to time, has just decided not to try to publish a radical series of scale and study texts for the piano.That is, not in the usual form, which requires pages full of staff lines covered with musical notes.
And not only have I made the decision, but my advisors all cheerfully agree with me, especially my senior agent, who was always such a supporter of the idea that she was vehemently concerned, from time to time as I came up with yet another "brilliant idea", of it falling into the wrong hands. Jill was temporarily returned to her old position of chairman of the board, heard my new thoughts with a approval, and then was allowed to resign again.
(One wonders if the latest version of the Vatican will have to make a similar arrangement for Benedict. Already there are appearing signs of some interesting thought patterns that are unlikely to gain universal approval from the Mystical Body of Christ. There are absolutely no Biblical references to Christ ever washing women's feet, for example.)
I was actually warned that my decision was coming up a few weeks ago, during a lesson with Tim McDaniel, but the terms of the warning, although clearly Divine in their style, were phrased mysteriously, and not understood until this week, possibly awaiting  the new Pope's declared preference for thinking about the poor. The old plans obviously concerned making money, and possibly a great deal of it, but the new plan plainly does not. The information will continue to flow, and possibly with a greater rapidity, but you won't be able to buy it in a music store, you will have to read it in these blogs.
At 77, who needs lots of money? whereas at all ages, the world, including most Catholics, is spiritually illiterate and in very bad need of upgrading its reading habits.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Gunfight Three

Oh, my, but didn't I break off the last post at just the right time. The very next day, just at "High Noon", to carry on with symbols and names from the Western genre - that is, high noon our time, which was eight p.m. in Italy - we beheld our new Pope, Francis of Argentina, standing on and talking from the balcony of Saint Peter's. It was instantly plain that he is a very dear man, which was good for the heart, and then as the initial biographical details poured forth from the researches of the journalists, both secular and Catholic, that his election was as rich a source of symbols and hope for this writer as could be asked for. For some months I've had a sense that the angels - or was it just the Trinity, as often the angels are in the dark about the future just as much as we are? - were sending chuckles in my direction, due to my natural inability to behold the future, and thus not be able to see all that clearly just what they had up their sleeves. Yet there was certainly a lot of interesting inspiration going on in previous months, and now I can see where it was leading.
Yes, Virginia, there are cowboys in Argentina, vaqueros, or gauchos, and all these images and memories I've been moved to drum up have been a very good foundation indeed for the job ahead. I will be surprised in the current title doesn't stick around for a while.
I even used to sing a hit parade song, in the 50's, "The Bandit of Brazil", all about a bold vaquero, who when he'd shoot, would shoot to kill. I recall being especially pleased that I could figure out the chords on my own, and did not have to resort to a book. I then had no experience of buying sheet music.
They say that amongst Francis' many virtues and interests there exists a passion for literature, therefore an ability to deal with symbols. Should he get around to reading my scribbles, therefore, he's well equipped to take hold of their meaning, unless I happen to wander too far into the upper mansions of the spiritual life without his having been prepared by God's more unusual graces. I have little idea so far of the new Pope's knowledge of the mystics. The journalistas, while interesting and occasionally informative, have so far been so consumed by mere politics - as they see them - that they haven't got around to reporting on his relationship with the Spanish masters of the spiritual life, and so, as usual, are possibly missing some of the most significant stories.
But I have heard - from Marianne, who monitors the news services of the Net much more than I do - that he has used the phrase "Mystical Body of Christ" already, and my soul took yet another little leap upward as it heard about it. As a Jesuit, he is also familiar with the concept of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and that is a good thing too, not only in itself but in the face of so many journalists, and not just secular journalists, who are basically Jansenistic in so much of their thinking. And incredibly unresearched about Benedict's vital role in dealing with the sexual abuse issue, thus almost obliterating their own unquestionable value in helping with this problem, simply by reporting it, in the early days of the clean-up.
Would it help if the Church were to give a formal thank you to the secular press for those first encounters with the horrors of fact and clerical negligence in dealing with it? Certainly the Church was doing nothing about the problem on its own. Had it been facing into it according to the will of Christ, the infamous Father John Monaghan of Nelson would have been arrested a quarter century earlier than 1988. Only Cardinal Ratzinger put into place the system that acts now as it should have been able to act then.
But, as one always has to admit, sadly, not only the world, but the Church and those who pretend to be some quasi-religious organization pretending to be the Church, are all punished, eventually, for ignoring perfection and the spiritual life, which means ignoring what the Bible actually says. It can be no other way. God has a contract with us, by which he is held to do everything He can to get us into heaven. If he could not go back to heaven without suffering, how can mankind expect to get there without a bruise or two, especially when it spends so much energy refusing to study the rules?
But this just in. Marianne told me an hour ago that it has been reported that Francis does know a little at least of the spiritual life from an experience in his youth.
Perhaps that was why, to my eyes, the expectant crowd in Saint Peter's Square, awaiting the sight of the man for whom the white smoke had flown, looked more like the happy portion of humanity at the Last Judgement than any crowd I've ever seen.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Gunfight Two

To tell the simple truth, I don't think the papal election was very much in  my mind when I began the Circle X post. I've been puttering at it for so long that it quite possibly started rolling even before I heard that Benedict was resigning. (I don't like that word "abdicate", because of its association with the unfortunate Edward VIII, a man with few of Benedict's virtues, and certainly none of his affection for prayer, service, and scripture scholarship. Given Benedict's undoubted spiritual status at present, and the utter quality of his life in the Church, coupled with God's ordinary preference for contemplation over action, it would be no surprise to discover in heaven that our beloved Bavarian will have accomplished even more, in the eyes of God, as a contemplative than he has as Prefect and Pope.)
Where I was really headed had to do with music, or rather the methods of teaching it, which I had no doubt was going to involve me in a shoot out of massive proportions. The election conclave will be interesting, and it would be surprising to hear that no sparks flew, but it will all be much more mannerly conducted than the process of returning music education to common sense, unless I am greatly - and gratefully - surprised. The establishment, and ignorance, will be reluctant to give up its grip. I know about at least the second because of my own fondness for performance rather than actually understanding what's underneath it all.
Given that I am already at work at Mr Cameron's Conservatory, many chapters well set on the east shore of Vancouver Island, why this sudden shift to the Cariboo Chilcotin, why this obvious sudden  reliance on a symbol not only reader, but also the author, never heard of before? In my short time in the Chilcotin I never got around to learning that the Bracewell calves had a Circle X singed into their compliant little rumps.
There are at least two answers, the first and simplest being that it is not at all a sudden shift, for from the first chapters of Contemplatives it is obvious that the three young men and their survey crew are headed for that part of the world, and it is equally obvious that that book has as much to do with music as it has with literature, both ordinary and that which has to do with mysticism. And yet the second answer must admit of a huge surprise, to me, because of the creation of a new, deliberately functional, character, in spite of there being already at least two of these in Conservatory. Deirdre and Maggie are plainly young students being used as vehicles for the dissemination of theoretical information about the keyboard, although they are also very alive individuals to their creator. Why do they need supplementation?
I've been disturbed about this. Every author knows at least a little history of feeding himself red herrings. Blind leads. Inspirations that eventually lead nowhere. Or at least have to be laid aside for a much later date. All three of my young male troika are good examples of that last rule. The plot so far has many difficulties, starting with even the possibility of it being able to happen, given the degree of culture clash between whites and natives, even in the Chilcotin, where the history of co-operation and mutual esteem is quite good, barring the nineteenth century beginnings with the Alexis War.
I've spent some weeks on this, following the recent months of reading a number of great tales from the Cariboo, and I only recently came to peace by being able to make a uniquely contemplative decision. As John of the Cross says, one thought of a man is worth more than all the known universe, so as I am a man with a thought, that goes on and on as a regular meditation, I don't have to write a story about it in order for it have some effect. In his own way, God will find an employment for the meditation, and its assorted images, with or without a written narrative.
The central image of the picture is a native girl, I think around eleven or so, who exhibits an interest in the piano, especially after she sees and hears Jacob Cameron doing all sorts of things on the Circle X keyboard without in any way being under the influence of a written text. Her family are working in the area, as the native people regularly did for the white ranchers, especially at haying time. ( I knew nothing about this arrangement, years ago, when I was suddenly moved to try to write a short story set in the area.) In the sequel to Contemplatives, Jacob has already given some vocal instruction to a daughter from the ranch, summoned home from high school in Williams Lake for just that reason, but the native lassie was not then a factor; for one reason, because I was further along in researching  vocal education than I was in keyboard instruction. The vocalist is not required to produce meaningful harmonies out of a single mouth. One tongue is by no means ten fingers.
Nor does eight divided neatly into ten, leaving nothing left over. Quite precisely, piano harmony theory as it has been presented by the music publishing industry is chock full of initially annoying, confusing, depressing, contradictions. We are creatures of structure, of recognizable and reliable patterns, even to the exclusion of reason and common sense, so much so that we are taken in by all sorts of music methods, not just for the keyboard, and make a murky sort of progress much more by uncritical memory than by the freeing, creative, understanding with which the Creator originally intended that music should be studied. We are encouraged to charge at music "literature"just as in second rate fitness centres work-out hopefuls are encouraged to charge at weight quotas. Something is accomplished, for a time, and then the process falls by  the wayside, for so many, because of a discontent that is the logical result of failing to get to the core of the matter, where genuine understanding and real pleasure go hand in hand.
Those bound to be professionals or very good amateurs, simply by the natural fact that music is what they love and do best, somehow muddle through. This is because alone among all the arts music is not itself symbolic, like a painting, or the collection of tiny letters that make up a story, it is real. The theory is intentional, but the music itself is real. The student can thus put the paper theory away from him and respond to the reality of sound, the very real dimensions and structure of his instrument, and the even more real quantity, mass, and skill of his organs. In the case of the keyboard, he eventually sorts out his ten fingers. Or, more realistically, his eight fingers, with their somewhat limited lateral motion in relation to each other, and his two thumbs, which can wander all over the place.
But even among the professionals, I have to wonder at the degree of analytical understanding amidst their undoubted performance skills. Their accomplishment is primarily by way of memory. The composer wrote down what he wanted to be played, and they imitate the printed structure, with a few degrees of personal interpretation thrown in, usually in terms of pace and feeling. The basic structure, that is, the intervals between the notes, they leave as penned. Jazz is freer, of course, but many a jazz performance seems to follow a fixed text.
Now, what the native girl hears is not really a performance in the usual sense of the word. Jacob is not playing a known composition, but simply an exercise, or series of exercises, that follow a definite numerical pattern. That is, he is doing the very traditional thing of playing scales and arpeggios, but these scales and arpeggios are all in harmonic form, freely including both major and minor within one sketch, and utilizing however much of the keyboard dimension that he feels like playing at the moment. Thus there is a strong element of inspiration present, utterly lacking in the necessary confinement and limitation of a specific tune, and he can change time signatures as he feels so moved.
There is also perhaps an even stronger element of identity of structure, each more or less unique to the individual key or mode, although this appears more obviously in the left hand than in the right. The right hand is comprised of thirds and fourth only, in a plainly discernible sequence, while the left uses fifths as well as thirds and fourths (sixths where minor intervals within the major key are included) and these patterns can vary from one key or mode to another simply because of the plain demands of pleasant and agreeable sound.
Obviously. the usual plans of the usual scale books have been quite overturned, if not completely ignored, and the traditional mindset with its trouble-making pattern habits thoroughly rejected. All of this leads to a very pleasant combination of utter freedom and complete control, with no reliance on any external guidance or unwanted pressure. The student simply proceeds from his or her own internal interest, his or her own creation and solution of the problems to be solved in the understanding and mastery of numerically identified intervals, or pairs of notes, in each hand, which when put together with both hands create triads, therefore a full harmony and the habitual four voice structure of a piano or organ text.
Also, especially in the case of myself, a singer, the free swinging nature of the golden scale provides a most organic accompaniment, or even a resounding lieder type keyboard support and partnership to the fifth voice, that of the singer/player, and, if relevant, to the others in the room or building joining in. In fact for the last few days, especially as I putter at the numbers and the solfa among the pentachord that lies between great C and the fifth above, I've had so much freedom, quiet resonance, and support rather than resistance from the singer's Muse that with the conclave nicely past the black smoke of its first vote I was even moved to wonder if this was a sign of the new Pope shutting down on the sort of music it is impossible for me to give voice to.
This sounds like a good place to take a post break, as I'm still a long ways from making a conclusion out of all the symbols floating so interestingly out of the image of the Circle X ranch.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Gunfight at the Circle X Corral

When I was growing up, so many decades ago, there was no film a more automatic choice for a Saturday matinee and a movie house full of kids than a good old fashioned Western. Long, lean, actors who knew how to drawl - as well as draw - lovely fast horses, wide open range, the odd heroine, thunderous chases on horseback, and of course the ultimate gunfight, with the bad guy always going for his gun first, and instantly punished for doing so. I was a regular customer at the horse opera by the time I was six, and of all the movie genres I have to say that I think Westerns were the favourites of my youth.
Then when I was ten, the Western novel fell into my grasp, and my imaginative romance with the nineteenth century continued and intensified. Rummaging in a trunk in the upstairs hall of my grandparents' house, where we were living after the war, I found half-a-dozen orange backed Zane Grey's one night before bedtime, and was instantly hooked. The Idaho landscape of Thunder Mountain was vividly similar, in my mind at least, to the country around Falkland, in the North Okanagan, where I had lived for a few months when I was six, and I was delighted to be transported back out of the drizzling winter of the Coast, especially in the company of such stalwarts as Kallispel Emerson and his brothers. Now I no longer had to wait on Hollywood, nor endure the annoying modernity of a Roy Rogers or Gene Autry film just to take in some horses and gun play. I could ride the range whenever I so desired.
You could not really say that I became an addict of the Old West, because I had broad  tastes, fortunately, and an enormous affection for the sheer childhood joy to be found in the children's classics, in many ways much more beautifully realistic than any Western could ever be. Westerns work extremely well symbolically - which is why I started this essay in the first place - but they pretty much avoid the real truth, which means they don't work literally, because the literal insists that a society of illiterates is basically dull, spiritless, and addicted to sin. In other words, philosophize well, or you philosophize badly. There is no middle ground, just like there was nobody standing with a thick-walled bucket in order to catch the fatal lead flying up and down between the protagonists shooting it out on the main street of a cow town. In reality, and especially as reflected in literature, a human life without a full participation in the life of the Church is a rather dull and drab affair.
But I did love those six Zane Greys, and they provided me with uncountable hours of pleasure, insight, and vocabulary building. And, to repeat, a nice dry holiday on the open range, far away and across the mountains from west coast drizzle. And a fair amount of practical information about handling animals and camping out. I think it was from Zane Grey that I learned about being wary around  horses' hind feet, which came in handy only a very few months later when my father started logging with a pair of the noble brutes, and I was involved from time to time in looking after them. Babe, the four-year old bay mare, was an especially worrisome lady from time to time, but from Grey I had a comforting sense of being schooled in the ways of troublesome horses, and thus was one up on her most of the time, simply by staying well clear of her tail end.
I even tried to write Westerns a few times, once or twice as a script, a few other times in story form, but this was never a lasting effort, and pretty well lacked genuine inspiration. The best thing I got out of the idea was a nice memory of landscape, either from a real memory, or something pleasant imagined from a book.
There was a perfectly good reason for this failure, of course. The point was, I already knew all sorts of landscapes - and seascapes - extremely well, often as virtual, natural, visions of specific locations particularly blessed at a particular moment by the light and spirit of the Almighty, usually under the aspect of one of the members of the Trinity, and I especially knew the truest cowboy landscape of my own province, the Cariboo Chilcotin.The only way I was going to create a successful Western was to fall back, not on six guns and a lot of horses, because there had been none of that kind of action, but on what actually happened in, with, to, and  around me in my days in the outback, all that spiritual nudging toward even more light and a deeper spirit.
I had also been nudged by the Muse in the weeks before I went into the woods, for the novel I had left Dun and Bradstreet to write found itself engaged with my shadowy three young men. All three had started off the first chapters of the first effort at the yacht novel, a year later two of them turned up, in the midst of a soaring inspiration, in a short story, and now all three were back again as the principal dancers in my first full length attempt to get away from any hint of slick or expedient fiction. I had spent the winter basically not writing, using all my energy and leisure time for study and reflection on myself, albeit not without plenty of friendly company pretty much addicted to all sorts of cultural questions, and now the trio were functioning, more or less honestly, smack in the middle of the campus, a place I had never really used before for a backdrop.
By saying functioning more or less honestly I mean that I had dropped all attempts at a plot that would rely on the conventional adventures, with excellent results on my own relationship with words, but I had no thoughts on bringing in any aspects whatsoever of the spiritual life, which meant that no matter how well I might use words for what I did describe, there was no way I could reflect what I actually experienced, which had to make for a story that must limp, simply because it could not reflect life as I knew and lived it.
Would things have been different if I'd had any education about the mystics in my own English tradition? The question arises, quite naturally. out of recent months' study of the British medieval quartet, especially of Rolle and the Anonymous author of the Cloud, but I think the answer has to be no. To write of the spiritual life without writing as a plain fool the author needs both divine permission and divine inspiration. Simply experiencing such things takes a soul much out of the way of ordinary thought, and having to write about it takes him even further away from ordinary language. It is rather like flying, for a human, which is impossible with out some kind of manufactured wings.
I definitely had the experience. There is no question of that, profoundly unworthy and religiously unschooled as I might have been. God simply kept coming, showing up with every sunrise, even if that were hidden - as was regularly the case, behind west coast cloud and rain - and albeit lightly, insisted on putting me through my youthful versions of the spiritual exercises, offering regular minor excursions, into and back out of, the dark night of the soul. There was, in its own small but very useful way, a regular rhythm of consolation and desolation, to borrow Ignatius' categories from the Exercises.  
But this does not mean I could write about it then, for all the hope and satisfaction I took from knowing that eventually I would write about my life with the Spirit and its unique view of the world I lived in and with. "One of these days . . ." was a constant turn of thought and even spoken word with me, although I did not foresee how far away that day would be, with the exception of that thought, on the north bank of the Mosley in 1957, about the twenty years I would need to see my summer clearly enough so that I could start to write about it. And even when that happy grace arrived, it was only for fiction. There was to be no simple history for decades again. Good thing I came from a family of long livers.
And when I did write a small account of one incident, recently, it was instantly published, always a gratifying event for a writer! Granted there was no reference to the spiritual life, but it was a very true little tale and by its own account could never have been without some intricate rigging by divine Providence. In the last issue before Christmas just past, in the Williams Lake Tribune, the Black Press journal my oldest daughter reports for, there appeared a letter, virtually a short story, recounting my brief career as a "bull fighter" at the Bracewell Ranch, the Circle X, in the far southwest corner of the Chilcotin. As when I worked as a reporter myself, there was plenty of grace for the undertaking, in fact the text was pretty well dictated by the Holy Spirit while we were at Sunday Mass, so that I could write it, in one sitting as soon as we returned home, and fire it off to Monica at lunch time. Computers being what they are, she sent it right away to a Williams Lake writer, Sage Birchwater, retired a few years ago from long service with the Tribune, and he said it should be printed. Merry Christmas. There were already photos in place, not of me, but of the hostess that the party that led us all to the corral. Born in 1922, Gerry Bracewell is still alive - dancing in one of the photos - and was so pleased with what I had done that she had my daughter run off a dozen copies of the story for friends and relatives.
And thus not only a story, but a symbol, came to be, in such dramatic fashion that it is impossible for me not to ponder, extensively, what I might otherwise have not pondered, and ask myself why this sudden return to the Cariboo, so much beyond the ordinary need of the recollections of a writer who never could forget that part of the country in the first place? What is the major cause of it, and does that have anything to do with my agents deciding in September to send the last volume of Contemplatives to the Pope? Certainly by then Benedict was resolved on his retirement, and the arrival of the manuscript, by its very title - with which he was already well familiar - most solemnly did not contradict his decision in pectore.There can be no doubt that God has been deciding for the mystical body of the people of prayer for some time now, and Benedict's decision is simply a very appropriate outward manifestation of that preference. Come time for the election of the new Pope, there will be other manifestations. We will look back in retrospect for what was obvious all along to contemplatives, more or less, yet totally hidden from your average journalist and his/her incapacity to understand the Church as anything more than a collection of politicians who, strangely, refuse to wear business suits. All that cardinal red is to the media like a red cape to a bull.
Or, as was the case, a lady's borrowed bandana to a milk cow in the Circle X corral on a Sunday afternoon long ago. I had some great fun, and so did a number of spectators. That particular brand is what excited me as a symbol, you see. The Circle signifies eternity, the X a version of the Cross, the shape that Saint Andrew was crucified upon. Not a bad symbol for the Vatican to fly, and of course the election will be a shootout of much greater significance than anything set up by Wild Bill Hickok.
In its own way, the letter in the Williams Lake Tribune may be the closest thing to accuracy the secular press will have achieved during this particular season of speculation, at least once all the attendant circumstances are taken into account.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Tatlayoko Lake Two

I don't think that at any time beginning a Ranger post have I felt as if I were launching into a novel. That is, up until now. 159 posts along the way, I have consistently assumed that my Muse came from the department of journalism, or perhaps the essay field, but not from fiction. I enjoy the journalism, and I always recall becoming first aware of the journalists' Muse in the offices of the Ubyssey. (It was a pleasant surprise, and very strong, evidence of profoundly useful mental energy pouring out of my fellow students at work on producing the edition of the day.) I also like the sense of being an essayist, which does not have quite the pressure of simplifying as much as one does for journalism.
But with these examples of intellectual labour there is not quite the same sense of starting off on a voyage of discovery that one has in beginning a work of fiction. Perhaps it is because, to a certain degree, you already know what you are going to say in the lesser forms. Your task is to report on what you already comprehend, as briefly and as clearly as possible. This is, of course,  no mean challenge, but I think it means that you had most of the fun in the mental notes made before you started to write, and before that in the gathering of the material.
In the fiction, the material gathers you, and this is what makes writing a novel more like a love affair than a job. It's also what makes it in the long run much tougher. You do get to abstract from the total universe in a novel, as in any smaller form, so you have the comfort and security of limits, but it is so much less of an abstraction, and no matter how clearly defined the limits you have set for yourself, you still somehow look out over an entire horizon of possibilities every time you sit down to the keyboard. It's something like having to look God right in the eye and figuring out what to say for yourself, rather than merely, in a way, taking dictation.
Another aspect of the adventure in fiction is the capacity it has for surprise, and that means surprise to such a degree that it can blow all the best laid plans to pieces, working as much devastation as to have you start all over again. The first five years in this house were like that, a veritable warfare in which the constant victor was the wastebasket, or files to be hidden at the back of the cupboard. It was such a pleasant relief to be able to acknowledge, with help, finally, that the right "final" text had been finalized. This is not to say that I did not enjoy the process of writing without lasting acceptance from my in-house editors but it does mean that I did have to endure several winters of discontent, sprinkled with the humbling recognition of premature enthusiasm. Fortunately, I did always have the grace of being able to start all over again, simply because putting words together to make something more or less unique always has a charm of its own.
In themselves, I have to admit, the surprises were principally of the positive sort, always along the lines of a constant upgrading, insisting every once in a while in just a little more grace, in proportion to nature, and eventually demanding the presence of a certain amount of glory.
To a certain degree, I must admit to repeating myself, using thoughts from early posts of the Ranger, but not for the purpose of indulging memories that I've already enjoyed making use of. A writer is certainly entitled to talk about his own methods with the process, and even obliged on occasion, but he also has to exercise a certain detachment: he has to abstain from finding excuses to go  on talking when he's actually run out of things to say. But in this case, the repetition has a distinct purpose of its own, and at this point, at least for myself, it would seem to be utterly marvelous in its application. I certainly do have more to say, and what I have to say has the honoured status of having come from experiences of an ancient vintage. We all know the value of a fifty-year old single malt, especially when it comes in a bottle you thought you would never lay hands on again.
When I said goodbye to Tatlayoko Lake, well on in September of 1957, in my youthful  confidence I assumed I'd be back in a few years, four, maybe five or six at the most. It was a sure thing. I'd been making assorted typewriters rattle like Gatling guns for the last four years already, and now that I'd finally tucked into studying classical philosophy, discovered Thomas Aquinas - with help from a friend - and done my apprenticeship with my only real "contemporary" rivals - Hemingway and F.Scott Fitzgerald - I was bound to make it as a novelist pretty shortly. And to make it big. Those two had made their names by the time they were twenty-five, and so would I. It would be a piece of cake. All I had to do was create a readable summary of everything that had happened to me over the past  years, at UBC and other places, winding up with my unbelievable summer in the shadow of the Waddington Range. Providence had given me the experiences, both social and literary, and it would continue to provide me with creative triumphs to match. I'd be back, with fame and money in my pocket, and I'd sleep in one of the Bracewell log cabins across the road from the ranch house, and go hunting for moose with that most excellent of men, Alf Bracewell.
Error number one. It was not really Alf who was the hunter's guide. A little recent research, thanks to Sage Birchwater's numerous - and highly readable - texts on the personalities of the Cariboo-Chilcotin reveal that it was really Alf's wife Gerry who stalked the moose, the deer, the grizzlies, on behalf of hunters. I had realized that Gerry was a lot of things - like the wife-to-be I was to discover a few months later something of an archivist and local history promoter - and also like my mother, a great hostess, but somehow I had not totally clued in to her status a class A hunting guide. I was not totally stupid about women with rifles, since in fact my father had hired Birgalette Solberg to ferry us across Sechelt Inlet in her clinker built and show us where the deer hung out on the far shore, but I did not catch on to Gerry's status as a hunter at that point. Her late brother's guitar, a Gibson, as her son Alec has recently informed me, was a principal focus of my interest. It was a most beautiful instrument and I was largely under the quality of its influence, like a visitor to the Louvre struck by an original masterpiece he has heretofore seen only as a print. The simply fact that I was able to get involved in a sort of bullfight the next day after I played it is proof enough that jockdom has always had to compete with the artiste in my life.
To be continued.