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.

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