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.