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.