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.

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