Posts Tagged “music”
Awhile back, I heard a well-regarded poet read her words so woefully on the PBS ‘News Hour’ that I truly could not follow the thread of meaning — the delivery was wooden, and so very artifical. In response, I wrote this:
The Music in Language
by Judith Lang Zaimont
[ (c) copyright 2009 ]
He squawks, he shrieks,
he pounds the tonic accents with such force
that I, as listener,
shiver from the assault of passion.
She, a renowned poet,
delivers in so mundane a monotone
that meaning is lost in waves
of falling intonation, arbitrarily
marking the end of every line
— her delivery, so leached of contrast
that all I, a listener,
is what she telegraphs:
This writer’s great detachment from the stuff of words.
Why, over and over
do we, as listeners,
suffer a newscaster’s dreary delivery
in one of just two modes,
“perky” or “solemn” ? –
No shades of variant meaning
no middle ground.
Why do we, as passengers,
puzzle through flight attendants’
irksome unreasoned stress on all
the small, connective, throwaway words?
Why not stress “life jacket”, “seat belts” ?
They’re important phrases
whose high freight of meaning
demands stress at highest pitch.
Actors know the secret of the music in language.
Pacing – let’s have a sliver of silence
before the keyword –
a half-beat of nothing.
Color — from shout to whispered syllable
(perhaps a whisper delayed).
Tempo — a stutter, a torrent, a mechanistic drone.
Add in Pitch to shed needle spots
right where meaning demands it .
These devices grant message to our delivery.
Music is in all these – and through music
Yes, we compose our thoughts.
Why not, then ,
like great maestros channeling a tonal army,
why not compose our saying of them?
Posted by Judith Lang Zaimont in Composers, Uncategorized, tags: chamber music, Composers, craft, early music, Holmes, music, mystery, new music, problem solving, Sara Paretsky, Shulamit Ran, trobairitz
Composers In Mysteries
Step past those tormented, fictional Wagner aspirants in bible-length novels — and for today let’s also set aside Thomas Mann. I’m a mystery nut, and I relish the present-day novels of Sara Paretsky, a mystery master who threads music into almost everything she writes. And in more than one of her books, the composers themselves show up.
Paretsky’s protagonist is V. I. Warshawski (Victoria Iphigenia – Vic for short), a Chicago PI who’s obstinate, cunning, intuitive, a quick thinker, and a general pain in the neck to many of her associates but who sticks with it, thinking through every case even as she hares around the state until the mystery in solved, no matter the bruises or bullet wounds that come her way. The daughter of a singer (mom) and a police detective, Vic keeps a piano in her apartment and often breaks into snatches of aria. (She’s also an expert basketball player and very accurate with a handgun.) Two of Vic’s close friends, both doctors, are Holocaust survivors who support Chicago’s symphony and chamber music scene, so Vic gets to a concert from time to time.
In one Paretsky short story, a composer of the distant past turns out to be an ancestor of Vic’s. And in the layered novel I’m now reading, Body Work, one character is a bassist in both jazz and early music groups, so lyrics by the trobairitz Maria de Ventadorn turn up.
But the most memorable composer appearance is in an earlier Paretsky book where one of the doctor’s sons (a cellist) comes to town with his girlfriend, Israeli composer and piano prodigy Or Nevitzky, whose new chamber piece is premiered and described in detail. — I have to believe Nevitzky stands in for Shulamit Ran, whose bio is virtually the same as the fictional character’s, and who has long been associated with music in Chicago.
It means a lot to come across a composer – someone who does what I do: who worries away at the problem at hand, never letting go until the solution is clear – in a genre book where the genre connotes “action”. Composers often don’t move when we do our thing; we can sit quiet and in place for hour after hour. And we might never be as tormented, as picturesque, as Holmes with his cocaine and dolorous violin, when we’re thinking things out. But we do hang in there until the solution is clear — just like Vic.
I’ve been following the Bravo TV reality series, “Work of Art: The Next Great Artist” ( fifth episode this week). It tracks a group of young-ish artists, most of whom have already been exhibited , and assigns them a fresh project each week to be conceived and completed in about 1.5 days.
The completed works are then displayed in a private gallery showing followed by a critiqued from a panel of judges ( a core or regulars, plus one fresh prominent figure per week; one week it was Andres Serrano.) The projects range from utilitarian-but-arty (design a book cover for a classic novel re-issue) to almost-unspecified ( “do something outrageous”), and at times the artists receive their assignments by lot, with no say as to the subject agreeing with their own affinities ( or preferred medium).
Although it’s the usual winnowing-out design typical of such programs – and I don’t at all care who gets tapped as eventual winner – I’d pinpoint the same two interesting elements within each hour-long segment :
• The very different processes each of the artists follows in interpreting the assigned project. These are profiled in some detail – surprise! — and follow the gradual development of each new work. This manages to take up a big slice of the program, some 20+ minutes.
It’s exhilarating to see cameras paying attention to a working-out that stems from labor which is primarily ‘head-work’ . And rare.
• A refrain in the judges’ comments, present virtually every week: that the works they find successful do *in some respect* provide for viewers to respond to the piece – and actively. ( For example, they very much admired works in which the artist incorporated a mirror, or sign-in boards to register comment, or placed him/herself actually physically into the piece ; etc. )
Of course the judges want the artist’s individual personality to be expressed in the piece – but beyond that, and far from an auteur context where a viewer is only meant to “receive” an utterly complete document - the judges want the art to invite the viewer to respond, so that the work is ‘incomplete’ unless and until someone reacts to it in a way that registers to other viewers. ( This forested tree demands the listening ear be there ! so its fall can be heard.)
There’s plenty of opinion flying about throughout the episode — in addition to the judges, the artists themselves comment liberally on one another’s work throughout the show. If you pay no mind to the trumped-up personality conflicts and the bland or fatuous criticism ( or the commercials), the show can be worth screening.
The level of the works — particularly those by three of the competitors still ‘alive’ – is certainly professional. And the prize is $100,000. plus a solo show at the Brooklyn Museum. Sarah Jessica Parker is one of the program originators.
– Would that composers could reap the same on-camera attention for our head-scratching hours…!
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