Tag Archives: Music

Dispatching the Doldrums

It is time to clear the cobwebs and write about anything.  Blog writing for me is  a way for me to exercise my creative skills and (bravely) share what I’m writing.  Every now and again, I like to share what I’m thinking/doing/reading/listening to/watching.

Watching

A week ago, I just finished watching Band of Brothers on Amazon, which was based on the book of similar name by Stephen E. Ambrose.   I  know I’m a little behind ( it first aired on HBO in 2001).  But, I didn’t subscribe to HBO then, and never invested in DVDs of the miniseries.  Wow.  An incredibly well-done set of vignettes from the history of Easy Company of the 101st Airborne during WWII in Europe.  It was produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks – it has much the same feel as Saving Private Ryan.  Each episode centers around a different event and focuses on a different character’s perspective.  My favorite episode involved the Battle of Bastogne, and told the story from the perspective of Doc Roe, the company’s medic.  He displayed courage and a singular ability to keep going in bone chilling cold under relentless bombardment, while keeping the men is his company in fighting shape and providing care to the wounded.  The scenes are graphic and the emotion is raw.  The miniseries drives home the point, that in war- there is no rest.  Even when you think you may get a weekend leave, something happens to call the company back into the fray.  After battles, you move on to the next line.

Reading

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a slow reader and one who is prone to start multiple books to find one that captures my interest.  Right now, I think have five books in various stages of reading.  Most recently, I started reading Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta, by Richard Grant. It is a true tale, a collection of tales actually, of a British travel writer (Grant) and his girlfriend after they decide to buy an old plantation home in heart of the Mississippi Delta.  Stories of Southern tradition, along with the tenuous combination of gentility, race and class, are told without judgement – but with a keen perception of the relationships involved.  This book is a great look into this forgotten region of the country.  Truth be told – I am related to people who grew up in this area of Mississippi, and am very familiar with the themes of this book.  The Delta is a both a wasteland and a land of riches.

Listening

I have eclectic music tastes.  I will listen to almost any genre, depending on my mood and as long as it is well done.  In recent years, I have become interested in Americana/folk styles.  I like the realness of it and how it can impact you emotionally.  With that in mind, I want to recommend music by a friend.  I met Mark Currey in high school, when we both attended a Gifted/Talented Summer Camp.  We were in the choral program, and were introduced to many different genres of music in the program.  We were encouraged to be creative in our free time, and it was obvious that Mark was a songwriter even then. I wrote in my journal in my free time- ain’t life funny.  We weren’t best friends, but we got along well. After that summer, we parted ways (like most everyone does), only to reconnect many years later via FaceBook.  I found out he had recorded an album, his first, in 2017.  The classic story of the Late Bloomer – I can relate.  His record, Tarrant County, is part Country, part Americana – and I encourage you to give it a listen. Mark has a very warm vocal style (he’s a tenor), and his lyrics are real storytelling.  You can download it at the either of the links above, or you can find it on streaming services.   There are some really nice musical moments, some thought provoking lyrics, but never overdone.  You might find something you like.

Thanks for reading.

***

 

 

 

A Cappella Friday: Choose Something Like a Star

A cappella music (without instrumental accompaniment) is particularly enjoyable for me to listen to. As a poet (and an avocational musician), I am drawn to the similarities that poems and a cappella music have. Lyrical phrasing, meter, rhyming, and onomatopoeia mean so much to a cappella music, because it relies so heavily on the human vocal element.
**************************************

Anyone that has followed me since my origins here with Taps and Ratamacues may recall this as a semiweekly feature for a while, but I haven’t written about specific music/poetry combinations in quite some time. Again, as in other entries, this is not an a cappella piece specifically, but the positive interaction of music with poetry is undeniable.

This entry came about as a result of phone conversation with my mother and father, both life-long musicians – now retired. They both have an impeccable memory for musical anecdotes.

We were discussing the word taciturn, as it described a friend of theirs going through rough time, to which my father said the only other place he ever recalled hearing that word was in a choral setting of Robert Frost’s poem, Choose Something Like a Star.

My curiosity was peaked, and I went searching.

Frost wrote the poem in 1916. It is a remarkable piece that addresses humankind’s need for reassurance from a greater being.  It contains elements of philosophy, religion, and science – the trifecta of sought meaning.  It is one of Frost’s more direct and driven poems.  We seek meaning in life, and can choose things to convey that meaning. We expect these icons to give us direction and explanation.  “To be wholly taciturn is not allowed.”

Frost’s point was that in choosing “something like a star”, something distant and far off, we can be comforted in the fact that it exists and “it burns” despite our desire for clear explanation.

Randall Thompson (1899-1994) wrote a collection of songs using Frost poems as lyrics, entitled Frostiana (Seven Country Songs). In 1959 Thompson was commissioned to write a piece commemorating the bicentennial of the town of Amherst, Massachusetts. It was decided that the piece should include lyrics comprised of Robert Frost’s poetry, as he had lived in Amherst for a number of years. The town originally lobbied for The Gift Outright, which Frost later recited at JFK’s inauguration.  Not believing that poem to be appropriate for this occasion, Thompson gained permission to select poems himself.  He eventually  chose seven texts – including the well-known poems The Road not Taken and Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.  Also chosen was the poem Choose Something Like a Star.

The vocal arrangement starts ethereally, with sopranos singing the ‘O star’ phrasing as if it is a far away object and the other voices of the choir building in the harmony – pushing outward to meet this fairest object in sight.  Thompson is masterful in his use of chord structure and phrasing with Frost’s poem.  There is tension in the unanswered questions, there is calm in the resolution.

Frost and Thompson knew each other and held great mutual respect for each man’s work.  Frost was in attendance at the premiere performance of Frostiana, and was so delighted by the performance that, at the conclusion of the piece, he stood up and shouted, “Sing that again!” In fact, he was so impressed by the composition that he banned any other composers from setting his poems to music.

We seek meaning in the universe, and often we can find it in the beauty and unexplainable mystery of existence itself.

Pattern

Going forth from dot to dot,
and lines to sect, and textured plat
– I feel her form in jazz – all that
time, melodious tone and scat.

And though the curve she’s wont and apt
to slide and clutch, her eye for voicing
taut and slack.

The tremble that I feel is naught
set side by side her ending thought.
And once the silence lingers hot,
Is she the pattern that I seek, dare not?

Thoughts on epiphany

I have decided that music
bears witness to the scenery around us.

A woman wearing a bunny eared winter cap
can listen to “Wild Thing” and “Always a Woman”
and still be focused on serious world issues.

The sounds of Professor Longhair and Dr. John
refresh a winter day of Epiphany just as well as Kings College
at Christmastide.

A conversation with a beautiful soul
can ignite a fire – for warming a dulled
and calloused heart.

Walking on salted sidewalks
leaves a rhythmic pulse in your brain
with bodhran and guiro contributions.

The sparkle of lights in the darkness
of early morning never grows old. The silence
makes them shine.

The end of the day lingers when you drag out
the last light from inside.

A question, in advance

It sings itself, doesn’t it?
the song about love and hope-
the one about couples, and snowfall and candles
familiar lyrics and trope.

Each verse is a longing
request for addition
with vocalese twinges
that wear down, by detrition,
the crag and stone hindrances
built by decision.

Until, yes, the endgame –
the paramount question
asked with charm and sorcery
with little regard for others
just you and me –

Will you dance inside the phrases
and read my poetry?
Hold my hand firmly
as you focus and you breathe?

Can you imagine, here, set free?

*******
The song “What are you doing New Year’s Eve” was running through my mind this morning, and I wrote this as an accompaniment to the song. A tribute to the muse and love in general, I suppose. Wishing you all the best in 2017.

Is she

It is hollow sounding
once struck-
then resonant, tones
that lean and carry
into the next.

Suppressed by pedal
at breathing points,
only to fly in phrasing
and surround-
taking us in.

Suppose we were
to stay, encompassed by
the echo, inside the billow
of the melody
improvised.

How would we know?
After the first note
we breathe its air-
sway in a joined jive
inside the song.

Even led among
the staves, turning
and taking our time
for crescendos
and kisses.

chalk

I use chalk to smudge the lines a bit
and shade the parts where I don’t feel I fit.

Fermatas placed to hold the chords in time
while I dance around cadenzas dipped in rhyme.

I’d rather stare and watch the sun in parallax,
circumventing pain and disappointment – that’s the fact.

Beauty walks, and moves, and sings in form
and transits over paths that I have worn,

shows indifference to my charm- my soul in kind
and I have nothing left save yearning in my mind.

And these, the words of someone sacrificed
to life and how I bleed on paper, less precise.

To stand and sing of resignation, it is mine,
and using chalk can smudge and blur the line.