Art and Societal Constraints

I was moderately upset today when the classical music station where I live played only two movements of a Beethoven String Quartet.  The String Quartet is meant to be heard as a whole, not in pieces.  All four movements relate to one another and make a musical whole.  We live in an impatient world, with short attention spans, craving for instant gratification, short cuts in the movies we watch, sound bites, Twitter snippets–everything packaged in tiny packets that take up less and less time.  And our short attention span reflects these tiny packets of data.

How many people have an hour and a half to listen to the whole B-Minor Mass of Bach?  45 minutes to listen to a Beethoven symphony?  Does my classical radio station need to chop up whole pieces to package music in small bites because of today’s short attention span?

Maybe.  Our world is different than the world of Bach and Beethoven.  Imagine a world with no TV.  No radio.  No internet.  No cell-phones.  No electricity.  Can you imagine such a world?  That’s the world of Bach and Beethoven.  Imagine what time, and pass-times would be like then!  I imagine that people in such a world would have a lot of time to kill.  How long could the nobility just chat, who had no job they had to go to to fill up their day?  I imagine they would welcome a 50-minute string quartet they could listen to in someone’s chamber.  On Sundays, everyone had to go to church.  Then what?  No football games to watch.  Why not hang around the church and hear a musical mass for another hour.  Why not a cantata?  Why not a 20-minute prelude and fugue before the preacher?  They had the time.

The fact is, people in the 18th and 19th-century did have an hour and a half to listen to Bach’s B-Minor Mass.  They wanted a 50 minute symphony.  But we need to carve out time specially if we want to listen to a whole string quartet.  I’ve only heard the whole B-Minor Mass once, and it was a live performance.  As it happened, it was on a Sunday afternoon, too.  It was really rewarding.

The social forces today are different than those of Beethoven.  We can wile away time mindlessly glued to the TV, as I often do.  But I do, on occasion, set aside an hour or two in order to live with sublime art.  Art that was generated by a society that time to kill.  Art from a society much different than ours.  This blog could be considered deconstruction, if you like.

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Kavanaugh and the Evaluation of Memory

I’ve been reflecting on an incident from 1976 that is burned into my memory.  That is 42 years ago.  A very successful piano player who is my friend played one of my own compositions with me in a hotel bar.  I have an original song called “Space Blues.”  I wrote it in 1976.  One night, I sat in with my friend’s band; I played keyboard.  The band’s keyboard player had a beard, and he asked me if I wanted to sit in.  He yelled out from the audience for me to play a mambo, since he’d heard me play one before.  My friend was playing bass on a Moog Synthesizer.  The lead singer had sung on a Motown record, and he worked with my father at the Fisher Body plant in Livonia.  My friend asked me what song I wanted to play, since I was sitting in.  I told him the chords to Space Blues and the band and I started playing it.  The lead singer liked it, and started improvising some lyrics.  Actually he really sort of sang tones without words, since I hadn’t written the words yet.  I was thrilled to have this song of mine being performed in public.  I was thrilled to be playing in a bond with my friend, since I had a lot of respect for his musicianship.  Playing Space Blues in that hotel bar with my highly respected friend is seared in my memory.

Now, 42 years later, I have finally recorded Space Blues.  I sent it to my friend, the same friend who played with me in 1976, who has been producing my recordings.  He did not remember the song at all; it was as if he heard it for the first time.  I feel like telling him, “You played this song with me in 1976!”  But he has no recollection of any of this.  It didn’t make the same impression on him as it did on me.  He has played innumerable songs since, has played in countless bands, doesn’t even remember me sitting in with him that night in the hotel bar.

That’s the nature of memory.

NETI-NETI

So many people want

Life to be sweetness and light—

In fact, saccharine sweet delight.

The eventuality of death repressed

As consciousness sleeps into unconscious;

Care only for affairs here comprises awareness,

Carefully, fearfully forgetful of death’s despair: the buzz-kill.

Others preoccupy themselves with

The eventuality of death and

Dour and gloom diffuse through a joyless disposition, joyless life.

Some say a middle way makes of life what it is

Neither blind nor dark

Enlightened by the happiness we find now, by knowing.

To me meaning is in passionate undertaking,

When in all one takes on the stakes are mortal:

The joy in work, creation, recreation, the music we hear

The clothes or jewelry we wear.

The footfalls we leave behind us, remain in us

Walking into time today; waking in time

Saint Lucia (An Epic)

Over the next 5 days I will be posting:

Saint Lucia

(An Epic)

It is an extended poem in 5 sections, about my first visit to Saint Lucia.  To make the post manageable, I will not post the whole poem at once, but will do it one section a day.  This day’s post is the departure and trip to Saint Lucia.

Saint lucia

(An Epic)

I

Departure

Home and the family farm

And the departure and the road and travel and time

Anticipation and passing time

Music and the road and a little writing

Travelling and time

And music in the truck and a little talking and a nap

Time and travelling

The overnight hotel by the airport

The swimming pool after dinner

Reclining in our room before sleeping

 

Fire in the control tower

And we waited for the plane’s push-back

Take-off delayed an hour

And boredom and anticipation

And sitting 37,000 feet above the Atlantic

And time and iPod headphones

An hour, hours, another hour

Two ours left “Time’s going fast,” Carol said

And strains of Bach’s Cello Suite #6

And a little writing

Half nodding off and nodding off

Landing, immigration, customs

A new world, tropical

Saint Lucia

Time

I remember a time

When most of the world was older than me

It seemed much of what I did

I was inexperienced in, it was all new to me

Now much of the world is younger than me

I know what I’m doing, and I’ve seen it all