humor, music

Jambalaya for JS Bach at Age 333

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Physically, JS Bach was in Germany thruout his life.  His musical imagination ranged more widely, with trips to England and France and (especially) Italy.  Later musicians’ imaginations took him to many more places.  Brazil.  Russia.  New Orleans.

New Orleans?  Yes!

Pianists Eyran Katsenelenbogen and Tal Zilber took Bach (and some other saints of music) to New Orleans.  They later played souvenirs of that visit for an audience in China.  Bach goes marching in about 12 minutes into the 14 minute YouTube video; the whole thing deserves to heard and heard again.

The image below is a screenshot (with a link to the video) that is better than what I got with the YouTube embed code.  U can click on the image to follow the link and then click on “SHOW MORE” (just before the YouTube comments section) for easy access to each variation on the great song that is like an anthem for New Orleans.

JSB-NewOrleans

Happy Birthday, Johann Sebastian!  Hope U enjoyed the jambalaya.

Acknowledgement: I appreciate being pointed to the video from a post on the WQXR Blog by James Bennett, II.

 

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ethics, haiku, humor, language, music, oversimplify

Be Precise, But Keep It Real

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I am big on precise language.  Why am I so damn mellow about whether a poem is a haiku?  The answer hints at bigger things (like reconciling polished theory with rough-hewn reality), but there will also be a few jokes.

Yes, there are short poems that are not haiku.  Limericks are not haiku.  Googling «one word poem» yielded more hits than I expected (and infinitely more than I would like).  U can read about one that made national news here.  One word poems are not haiku.  (As candidates for a one word poem about one word poetry, words like [prank] and [scam] come to mind.)  On the other hand, trying to say exactly what is a haiku is a lot harder than it seems to many people.  It is also a lot less important, and we should be thankful for small blessings.

A list of several common characteristics of haiku is a good starting point as a tentative definition.  Such a list can be good for introducing people to haiku.  Whether it should be carved in stone is another question.

Here is a plausible list of things one might say about a short poem in English, such that the poem “should” only be called a haiku if they are all true.

  1. It does not rhyme.
  2. It has 3 lines, with a total of 17 syllables distributed 5-7-5.
  3. It includes some seasonal reference.
  4. It includes a poignant relationship between nature and humanity.

I got this particular list from a thoughtful comment by Sue Ranscht on a post with a 3-5-3 haiku.  Amicably and implicitly, the comment posed the question that starts this post.  It deserves an amicable (but explicit) reply.

§1: How Do I List Thee?

Let me count the ways.  Hmmm.  Do I have enough fingers?

There is a downside to defining the word [haiku] in a way that excludes much of what the best haiku poets actually write and much of what the Haiku Society of America considers to be a haiku.  What are we to call that stuff?

Jane Reichhold (1937-2016) was among the many eminent haiku poets who do not adhere to our 4-item list.  She was also an advocate (so am I) of haiku with a characteristic that is not in that list: juxtaposing 2 contrasting images (rensô in Japanese).  Rather than import yet another Japanese word into English, she wrote about “fragment and phrase” as parts of a haiku, in an insightful essay that was nicely formatted in a CDHK episode.  The juxtaposition may seem incongruous at first, and much of the fun comes from realizing how it does make sense.  Sometimes one part clarifies the other.  Sometimes the fragment (the shorter part) is the punch line of a joke set up by the phrase, as in the essay’s clever classic

roasting_veg_chkn_800x575

Haiku © Jane Reichold superimposed on
Photo © Vladlena Azima | ShutterStock

Another criterion not in our 4-item list is interchangeability of lines 1 and 3.  While Jane did not advocate interchangeability (neither do I), it matters to some people.  Should we have a 6-item list?  There is no need to consider here the whole multitude of criteria that are sometimes important to some people.  There is no need to try wriggling out of the contradictions between some of these criteria.  This section’s takeaway is simply that there is no single authoritative list.  Do U find that conclusion stressful?  Maybe a musical interlude will help.

§2: Musical Interlude

Back in 1800, Viennese concert-goers knew what a symphony was, with or w/o knowing much music theory.  A symphony was an orchestral composition with 4 movements.  Movement #1 might have a short slow introduction; otherwise, movements #1 and #4 were both at a brisk pace.  Movement #2 was slower; movement #3 was a minuet at an intermediate pace.  Performing the whole thing took a while, but well under an hour.  And so on.  That was before Beethoven began shredding the dictionary.

Did anybody abuse the new freedom by writing schlock that was long and loud?  Of course.  But some composers crafted some beautiful and enduring symphonies with great care and skill.  Works like Dvořák’s From the New World are classics, tho in various ways they are not classical.

Saying that something is “a symphony” no longer says much about its length or layout.  With no claim that they are all great symphonies, here are a few examples of the diversity.

  • We have symphonies with less than 4 movements (Hovhaness; Schubert).  More movements were apparently intended for Schubert’s “unfinished” symphony, but it is deservedly popular as is.
  • We have a short strings-only symphony that does have 4 movements, but the 2 (not 1!) based on dance forms are not minuets (Britten).
  • We have humongous symphonies with vocal parts (Beethoven; Mahler).

And so on.

Maybe it would be nice if the word [symphony] had a more specific meaning, but we get by.  When Prokofiev revisited the old layout from before 1800, he did not claim to be writing the first “real” symphony in decades.  He just wrote his Classical Symphony. The title’s meaning is clear enough.

§3: Back to Haiku

I wish those who advocate one of the narrower concepts of haiku would imitate Prokofiev.  Speak of “classical” haiku or (better still) “traditional” haiku.  Say which of the various traditions U have in mind.  Want to make a discussion of a single tradition flow more smoothly by temporarily restricting the word [haiku] to that tradition?  That might work, but it is hard to avoid any hint of permanently excluding other traditions in other discussions.  Want to claim that working within your favored tradition tends to help people write good haiku?  OK.  I may well agree, unless U go on to claim that all haiku (or all good ones) are necessarily in that one tradition.  Ain’t so.

Most of my own haiku (and many that I admire by others) do comply with at least 2 items in our 4-item list.  Full compliance is common but far from universal.  Want to be careful and focused when writing haiku?  Pay serious attention to a list like this.  But don’t let the tail wag the dog.

§4: Leery of Labels

The 6-item list briefly contemplated at the end of §1 is much like the 7-item list of rules that was actually used in a challenging CDHK episode.  The main difference between the lists is in whether rhymes or words referencing the poet (like [I] or [dunno]) are forbidden.  Neither is common in haiku; both do occur.

I responded to the challenge with a cheekily titled but fully compliant haiku (This Haiku Is Kosher), followed by one that breaks a few of the rules (Not Quite Kosher).  Which rules?  In the unlikely event that anybody cared, I could say.  As it happens, my Not Quite Kosher is a wry lament (about crediting an image illustrating This Haiku Is Kosher).  The title’s double meaning would be lost if it somehow specified which rules in the 7-item list were being broken.

zen-frog

Not Quite Kosher
|Zen frog bronze sculpture
|(credit lost, like casting wax).
|Dunno who to thank.

Suppose we want to discuss partial compliance with a list of rules in some detail.  Would it be helpful to have a noun as a 1-word label to pin on my partially compliant haiku, so as to indicate exactly which rules it obeys?  Not really.  With 4 rules we would need 16 nouns.  That would be burdensome.  With 6 (or more) rules, we would need an absurd 64 (or more) nouns.  Better to just say what happens with each rule, if there is any need to say it.

Maybe a single noun for obeying all the rules would still be helpful?  No, it is better to just plop a convenient adjective (like [classical] or [compliant] or [kosher] or [traditional]) in front of good old [haiku].  Remembering which rules are relevant at the moment is enough of a cognitive load.

A cluttered vocabulary is not the only downside of a profusion of special nouns, one for full compliance with each of several lists of rules.  People tend to confuse pinning a fancy label on something with understanding it.  They also tend to assume that labels are mutually exclusive.  When the recipients of labels are other people, the results can be nasty.

§5: Takeaway

Tho willing to break the 5-7-5 rule, I obey it more than might be expected of somebody who knows about its origin in a translation error.  I am especially respectful of 5-7-5 when I write an aphoristic haiku (as a zingy summary of some nerdy philosophizing) rather than a moment-in-nature haiku.  With a linebreak after the comma, this post’s title could be a 2-line aphoristic haiku.  (Yes, there are 2-line haiku.)  Maybe a 5-7-5 aphoristic haiku will reinforce the point.

Precision < Accuracy
|Speaking precisely
|is great, if we speak about
|what is really there.

history, music, politics

Battle Hymn of the Re…

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The song commonly known as Greensleaves has been given several other titles and sets of lyrics.  The melody is too good to be bound by any one version of the song’s words.  Likewise for the song commonly known as the Battle Hymn of the Republic, which got the familiar title and lyrics from the five stanzas published by Julia Ward Howe in 1862.  Details and diction bind her words to the Civil War era, but the melody and rhythm break free.

As a performance by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and another by the US Army Field Band illustrate, there is considerable variety in musical phrasing and how the singers are accompanied (as well as which 2 or 3 stanzas are sung).  I tried to write 3 stanzas appropriate for 2017 that really could be sung well by people who know how to sing.  The choir or the field band could give a rousing performance of my updated battle hymn.

A few of Howe’s phrases still resonate; I have used them (and a few other fragments of American societal hymnody) in my updated title and lyrics.  Will the future find my details from 2017 as dated as Howe’s details from 1862?  I hope so.

Battle Hymn of the Resistance

Our eyes have seen the glory
|of a land where freedom rings;
where fear and hate are cast aside;
|where no one bows to kings;
where clean air fills the spacious skies;
|where hope can spread its wings.
We fight to make it real.

|Glory, glory hallelujah!
|Glory, glory hallelujah!
|Glory, glory hallelujah!
|We fight to make it real.

When shills disguised as pundits
|stole the spotlights on the stage,
the centrists lost their bearings
|and misread the workers’ rage.
Dark money seized a chance to buy
|a second Gilded Age.
We fight the lies with truth.

|Glory, glory hallelujah!
|Glory, glory hallelujah!
|Glory, glory hallelujah!
|We fight the lies with truth.

We still can hear the trumpet
|that will never call retreat.
A white-haired warrior still steps forth
|to drum a steady beat.
Our voices shout rebuttal
|to each cryptofascist tweet,
and we will win this fight.

|Glory, glory hallelujah!
|Glory, glory hallelujah!
|Glory, glory hallelujah!
|Yes, we will win this fight.


Sprit_of_'76

Spirit of ’76


Writing cogent modern English in triplets is not easy.  Neither is saving the Republic from the Age of Trumpery.  At best, those who fight this fight will get tired and sweaty.  My update of Howe’s lyrics is something they can sing in the shower.  I tried that.  It helps.

haiku, music

The Paulownia’s Second Life

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We add 2 lines to a haiku by Nozawa Boncho in response to

from the paulownia
without a breath of wind–
falling leaves

silent now, the tree will sing
(thanks to the koto maker)

humor, music

Captain Counterpoint at Age 332

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Yes, this post is a few days late for JS Bach’s birthday.  After 332 years, a few days late is timely enough.

E-mail from WQXR (sent 2017-03-23) alerted me a recent post on the WQXR Blog by James Bennett, II.  Bennett’s Here’s a ‘Happy Birthday’ Fit for Bach gives Bach a great nickname and birthday tribute.  Here is a short excerpt, along with an image that fits the nickname.

Giovanni Dettori reimagined the birthday song … .  His treatment of the hit tune is a 91-bar fugue-fest that proves that no melody is too simple to become something much more complex.  We’d like to bet that Bach, Captain Counterpoint himself, would be partial to this arrangement … .


Apart from an ending that sounds like something from the Haydn/Mozart era, Dettori’s fugue is a delightful reworking of the familiar ditty as a Big Fugue-ing Deal in true baroque style to celebrate Bach’s birthday.

haiku, music

Thanks, Felix

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True story.  One day when I was failing and flailing some years ago, I turned on the radio and heard some unusual and then-unfamiliar music.  Tho it had the structure of a baroque oratorio, it was a hybrid of baroque and early romantic in style.  Tho sung in German, the vocal lines had the beauty and spiritual intensity of sacred music in Latin.  Mesmerized, I listened until the piece ended and made a note when the announcer said who composed it.  Yes, Mendelssohn.  No, it was not his more famous (and more operatic) oratorio Elijah.

Ad Honorem: Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, 1809–1847

My career implodes.
Tears flow. Great music consoles:
Mendelssohn’s Saint Paul.
haiku, humor, music, oversimplify

Phrases as Facades

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Composer Philip Glass prefers “music with repetitive structures” over “minimalist music” as a name for his style.  Descriptive names are indeed better than arbitrary ones, but only if we do not take them too seriously.  Descriptive short phrases can become oversimplified facades that obscure realities too complex to be described well (not just named) by the phrases.

In music, any mishmash with a beat or a scale has an at least slightly repetitive structure.  The sounds emanating from a beer garden or a rap concert are extremely repetitive.  The good stuff is in between.  While the musical lines in a piece by Glass have subtle variations, they are often too simple and repetitive to be interesting by themselves.  Happily, they are not by themselves.  Something special emerges when they are superimposed.

Neither Glass nor I can think of a good short descriptive phrase for his style, but I can offer a decent visual analogy that can be expressed concisely in a haiku.  I should be doing my chores rather than responding to

But how could I resist a chance to put a link inside a haiku and pun on both the composer’s name and the title of one of my favorites among the works by him that I have heard?

moire_2016-12-06

Seeing while Listening
|Transparent layers,
|etched to form Moiré patterns:
|See the sounds of Glass.