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.

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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.
haiku, humor, music

From Suite 3 by JSB

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Movement #2 in the Orchestral Suite #3 may be the most famous and beloved of all the airs Bach wrote, and deservedly so.  While any piece of music with a simply flowing melodic line can be called an air, this one by Bach is especially airy.

soap-bubbles

From Suite 3 by JSB
|Bubbles in Bach’s Air:
|I cannot grab them, so I
|sing with silent joy.

haiku, humor, math, music

Riff on a Faulkner Quote

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The story of my upbeat reinterpretation of a Faulkner quote starts in my kitchen.

The past is never dead.  It’s not even past.

A somber interpretation of this quote comes naturally.

  • The foul stain on America from slavery persists.
  • A mysterious burden is passed down from each generation to the next (as in a post on Na trioblóidí that I found to be simultaneously intriguing, funny, and disturbing).
  • Original Sin.

And so on.

Like many classics, the Faulkner quote can be reinterpreted later, w/o superceding the original intent.  As a quick example of such reinterpretation, consider JS Bach’s Two-Part Invention #11.  It is very quick indeed (about a minute long) and was originally written for solo harpsichord.  Click here to hear it arranged for banjo and marimba, on one track from a Grammy-winning CD, where banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck and friends reinterpret 19 short classical pieces.  We will return to music shortly.

The story of my upbeat reinterpretation starts a few years ago.  Tired of having the air in my kitchen be warmer and wetter than elsewhere in the house, I bought a window fan: 2 small quiet fans in 1 housing, meant to be squeezed between sash and sill for blowing air in or out of a window.  I mounted the fan in a doorless doorway, so as to blow air from the dining room into the kitchen.  It does help.  A tall person would need to stoop when passing thru; I do not.

kitchenfan_900x473

To mount the fan, I drilled holes in the fan housing and drove screws thru the housing into wooden supports (cut from scrap lumber) that I attached to the upper corners of the doorway.  I chuckled at the thought that relating horizontal and vertical lengths (along the doorway) to diagonal lengths (of cut lumber) was yet another small consulting gig for Pythagoras.

kitchenfanmount_900x675

Hmmm.  I did not think of Pythagoras as an ancient dead Greek.  I thought of him as an eminent older colleague (long since retired) who is doing quite well for his age and still has consulting gigs.  The past is not past.

Will our civilization endure until I am as old as Pythagoras is now?  (Not w/o some major course corrections.)  Suppose it does.  I doubt that I will have many more consulting gigs.  But Pythagoras will.  Bach’s music will still be cherished and reinterpreted, along with that of other great composers, from Hildegard to Hovhaness and beyond.  Sometimes it is good that the past is not past.

Ad honorem: Hildegard of Bingen, 1098-1179
|Mystic visions or
|migraine headaches? Whatever.
|Her music lives on!