- Nature always appears harmonious. After all, people have evolved attuned over tens of thousands of years. Yet there is also a marked flexibility that somehow makes desert, swamp, ocean, jungle, savannah, woods, and whatever else beautiful to properly adjusted outlooks. Art may attempt to capture that harmony, or may challenge it, or (in the best work) somehow do both at the same time.
- Our musical tastes are formed early, and I hardly appreciate classical. Yet even in the early jazz music I love, I miss a great deal because I am not a musician. My greatest fault, as in many things, is in not paying adequate attention. I know the beginning of Chopin’s moonlight sonata quite well, but no matter how many times I listen, the rest just blurs into one long piano relaxation. Not unlike how I often experience scenery and other important environments in my life.
Sonata ought to be a song
That murmurs, glistens soft along
Shouts demanding in our ear
Concentrate on what we hear
Winter swirls some icy ways
Snow can’t brighten shorter days
Disaster looms a constant dread
Disruptions whisper stay in bed
Some will brace for bitter cold
March forth challenged to be bold
Others dream of sweeter times
Wish to wake in warmer climes
Me, I’m torn, I like to go
Examine purity of snow
But other hours I like best
To just accept my enforced rest
- Cable provides a music channel called “Songs of the Seasons.” Unsurprisingly, these are mostly pop tunes with lots of words to clue the audience. Classical music suffers from only providing titles. Nobody would associate “March of the Wooden Soldiers” with Christmas except for its use in a few movies, and Nutcracker would be just a sequence of pretty melodies without the ballet costumes and handy program guide.
- I sit here and enjoy the ways colors blend together, or subtly contrast, always in a different kaleidoscopic way depending on where I look or how I vary my focus. In such magical stillness, I may recall one seasonal tune or another, which are irrelevant to this moment. I would insist that this overall experience is very much like that of closely listening to a sonata or symphony. Abstract, harmonious, challenging, soothing and much more, all at the same time, all constructed by the marvelous trillions of neurons that provide me with my being.
Standard carols echo around crowds here at the mall. I’m sitting in a little alcove of chairs, waiting for Joan to finish up at Macys. Conversations of others doing the same thing rise around, as I pick out fragments.
“These songs sure bring back memories, don’t they?”
“Some of them, I guess. I can’t stand some of the cynical newer ones they keep putting on.”
“Yeah, I’m more partial to Bing Crosby and Sinatra myself. But I guess they have to move with the times.”
“Why? They don’t care about the times anywhere else. This is all just nostalgia to make old people feel like spending money for grandkids.”
“My grandkids sure don’t know them like I did. I think they’re more familiar with car and beer ad jingles.”
“Oh, yeah, and forget hymns. Why, when I was their age we had them every Sunday, right out of the hymnal, had to memorize them all.”
“Well, we believed. It meant something back then.”
“Should mean something now. Damn political correctness. Why can’t we just be happy that we took over the planet and let it at that.”
“Not much Christmas spirit, there?”
“Humbug yourself. It’s true, though.
- Crows cawing only birdsong, but steady wind whispers through trees, dead grasses rustle, waves slap shore. Human sounds accrete all around _ whistling of boat rigging, low rumble of jets low overhead heading for landing at JFK, tires and rasping engines of trucks making last-minute holiday deliveries, and incessant whine of leaf blowers. Humans are, sometimes unfortunately, part of nature too.
- Any true seasonal sonata would include that. Probably we wouldn’t go to the lengths that Spike Jones gleefully pasted over tunes, but time of year is infallibly marked aurally by our own sounds. A really brilliant artist might be able to weave it all pleasingly. Or maybe not _ we tend to be more abrasive and raucous than even those annoying big black birds.
- Transforming experience to art is odd. Movies require narrative, drawings composition, paintings color, photographs unique immediacy, writing translating existence into meaningful words. But how to use sitting on a hill or walking through the woods or gasping against the wind to compose a song?
- First and greatest question is why bother. The world provides it all, what exactly does an artist have to contribute? Capture the moment, perhaps, as much as any aspect of it can be. Recall memories. Distill some common feeling. All of those are difficult in any medium, but to try to capture, recall, or distill while limited to musical notes is almost inconceivable.
- Oh, I can imagine a shepherd playing a flute easily enough, or even a folk singer strumming on a guitar, creating something that might catch the public fancy. But I cannot, for the life of me, put Chopin on a park lawn to come up with a Coindre Hall Autumn Sonata that would ever have more evocation of a particular place than its title. Is that my own musical incapacity?
- Yet, second question is why can I imagine that sonata, rising from the waving of bare branches, harmonizing with blended browns of the rushes around the stilled pond, counterpointed by occasional calls of geese and ducks over the water? If I am centered I can almost hear it in my mind, a song of nature, yet inexpressible in the sense that anyone else would ever understand what I am trying to do. Even the most accomplished evocation, such as “Appalachian Spring” only becomes meaningful when I am aware of its name.
- Music, I suspect, is our most abstract gift to the universe, and a gift to which only other humans or our gods themselves can ever respond completely. But it is also one of our must perfect expressions of pure love of being, whatever the occasion of its origin.
- Open harbor should provide silent refuge, but unless wind blows strongly any given car or motorcycle is apt to be bellowing a Christmas tune, any given homeowner may be blasting outside speakers with the same. Holiday music has been increasingly insistent for over three months now. But this week it is ubiquitous _ on radio and TV, in stores, along the street. If newspapers could talk they’d be playing jingle bells. Suddenly at the end of next week it drop by half, a week after that will be banished for another year. The proverbial man from Mars would be quite puzzled, particularly at constant references to “sleighs” which haven’t been used for a century, and never ever used in places like Florida.
- Music on my mind because many of these ditties are in the form of “earbugs,” those annoying snatches of song that keep playing through my background thoughts even though I desperately try to send them away. Certainly not sonatas. With crude but effective hooks and structures, they get triggered and reinforced at every snatch of melody, and sometimes by other stimuli as well. My particular seasonal concert.