the music of the spheres (linguistically speaking)

 

 
I live in the borough of Queens in New York City.

In a metropolitan area with the most ethnically diverse zip codes in the nation, and in a City where far more languages are spoken than in any other city in the world — in public; on the streets and in parks; in stores and restaurants; on buses and the subway; and so on.

To hear the variety of languages spoken in NYC is exhilarating.

I love to hear foreign languages.

Their musicality.

To hear the wonderful sonorities of Spanish being spoken. To hear Russian, and to be able to recognize it. To be able to recognize Polish, which I hear spoken very often in my neighborhood.

To guess at other languages that I hear being spoken during my peregrinations.

To me, it’s just another reason to WELCOME IMMIGRANTS. If only others — some do, but I fear, and in fact know, it’s far too few — could see this.

 

 

—  Roger W. Smith

    August 2018

 

 

 

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photos taken in Manhattan by Roger W. Smith

 

 

 

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a brief exercise in “verbal impressionism”

 

 

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Juniper Valley Park, Queens, NYC; August 21, 2018

 

 

 

Observations made by me while jaunting this week.

 
Monday, August 20, 2018

girl with mother and siblings eating lunch in a Macdonald’s in Queens

 

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

kids eating potato chips in a park in Queens (see photo above)

 

I noticed the same thing. That when kids are happy they get a glassy eyed, dreamy look. Like they are looking at nothing in particular. And are happy in a half-conscious way.

 

— Roger W. Smith

   August 21, 2018

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my favorite Nielsen songs

 

 

 

The death of Aretha Franklin on August 16 got me thinking about singers in the gospel tradition, or who began their singing careers that way. I shared my thoughts with my wife and a friend. Naturally, I prefer some singers (meaning those who began as gospel singers) and some styles to others.

In a message to my friend, I noted that I had never really developed a taste for opera, but that — along with admiring many popular singers (meaning those who did not perform opera or classical music) — I have, over the years, developed a taste for the lied or art song.

A Wikipedia entry notes that a favorite composer of mine, Carl Nielsen (Danish, 1865-1931), wrote over 290 songs and hymns. What I like most about his songs is their simplicity and directness, along with their beauty. They convey a certain emotional state so clearly.

Nielsen’s songs do not seem to be well known.

Below is a selection of my favorites.

 

— Roger W. Smith

   August 2018

 
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Æbleblomst (Apple Blossom)

 

 

 

 

Den danske sang er en ung, blond pige (The Danish song is a young blonde girl)

 

 

 

 

Den milde dag er lys og lang (The mild day is light and long)

 

 

 

 

Der er et yndigt land (A fair and lovely land) – tenor

 

 

 

 

Der er et yndigt land (A fair and lovely land) – choir

 

 

 

Fatimas sang (Fatima’s song) – from Incidental Music to Aladdin

 

 

 

Forderligt at sige (Strange to say)

 

 

 

Hvor sódt i Sommeraftenstunden (How sweet is the summer evening)

 

 

 

Jeg bærer med Smil min Byrde (I take with a smile my burden) – baritone

 

 

 

Jeg bærer med Smil min Byrde (I take with a smile my burden) – choir

 

 

 

 

Jeg lægger mig saa trygt til ro (I am so comfortable at rest) – baritone

 

 

 

 

Jeg lægger mig saa trygt til ro (I am so comfortable at rest) – soprano

 

 

 

 

Jeg lægger mig saa trygt til ro (I am so comfortable at rest) – tenor

 

 

 

 

Min Jesus, lad mit Hjerte faa (My Jesus, let my heart obtain)

 

 

 

Min pige er saa lys som Rav (Like golden amber is my girl) – baritone

 

 

Min pige er saa lys som Rav (Like golden amber is my girl) – tenor

 

 

 

Nu er da Vaaren kommen (At last spring has come)

 

 

 

Sænk kun dit Hoved du Blomst (Lay down, sweet flower, your head)

 

 
Solen er saa rød, Mor (The sun is so red, Mother)

 

 

 

 

Tidt er jeg glad, og vil dog gerne græde (Oft am I glad, still may I weep from sadness)

 

 

 

Ud gaar du nu paa Livets Vej (Now you must find your path in life)

 

 

 

Hjemve: Underlige aftenlufte (Homesickness: strange evening breezes) – tenor

 

 

 

 

Hjemve: Underlige aftenlufte (Homesickness: strange evening breezes) – soprano

 

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re the development of musical appreciation, as seen in myself

 

 

I am afraid some people will see this post as boastful. It is not intended to be.

 

 

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I have a good friend whom I share with my wife. He was a former teaching colleague of hers.

He reads all my posts — I am very happy to have him as a regular reader. He tends to admire my writings, which is very welcome, although if he disagrees with something (such as an opinion of mine about an author), he will tell me or my wife. He is a thoughtful person and reads with care and attention. But his criticisms are not harsh.

He has mentioned several times to both of us having enjoyed my writings and thoughts on classical music. He is an accomplished and serious pianist and a lover of music, about which he is knowledgeable.

I said I was glad that he enjoyed my posts about music. “You know,” I said, “with my limited technical knowledge of music, I am surprised to find I can write about it. But it seems I can.”

He said something in response to the effect that my writings on music read like those of a music critic.

Thinking more about this, I wrote my friend a follow up email, the text of which follows.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   August 2018

 

 

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Dear _______,

Yesterday we were talking about early influences, namely music and art.

I seem to be able to “think musically.”

Even though I can’t read music or play an instrument.

How is it that I know (or think I do) that Bartók outranks Stravinsky? How and why is it that when I was listening once to folksongs by Bartók, I was reminded of Porgy and Bess? And, then (this was in the past), I happened to read something about Gershwin somewhere and found out that he had used pentatonic scales in Porgy and Bess and realized that Bartók did the same with folksongs that used ancient modalities.

As I said, I seem to have always been able to think musically. My father graduated from Harvard when I was around four or five with a degree in music. I don’t recall it well, but he had 78 RPM records of classical music that he would play when doing assignments. I recall that I loved the first movement of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 — if one can do that at a very early age, one is inherently musical. I enjoyed listening to my mother play classical music on the piano around bedtime. I liked some other works I recall such as Grofé’s Grand Canyon Suite. Plus kids’ songs such as “Rain, Rain, Go Away (Come Back Again Some Other Day).” I still remember the words and the basic tune. We had a scratchy old record of it which I wanted to hear over and over again.

I seem to have a photographic memory for music. I always recall what the pieces were and remember them exactly, going way back and extending through my lifetime. If I hear a different rendition at some later date, I can tell it’s not the same. (This includes popular music and rock.) How is it that I remember both the music and the actual pieces, including what they were?

For example, on the first day of school I attended in the seventh grade in my new hometown, Canton, our teacher, Mrs. Sullivan, led us from the piano in singing. The songs were “Over the River and Through the Woods, To Grandmother’s House We Go. The horse knows the way, to carry the sleigh”; and, “Oh, Those Golden Slippers.” I can hear the songs still. I can hear Mrs. Sullivan playing — can seem to almost remember how that old piano sounded —  remember what the songs were and the melodies.

Music is linear, like mathematics. I think linearly. I always did very well in math. Music and subjects like algebra are left brained.

I never had to develop an interest in music, like, say, someone who says, or thinks, they should take up tennis or golf for some reason, and begins by taking lessons.

It was similar to my love of books and reading in that it was never an interest that was part of academics or coursework. The best interests develop naturally this way.

So that when I was in high school, I began to seriously develop a taste for and knowledge of classical music. It came naturally.

But when it comes to playing and performing, I could never, should I have tried, come close to my siblings’ proficiency.

A footnote: My former therapist, Dr. Colp’s, intellectual development seemed similar, in some respects. He grew up in a very intellectually stimulating atmosphere of books and ideas. He told me that the life of the mind was like breathing for him.

I was very fortunate to have grown up in a home were music was a part of everyday life and where aesthetic enrichment and appreciation came with the territory. Music has always been an important part of my life.

 

Roger

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an early take by Walt Whitman on his conception of himself as America’s poet

 

 

Walt Whitman began his writing career as a journalist. He was known early on for writing anonymous reviews of Leaves of Grass — in other words, reviewing himself, in laudatory terms. A motivation for his doing this was that he clearly felt his poetic endeavor would not be understood by the literati or his countrymen, and indeed his poetry initially baffled most and offended many because of its frankness, or what one might call lack of reticence when it came to topics not discussed in polite society. Even his own family seems not to have for the most part read his poetry or understood it.

Below is an unpublished puff piece by Whitman that was in his papers. It is not un-similar to anonymous reviews of Leaves of Grass he actually wrote. His conception of himself as a sort of literary gatecrasher is amusing. It has more than a grain of truth.

 

— Roger W. Smith

   August 2018

 

 

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We suppose it will excite the mirth of many of our readers to be told that a man has arisen, who has deliberately and insultingly ignored all the other, the cultivated classes as they are called, and set himself to write “America’s first distinctive Poem,” on the platform of these same New York Roughs, firemen, the ouvrier class, masons and carpenters, stagedrivers, the Dry Dock boys, and so forth; and that furthermore, he either is not aware of the existence of the polite social models, and the imported literary laws, or else he don’t value them two cents for his purposes.

 

Notes and Fragments, edited by R. M. Bucke; in Complete Writings of Walt Whitman, vol. IX (New York, 1902), pg. 70

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Ralph Colp, Jr. review of “The Gates of Memory” by Geoffrey Keynes

Ralph Colp, Jr. review of ‘The Gates of Memory’ by Geoffrey Keynes

 

 

As shown in my post “tribute to Ralph Colp, Jr., MD”

https://rogersgleanings.com/2016/02/16/tribute-to-ralph-colp-jr-md/

 

My former therapist, the late Ralph Colp, Jr., was an extraordinary man.

Posted here (above) is one of his many book reviews. It shows how well Dr. Colp could write, with great acumen and sensitivity.

We had many discussions about writing and writers. He told me that, like most young writers, he used to obsess at the beginning over style. But he said he soon overcame this and was able to not worry too much about it. His writing is notable for its clarity and straightforwardness.

Note that in this review of Geoffrey Keynes’s autobiography, Dr. Colp reminisces about a visit he had with Keynes. Geoffrey Keynes (brother of John Maynard Keynes), like Dr. Colp, was a physician-scholar. Keynes is well known as a scholar (and lover) of William Blake. Dr. Colp told me about having met Keynes. I had told him about my interest in Blake.

I knew of Keynes before becoming a patient of Dr. Colp and have several beautiful Blake books edited by the former.

 
— Roger W. Smith

    July 2018

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“The Poet”

 

 

In the “Divinity School Address” [given at Harvard Divinity School in 1838, Ralph Waldo] Emerson at times made it sound as though his understanding of Christ had transformed that figure into a type of the artist, a man who … had seen “further” than others with more limited vision–An example is Emerson’s statement of how Christ recognized “that God incarnates himself in man, and evermore goes forth anew to take possession of his World.” … in his later essay “The Poet,” … [Emerson] lambasted contemporary theologians for thinking it “a pretty air-castle to talk of the spiritual meaning of a ship or a cloud, of a city or a contract.” Such men prefer, he noted sardonically, “to come again to the solid ground of historical evidence,” not realizing “the highest minds of the world have never ceased to explore the double meaning, or shall I say the quadruple or centuple or much more manifold meaning, of every sensuous fact.” If his friends were to be faulted for any religious shortcomings, then, it was because they … did not perceive the literal presence of the miraculous in nature’s commonplace facts.

One of Emerson’s most revealing paragraphs in this essay deals specifically with his sense of the poet as a universal Christ-figure. … In “The Poet” Emerson thought it important to suggest how much his contemporaries needed another redeemer, one whose grasp of language and symbol, as well as of divine truth, was comparable to Christ’s, or at least to others among the world’s great prophets. …

Throughout the essay Emerson elaborates the intended equation between Christ and the poet. Like Christ, who stood as ransom before his Father for the entire human race, so, too, the poet is “representative” and “stands among partial men for the complete man.” Further, like the Christ who freed mankind again to the possibility of entering heaven, so the poet is a liberator who “unlocks our chains and admits us to a new thought.” When men are exposed to the truths the poet expresses, they recognize how “the use of his symbols has a certain power of emancipation for all men.” And like the Savior who called all unto him as children, when the poet speaks men “seem to be touched by a wand which makes [them] dance and run about happily, like children.” “Poets,” Emerson brazenly declares, “are thus liberating gods.”

Indeed, throughout the essay Emerson intends to make his readers aware that he means no deception when he equates the work of the Sayer with a process of salvation, for the poet provides a feeling akin to what those of an earlier generation (and, indeed, what some evangelicals of Emerson’s own day) would have called a conversion experience. As he continues in this vein, Emerson sounds as though he were making a narration of the influence of saving grace upon his soul. “With what joy,” he exclaims, “I begin to read a poem which I confide in as an inspiration! And now my chains are to be broken; I shall mount above these clouds and opaque airs in which I live . . . and from the heaven of truth I shall see and comprehend my relations.” The “new birth” is complete, for at such moments, Emerson announces confidently, he becomes “reconcile[d]” to live, while all nature becomes “renovate[d].” “Life will no more be a noise” to him who has experienced the effects of the poet’s vision; and, as self-righteously as any of his seventeenth-century New England ancestors, Emerson claims that then is he able to “see men and women and know the signs by which they may be discerned fools and satans.” The rebirth of his soul is complete, for “this day [when the poet’s message is heard] shall be better than my birthday: then I became an animal; now I am invited into the science of the real.”

This remarkable reworking of the morphology of conversion into an aesthetic experience takes on more significance when the reader is aware of how closely the older forms of religious vocabulary have been melded with terms from the idealistic philosophy to which Emerson had been exposed: He details this dream-vision of transcendence with reference to an explicitly Coleridgean term. “This insight,” Emerson declares, “expresses itself by what is called Imagination” and is best understood not by reference to any religious terminology but as “a very high sort of seeing, which does not come by study, but by the intellect being where and what it sees . . . by sharing the path or circuit of things through forms … ” In the presence of the poet wielding his liberating symbols, man stands, Emerson mystically suggests, “before the secret of the world, there where Being passes into Appearance and Unity into Variety.”

But it is imperative that the poet also become the “Sayer or Namer” and openly declare what has been hidden from his contemporaries because of their imperfect nature and limited vision. “The world being thus put under the mind for verb and noun, the poet is he who can articulate it.” The secret of the universe, to paraphrase Robert Frost, literally sits in the middle of men, and the poet must do all in his power to make the secret apparent.

For through that better perception he stands one step nearer to things, and sees the flowing or metamorphosis; perceives that … within the form of every creature is a force impelling it to ascend into a higher form; and following with his eyes the life, uses the form which expresses that life, and so his speech flows with the flowings of nature.

For the poet the world becomes “a temple whose walls are covered with emblems, pictures and commandments of the Deity,” and it becomes his job to convey the meaning behind those emblems as evocatively as he can. … Emerson indeed believed that “Nothing walks, or creeps, or grows, or exists, which must not in tum arise and walk before him [the poet] as an exponent of his meaning.” Thus, the lessons from men like [the American Swedenborgian Sampson] Reed and {Guillaume] Oegger were assimilated, but along with the important corollary that man must not, like the self-centered mystic, “nail a symbol to one sense, which was a true sense for a moment, but soon becomes old and false.” The poet is he who knows that “all symbols are fluxional; all language is vehicular and transitive, and is good, as ferries and horses are, for conveyance, not as farms and houses are, for homestead.” When man reads the true poet’s works, Emerson believes, he finds himself on a version of Jacob’s ladder, the rungs of which are assembled from the world’s natural facts and by which he is to climb to view the world of spirit.

— Philip F. Gura, The Wisdom of Words: Language, Theology, and Literature in the American Renaissance

 
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I have been reading a fascinating and enlightening monograph: The Wisdom of Words: Language, Theology, and Literature in the American Renaissance by Philip F. Gura (Wesleyan University Press, 1981), from which the above passages are quoted.

Who is the poet whom Emerson foresaw and spoke of? Walt Whitman, as has often been noted.

 
— Roger W. Smith

   July 2018

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