Angular

Cecil Taylor’s passing reminds me of my favorite passage from Craig Lucas, from scene 2 of Blue Window. It’s a good thing that I have a printed copy to refer to, because my recollection of the dialogue, from a production I saw 22 years ago, is faulty.

At a small gathering/party of friends, Tom has put a recording of Cecil Taylor on the sound system.

TOM. But I don’t know if you can hear it, but I mean, he’s literally rethinking what you can do with melody. He’s changing all the rules from the ground up.

* * *

TOM. Like a painter. He’s breaking it up, you know, and putting some parts of it in front of where they belong and he’s splitting up tonalities and colors, shapes —
ALICE. Splitting up did you say?
TOM. Splitting.
ALICE. No, I know, I was…
TOM. He’s literally challenging you to hear it, you know, rehear it. What is music?
GRIEVER. No, I know, but this isn’t like a famous melody? Or –?
TOM. Why not?
GRIEVER. I mean it isn’t like “Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens” backwards or something.
TOM. No…

For some reason I always want to remember that as “‘Mairzy Doats’ upside down and backwards.”

Clybourne Park: an update: 2

So we closed the show yesterday afternoon, and I’m pleased, overall, with the way it went. (There’s always something that you wish could have been better. Like I wish that I’d had a coach to help me fine-tune the brief bit of stage combat.)

Every so often I use music as a way to get into the world of a character. (My friend Lisa suggested this trick a long time ago.) Now, the little Bobby McFerrin riff that Roger used as transition music at the top of Act 2 was all I needed to help me find Tom Driscoll. But for the well-meaning, somewhat feckless, gentle parish priest Rev. Jim in Act 1, I needed a complete playlist. Some of this music I already had on hand, and some was newly-purchased. Here it is, Jim’s Jam, all songs pre-1959 as far as I can tell:

  • Perry Como, “Accentuate the Positive”
  • Lawrence Welk orchestra, “Bubbles in the Wine”
  • Patsy Cline, “Walkin’ after Midnight”
  • Glenn Miller orchestra, “(I’ve Got a Gal in) Kalamazoo”
  • Mel Tormé, “Moonlight in Vermont”
  • Lawrence Welk orchestra, “Beer Barrel Polka”
  • Perry Como, “May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You”
  • Mantovani orchestra, “Charmaine”
  • Patti Page, “Old Cape Cod”
  • Glenn Miller orchestra, “A String of Pearls”
  • Perry Como, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”
  • Lawrence Welk orchestra, “Village Tavern Polka”

Mantovani’s version of a 1926 waltz by Rapée and Pollack is most everyone’s idea of soul-evacuating elevator music. (I remember an ironic modern dance troupe performance from about 20 years ago, set on this song, that consisted of the entire company queueing up as if at the DMV.) But for Jim, the lush, pillowy arrangement is pure bliss, his idea of what God’s grace must feel like. Is that a zither in the mix in the last chords? Plus, you can do t’ai chi stretches to it.

Jim and Judy danced to Glenn Miller when they were courting.

The Lawrence Welk recordings, all from the pre-TV days, are astonishing. Joyful, energetic, inventive, not slick at all—nothing like the bland music I heard when I was a kid in my grandfather’s living room watching the TV show. I used to worry that I was turning into my mother. Now I should worry that I’m turning into her father.

Composure

Craig Havighurst has proposed a new umbrella term for that thing that most people call classical music, that my friends in college (particularly in the School of Music) encouraged me to call art music or serious music, and that I have also heard described as Western concert hall music. Havighust likes the term composed music, and he makes some good points.

Composed Music’s primary virtue is its blunt veracity. It is what it says it is: works by a singular mind, fixed and promulgated in written form. …it emphasizes the actual creator of the music, giving credit where it’s due in an era when the general public has been conditioned to associate works with performers.

And lest we forget,

The awkwardness of there being a Classical Period in Classical Music becomes moot.

In a follow-up, he points out that he intends the term to include jazz and third stream compositions as well, written by artists as diverse as Brubeck and Zappa.

Of course, we can always go with the dichotomy associated with Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington:

There are simply two kinds of music, good music and the other kind.

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