Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Music again

Following the theme of my last post ... music plays such a huge part in the things that matter to me. I'm just doing some typing for Mr B (faster fingers on this keyboard, if not any other!) so that we have enough copies of a new hymn for a music workshop later today. (And yes: we have a licence for this). And it strikes me forcibly what poor verse even some of our most glorious hymns have for their text: poetic diction, primarily, a form found only in hymns nowadays, and in the pastiche poetry of students, and tired metaphors and similes, and the predictable use of the word to fit the rhyme. So why say the hymns are 'glorious'? Must be the music.

Stripped of the vehicle of music, the words are often banal and awkward. It's the same with popular music - I think I first realised this when the Romeo, a teen comic of my youth, printed the words of the current hits on the back page of every issue so's you could sing along. I was struck then by two things: the fact that they were often wildly different from what I thought I had heard (diction not being Tommy Steele's top priority) and the fact that they were, in the cold clarity of text, rubbish.

Better just stick to singing in Latin, huh?

13 comments:

  1. ego secundum illud!

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  2. What's the latin for "Falsh! Bang! Wallop! Wot a pitcher!"?

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  3. Brought up, as we both probably were, on Scottish metrical psalms, we were properly aghast at the contortions of word order & syntax contained therein. (The semantic obscurities of the Coverdale psalms are another matter altogether.)

    I find myself typing today the following, part of a version of Psalm 65 from the 1929 Scottish Psalter:

    Iniquities, I must confess,
    prevail against me do:
    but as for our transgressions all,
    them purge away shalt thou.


    Need we say more?

    PS - For frdougal:

    Micare! Tonare! Vapulari! Quanta tabula picta!

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  4. Martin Ritchie10:43 AM

    It's a funny thing that Scottish metrical psalms have such bizarre "contortions of word order and syntax" yet to me have their own kind of power. Maybe you're right that it's the music, or perhaps also the relationship of the music to the text. Some of those sonorous tunes are really fab for congregational singing! I'm a "cradle piskie" and lover of Anglican chant psalms, but have recently started working as an organist in a Church of Scotland congregation. I'm really enjoying discovering the delights of psalm settings such as Psalm 24 "Lift up your heads" to St George's Edinburgh. Who'd have thought it.

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  5. A few months ago we persuaded a reluctant Director of Music to include Ye gates, lift up your heads on high. He said nobody would (a) like it or (b) cope with its unfamiliar tune. How wrong he was! At least 5 members of the congregation made him eat his words. They loved it.
    While we're at it, I'd like it known that, at my funeral, I insist upon the following old C of S warhorses: By cool Siloam's shady rill (tune: Belmont) and Behold the mountain of the Lord in latter days shall rise (tune: Glasgow) - and never mind the syntax! Failure to comply will result in a severe haunting.

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  6. abf - you may care to know that Mr B has written a very splendid descant for the last verse of "Behold the mountain..." - we sing it in the Cumbrae Cathedral choir on occasion.

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  7. Consider yourself hired! I'll try to give you advance warning. And could you also manage Hail, gladdening light by Charles Wood?

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  8. Can I put in a vote for 'I to the hills will lift mine eyes'.

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  9. I always assumed that ...from whence doth come mine aid was a relative clause describing the hills. I see, however, that it now seems to be construed as a question. What is the truth of the matter? How do they know? Is there a question mark(er) in ancient Hebrew?
    While we're here: any votes for Just as I am, thine own to be... instead of the insipid ... without one plea? Or Guide me, O thou great Jehovah...? And do any children still sing Jesus bids us shine like a pure, clear light?
    I shall now retire to my own small corner.

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  10. I used to have the most bizarre picture of us all squatting in corners, like naughty children in the infant class. Probably I had Hillhead Primary in mind...
    I don't think children still sing hymns - or do they?

    And I want "There is a Redeemer", "Lead, Kindly Light" and the Kontakion for the Departed, as well as Purcell's Funeral Music for Queen Mary for starters and a Dixieland band at the end. Better start practising, y'all!

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  11. I doubt whether they will have any music source on my ice-flow anyway!

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  12. abf: My favoured netbible has this to say on Ps.121:1:
    The Hebrew term מֵאַיִן (me’ayin) is interrogative, not relative, in function. Rather than directly stating that his source of help descends from the hills, the psalmist is asking, “From where does my help come?” Nevertheless, the first line does indicate that he is looking toward the hills for help, probably indicating that he is looking up toward the sky in anticipation of supernatural intervention.
    So, fair mix of both.

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