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Music

by on March 17, 2015

                                                                  Music

                                                        by Marco M. Pardi

Note: All comments are appreciated, read, and responded to accordingly.  The comments sections for all previous articles have been opened for use.  I will certainly look forward to your comments. 

“Music heard so deeply

That it is not heard at all, but you are the music

While the music lasts.” T. S. Eliot (1888 – 1965) “The Dry Salvages” (5) Four Quartets. 1943

One of my college professors, Richard Waterman, Ph.D.,  was an ethnomusicologist who had spent the bulk of his career among bands of Australian Aborigines.  I confess I did not at first see the value in such a pursuit.  For me, music was a diversion at best, an intrusion at worst.  But as he bravely discussed the cultural underpinnings and meanings of music to students no doubt recovering from their last or looking forward to their next music event – popular “concerts”, I began to get it.  For years I had been sensing something I could not formulate.

Yes, I had been raised in a household where the only music heard was Western classical music, Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Stravinski, et al.  I had gotten through Brother Maurice’s Music Appreciation class, still not knowing a movement from a prelude, a fugue from a finale. In fact, I long wondered what criteria made music “classical”.

But it was not until my travels took me increasingly far from Western influences, in both music and culture, that I began to connect the two, and to suspect that something more fundamental still lay beneath.

My first significant exposure was to Mohammed El Bakkar and his ensemble with various “belly dance” songs from Port Said.  Going further, Nasir Eddin introduced me to music from east of Suez, as did Mohammed El-Sulieman.  Regardless of the presence or absence of sensuous dancers, the music itself dances through the mind and the body, the goat skinned drums projecting the dusty sounds of desert evenings, the tin whistles and horns the suddenness with which sound is swallowed by the desert.  Others were drawn to this art form in ways that surprised me;  captivated one evening by the music, the singing, and a remarkably attractive dancer, I still had to use the restroom (a bare room with a simple hole in the floor) and, as I was passing the dancer, she motioned to me to join her.  I demurred, explaining to her I had to use the restroom.  She answered back, in unaccented Mid-Western American English, “I don’t understand Arabic yet.”

I often heard those sounds arise in the desert itself as Bedouin caravans settled for the night and I was able to join from a respectful distance.  Wedding parties could go on all night, and any sense of time with them.  When these events happened I turned off my am/fm/sw radio, the little device by which I listened to broadcasts from Radio Moscow and the BBC.  I found it odd that Muslim cultures, seemingly so possessive of women, produced what I still consider the most erotic music on the planet.

Moving further south into the German and Dutch colonial areas of east and south Africa brought out Horst Wende and his orchestra, capturing the timeless Zambesi river, Skokiaan (a type of native drink), and the Boetjie Na Kammaland (“A Ship to Make Believe”). Sometimes using Fanagalo, an African Esperanto used in the gold mines of East Africa, or Zulu, they also drew from Afrikaans – as in Suikerbossie, translated into the U.S. Hit Parade as “Sugarbush, I want you.” The music was as colorful as the bars it played in, peopled with disbanded military and mercenary soldiers from around the world.

Drifting back northward we encounter the incomparable Missa Luba, a Congolese celebration of the Catholic Mass brought to them by Belgian missionaries. The Missa Luba itself, although borrowing French accented Gregorian Latin for certain titles and lyrics such as “Sanctus”, is entirely Congolese,  the pulse of elemental African voices and drums performed by a young choir with no written score and often improvised as it goes along.  The music was not coming from them, it was coming through them.  A spontaneous outpouring of feeling leaving the listener to wonder where the line is between the joy of spiritual awakening and the secular despair of a century of brutal colonial exploitation. 

Then, going into the far northern reaches of Norway and Sweden I understood the imagery evoked by Edvard Hagerup Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite, especially In the Hall of the Mountain King.  The dim, smoky hall, heated and illuminated by braziers of low flaming wood spoke of, and reminded one of the eerie twilight of a sub-zero winter day, the Sun struggling to lift the hem of Night’s black robe and sinking again into long sleep.  To the southeast Jean Sibelius gave us Finlandia, a calendar of seasons with naked Birch trees in Winter, standing still as if not acting cold will keep one from being cold.  Over frozen Finland the deep blue sky seems alive with the inaudible but spiritually present crackling of water molecules joining together in tiny frozen stars, to drift down and become one with the white blanket covering Mother Earth in her sleep. And Spring, the green shoots of daffodils reaching out to present their brilliant yellow flowers to the Sun like chicks in the nest with beaks open for the next tidbit of joyous nutrition from their parent.     

Going much further east brings us to Ram Gopals’ When a God Dances, classical music and dance of India. In Indian music the emphasis is on the rhythm (tala), set in 10/8, 5/4, and 7/4.  Using a veena (like a lute), a sitar, a flute, and a variety of drums the players embark on a raga, adhering to the appropriate tala.  Although Ravi Shankar became a passing sensation in the U.S., I was far more drawn to the ethereal ragas arising from centuries of traditional music.  They are excellent preludes to meditation.

But inspirational music can come from surprising sources.  In South America I was transported by Carlos Santana, especially in his Abraxas compendium.  Through the instrumental portions of “Black Magic Woman” one is instantly in the brilliant blackness of Deep Space, the protracted guitar notes hinting at up and down, here and there where direction has no meaning, the tinkling of chimes like the winking of pulsars, pulsating radio/neutron stars, teasing me to guess the distance from which they emit their beams of electromagnetic radiation..  The kids could have their LSD and Ecstasy.  Santana is fine with me.

Much of American (U.S) culture is built on artificiality.  So, suburban kids can buy what they think are cowboy uniforms, learn to moan ungrammatically through their noses, and rise to the top of the Country Music charts.  The real country music emanates from the heart of Appalachia, as embodied in the Stanley Brothers born in the Clinch Mountains of Virginia. Their music was briefly popularized in the film, O Brother, Where Art Thou.  But this, apparently, is too arcane for the common ear.

The imagery of music has sparked interest in whether Nature creates music, aside from our conventions of tone, scale and other points of measure.  I’ve heard the moaning of Arctic winds through rocky passages, the lullabies of tides on gravel shores, the falsetto trilling of 1,200 lb Elk, the songs of whales, and the soul enchanting communal howls of wolves.  I’ve had eight Huskies, seven at one time.  I thrilled in the evenings when I could sit in the yard with them and start a group howl, even if they sometimes looked askance at some of my notes. Screw the neighbors. This is life.  Riding my roan mare bareback across the pasture, Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture flowing through my mind, I was sure I could feel her move from trot to canter to gallop in tune with the music in my mind.  Sitting nights in a bamboo grove as the breeze moves the leaves high above one wonders at the popping, cracking sounds of the ground level stalks.  Is that the music of the grove, the movements of Pathet Lao guerrillas, or a tiger out for a midnight meal? Following a significant head injury I had an MRI.  The technicians gave me ear plugs, but warned that some people could not tolerate the “racket”.  I found myself thrilled by the knocking, clacking and thumps of the machine and could have stayed in it much longer.

But as early as Francis Bacon (De Augmentis Scientiarum, 1623), in which he wrote: “For you have but to follow and as it were hound nature in her wanderings and you will be able, when you like, to lead and drive her afterwards to the same place again…Neither ought a man to make scruple of entering and penetrating into these holes and corners, when the inquisition of truth is his sole object” the coming Industrial societies would see Nature as inanimate and there for the taking.  The Christian cleric William Derham (Physico-Theology, 1713) wrote: We can, if need be, ransack the whole globe, penetrate into the bowels of the earth, descend to the bottom of the deep, travel to the farthest regions of this world, to acquire wealth.”

Long before I read Teilhard de Chardin’s  Hymne de l’Univers I had dismissed the idiotic idea of afterlife being an eternal process of strumming harps and singing praises to a Cosmic Egomaniac.  But, comforting myself with a plan to braid my harp strings into a noose, I was stopped by the question: How does one hang oneself in heaven?  de Chardin, a Jesuit paleontologist and geologist, was a mystic who heard and described “the music of the spheres”. Of course, he was branded by the Church and science alike until his recent rehabilitation by the Church.

In reading de Chardin I heard the hymn as a cosmic, joyous celebration of Being, a spontaneous expression of At Onceness, the true Trinity of omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence in One.  But as I listen now I hear it as a Requiem, a heartbreaking dirge as Mother Gaia succumbs to the virulent melanoma known as Homo sapiens exploitensis burrowing into her veins, sucking out her fluids to burn on the altar of greed.

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11 Comments
  1. Marco, I have never been one to pick favorites, but this piece might have changed that. I love that you wrote about music. However, it is so much more than that. Weaving some of your experiences into this was genius. And if it is possible, your writing keeps getting better. I’m stunned.

    There is so much I want to say. You help us “live” vicariously with the manner by which you write. I feel as though I’m there with you. I’m so relieved your “paintings” aren’t stacked and gathering dust behind doors, but here for us to enjoy.

    This is wonderful:

    “Sitting nights in a bamboo grove as the breeze moves the leaves high above one wonders at the popping, cracking sounds of the ground level stalks. Is that the music of the grove, the movements of Pathet Lao guerrillas, or a tiger out for a midnight meal?”

    By the way, I adore an MRI. I’ve had 3 or 4, and I’m puzzled when people say they take a relaxant beforehand. I too enjoy all of the “snap, crackle, pops,” and become so relaxed on my own that I go to sleep. Perhaps it’s a little bit like being a fetus; who knows?

    When people ask me what has helped me through all of the difficult times in my life, the answer is always music. Even at New Bethany Home as a teenager, I could lose myself in the music there, which was very different than the music I had previously experienced in any church. Sure, it was “old time gospel” quartets and such (a genre I typically despise). But the sound of Miss Celia’s singing voice would transport me away from the misery and pain there. She was a 22 year old staff member and a remarkably gifted singer/songwriter/musician who could have easily made a fortune in music elsewhere.

    I would love to hear some of the traditional Indian music you described. I haven’t mediated in quite some time, but perhaps that would act as inspiration to get me going again.

    Right now I’m listening to the music of the birds in the pine trees outside my bedroom window, along with the very best music of all: Billie’s rhythmic snoring, which is combined with occasional deep sighs and loud, contented groans.

    Thank you for this marvelous story.

  2. Thank you so much, Dana. I know you can see I thrive on bringing thoughtful experiences to light. As I was re-reading this I thought of a 1989 visit to the Grand Canyon. As I walked along one rim I “heard” Ferde Grofe’s Grand Canyon Suite in my mind and could not help “feeling” Marguerite Henry’s Brighty of the Grand Canyon walking along with me, that little smile on his face. While staring out at the distant rim, appearing as if it were another planet moving quietly alongside I asked a Ranger about an odd murky mist rolling in. “Pollution from Los Angleles.” I had started my long trip from there, and was on my way back. And, wandering the mountains of Virginia – not for pleasure, I mentally played through Aaron Copleand’s Appalachian Spring, a most joyful piece. Yet, the mountains were stained brown with dead trees from acid rain. Music in harmony with Nature can be so joyous, until Man has his way.

    I’m glad you found peace in Miss Celia’s singing, despite the horrors being visited upon you. I will try to find the Indian music I cited and send you some.

    • Thank you Marco. I’m about to listen to it in order to relax after a fitful night.

      Yesterday in Alpharetta I saw a large area of trees eaten away by acid rain, and thought of this blog. There was one beautiful tree in the midst of the rest, with branches that were gnarled and twisted. As you know, I connect with trees, and this one seemed lonely. I hope it has birds who keep it company.

      Music is the soundtrack of our lives. This can be wonderful at times when feeling nostalgic. Yet I also periodically rid my collection of music that evokes sadness or pain because of various reminders. I think it is benficial to follow some of the principles of Feng Shui even in this area.

      I think about our book writing dreams often. There must be people who would want to hear what we three have to say.

      • Dana. I couldn’t find the really good material on the web. I do have a couple of record albums I picked up. They aren’t in the best shape after all these years and thousands of miles of moving. If you have a turntable, let me know.

        I’m sure we could produce a very worthwhile book. The biggest problem is finding a publisher. Don’t want to fund it myself.

  3. Once again your imagery is incredible, transporting me with you on your travels. Your words seem to rise and fall along with the music I sense is in your head, and they are beautiful.

    My own travels have been quite limited when compared with your own, but it is the music remembered from those places which bring the warmest memories. When I lived in Italy (before we met), I had a neighbor who played accordion. Even though it seems cliché, I could not have imagined a sound more Italian than that which greeted me in the garden as he played. When I visited Venezia many years later, it is the memory of our singing gondolier which makes me smile. In Turkey, it was waking up to the morning call to prayer. I, too, learned to love the sounds of the music of the Middle East; so alive and sensual.

    The music of my youth was American country; it’s all I heard until my teen years. I enjoy most types of music, and find myself taken away by both classical and new-age music. The best music (other than Gregorian Chant) has no human voice.

    When my granddaughter was only about fifteen months old, I was surprised to hear her humming the “Blue Danube” waltz. She and I sing together often, and thus the joy of music is perpetuated.

    • Thanks so much, Rose. Wouldn’t it be grand if we could conjure a concert of our memories? In the face of so much expression across the world I feel distinctly untalented. But my deep appreciation is not diminished. I’m certain we are all looking forward to you writing about your travel memories, and the beauty of your prose in recalling them.

      What’s that saying? Dance like there’s no one watching.

      • Never having heard you sing, I cannot vouch for your vocal abilities. However, if a symphony could be composed of words, you would be considered a maestro. My dear friend, I would dance to your music anytime.

      • My Huskies weren’t impressed, but I can only imagine a book co-authored with you and Dana.

      • Now, that sounds like fun!!!

  4. Mike Stamm permalink

    I am absolutely agog at how much experience you have managed to incorporate into your life. Using even part of it to frame your discussion of music was a stroke of something perilously close to genius. Thanks to a “Music Memory Program” (or some title along that line) when I was in grade school–at the end of a given year we got to go on a field trip for a concert in Cloewes Hall in Indianapolis–I was gifted with an appreciation for classical and other-than-rock-and-roll music when I was young, and have tried to expand on it since, but by comparison I am a rank amateur. This piece is simply wonderful.

    • Thank you so much, Mike. As trite as it sounds, I really am truly humbled by your words, and so deeply happy I brought a moment of joy, wonder, and meaningful recollection to you. Thank you again.

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