Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A (long) personal overview of A Christmas Carol

I've mentioned A Christmas Carol here once or twice before, but not much, even though it's taken up a great deal of my life over the last three months. 
It’s a somewhat curious opera in that almost all the chorus have specific roles, big or small, on top of their chorus work, so that there’s a requirement for the chorus members to be good singers as well as the principals. James Adams, playing Scrooge, the lead, has no aria to speak of ˗ when he’s onstage by himself he mostly sings a kind of recitative; the only ‘song’ he has is right towards the end, and it lasts less than a minute. Otherwise he sings in duets, mostly, and briefly in a quartet. But even most of these sections are not big sings; for a great deal of the opera he’s on the sidelines looking on, and commenting, or emoting with his mouth closed. Which makes it a difficult role. 
His opening piece, which is shared with Fred and his wife, Bob Cratchit and the chorus, is a tongue-twisting thing. Even though its tempo is a slow 12/8, Scrooge often sings long runs of semiquavers within it.
The rest of the principals are also mostly involved in ensemble music of some kind or other. Ben Madden plays Cratchit, and appears only during three consecutive numbers early in the first half, with only a small amount to sing; then he vanishes until halfway through the second, when he’s part of the Cratchit family ensembles. Marley’s ghost, played by Alex Lee, only appears in one scene, where he’s involved in two ensemble pieces, and curiously, is the only person listed with an ‘aria’. And a jazz one, at that. Alex spends his time in the chorus in the second half. He and Nathaniel Otley were present at all the chorus rehearsals and learned most of the chorus music. 
Nathaniel is probably one of the busiest performers in the show, mainly because of what he’s been cast as. He starts off as one of the three drunks, so is involved in both the chorus work at the beginning as well as the drunks’ trio. Then he appears as the solo fiddler at the Fezziwigs’ party, and plays two dances (from memory). Finally, in Act Two, he becomes the Ghost of Christmas Present and spends the rest of the opera in that role (in a wonderful green cloak, with a huge Christmas wreath on his head). He has a great bass voice ˗ still young (he’s not yet twenty) ˗ and holds his own well with the two female ghosts. 
The first of these, Ingrid Fomison-Nurse as the Ghost of Christmas Past, has some very high lines, often with words that are difficult to get across easily. The same applies to the Ghost of Christmas Future, played by Lois Johnston. Much of her music is slow, though often over fast-moving orchestral stuff, and isn’t easy to communicate. Composers have to tread a fine line between setting words too fast or too slowly. Philip Norman, the composer of the opera, has chosen to go to both extremes at times, making it quite difficult for some of the cast. Both the ghost ladies do an admirable job, however.
Another singer who has to contend with a lot of words in a short space of time is Nicola Steel as the Charity Collector. Her music is lovely, but it moves swiftly, and Nicola does very well to get the words across in the short space of time they're allotted (!) Nicola introduces the children onto the stage, with their plaintive Alms for the poor number. The children later have a scene entirely to themselves, and it's organised chaos, with games of tag and such going on. In spite of that, in a moment, it seems, the kids can be all in back in place and marching together - and singing together, which is even more important!
Fred, played by Matariki Inwood, is initially part of the chorus, then transforms in the blink of an eye. In the process he suddenly acquires Mrs Fred ˗ played by Caroline Burchall. (Caroline stepped into the role late in the proceedings after another performer had to pull out.) Caroline began the rehearsals as one of the eight dancers, and still appears as a dancer in other scenes. Matariki has a great voice with great potential, but has no solo to speak of. However he particularly comes into his own in the second half at ‘Fred’s party’, when he spoofs Scrooge’s behaviour.
The other two drunks (besides Nathaniel) are Geoff Swift and Sarah Oliver. Geoff also plays Mr Fezziwig, and acquired a new ‘wife’ the night of the last dress rehearsal. Brenda Jones had  been playing her, but became very ill with the ‘flu, and hasn’t been able to perform since. Kathryn Constable took over the role, but couldn’t cover Brenda’s other ‘role’ as one of the quartet in the ‘poorly dressed townspeople’ piece because she was already singing in it! So Sarah Oliver sings it. And all three still sing in the chorus numbers.
Lilian Gibbs plays Belle ˗ Scrooge’s young love ˗ and Keiran Kelly is young Scrooge. They have a lovely duet as well as being part of Fezziwigs’ party, and being involved in most of the chorus numbers. So many of the chorus sing more than the principals. The chorus tells the story, really, and have several chunks of big stuff. There are also two quintets, an octet and a nonet that the chorus cover. So a great deal of good singing is required by the chorus, and they’ve come to the party with enthusiasm.
Young Jesse Hanan, who plays Scrooge as a boy, gets one of the few real solo pieces, a beautiful song about loneliness. It’s not long, but it’s very effective. Equally moving is Tiny Tim’s solo, a ‘thanksgiving’ for all the family’s blessings. This same song becomes his funeral dirge a few scenes later, and is even more moving at that point.
The Cratchit family is a delight. This is the only time Göeknil Meryem Biner (to give her her full
name as listed in the programme ˗ she’s the pianist Tom McGrath’s wife) appears apart from the Finale. She leads the Cratchit family’s first ensemble number (sung without Bob, who arrives for the next ensemble), and her terrific family, who all have individual bits to sing, and are very busy at the same time with the preparation of the Christmas meal, are terrific. The children are sung by two of the young adults, Madi Dow and Sarah Hubbard, along with four actual children: Samuel Kelly (as Peter Cratchit) and Massimo Pezzuto and Ayla Biner-McGrath as the unnamed pair of children. Tiny Tim (Joseph Kelly) completes the family, arriving with Bob for the second number. The music for this group is a delight, being amongst the best in the show.
There are two ‘waifs’ ˗ Sam Meikle, who looks well-fed enough, really (!) and Ozan Biner-McGrath, who happens to look skinny! Their brief cry of ‘Feed me’ is only just audible under a fairly noisy orchestral section as well as the singing of Nathaniel. However, they mostly have to look as though they’re at death’s door, and they do that well.
Finally there’s Grace Hill. She’s part of the children’s chorus (some thirty of them) but she also plays the fiddler in a couple of the early scenes, accompanying the carollers. Confusingly, there are two sets of carollers in our production. Not quite sure why, except that one group in the score is listed as a quartet and the other as a quintet. In fact both of them are quintets in this production for various reasons!
There’s a minimalist set: two windows and a door with a profile of 19th century London across the back reaching to about chest height. Everything else is achieved by lighting (which is very good, as far as I can see from the pit). I was a bit dubious about the lack of scenery at first, but my daughter, after seeing the show, said it looks very effective. Above the door is a clock, which at other times shows the sign, Scrooge and Marley, and also at least one of the ghost’s face ˗ Marley’s, I think, though I haven’t actually been able to see that as yet. I’m not even sure how this is done: it’s obviously some sort of electronic device, but I don’t know what. I’ll have to ask.
Scrooge’s bed is, for some reason, enormous. When it first appeared late in the rehearsals it looked as though it was going to take over the proceedings, but the director worked around it without too much concern. Other than that there’s little else in the way of furniture: a park bench for the drunks, a chaise longue at Fred’s party, and a table and some chairs for the Cratchits.
Christine Douglas has done a great job with the directing. The chorus was worked with extensively to bring out character and detail, so that things are kept alive and lively every time they’re on. They never just ‘stand and sing.’ And in other scenes, such as the two parties, and the Cratchit family meal preparation, there’s a heap of things going on. I’d like to be able to see it all, but unfortunately have only my memories of what I saw during rehearsal to go on. I don’t play during every piece in the show, so I can watch some of it, but there are great chunks that I never see now.
The costumes are wonderful. Considering that there were around eighty people to dress (including the dancers) Brenda Rendall has done an extraordinary job. There’s an authenticity about all the costumes; they fit, they’re colourful, and there’s a lot of detail. Both men and women have wonderful hats: not just top hats, but bowlers and even a pork pie for one of the men. The women have all manner of caps and bonnets. Plus cravats, shawls, aprons: you name it. What a job it must have been pulling all these items together. On top of this there’s a make-up artist who does most of the performers each night, and a hairdresser, who does most of the women’s hairstyles. So it’s a busy, busy production.
The music is played by four keyboardists, rather than an orchestra. We don’t each stick to any one group of instruments all the way through, but get to share things. Two of us play a triangle, for instance (a real one, not an electronic one), and most of us swap wind instruments and strings around. I don’t get to play piano, and I seem to have a lot of oboe, but I share the xylophone and celesta. At one point Sandra Christie is providing thunder while I’m adding in a rowdy wind sound. I’m fortunate that I have a keyboard that can be set up in advance so that it’s literally a press of the button to change a sound, but two of the others have a different model that requires the pressing of three buttons in sequence to get the next sound ˗ similar to what my own electronic piano at home requires. I think it’s probable that they could also have been set up in an easier way, but they’ve chosen to go this route, and it’s working. The third keyboardist, Moriah Osborne, has the same model as me, but she’s using it differently: turning one wheel to get the class of instrument and then another wheel to find the specific one she wants. Apparently she has time to do this. I only have to do it once, when I play one note on timpani (!). I find it a bit of a rush, personally. Ihlara McIndoe is the fourth instrumentalist. 
What of the music itself? It’s quite varied, from near-musical comedy to full-on operatic, and there are some quirky moments that could come from anywhere. A lot of it is very catchy, with syncopated rhythms, and much of it gets used at least more than once, so that the audience isn’t hit with an endless stream of new musical ideas to grasp. It certainly requires a lot of good singers; none of the small roles can easily be taken by people who aren’t up to the mark. We’ve been very fortunate in the cast we’ve got, I think. And our young conductor, Tim Carpenter, has all the energy required to keep the thing moving at a good pace.

Update: I only realised I'd missed out Shona Bennett's name when she made a comment on Facebook about this post. Shona is the choreographer for the show, and had already choreographed the dance pieces that were set in the score when we began production rehearsals. But then Christine George, the director, wanted the dancers included in other scenes, and Shona quietly slotted them in, gaven them additional steps where necessary, trained chorus members - on the spot - how to dance in one or two scenes, and in general was an enormous asset to the production. This is apart from her being warm and friendly, full of smiles, and plainly having bundles of energy - and being shorter than I am. I only mention that because not everyone is....and she made the dancers' costumes. Does the woman sleep?
I should also add that Judy Bellingham took the chorus and small role music rehearsals with flair, enthusiasm (I'd come home absolutely whacked from playing for her rehearsals!), and in spite of claiming not to be a conductor, did an admirable job of pretending to be one. John Drummond also had a considerable part to play, early on. (He's the father of the young man, Jonathan, who conducted my own production, Grimhilda! back in 2012.) John took the original score and set it out so that it was playable by the four keyboardists. There are a couple of moments in my part that I wish he'd given to one of other keyboardists (and the same probably applies to the other players), but in general I enjoy what's been allotted to me.
Every time I add something here, you can see just how much additional work has gone into this show, work you're not aware of.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016


Philip Norman
Work on the neverending book, The Disenchanted Wizard, has sludged to a halt again, though we're only inches (yards, metres?) from the finish line. I've been so busy with working on Opera Otago's production of Philip Norman's A Christmas Carol, that my brain is struggling to think about the book. Rehearsals every evening, and afternoons on the weekend as well, plus keyboard rehearsals - three so far, and two more to come - plus practice at home for the bits I can't play properly, plus being at home alone because my wife is in the UK attending to an unwell sister, and I'm having to do all the housework and feed myself. (No biggie, really. I do both of these regularly anyway! Just thought I'd throw that in.)

A note comes up on Gmail notifications regularly, telling me not to procrastinate on the book. But procrastinating is what I'm doing. Of course there's time to work on it; I'm just using all the above as excuses, because even though we're close to the finish line, there are some difficulties I have to deal with, and I'm not a person who's enthusiastic about difficulties.

There's only one way to overcome difficulties in writing, and that's to write. Deb Vanesse says, in her book, What Every Author Should KnowI hate saying this, out of fear of jinxing myself, but I’ve never suffered from writer’s block, which is in part a writer’s term for procrastination, often connected to your fears of vulnerability and failure. Once you call those fears out for what they are, you can write your way through pretty much any stuck point, and the bigger problem may become forging ahead with a project when you should have stopped to assess whether it was heading in the best possible direction.

And in a similar vein, Steven Pressfield, in his book, The War of Art, writes: Procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance because it's the easiest to rationalize. We don't tell ourselves "I'm never going to write my symphony." Instead we say "I am going to write my symphony; I'm just going to start tomorrow." [He uses the word 'resistance' to signify all those things that appear to stand in the way of our producing good creative work.]

So there you go. Having been told off by Gmail, by Vanesse and Pressfield, I'll go off and....walk the dog.

Update, later the same day: After going on about procrastinating on the book earlier today, I must have prodded myself into gear, and by late afternoon, I'd done the revision work that was needed. And of course it wasn't nearly as difficult as I'd thought it would be. So Progress!

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Fat amplification

In our church - like many churches, I suspect - we've had lots of changes in the music area over the nearly twenty-eight years we've been there. Originally there was just an organ, with occasional use made of a piano as well. Gradually the organ was superseded by piano, drums, guitar and various other instruments as the musicians came and went. The organist decided it was time to give up and went elsewhere - sadly - but it was increasingly obvious that not only was the time delay between the acoustic instruments and the organ a problem, but also the pitch aspect: it's hard to tune to an organ at the best of times, and quite honestly the other musicians weren't dead keen to do so. And it depended on whether the piano stayed in tune with the organ anyway. 

I played piano in the church for probably around twenty years (after having played it in our previous church for something like thirteen years). Eventually I was eased out in favour of keyboards. I wasn't impressed at the time, as the organist hadn't been in her day, but c'est la vie. So it goes. I think I'm reconciled now! 

With the increasing use of instruments that required amplifiers, we saw a whole range of amplifiers come and go over the years, until it seemed that the amplifiers swamped everything else in the church. (Some days they literally swamped everything, if things weren't going according to Hoyle.)

In our new building, the amplification is more under control than it used to be in the old church, or in the two buildings we used over a nineteen-year period until we built ourselves a new place. The amplifiers in the picture, which seem large enough, are nothing compared to the couple of huge ones we had in our last place. I was glad to see the back of them, as were the guys who used to have to put them in place each Sunday morning. 

As you can see, these are from the Fender family - they're officially called the Fender Bandmaster. They're probably fairly hefty to shift around, which is what solid roadies are for, but presumably they also give out a hefty sound. 

Ah, the good old days of acoustic instruments, when they only thing you had to worry about was tuning....


Is there some new fad that requires books to be massive? I've been given two titles to review this week, both of them running to some 600 pages. The one I'm now halfway through could easily have told its story in half the space; there is a ton of surplus - interesting writing in its way, but not essential to the story, and only occasionally to the characters. One chapter I've just finished spends several pages on an inane conversation which quickly ceases to be funny because it becomes so laboured.

What are the editors thinking, I ask? Do they see large chunky books as the way to publish at present? I can tell you from experience that the weight of them is annoying (you can't take them in the bath, or read them in bed) and trying to keep them open even on a table is difficult. Because they're so tightly bound, they have to be forced back, with the possibility of breaking the spine.

Some of the best books I've read in the last few years have been around the 200 page, maybe 300 page mark. They don't waste time on inessentials, things that the author thinks are interesting but which annoy the reader. They get on with the story and are focused. 

Think of me...I've got another 900 pages still to go, and I'll have only finished two books...!

Somewhat quiet on this particular front

Things have been very quiet on here of late, for a number of reasons. We were away on holiday for a week, and the weekend before that, my daughter and her son moved out of our house - after eight years occupancy of the first floor. Sad to see them go, since my grandson has pretty much grown up here, but they're not far away, and we'll see them fairly regularly, I guess.

In the weeks before that, and again this week, I've been repetiteuring for Opera Otago's production of The Christmas Carol, an operatic version by New Zealand composer, Philip Norman. This has been full-on, with rehearsals every day of the week. I'm also going to be one of four keyboard players during the performances (the original orchestral score has been rearranged for the four of us), so that's another thing that's had to be worked on. Good for my brain and for the fingers, which need to keep working otherwise they stiffen up, but tiring nevertheless.

Just today the Production Manager was looking for a person to work on the sound for the show. I suggested the guy who did the sound for Grimhilda! back in 2012. He was very good, and very helpful. I'd like to say he'd be able to use a Behringer x32 to do the work, but I doubt if that's going to be likely. It'll be some old machine that's been around the theatre scene for a few years, I suspect. The Behringer is a super-modern digital affair and has all the bells and whistles. The photograph below probably doesn't do it justice:
So who was Behringer, you ask? (As I did myself.) His full name was Uli Behringer and he founded his audio equipment company in 1989. Not that long ago in historic terms, but probably centuries in audio terms. His original company has now become of the leaders in the field, marketing in a wide variety of countries. Here's another interesting bit of information (since I know you're keen to learn everything you can from this post). Behringer has perfect pitch; hence the 'ear' on his company's logo. 

There you go!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

You should pay no attention... those 'famous' writers who claim to be able to tell you how to write, and this includes really famous writers like Hemingway, and Orwell, when they say, constantly, A short word is better than a longer word. 

Nope, a short word is not necessarily better than a longer word. The English language has a wealth of both short and long words, but the former are used on a daily basis and become far to familiar to the ear to appear in place of much more interesting writing.

I'm going to give you two examples of perfectly acceptable and reasonably bestselling writers who ignore this silly rule. Firstly Reginald Hill, the writer of oodles of Dalziel (pronounced Dee-L, just to be annoying) and Pascoe crime novels, as well as a bunch of other books. Hill was a great experimenter, and seemed to take no concern that his audience might not find his experimentations as interesting as he did. I've started three or four Hill novels, including D & P ones, and given them up because his particular experiment on those occasions didn't appeal at all.

But when he writes well, he is top quality. One of my favourites in the D & P series is Exit Lines, which I've read in print form, and listened to via an audio version. (The audio version is narrated with marvellously apt tone by Colin Buchanan.) This book is full of wonderful writing, and quite a few extravagant uses of large words.

Hill takes great delight in taking the mickey out of the dour policeman, Wield. For example:
'Back door,' said Wield. 'Glass panel broken. Key in lock. Hand through. Open. Easy.'

Sergeant Wield was in fine telegraphic style.  He also seemed to have been practising not moving his lips, so that the words came out of his slant and ugly face like a ritual chant through a primitive devil-mask.
Wield looked at the new acquisition and raised his eyebrows, producing an effect not unlike the vernal shifting of some Arctic landscape as the sun sets an ice-bound river flowing once more through a waste of snows.

There are some wonderful moments of innuendo: 

'Be careful what you say,' objected Headingly. 'He's regarded as a respected member of the community.' 
'We've all got things we regard as respected members,' said Pascoe, 'but we're in trouble if we start flashing them around in public.'

But I began this post because of the use of large words. There are two particular occasions in this book when Hill throws in a totally unnecessary large word or two. Unnecessary, but wonderfully effective. 

The sudden switch away from Pascoe [by Dalziel] took Headingly by surprise and he choked on his beer. This occasioned a usefully cunctatory bout of coughing, but the therapeutic blow Dalziel administered between his shoulder-blades extended this to the nearer shores of death.
A female voice was raised in a reboant cantillation of obscene abuse. 

Cunctatory means prone to delay, reboant means resounding or reverberating loudly, cantillation is a ritual chanting of readings from Scripture, but it's obviously applied beyond that context.

The other writer, Sebastian Faulks, shows his love of language to great effect in his stylistically-near-perfect rendering of 'new' P G Wodehouse story featuring Bertie Wooster, and his inimitable manservant, Jeeves. The book is called Jeeves and the Wedding Bells. Jeeves, the character, has always been known for his love of the perfect word, long or short especially when he's responding to his seemingly dimwitted master. He's no different in this book. 

Early in the book, Bertie asks him: 
'Tallish chap, eyes like a hawk?'
'There was a suggestion of the accipitrine, sir.' 

Accipitrine: relating to or denoting birds of a family that includes most diurnal birds of prey other than falcons, New World vultures, and the osprey.

On another occasion he tells Bertie: 'One suspects that the path of true love has encountered some anfractuosity.'  This word means having many twists and turns. 

So, next time you read some 'famous' writer telling you to avoid long words, tell him or her to pull their head in. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Poor memories for weather

Last Sunday was a mild, pleasant day, one on which you could easily say, 'Winter is over,' or, as Solomon put it rather more poetically: 'For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth.'

Except that Solomon would have been wrong, as were two of our pastors that morning, who both got up and announced - one at some length - that Spring was begun. By mid-afternoon, the warmth had gone (rather than the Winter) and a nasty chill arose, and has continued on since. Today is blustery and wet, after drizzling most of yesterday. In other words, Winter has decided that it's not over and gone, and it has a fair bit more up its sleeve as yet. 

Which brings me to the question: how is it that people have such short memories when it comes to the weather? We'll have a wonderfully warm Summer followed by a lengthy mild Autumn, and a few weeks later people will be saying how miserable the Summer had been - just because Winter has arrived. 

We'll have a mild Winter, with no snow, and by Spring people are claiming it was the worst Winter ever...having conveniently forgotten the Winter of the previous year, in which it snowed ten times, 

Here in Dunedin when a bit of snow arrives everybody shuts up shop, especially the schools, who instantly proclaim a 'Snow Day', (hopefully they make it up later in the year.) When I was a kid, if it snowed, you walked to school, as I did one bitter morning. I arrived, rather late, only to be greeted with some derision by my classmates because I was allowed to stand shivering for a time in front of the one or two bar heater that the schoolroom possessed until some of the chill dissipated.

Nowadays no one would think of sending their little (or big) darlings out in the snow to walk to school. The fact that they stay home and play in the snow is neither here nor there. My mother used to talk about the Big Snow that settled in the city for I think several days, and when even the business district down at sea level was snowed in. Now that's a snowfall, and rare these days. 

In view of all this it's probably not surprising that Climate Change people get away with so much nonsense about increased flooding, severe weather, more tornadoes and the like. It's because people in general have such poor memories for weather conditions that the CC people can say what they want, and those with poor memories will believe them. If you want to know about weather go and ask a farmer. They're much more reliable. 

Saturday, August 20, 2016


There are a bunch of jobs going at Triangle Direct Media, a successful ten-year operation that provides marketing online. Hopefully one of these jobs will update its website, something that is long overdue. The site is very slow, and you have to use several mouse clicks to do some processes.
Still, I can't complain. TDM has provided me with some modest income for quite a long time. In fact, I may have been writing for them for almost as long as they've been going!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

If it's good enough for an expensive TV series

What I like about writing music is that you don't need to work out a plot. Of course you need some structure, but you don't need all the endless tinkering with action A so that it fits in with action B and so that it doesn't unravel action C, or leave unexplained loose-ends.

I'm still trying to finish The Disenchanted Wizard, which may soon be renamed The Disenchanted Author (though that doesn't have quite the same ring about it). I've probably said before in these blog posts that I always knew, somehow, that this would be a complicated story. I didn't know that it would be a story that required the author to lose much more of his hair than is compatible with keeping warm on top. My co-author/editor/jack-of-all-trades person keeps finding that having done something here causes problems there. I'm at the stage where I'd quite happily drive ahead and hope no one notices, but she doesn't work that way.

A typical publicity shot from Fortitude: note how
serious everyone looks. And cold. 
Apropos of that we've watched the first three episodes of Fortitude, a TV mystery series set on an island off the mainland of Iceland. The scenery is magnificent, especially if you like everything to be white or gray, and the cast are top notch. But even they must have some moments of bewilderment in regard to plot holes.

As so often happens with TV series, or even movies, you wonder why no one bothered to tidy up things that were left hanging. For instance, in Fortitude, a girl goes missing at one point early on. We weren't even sure which girl this was. It looked as though it might have been a child, because the story went from this girl getting her supplies from the supermarket pretty much onto what seemed to be a full-scale hunt for the missing person. Except that it wasn't the little girl, we eventually discovered (about an episode or two later). It was a woman, and she wasn't really missing anyway.

But what was weird about all this was the big missing-person-woman-hunt that was shown in one scene, with the main police character telling everyone 'We're paid to do this work, but you're not, so don't take risks.' Or something along those lines. People headed off with guns (because there are polar bears at large on this island - the first episode began with some poor fellow being eaten by one; yuk) and that was the last we heard about the woman-hunt. Next thing the police are back in their warm headquarters and the populace is back to their daily tasks, and the woman is apparently still missing but everyone seems to have forgotten this.

In another scene, the same policeman (who's a very dubious, and bullying, character) helicopters up the glacier with the search and rescue bloke (who spends more time making a fool of himself with a woman who isn't his wife than doing any search and rescue) in order to confront a couple of arrogant guys who've gone up there on snow-enabled-motorcycle-thingees. They confront them all right; the policeman takes the arrogant guy's handgun, leaves him his rifle (in case of polar bears, of course, because a handgun won't do any damage to a polar bear) and leaves them there on the glacier. Umm?

The handgun is then locked in a metal drawer in the policeman's office, and forgotten about. Until the arrogant guy turns up when everyone is conveniently out of the police station (there are at least four police people working there), breaks open the drawer (how he knows the gun is in there is something the writer never tells us), takes his gun and is off. The policeman never notices that his drawer has been broken into.

So with these sorts of things happening in highly expensive TV series why should bother me or my compatriot what happens to the plot holes in my book, which is basically costing nothing but my free time? I sometimes wonder.

Update, 21.8.16 I decided to give up watching the rest of the series (we were about 2/3 of the way through) last night because it had become increasingly violent and sadistic. Fortitude is like hell on earth: brutality is the order of the day, along with ambiguous behaviour, adultery, rape, you name it. This is apart from the spooky stuff as a result of which two violent murders take place by people apparently under the influence of - something. I guess it's revealed eventually what's behind all this, but I don't think I can hang on to find out. I had a particularly nasty nightmare last night. No doubt Fortitude isn't entirely to blame, but I'm not going to feed the flames any further...!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Arts versus Sports

It's annoyed me for years that the Arts in our newspapers get such short shrift compared to Sport. Oh, yes, we have two pages (on the same day, Thursday) each week, given over to the Arts. But wait, Sport not only gets a minimum of three or four pages per day, but a complete and separate section of its own on a Friday. 

Reviews of concerts and theatre events each get a minimum number of words (300) and even some of those may be cut at the sub-editor's discretion, if they get a review at all. And sometimes the reviews are so late that they're no use to someone making up their mind whether to go to a show or not. The Taieri Musical Theatre production of Grease which took place last week from Thursday to Saturday, with four performance in all, got a review, but it didn't appear until Monday this week, after the show had closed. This isn't unusual. 

So I was immensely pleased to see someone else commenting on this issue in today's paper. 

Letter to the Editor in the Otago Daily Times, 28.7.16, page 20.

The ODT (7.7.16) reported in just 87 words the outstanding clean sweep by the New Zealand Youth choir at a recent international competition in Pardubice, Czech Republic. The choir won all four categories and the Grand Prix.
Imagine if this [had] been given an All Blacks’ victory treatment. Front page, with a picture, it would have included: every piece of music the choirs sang, how many points were awarded in each category, the judges’ comments, which choir members had sore throats or mild colds, biographical details of “new caps” in the choir and performance statistics for those who had been in the choir before, comments on their training and preparation, and reactions to the win from singing teachers and choral experts. The conductor would be a household name.
Dreaming, I know, as apparently we are far more interested in reading 500 words on the naming of the Russian Olympic athletic team.

Rosemary McBryde, 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Expression marks

One of my jobs is to transcribe music onto Sibelius so that I can then shift the piece up or down a key or two. (In the old days, when music was still transcribed by hand, with a pen, this was a frustrating job, where you had to not only transcribe but also transpose at the same time.)

I've just done a three-page song which has only four expression marks for the pianist in it, and only one for the singer. There's an fp at the beginning, a couple of mfs and a crescendo mark for the pianist, and a crescendo mark for the singer. I suppose you could count a few odd staccatos and emphases marks as well, but they're fairly minor and hardly to be worried about.

Some songs I've done (I only transcribe songs for other people) have almost as many marks as this per bar, which makes the work of transcribing very tedious. It also means that the composer doesn't trust the singer and pianist to work out how to perform the song satisfactorily for themselves. Most experienced musicians and singers have a feel for how things should go, and don't need all this additional instruction. Most of it will be done instinctively, so for the composer to write it all out is just a bit pointless. Better for him or her to stick to the vital things, the changes of expression that aren't obvious from the music itself. 

It's a bit like a scriptwriter telling the actors in every line how they should say the words. Actors will ignore these things, unless, again, it's something that you wouldn't expect from the words themselves. Shakespeare never writes such stage directions, and people manage perfectly well to interpret his lines. The very few directions he does write are exits and entrances, and the occasional curious one that you'd never gauge from the rest of the script. In fact a lot of his stage directions are written into the dialogue, as it were, and can be worked out from there. 

Compositions are similar to scripts for plays, I feel. While there are purists that claim to know how every note should be played, it's really up to the performer in the end, and the majority of composers will give performers plenty of leeway on this. A very few don't seem to feel that performers have the first idea about how music should be 'done', and clutter up the page with more instructions than any performer will pay attention to in a lifetime of performing the work.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Dance to the Music of Time

I've been reading A Buyer's Market over the weekend. It's the second book in Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time, that astonishing twelve-book series produced over twenty-four years. 
Wonderful writing, though seemingly without any kind of plot. So how does Powell keep the interest up? Sheer word power, pulling us along by making us willing to hear a very interesting person writing about his experiences and the people he meets. Apparently a number of things do come together in a kind of plot in the last three books, but that’s quite some way down the track yet. 
Though it’s helpful to have read the first book, which I have done but can’t remember in much detail, I don’t think it’s essential. By reading on Kindle I can at least refer back and see which characters are referenced in the first book. It doesn’t seem to make much difference really. Once you understand that the books are primarily about four main characters, then all the other stuff is secondary. The way people come alive in these books is marvelous. 
The book is compared by a number of people on Goodreads to Proust’s famous book (variously entitled in English as Remembrance of Things Past or In Search of Lost Time; some prefer Proust, some Powell, some like both. Whatever the case, the vividness of the world created here is extraordinary.