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 transcribed 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 actors manage perfectly well to interpret his lines. The very few directions he does give 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. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016


Back in the late nineties, we used to watch an Australian TV programme called SeaChange. It's about a woman, a big city lawyer, whose world collapses - her husband gets had up for fraud, her sister has had an affair with the aforesaid husband, and the partnership the woman is aiming for is given to another woman, one known not to be as smart.

In a moment of madness and as a reaction to all that's come upon her, she accepts a job as town magistrate in Pearl Bay, a little town where life is much slower, where everyone supposedly knows everyone (and all their business) and where she has to relearn what life is all about.

We remember enjoying the programme, though we probably never saw all of it, as used to happen before the days of DVDs and Netflix and the like. Anyway, suddenly, after all these years, SeaChange has turned up on Netflix, and we're getting the chance to watch every episode.

It turns out to be every bit as good as we remembered; in fact, probably better, given that it's survived the nearly two decades since it was first shown, and only very occasionally has any cringe factor. Sigrid Thornton, as the lawyer, is excellent, showing a marvellous gift for comedy, and gradually discovering the warmth in her personality that's been hidden under the hyper-lawyer's ruthlessness. David Wenham, who wasn't nearly as well known then as he is now, is the laid-back jack of all trades, the one with something of a broken past, the man who's mostly as wise as he thinks, and sometimes far more foolish than he expects.

The supporting cast is brilliant. Thornton's two children are played by the then 15 or 16-year-old Cassandra Magrath, with Kane McNay as her younger brother. He was about 14 when the series started, but was short and looked 11 or 12. Both are spot on. Many of the rest of the regular cast inhabit their roles in such a way that you come to accept that this is who they really are.

John Howard plays the obnoxious and devious businessman whose deals are always a little iffy, and who has the idea that he runs the place. His wife is played by Kerry Armstrong as a dithering, flustered woman under the heel (mostly) of her husband. From memory, I think she gets a chance to play the worm that turns in a very late episode in the three season series.

Tom Long plays the court clerk who knows enough about the law to keep the place running, and even more about the people who come in front of the magistrate. He saves her bacon on a number of occasions. Kevin Harrington is the local odd-job man (he mostly hasn't much idea of how to do anything useful); he isn't very bright, but each episode, after the first (I think) ends with him giving his equally not-so-bright son a bit of his wisdom. It's like an abbreviated version of the silly joke sequence that takes place at the end of The Vicar of Dibley, except that here it often says a great deal in a very simple way, showing that being down-to-earth is a virtue rather than a failing. His son (who's about the same age as the magistrate's boy and who's good friends with him) is played by Christopher Lyons. The warmth between these two actors is a delight.

Sometimes the townsfolk are more annoying than pleasant, sometimes they win the day, sometimes the magistrate manages to. Relationships come and go, and secrets arise from the past, but nothing ever disturbs the ebb and flow of the Bay for very long. People here have the ability to cope with the changing moods and ups and downs of life without too much drama.

Incidentally, the episode we watched tonight, the oddly-named Balls and Friggin' Good Luck was one of the top-rated episodes of all the three seasons. It's about a young man who commits suicide - no one wants to state that this was what actually happened, but the magistrate has to face the facts that this was likely to have been the case. In spite of its difficult subject matter, it has a great deal of warmth and gentleness.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Meanings eluding me

If you see a phrase in this post that seems to lack good English language logic, don't be surprised. The Internet is full of surprises, and the lack of proper English is just one of them, though probably one of the minor ones.

Fender Telecaster musicians friend is a phrase which I've been trying to get to grips with for the last five minutes, and I'm wondering if it's poetry of some sort. I know what a Fender Telecaster is: an electric guitar (the kind that tends to obliterate other instruments when it's played). It's been around since the 1950s, apparently, and has been continually improved from its original state as a 'masterpiece of design and functionality.'

I'm not sure that the phrase Fender Telecaster musicians friend is a masterpiece of design and functionality, and the missing apostrophe annoys. It might work in its present state if translated into a foreign language where such curiosities are the norm. Maybe.

So is it poetry? After all poetry is a place where oddities of the language appear frequently. I came across just such a one this morning:

I've been puzzling since what 'a manifold honey' might be, or why the line seems so at odds with normal language. Often such lines come right after repeated readings of a poem, or after you've memorised it and it suddenly clarifies itself when you least expect it. (I find this with poems by Les Murray, often, although sometimes certain lines of his elude me entirely, lines such as 

I have a rough idea what it's about, in the context of the poem, but it's by no means straightforward. However, that's the sort of thing you've got to take with poetry; it inhabits a language world of its own, one in which it surprises you by juxtapositioning words that don't like sitting beside each other, or wrenching the grammar around in such a way that you can't figure out a verb from a noun.

So perhaps what I should do is jot Fender Telecaster musicians friend into a notebook or file, and keep it until one day it suddenly decides it's the basis of a poem. (Though I think I'll be obliged to include the apostrophe, or risk my sanity.)

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Eroica concert

Late this afternoon we went to the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra's Eroica concert, with Holly Matheson conducting. A bit of name-dropping here. When our children were still children, Holly and her family lived nearby. Holly was in the same school class as one of our boys, and my oldest girl was friendly with one of Holly's older sisters.

In the years since, Holly has gradually built up her musical CV and has conducted a number of orchestras not only here in her home town of Dunedin, but also overseas. I hadn't seen her on the podium previously, so it was good to catch her in action, as it were.

She has a kind of balletic style, often up on her toes, and with plenty of movement in her work, often showing by her gestures the kind of feel she wants from the orchestra. This was especially evident in the Bach, where she and the orchestra often seemed to move as one.

The concert this afternoon, which started at five - five was probably once a very fashionable time of day, but seems a bit odd in the New Zealand context - included two performances from Amalia Hall, violinist. She's also a New Zealander. Hall performed Bach's 1st Violin Concerto (accompanied only by the strings and David Burchell on harpsichord), and Saint-Saens' Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso. Both well-known pieces, and beautifully played, especially the second. (The tuning of the strings in the Bach seemed just a little edgy, but perhaps because it was the first piece for the evening, the orchestra was feeling its way.)

Between these two items were two rather undistinguished selections - or so it seemed to me. The first was Purcell's Suite for Strings, a collection of short pieces without any of Purcell's distinctive flavour. The second was a kind of also-ran piece: Paisiello's Overture to The Barber of Seville. This opera in its day was more popular than Rossini's version, but has gradually been superseded. If the overture is anything to go by, it's not surprising.

The only work in the second half was Beethoven's Eroica Symphony. The name relates to the fact that originally the symphony was dedicated to Napoleon, a man Beethoven much admired during the time he was writing the piece. However, after Napoleon proclaimed himself Emperor, Beethoven scratched out the dedication. The symphony isn't 'heroic' in any sense, though the second movement, a funeral march, could easily be seen as connecting to the funeral of some great person. There are various interpretations of the symphony, but a listener needs to take it on its own merits, which are many.

It was interesting to hear a live performance of it with a relatively small orchestra. All the wind parts were there, of course (including the three horns who have a delightful section to themselves in the third movement), but the strings were somewhat small in number: six firsts, four or five seconds, three or four violas (from where I was sitting it wasn't easy to gauge the exact numbers), four cellos and two basses. This is possibly not a small number in relation to the original performances of the piece, but we're used to large forces of strings in modern performances. The upside of this was that the detail from the wind and brass came across clearly, and there were many things that seemed unfamiliar, because they're usually absorbed by the big string sound. The downside was that the strings had to work hard to produce enough tone for the bigger moments.

All in all, however, an enjoyable concert, and a delight to see Holly at work.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Blame it on Ennui

This blog has been puzzling over why it's been pretty much ignored for some while...months, even. I'm not sure of the answer, except to say that on the whole blogging seems to have taken a back seat to...well, I'm not sure what.

This week I can account for: my wife wound up in the Emergency Dept of the hospital last Sunday with what turned out to be pneumonia (or 'pewmonia' as Mrs Map, in my book Grimhilda!, preferred to call it*). So she's been up and down, and more under the weather than on top of it for the last several days. And I had a bit of a funny health issue this week that reminded me of another of my books, Diary of a Prostate Wimp. Thankfully it turned out to be nothing serious, as far as I can tell. (This post isn't intended to be a plug for my books, by the way, although they are going at discount prices this month at Smashwords!)

So maybe I'm just over the blog thing. Maybe I'm writing too much elsewhere (I'm not sure where). Maybe I tend to mention things of interest on Twitter or Facebook and so they don't get mentioned here, as they would have done in the past.

Or maybe it's ennui. If all else fails, blame Ennui: he's got spine, he's got backbone, he can cope.

After that lengthy non-introduction, here's a slightly more positive note. There are three large sections to the book I'm currently writing: The Disenchanted Wizard. Finally, finally, I think the first and section sections are pretty much intact, give or take the occasional last minute tweaks. The third section, which I'm about to start to do more rewriting on, is structurally sound, and many things that are in it now will probably make it into the final book, in some form or other. So that's good news. This book has taken longer to write by about a year and a half than I expected. I always knew it would be a bit of a difficult fellow, but it's long since outlived my expectations on that score.

But I think once it's finished it will have been worth the wait. Time will tell...

*Thanks to the inventiveness of the original actress who played her in the stage version.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Smashwords Summer/Winter sale

July is Smashwords Summer/Winter sale month, and all three of my books are discounted for the month. Here's your chance to catch up on the two children's fantasy stories:

Grimhilda! a fantasy for children and their parents
The Mumbersons and the Blood Secret

and my non-fiction book: 

Diary of a Prostate Wimp

Just go to my profile page and you'll see the three titles listed towards the bottom of the page. Click on any of them and over to the right there's a discount box. And away you go!
Happy reading....