I gotta have my orange juice.

Jesu, Juva

Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

The Piano

leave a comment »

When I am stuck in writing a book, when I am stuck in a problem in life, if I go to the piano and play Bach for an hour, the problem is usually either resolved or accepted. I find, as I grow older, that I turn less to the romantics and more to the baroque composers, though they’ve always been my favorites. In college I asked if I could learn something with more feeling in it, and my professor gave me some Chopin. What I had really been wanting, of course, was Bach.

And I did, years earlier, discover counterpoint for myself. We were visiting my grandmother in the South. What I remember most about her big old house was that there was a small conservatory, always green-smelling and warm, and that there were birds in it; and I remember her white, cluttered bedroom, off which was a screened sleeping porch entirely surrounded by trees covered with Spanish moss and filled with the singing of birds; and I remember the music room, with double doors leading to the living room. I spent a lot of time there, the doors closed, and one evening after dinner I was leafing through some old music and came across a rondeau by Rameau. I hadn’t been taking piano lessons for more than a year or so, and I will never forget the shock of joy with which I heard my left hand repeating what my right hand had been doing, heard both hands together, one starting the melody, the second coming in with it: the feeling of discovery, of sheer bliss, is still vivid.

Here in Crosswicks we have my mother’s piano. It is older than I am, has become difficult to tune, is not always predictable. Keys stick. Notes do not always sound when struck. When we moved back to New York for the winters it was clear that the piano would not stand another transition. In any case, we did not want to empty the house completely; it still had to be Crosswicks.

For a while we lived in a lovely but almost empty apartment. My mother came up from the South to visit, and one day she said, “You do miss a piano, don’t you?” Yes, I did. Desperately. We kept our eyes and ears open for a second-hand piano, and eventually found one which Mother bought for me. It was not a great piano, but neither am I a great pianist. For a good many years it was perfectly adequate. Then it got to the point where the bass sounded dead and the treble sounded tinny, and tuning didn’t help at all.

One evening we were at Tallis’s for dinner. The friend who had cashed Emily Brontë’s check and I were with him out in the kitchen. Hugh was coming up after rehearsal; had he been there he probably would have shut me up, but I was beefing about the piano, and said, “If one of your ritzy friends is breaking up a big house and wants to dispose of a piano, I’m in the market.”

The following Sunday after church we were again up in Tallis’s apartment, and he staggered us by announcing, “Madeleine, I’ve decided to give you my piano.”

Hugh’s response was, “You can’t! Where will you put your pictures?” For the top of the piano was covered with dozens of photographs—friends, godchildren, people from all over the world, famous and infamous, majah, minah . . .

The piano is a Steinway grand. It came to Tallis from Austin Strong, the playwright. It has been played by Paderewski and Rachmaninoff. It has also almost undoubtedly been played by my mother, though none of us knew this at the time. Austin Strong was a friend of my father’s; they were of the same generation, and they saw each other weekly at the Players Club. My mother was a splendid pianist, and one of my earliest memories is hearing her run through an opera score while friends from the Met stood around the piano and sang.

The piano is now in our living room in New York. Tallis quite often remarks that things know where they belong. And The Piano is quite definitely an icon. I am convinced that the fact that Paderewski and Rachmaninoff have played it affects my own playing; the first night it was in our apartment I took my bath while Hugh walked the dogs, but instead of going to bed, I wrapped myself in a huge towel and, unable to resist, went to the piano. When Hugh came in he began to fumble with the dials on the radio-phonograph control, which are out in the hall by the front door. “What are you doing?” I asked him. He answered in surprise, “Are you playing? I thought it was WQXR.” Such was the effect of The Piano.

Madeleine L’Engle, A Circle of Quiet, 165-167

Written by Scott Moonen

January 27, 2020 at 7:06 pm

Posted in Books, Music, Quotations

Hear Ye

leave a comment »

My friend Michael and I exchanged our recent listening. Here’s what I’m listening to these days:

Written by Scott Moonen

October 29, 2019 at 1:12 pm

Posted in Books, Miscellany, Music

Rehearsal

leave a comment »

A theme, a melody, is a definite statement in tones—and apparently music can never have enough of saying over again what has already been said, not once or twice, but dozens of times; hardly does a section, which consists largely of repetitions, come to an end before the whole story is happily retold over again.

How is it that a procedure which, in any other form of expression, would produce sheer nonsense proves, in the language of music, to be thoroughly sensible—to such an extent that rehearing what has already been heard is one of the chief sources—for many, the chief source—of the pleasure given by music?

Victor Zuckerkandl, Sound and Symbol. HT: John Barach

Written by Scott Moonen

May 12, 2019 at 8:47 am

Posted in Music, Quotations, Worship

Singing and slaying

with 2 comments

The Rohirrim sing oft in battle:

Merry and Pippin heard, clear in the cold air, the neighing of war–horses, and the sudden singing of many men. The Sun’s limb was lifted, an arc of fire, above the margin of the world. Then with a great cry the Riders charged from the East; the red light gleamed on mail and spear.

And much later:

And then all the host of Rohan burst into song, and they sang as they slew, for the joy of the battle was on them, and the sound of their singing that was fair and terrible came even to the City.

See also: Worship is warfare, Treebeard, Worship is warfare (2)

Written by Scott Moonen

December 9, 2018 at 7:31 pm

A god too great for the sky

with one comment

This weekend our small group enjoyed our second annual caroling in downtown Fuquay.

IMG_8361

Merry Christmas!

Written by Scott Moonen

December 24, 2017 at 9:31 pm

Current events

leave a comment »


Fit to Burst is free for Kindle this weekend. It’s not just for moms!

We’re extremely excited that Jamie Soles’s new album is almost ready!

At the moment there are still about 80 tickets remaining for the Andrew Peterson Christmas concert in Durham. You should join us there.

Written by Scott Moonen

November 21, 2015 at 6:47 pm

Posted in Books, Current events, Music

Tragic

with one comment

A friend pointed me to a commentary on contemporary worship by Carl Trueman. Trueman suggests that “Christian worship should immerse people in the reality of the tragedy of the human fall and of all subsequent human life.” He commends the Scottish tradition and its “somber tempos of the psalter, the haunting calls of lament, and the mortal frailty of the unaccompanied human voice.”

I’m not a fan of happy-clappy worship, but I believe that Trueman errs on the wrong side. To be fair, Trueman wants tragedy to be woven together with joy and triumph. I agree that we should cover the whole emotional and experiental palette of the Psalms (I would suggest covering all the Psalms themselves). But I raise my eyebrows at “somber” and think that we should err on the side of being outright Pentecostal.

Here’s why: Whatever balance we strike, death cannot become a primary emphasis; it needs to fit properly in a broader story arc that exults, “O death, where is your sting?” History itself is a comedy (in the technical sense) rather than a tragedy, and if we want the worship service to tell the gospel story, then it may have a sense of agon-contest, but will always move towards and culminate in an exuberant, matrimonial, comedic denouement. We worship on Sunday rather than Friday or Saturday: every Lord’s day is a miniature Easter. Also, if our Lord’s-day worship is an assembly and meal in the very presence and house of our king and husband, then something like Nehemiah 8:9-12 should apply (“do not mourn or weep . . . do not be grieved”), at least for the vast majority of worship services. Consider, too, the ratio of feasts to fasts in the old covenants. To mention but one important precedent, the Sabbath was a weekly feast (Lev. 23:1-3).

While a rock band might not be appropriately majestic for the king (compare the bizarre and unbecoming James Bond sequence in the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony), neither is a dirge:

So David and the elders of Israel and the commanders of thousands went to bring up the ark of the covenant of the Lord from the house of Obed-edom with rejoicing. And because God helped the Levites who were carrying the ark of the covenant of the Lord, they sacrificed seven bulls and seven rams. David was clothed with a robe of fine linen, as also were all the Levites who were carrying the ark, and the singers and Chenaniah the leader of the music of the singers. And David wore a linen ephod. So all Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of the Lord with shouting, to the sound of the horn, trumpets, and cymbals, and made loud music on harps and lyres.

And as the ark of the covenant of the Lord came to the city of David, Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David dancing and celebrating, and she despised him in her heart. — 1 Chronicles 15:25-29

We should take notes from David and not Michal on how we are to behave when we have an audience and meal with the king of kings.

See also: Ascent.

Written by Scott Moonen

May 17, 2013 at 5:01 pm