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O Sovereign power of love! O grief! O balm!
All records, saving thine, come cool, and calm,
And shadowy, through the mist of passed years:
For others, good or bad, hatred and tears
Have become indolent; but touching thine,
One sigh doth echo, one poor sob doth pine,
One kiss brings honey-dew from buried days.
The woes of Troy, towers smothering o'er their blaze,
Stiff-holden shields, far-piercing spears, keen blades,
Struggling, and blood, and shrieks--all dimly fades
Into some backward corner of the brain;
Yet, in our very souls, we feel amain
The close of Troilus and Cressid sweet.
Hence, pageant history! hence, gilded cheat!
Swart planet in the universe of deeds!
Wide sea, that one continuous murmur breeds
Along the pebbled shore of memory!
Many old rotten-timber'd boats there be
Upon thy vaporous *****, magnified
To goodly vessels; many a sail of pride,
And golden keel'd, is left unlaunch'd and dry.
But wherefore this? What care, though owl did fly
About the great Athenian admiral's mast?
What care, though striding Alexander past
The Indus with his Macedonian numbers?
Though old Ulysses tortured from his slumbers
The glutted Cyclops, what care?--Juliet leaning
Amid her window-flowers,--sighing,--weaning
Tenderly her fancy from its maiden snow,
Doth more avail than these: the silver flow
Of Hero's tears, the swoon of Imogen,
Fair Pastorella in the bandit's den,
Are things to brood on with more ardency
Than the death-day of empires. Fearfully
Must such conviction come upon his head,
Who, thus far, discontent, has dared to tread,
Without one muse's smile, or kind behest,
The path of love and poesy. But rest,
In chaffing restlessness, is yet more drear
Than to be crush'd, in striving to uprear
Love's standard on the battlements of song.
So once more days and nights aid me along,
Like legion'd soldiers.

                        Brain-sick shepherd-prince,
What promise hast thou faithful guarded since
The day of sacrifice? Or, have new sorrows
Come with the constant dawn upon thy morrows?
Alas! 'tis his old grief. For many days,
Has he been wandering in uncertain ways:
Through wilderness, and woods of mossed oaks;
Counting his woe-worn minutes, by the strokes
Of the lone woodcutter; and listening still,
Hour after hour, to each lush-leav'd rill.
Now he is sitting by a shady spring,
And elbow-deep with feverous *******
Stems the upbursting cold: a wild rose tree
Pavilions him in bloom, and he doth see
A bud which snares his fancy: lo! but now
He plucks it, dips its stalk in the water: how!
It swells, it buds, it flowers beneath his sight;
And, in the middle, there is softly pight
A golden butterfly; upon whose wings
There must be surely character'd strange things,
For with wide eye he wonders, and smiles oft.

  Lightly this little herald flew aloft,
Follow'd by glad Endymion's clasped hands:
Onward it flies. From languor's sullen bands
His limbs are loos'd, and eager, on he hies
Dazzled to trace it in the sunny skies.
It seem'd he flew, the way so easy was;
And like a new-born spirit did he pass
Through the green evening quiet in the sun,
O'er many a heath, through many a woodland dun,
Through buried paths, where sleepy twilight dreams
The summer time away. One track unseams
A wooded cleft, and, far away, the blue
Of ocean fades upon him; then, anew,
He sinks adown a solitary glen,
Where there was never sound of mortal men,
Saving, perhaps, some snow-light cadences
Melting to silence, when upon the breeze
Some holy bark let forth an anthem sweet,
To cheer itself to Delphi. Still his feet
Went swift beneath the merry-winged guide,
Until it reached a splashing fountain's side
That, near a cavern's mouth, for ever pour'd
Unto the temperate air: then high it soar'd,
And, downward, suddenly began to dip,
As if, athirst with so much toil, 'twould sip
The crystal spout-head: so it did, with touch
Most delicate, as though afraid to smutch
Even with mealy gold the waters clear.
But, at that very touch, to disappear
So fairy-quick, was strange! Bewildered,
Endymion sought around, and shook each bed
Of covert flowers in vain; and then he flung
Himself along the grass. What gentle tongue,
What whisperer disturb'd his gloomy rest?
It was a nymph uprisen to the breast
In the fountain's pebbly margin, and she stood
'**** lilies, like the youngest of the brood.
To him her dripping hand she softly kist,
And anxiously began to plait and twist
Her ringlets round her fingers, saying: "Youth!
Too long, alas, hast thou starv'd on the ruth,
The bitterness of love: too long indeed,
Seeing thou art so gentle. Could I ****
Thy soul of care, by heavens, I would offer
All the bright riches of my crystal coffer
To Amphitrite; all my clear-eyed fish,
Golden, or rainbow-sided, or purplish,
Vermilion-tail'd, or finn'd with silvery gauze;
Yea, or my veined pebble-floor, that draws
A ****** light to the deep; my grotto-sands
Tawny and gold, ooz'd slowly from far lands
By my diligent springs; my level lilies, shells,
My charming rod, my potent river spells;
Yes, every thing, even to the pearly cup
Meander gave me,--for I bubbled up
To fainting creatures in a desert wild.
But woe is me, I am but as a child
To gladden thee; and all I dare to say,
Is, that I pity thee; that on this day
I've been thy guide; that thou must wander far
In other regions, past the scanty bar
To mortal steps, before thou cans't be ta'en
From every wasting sigh, from every pain,
Into the gentle ***** of thy love.
Why it is thus, one knows in heaven above:
But, a poor Naiad, I guess not. Farewel!
I have a ditty for my hollow cell."

  Hereat, she vanished from Endymion's gaze,
Who brooded o'er the water in amaze:
The dashing fount pour'd on, and where its pool
Lay, half asleep, in grass and rushes cool,
Quick waterflies and gnats were sporting still,
And fish were dimpling, as if good nor ill
Had fallen out that hour. The wanderer,
Holding his forehead, to keep off the burr
Of smothering fancies, patiently sat down;
And, while beneath the evening's sleepy frown
Glow-worms began to trim their starry lamps,
Thus breath'd he to himself: "Whoso encamps
To take a fancied city of delight,
O what a wretch is he! and when 'tis his,
After long toil and travelling, to miss
The kernel of his hopes, how more than vile:
Yet, for him there's refreshment even in toil;
Another city doth he set about,
Free from the smallest pebble-bead of doubt
That he will seize on trickling honey-combs:
Alas, he finds them dry; and then he foams,
And onward to another city speeds.
But this is human life: the war, the deeds,
The disappointment, the anxiety,
Imagination's struggles, far and nigh,
All human; bearing in themselves this good,
That they are sill the air, the subtle food,
To make us feel existence, and to shew
How quiet death is. Where soil is men grow,
Whether to weeds or flowers; but for me,
There is no depth to strike in: I can see
Nought earthly worth my compassing; so stand
Upon a misty, jutting head of land--
Alone? No, no; and by the Orphean lute,
When mad Eurydice is listening to 't;
I'd rather stand upon this misty peak,
With not a thing to sigh for, or to seek,
But the soft shadow of my thrice-seen love,
Than be--I care not what. O meekest dove
Of heaven! O Cynthia, ten-times bright and fair!
From thy blue throne, now filling all the air,
Glance but one little beam of temper'd light
Into my *****, that the dreadful might
And tyranny of love be somewhat scar'd!
Yet do not so, sweet queen; one torment spar'd,
Would give a pang to jealous misery,
Worse than the torment's self: but rather tie
Large wings upon my shoulders, and point out
My love's far dwelling. Though the playful rout
Of Cupids shun thee, too divine art thou,
Too keen in beauty, for thy silver prow
Not to have dipp'd in love's most gentle stream.
O be propitious, nor severely deem
My madness impious; for, by all the stars
That tend thy bidding, I do think the bars
That kept my spirit in are burst--that I
Am sailing with thee through the dizzy sky!
How beautiful thou art! The world how deep!
How tremulous-dazzlingly the wheels sweep
Around their axle! Then these gleaming reins,
How lithe! When this thy chariot attains
Is airy goal, haply some bower veils
Those twilight eyes? Those eyes!--my spirit fails--
Dear goddess, help! or the wide-gaping air
Will gulph me--help!"--At this with madden'd stare,
And lifted hands, and trembling lips he stood;
Like old Deucalion mountain'd o'er the flood,
Or blind Orion hungry for the morn.
And, but from the deep cavern there was borne
A voice, he had been froze to senseless stone;
Nor sigh of his, nor plaint, nor passion'd moan
Had more been heard. Thus swell'd it forth: "Descend,
Young mountaineer! descend where alleys bend
Into the sparry hollows of the world!
Oft hast thou seen bolts of the thunder hurl'd
As from thy threshold, day by day hast been
A little lower than the chilly sheen
Of icy pinnacles, and dipp'dst thine arms
Into the deadening ether that still charms
Their marble being: now, as deep profound
As those are high, descend! He ne'er is crown'd
With immortality, who fears to follow
Where airy voices lead: so through the hollow,
The silent mysteries of earth, descend!"

  He heard but the last words, nor could contend
One moment in reflection: for he fled
Into the fearful deep, to hide his head
From the clear moon, the trees, and coming madness.

  'Twas far too strange, and wonderful for sadness;
Sharpening, by degrees, his appetite
To dive into the deepest. Dark, nor light,
The region; nor bright, nor sombre wholly,
But mingled up; a gleaming melancholy;
A dusky empire and its diadems;
One faint eternal eventide of gems.
Aye, millions sparkled on a vein of gold,
Along whose track the prince quick footsteps told,
With all its lines abrupt and angular:
Out-shooting sometimes, like a meteor-star,
Through a vast antre; then the metal woof,
Like Vulcan's rainbow, with some monstrous roof
Curves hugely: now, far in the deep abyss,
It seems an angry lightning, and doth hiss
Fancy into belief: anon it leads
Through winding passages, where sameness breeds
Vexing conceptions of some sudden change;
Whether to silver grots, or giant range
Of sapphire columns, or fantastic bridge
Athwart a flood of crystal. On a ridge
Now fareth he, that o'er the vast beneath
Towers like an ocean-cliff, and whence he seeth
A hundred waterfalls, whose voices come
But as the murmuring surge. Chilly and numb
His ***** grew, when first he, far away,
Descried an orbed diamond, set to fray
Old darkness from his throne: 'twas like the sun
Uprisen o'er chaos: and with such a stun
Came the amazement, that, absorb'd in it,
He saw not fiercer wonders--past the wit
Of any spirit to tell, but one of those
Who, when this planet's sphering time doth close,
Will be its high remembrancers: who they?
The mighty ones who have made eternal day
For Greece and England. While astonishment
With deep-drawn sighs was quieting, he went
Into a marble gallery, passing through
A mimic temple, so complete and true
In sacred custom, that he well nigh fear'd
To search it inwards, whence far off appear'd,
Through a long pillar'd vista, a fair shrine,
And, just beyond, on light tiptoe divine,
A quiver'd Dian. Stepping awfully,
The youth approach'd; oft turning his veil'd eye
Down sidelong aisles, and into niches old.
And when, more near against the marble cold
He had touch'd his forehead, he began to thread
All courts and passages, where silence dead
Rous'd by his whispering footsteps murmured faint:
And long he travers'd to and fro, to acquaint
Himself with every mystery, and awe;
Till, weary, he sat down before the maw
Of a wide outlet, fathomless and dim
To wild uncertainty and shadows grim.
There, when new wonders ceas'd to float before,
And thoughts of self came on, how crude and sore
The journey homeward to habitual self!
A mad-pursuing of the fog-born elf,
Whose flitting lantern, through rude nettle-briar,
Cheats us into a swamp, into a fire,
Into the ***** of a hated thing.

  What misery most drowningly doth sing
In lone Endymion's ear, now he has caught
The goal of consciousness? Ah, 'tis the thought,
The deadly feel of solitude: for lo!
He cannot see the heavens, nor the flow
Of rivers, nor hill-flowers running wild
In pink and purple chequer, nor, up-pil'd,
The cloudy rack slow journeying in the west,
Like herded elephants; nor felt, nor prest
Cool grass, nor tasted the fresh slumberous air;
But far from such companionship to wear
An unknown time, surcharg'd with grief, away,
Was now his lot. And must he patient stay,
Tracing fantastic figures with his spear?
"No!" exclaimed he, "why should I tarry here?"
No! loudly echoed times innumerable.
At which he straightway started, and 'gan tell
His paces back into the temple's chief;
Warming and glowing strong in the belief
Of help from Dian: so that when again
He caught her airy form, thus did he plain,
Moving more near the while. "O Haunter chaste
Of river sides, and woods, and heathy waste,
Where with thy silver bow and arrows keen
Art thou now forested? O woodland Queen,
What smoothest air thy smoother forehead woos?
Where dost thou listen to the wide halloos
Of thy disparted nymphs? Through what dark tree
Glimmers thy crescent? Wheresoe'er it be,
'Tis in the breath of heaven: thou dost taste
Freedom as none can taste it, nor dost waste
Thy loveliness in dismal elements;
But, finding in our green earth sweet contents,
There livest blissfully. Ah, if to thee
It feels Elysian, how rich to me,
An exil'd mortal, sounds its pleasant name!
Within my breast there lives a choking flame--
O let me cool it among the zephyr-boughs!
A homeward fever parches up my tongue--
O let me slake it at the running springs!
Upon my ear a noisy nothing rings--
O let me once more hear the linnet's note!
Before mine eyes thick films and shadows float--
O let me 'noint them with the heaven's light!
Dost thou now lave thy feet and ankles white?
O think how sweet to me the freshening sluice!
Dost thou now please thy thirst with berry-juice?
O think how this dry palate would rejoice!
If in soft slumber thou dost hear my voice,
Oh think how I should love a bed of flowers!--
Young goddess! let me see my native bowers!
Deliver me from this rapacious deep!"

  Thus ending loudly, as he would o'erleap
His destiny, alert he stood: but when
Obstinate silence came heavily again,
Feeling about for its old couch of space
And airy cradle, lowly bow'd his face
Desponding, o'er the marble floor's cold thrill.
But 'twas not long; for, sweeter than the rill
To its old channel, or a swollen tide
To margin sallows, were the leaves he spied,
And flowers, and wreaths, and ready myrtle crowns
Up heaping through the slab: refreshment drowns
Itself, and strives its own delights to hide--
Nor in one spot alone; the floral pride
In a long whispering birth enchanted grew
Before his footsteps; as when heav'd anew
Old ocean rolls a lengthened wave to the shore,
Down whose green back the short-liv'd foam, all ****,
Bursts gradual, with a wayward indolence.

  Increasing still in heart, and pleasant sense,
Upon his fairy journey on he hastes;
So anxious for the end, he scarcely wastes
One moment with his hand among the sweets:
Onward he goes--he stops--his ***** beats
As plainly in his ear, as the faint charm
Of which the throbs were born. This still alarm,
This sleepy music, forc'd him walk tiptoe:
For it came more softly than the east could blow
Arion's magic to the Atlantic isles;
Or than the west, made jealous by the smiles
Of thron'd Apollo, could breathe back the lyre
To seas Ionian and Tyrian.

  O did he ever live, that lonely man,
Who lov'd--and music slew not? 'Tis the pest
Of love, that fairest joys give most unrest;
That things of delicate and tenderest worth
Are swallow'd all, and made a seared dearth,
By one consuming flame: it doth immerse
And suffocate true blessings in a curse.
Half-happy, by comparison of bliss,
Is miserable. 'Twas even so with this
Dew-dropping melody, in the Carian's ear;
First heaven, then hell, and then forgotten clear,
Vanish'd in elemental passion.

  And down some swart abysm he had gone,
Had not a heavenly guide benignant led
To where thick myrt
brooke  Feb 2013
Imogen.
brooke Feb 2013
I want to be beautiful
like that, a thrifted soprano
note, high above the choir
a dipping lilt that will
hush
hush
she blooms
(c) Brooke Otto
Lexi Feb 2013
At first it seems to creep in
Then suddenly it is the only thing in your head
Swirling, bursting out of your skull
Each note amplified
Every instrument clear
Separate, yet still together
Somehow obstructing your vision
Becoming the only focus of your mind

Chest filling up with helium
Lifting you into the sky
As you close your eyes
And absorb every beautiful sound
No thoughts exist
All problems have vanished
You begin to hum along
The corners of your mouth turning upward
The moment is endless


Pure bliss
Nigel Morgan Aug 2013
It always intrigued him how a group of people entering a room for the first time made decisions about where to sit. He stood quietly by a window to give the impression that he was looking out on a wilderness of garden that fell steeply away to a barrier of trees. But he was looking at them, all fifteen of them taking in their clothes, their movements, their manners, their voices (and the not-voices of the inevitably silent ones), their bags and computers. One of them approached him and, he smiling broadly and kindly, put his hand up as a signal as if to say ‘not just now, not yet, don’t worry’, or something like that.

This smile seemed to work, and he thought suddenly of the woman he loved saying ‘you have such a lovely smile; the lines around your eyes crinkle sweetly when you smile.’ And he was warmed by the thought of her dear nature and saw, as in a photo playing across his nervous mind, the whole of her lying on the daisied grass when, as ‘just’ lovers, they had visited this place for an opening, when he could hardly stop looking at her, always touching her gently in wonder at her particular beauty. In the garden they had read together from Alice Oswald’s Dart, the river itself just a short walk away . . .

Listen,
a
lark
spinning
around
one
note
splitting
and
mending
­it

As he finally turned towards his class and walked to a table in front of the long chalkboard, half a dozen hands went up. He had to do the smile again and use both hands, a damping down motion, to suggest this what not the time for questions – yet. He gathered his notebook and went to the grand piano. He leafed through his book, thick, blue spiral-bound with squared paper, and, imagining himself as Mitsuko Uchida starting Beethoven’s 4th Piano Concerto, fingers placed on the keys and then leaning his body forward to play just a single chord. He held the chord down a long time until the resonance had died away.

‘That’s my daily chord’, he said, ‘Now write yours.’

Again, more hands went up. He ignored them. He gave them a few minutes, before gesturing to a young woman at the back to come and play her chord. Beside the piano was a small table with a sheet of manuscript paper and a Post-It sticker that said, ‘Please write your chord and your name here’. And, having played her chord, she wrote out her chord and name – beautifully.

He knelt on the floor beside a young man (they were all young) at the front of the class. He liked to kneel when teaching, so he was the same height, or lower, as the person he as addressing. It was perhaps an affectation, but he did it never the less.

‘Tell me about that chord,’ he said, ‘A description please’.
‘I need to hear it again.’
‘OK’, there was a slight pause, ‘now let’s hear yours.’
‘I haven’t written one’, the reply had a slightly aggressive edge, a ‘why are you embarrassing me?’ edge.
‘OK’, he said gently, and waved an invitation to the girl next to him. She had no trouble in doing what was asked.

Next, he asked a tall, dark young man how many notes he had in his chord, and receiving the answer four, asked if he, the young man, would chose four voices to sing it. This proved rather controversial, but oh so revealing – as he knew it would be. Could these composers sing? It would appear not. There was a lot of uncertainty about how it could be done. Might they sound the notes out at the piano before singing (he had shaken his head vigorously)? But when they did, indeed performed it well and with conviction, he congratulated them warmly.

‘Hand your ‘chord’ to the person next to you on your right. Now add a second chord to the chord you have in front of you please.’

Several minutes later, the task done, he asked them to pass the chords back to their original owners. And so he continued adding fresh requirements and challenges. – score the chords for string quartet, for woodwind quartet (alto-flute, cor anglais, horn, baritone saxophone – ‘transposition hell !’ said one student), write the chords as jazz chord symbols, in tablature for guitar, with the correct pedal positions for harp.

Forty minutes later he felt he was gathering what he needed to know about this very disparate group of people. There were some, just a few, who refused to enter into the exercise. One slight girl with glasses and a blank face attempted to challenge him as to why such a meaningless exercise was being undertaken. She would have no part in it – and left the room. He simply said, ‘May I have your chord please?’ and, to his surprise, she agreed, and with some grace went to the table by the piano and wrote it out.

A blond Norwegian student said ‘May we discuss what we are doing? I am here to learn Advanced Composition. This does not seem to be Advanced Composition.’

‘Gladly’, he said, ‘in ten minutes when this exercise is concluded, and we have taken a short break.’ And so the exercise was concluded, and he said, ‘Let’s take 15 minutes break. Please leave your chords on the desk in front of you.’

With that announcement almost everyone got out their mobile phones, some leaving the room. He opened the windows on what now promised to be a warm, sunny day. He went then to each desk and photographed each chord sheet, to the surprise and amusement of those who had remained in the room. One declined to give him permission to do so. He shrugged his shoulders and went on to the next table. He could imagine something of the conversation outside. He’d been here before. He’d had students make formal complaints about ‘his methods’, how these approaches to ‘self-learning’ were degrading and embarrassing, belittling even. I’m still teaching he thought after 30 years, so there must be something in it. But he had witnessed in those thirty years a significant decline in musical techniques, much of which he laid at the feet of computer technology. He thought of this kind of group as a drawing class, doing something that was once common in art school, facing that empty page every morning, learning to make a mark and stand by it. He had asked for a chord, and as he looked at the results, played them in his head. Some had just written a text-book major chord, others something wildly impossible to hear, but just some revealed themselves as composers writing chords that demonstrated purpose and care. Though he could tell most of them didn’t get it, they would. By the end of the week they’d be writing chords like there was no tomorrow, beautiful, surprising, wholly inspiring, challenging, better chords than he would ever write. Now he had to help them towards that end, to help them understand that to be an  ‘advanced composer’ might be likened to being an ‘advanced motorist’ (he recalled from his childhood the little badges drivers once put proudly on their bumpers – when there were such things – now there’s a windscreen sticker). To become an advanced motorist meant learning to be continually aware of other motorists, the state of the road, what your own vehicle was doing, constantly looking and thinking ahead, refining the way you approached a roundabout, pulled up at a junction. He liked the idea of transferring that to music.

What he found disturbing was that there were a body of students who believed that a learning engagement with a professional composer, someone who made his living, sustained his life with his artistic practice, had to be a confrontation. The why preceded, and almost obliterated, the how.

In the discussion that followed the break this became all too clear. He let them speak, and hardly had to answer or intervene because almost immediately student countered student. There evolved an intriguing analysis of what the class had entered into, which he summarised on a flip chart. He knew he had some supporters, people who clearly realised something of the worth and interest of the exercises. He also had a number of detractors, some holding quasi-political agendas about ‘what composition was’. After 20 minutes or so he intervened and attempted a conclusion.

‘The first rule of teaching is to understand and be sympathetic to a student’s past experience and thus to their learning needs, which in almost every situation will be different and various. This means for a teacher holding to an idea of what might, in this case, constitute ‘an advanced composer’. I hold to such an idea. I’ve thought about this ‘idea’ quite deeply and my aim is to provide learning opportunities to let as many of you as possible be enriched by that idea. You are all composers, but there is no consensus about what being a composer is, what the ‘practice of composition’ is. There used to be, probably until the 1970s, but that is no more. ‘

‘You may think I was disrespectful in not wishing to engage in any debate from the outset. I had to find a way to understand your experience and your learning needs. In 40 minutes I learnt a great deal. My desire is that you all go away from each session knowing you have stretched your practice as composers, through some of the skills and activities that make up such a practice. You all know what they are, but I intend to add to these by taking excursions into other creative practices that I have studied and myself been enriched by. I also want to stretch you intellectually – as some of my teachers stretched me, and whose example still runs through all I do.

Over the next seven days you are to compose music for a remarkable ensemble of professional musicians. I see myself as helping you (if necessary) towards that goal, by setting up situations that may act as a critical net in which to catch any problems and difficulties. I know we are going to fight a little over some of my suggestions, the use of computer notation I’m sure will be one, but I have my reasons, and such reasons contribute towards what I see as you all developing a holistic view of composing music as both a skill and an art form. I also happen to believe, as Imogen Holst once said of Benjamin Britten, that composing music is a way of life . . .

With that he walked to the window and looked out across that wilderness of green now bathed in sunshine. He felt a presence by his shoulder. Turning he suddenly recognised standing before him a young man, bearded now, and yes, he knew who he was. At a symposium in Birmingham the previous summer he had talked warmly and openly to this composer and jazz pianist in a break between sessions, and just a few weeks previously in London after a concert this young man had approached him with a warm greeting. Empathy flowed between them and he was grateful as he shook his hand that this could be. She had been with him at that concert and he remembered afterwards trying to recall his name for her and where they’d met. She was holding his arm as they walked down Exhibition Road to their hotel and he was so full of her presence and her beauty no wonder his memory had failed him.

‘Brilliant,’ the young man said, ‘Thank you. Just so much to think about.’

And he could say nothing, suddenly exhausted by it all.
Turtle Eyes Jul 2014
The best love is the kind that awakens the soul and makes us reach for more, that plants a fire in our hearts and brings peace to our minds
Nigel Morgan  Aug 2013
Tonality
Nigel Morgan Aug 2013
My name is Zhou Yuanten, but call me Eddie. I am a doctoral student at Xinjiang University –in the far, far west, but at Brunel to study this year. My English is good. I lived in Boston, Massachusetts for undergraduate years. I majored in piano at the New England C and then discovered I wanted to compose rather than play. So I go to MIT and soon I discover the English do it so differently, so I apply to Brunel. And at Brunel they then say of this place ‘you have to go.’ So here I am.

So surprising to be greeted in Chinese! And not just Nin Hao, we have a conversation! His accent is Northern Mandarin. He is writing a novel, he explains, about poets Zuo-Fen and Zuo-Si. We have 15 minutes conversation every day and I help him with his characters. Strange, to most of the class he is nobody, but to foreign students here we know him through his website and his software. I have even played his colours piece, The Goethe Triangle.

It is joy to be respected by a teacher and his sessions are like no other I’ve had here, and here I mean the UK. Oh, so laid-back, so lazy so many teachers. People lack energy here. They are dreamers and only think of themselves. He is full of energy and talks often about this Imogen of whom I never hear. Her father a great composer and she copied his music from when she was a girl – such beautiful calligraphy. Her father loved India and learned Sanskrit. He should have learned Mandarin; at least that is a living language. ‘Imo’, he says, ‘is my heroine, my mentor, the musician I most revere.’ He showed us her library and what was her studio in one of the old buildings here. He gives me this little book about her ten years in this place. A strange looking lady; there’s a photograph of her conducting Bach in the Great Hall. She looks like she is dancing.

This morning some are not here, but there are little notes on the desk with apologies perhaps. He leaves them untouched and we make chords again, and scales and arpeggios and Slonimsky’s famous melodic patterns. We write and write. He sings, we sing too. There is a horn and a cello with us today. They play and make jokes. They show us harmonics and tunings and bend our ears in new directions we do not expect. Those who complain about this course not being ‘advanced’ will eat their words; only I think some of those are not here.

As Chinese we hear sound in a different way I think. In our language tone is so important. To each word there are four tones that make meaning quite different. Chinese uses only about 400 syllables, compared to 4000 in English. So there are lots of syllables, like ****, that have multiple meanings. I tell him the story of the Lion-eating Poet, which he does not know!! I am writing this out for him, all 92 characters. Just one word **** but with four meanings – lion, ten, to make, to be. The Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den is the story of a poet (****) named **** who loves to eat lions (**** ****) goes to market (****) to buy ten (****) of them, takes them home to eat (****) and discovers they are made (****) of stone (****).

So I have no trouble hearing what others struggle to hear. We make pieces that are all about tone, and on a single note. Mark, the cellist, plays the opening of Lutoslawski’s Concerto – forty-two repetitions of a tenor ‘D’ a second apart. I had never heard this – a cadenza at the beginning of a concerto. Now we write a duo, on just one note. We write; they play. We are like many Mozarts trying to write only what we have already heard, making only one copy. I use the four tones and must teach the players the signs. I demonstrate and he says of the 1st tone – ‘Going to the Dentist, the 2nd – Climbing a ladder, the 3rd – ‘The Rollercoaster’, the 4th –‘Stepping on a pin’. We all do it!

And there are all these microtones. We listen to a moment of Ravel’s Bolero and pieces by Thomas Ades and Julian Anderson, then in detail (and with the score) to part of Duet for piano and orchestra by George Benjamin. This is spectral music. He is daring to introduce this – very difficult subject - this idea that a sound could be mimicked (? Is that the word – to impersonate?) by analysing it for the frequencies that make it up, and then getting instruments with similar acoustic properties to play the frequencies as pitches. So the need for microtones – goodbye equal temperament! Great in theory, difficult in practice.

This afternoon we are to study spectral composing using our computers. Until now we use our computers or smart phones to listen to extracts. He has this page of web links on his website for each session. Instead of listening through hi-fi we listen through our headphones. Better of course by far, no birds sounds or instruments playing next door. We can hear it again anytime. So there is software to download, Fourier analysis I suppose, he tries hard not to use any science or maths because there are some here who object, but they are fools. Even Bach knew of acoustics – designing the organs he played.

We finish this morning studying harmonic rhythm and this word tonality nobody seems quite able to describe. To him even the chromatic scale is tonality, and he shows in a duet for horn and cello how our ears take in tonality change. This is not about keys, but about groupings of pitches – anywhere – so a tonality can be spread across several octaves. So often, he says, composers are not aware of the tonalities they create, they don’t hear harmonic rhythm. They’re missing an opportunity! Sound can be coloured by awareness of what makes up a tonality. So understanding spectral music must help towards this. It is very liberating all this. If we take sound as a starting point rather than a system we can go anywhere.

Yesterday he asked me about a book he is reading. Did I know it? A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo. Of course I know this very funny book. He said he liked to think of music in the same way the character of the Chinese girl Z thinks about love.

“Love,” this English word: like other English words it has a tense. “Loved”, or “will love”, or “have loved.” All these specific tenses mean Love is time-limited thing. Not infinite. It only exists in particular period of time. In Chinese, Love is ài in pinyin. It has no tense. No past and future. Love in Chinese means a being, a situation, a circumstance. Love is existence, holding past and future.

And so it is with music. Music is a being, a situation, a circumstance. It holds past and future. It is wondrous, just like love.
Audrey, look out the window and see your dreams.
Brydie, lay on the carpet and think of home.
Charlie, stand in the garden and let the rain wash the pain away.
Danielle, shout at the skies for this awful weather.
Ellen, smile as you see a rainbow in the distance.
Fiona, stick out your tongue to soften their fall.
Gemma, pretend there's nothing falling from the sky.
Hannah, dance in the rain in that favourite dress of yours.
Imogen, jump into puddles, one after the other.
Jade, wave to the people going past in their cars.
Keri, open your hands to cup the cold water.
Laura, laugh as the neighbour's umbrella turns inside out.
Molly, hope the grass is better for football tomorrow.
Natasha, sigh as you drive through it all.
Olivia, read a book by the nice warm fire.
Paige, sleep through the hammering of the droplets.
Queenie, scream as you dash through the storm.
Rhianne, fall back onto that squishy armchair inside.
Steph, pray for the sun to come out soon.
Tuula, watch the leaves huddle against the kerb.
Una, listen as they patter patter on the rooftop.
Victoria, take off those sodden shoes.
Whitney, snap another photograph or two.
Xandra, run to get back home to your family.
Yasmeen, follow the trail of the water on the window.
Zara, give up waiting for the rain to stop.
Written: March 2012.
Explanation: A poem written in my spare time. The girls are all named after people I know, except F, Q, U, W, X and Z.
The Jolteon  Aug 2015
Imogen Heap
The Jolteon Aug 2015
Up north
Where we held hands
And thought about fires
For us to sit by
I'll be yours on the west
If you'll be mine on the east
Peace and happiness
All we had

— The End —