Ooh. Aah.

If anyone is expecting a post relating to a French footballer most noted for kung-fu and elliptical musings about seabirds following trawlers, they should go to the back of the class now.  If I didn’t strongly suspect it had been outlawed, I would be preparing conical headwear emblazoned with the letter associated with (Walter) Mitty for their use (D for Mitty?).

They would have made two mistakes, the second being the metronome setting they imagined as they read the title.  They would have been thinking allegro (and staccato) whereas I was thinking largo (and legato).  However, despite the lapse into Italian this post does not relate to my illustrious singing career – though my vocal exercises do involve attempts to produce these two pure vowel sounds.

Quick reference to a calendar will reveal the true context for today’s title.  On Saturday evening last, I tramped up the hill to the north of Fish Towers in the fog – no, not to fetch a pail of water – to celebrate a failed attempt to violently overthrow the (admittedly repressive) government of these isles.  More recent attempts to remove the UK government by explosion have yet to attain a similar celebration – perhaps more time is needed?

Despite the damp, a roaring bonfire was in evidence (equally the match of the Great Fire of Sawston) – though no sign of anyone being burnt in effigy by the time I arrived.  We were also provided with a very full 30 minutes of fireworks – which is not bad for a free village display in these dire economic times.  The light from the higher flying fireworks was somewhat diminished by the fog, but the display still offered a large scale demonstration of the quantised nature of electron energy levels in the atom.  Very much the flame test of O-level chemistry writ large!  I do wonder if I was the only person at the display thinking this…

A small group, standing beside me, did say “Ooh” and indeed “Aah” as tradition dictates, though seemed worried that they were the only ones doing so.  They had also brought glasses and a bottle of rosé to the event – which showed excellent planning skills, though I would have thought a full-bodied red (or something mulled?) might have been more appropriate.  Is there a recommended wine to consume with fireworks?  The web seems to offer little guidance to those in search of such etiquette advice – perhaps I’ve found a niche?

The following day, I happened to catch the weather forecast on BBC Television.  This was given by a chap called Chris Fawkes – and, indeed, he was much in evidence on the following days.  Was his selection related to the events of November the 5th?  Did he have to be kept hidden in a secure location until 6/11 to avoid any “incidents”?  Or was he brought out in celebration of his infamous forebear’s failed insurrection?  Does the Met Office keep a range of “seasonal” weather presenters?  Was Michael Fish used on Fridays for any Catholic viewers?  I, for one, would have loved to hear the late, great Valentine Dyall offering his view of the weather to come in mid-February.  It might not have been romantic, but boy would it have had gravitas!

Berkshire Baking

The Berkshire town of Eton (once of Buckinghamshire, but I believe they were outbid by Berks in a notorious transfer deal back in the 70s) is best known for its school, the eponymous college.  However, it should also be known for its bakery which produces a loaf of unsurpassed quality.

Over the years, many have sampled the local bread and been amazed by its excellence – but, due to a quirk of fate, have later been unable to recall this fact.  So, the secret of the Eton bakery remains inviolate and the town continues to be most famous for its public school.

Perhaps, the Thames holds some distant kinship with the Lethe and the water used in the baking delivers a superlative flavour coupled with a strange amnesia – but that may just be idle speculation on my part.  I suspect we will never know the true reason for this curious phenomenon.  All I can say for certain is that “Eton bread is soon forgotten”.

Raw work

Such is my apathy that this blog has never strayed from the default font which forms a part of the Twenty Ten theme (slightly outdated perhaps, but I like to imagine it creates feelings of nostalgia).  I don’t even know its name – though I have occasionally been emboldened to use its italic form (or emitaliced to use its bold one).

In fact, to be honest, I have no idea how to change the font – but that does not prevent me from speculating about the possibilities.

Were I to use saltier language, or if I were to try and reproduce the speech of Gordon Ramsay, I feel I should switch to a cursive font.  If writing about delivery, then I would choose Courier. For a piece about operatic solos, my first choice would be Arial whilst a discussion of neutrality would call for Helvetica.

I’m not quite sure what a style of print has to do with the washing away of sin, but I assume that a 14th century church would use a Gothic font.  And surely, someone must have named a typeface Baptismal?  If not, I wish to claim the name now – I’ll work on the graphical element later.  It would be the ideal font to use for the work of P G Wodehouse, if nothing else (though my copy of the Jeeves Omnibus is set in the rather Germanic sounding “Ehrhardt”).

Untune the sky

These titles are getting more pretentious by the day (hardly seems possible does it) – but I take the Reithian principles of blogging very seriously (well, all except for the requirement to entertain).  This title, as I’m sure you will all know, represents the final words of John Dryden’s Song for St Cecilia’s Day and is a reference to the power of music (or such is my reading – and it does follow the exchanging of the quick and dead).

Today, for those who are still struggling following the recent clock change, is a Tuesday: which means the joy of the Cambridge University Lunchtime Concerts – or it does for those of us who live near Cambridge and have an hour to spare at lunchtime, I’m afraid the rest of you will have to make your own fun.  Today we, the lucky few, were offered a John Adams double-bill: Gnarly Buttons (1996) followed by Son of Chamber Symphony (2007).  I think Chamber Symphonies must be quite sexually precocious as Chamber Symphony was only born in 1992 – though, this is one area of teen pregnancy that does not seem to generate hand-wringing in the more prurient press.  Putting these minor parenting misgivings to one side, the concert was an absolute joy – my favourite young conductor, excellent and varied musical forces, Somerset’s finest young clarinet player (OK, I’ll admit he is the only one of whom I know – but he seems very good to me) and great, modern “classical” music.

This started me thinking about what makes music – as opposed to mere noise (or dicking about with instruments as I like to call it in the concert hall context).  Unlike the songs by Handel and Schubert which I had earlier been slaughtering at this week’s singing lesson, the works by Adams had no clear key, fixed time signature or much in the way of traditional structure – so, in that regard, very like my earlier performance.  If I had thought my renditions in English were dodgy – the diphthong is a tricksy cove – they are as the music of the spheres compared to my attempts at German.  In my defence, I was sight reading – well, I say reading, though I fear the impartial witness would have had serious doubts about either my eyesight, my familiarity with the Roman alphabet or both.  But, enough self-deprecation – or, possibly over-selling – and on with the plot (such as it is).

I find some modern classical music very enjoyable – and in this camp fall Mr Adams, Philip Glass and even Steve Reich – whereas other pieces just strike me as random (rather unpleasant) noise, yes I am looking at you György Sándor Ligeti so there’s no point hiding behind that forest of metronomes (the garden ornament for the metropolitan dwelling).  I do find it hard to explain why this should be so – it can’t be fear of discord, dissonance or arrhythmia as much that gives me pleasure contains these in abundance.  I think it may be down to my mathematician’s soul, the music I can connect with has just enough structure (at some level) for me to hold on to (like the rubber ring to a drowning man) as the (sound) waves pass over me.

On a similar theme, I enjoy listening to the birds singing – which they seem to have re-started of late – and while I don’t know if this is music, it is certainly musical.  Can’t really stand Olivier Messiaen’s attempts to replicate birdsong as music though – and that, formally at least, really is music.

I was also left to wonder how modern “classical” and “popular” music is separated (segmented as I believe the marketers would say) – well other than the obvious differentiators of venue, audience and profitability.  I suppose “pop” pieces tend to be shorter and more commonly have words in the local demotic – but otherwise at the more abstract end of the spectrum it is hard to see what else might separate them.  Gnarly Buttons involved synths, banjo and a guitar, along with more common classical instrumentation, though the length of even a single movement might overtax the presumed attention span of the Radio 1 massive.  Nonetheless, I suspect many of the young are brighter than either (a) we give them credit for and (b) the viewing figures for reality television might suggest, so I reckon with a wee bit of re-packaging we could easily offer The Perilous Shore as modern, cutting-edge indie music and sneak it out late in the evening (perhaps an easier sell on 6Music than 1Xtra).  Players from the world of “pop” seem to feel it is their right to knock something out in the forms of classical music once they reach a certain standing – I think its time for some traffic in the reverse direction (even if we do have to disguise the origins, much as a parent might sneak the odd vegetable past a child’s vigilant gaze).

After all, “What passion cannot music raise and quell?” – so go forth and untune that sky (the Murdochs are rich enough without your help).