Writing in the Night Sky

'Storyteller,' by user fobach on Flickr.com

[Image: “Storyteller,” by user fobach (Pieterjan Hanselaer) on Flickr. (Used under a Creative Commons license; click to enlarge.) The Dutch text says (per the English translation) “I followed the trail of my uncles. From the forest, at the edge of the Makokibatan Lake, the morning sounds arose.” No other information seems to be available for this mysterious image. For what it’s worth, though, you can find a lake by that name in Ontario, Canada.]

From whiskey river:

Food, fire, walks, dreams, cold, sleep, love, slowness, time, quiet, books, seasons — all these things, which are not really things, but moments of life — take on a different quality at night-time, where the moon reflects the light of the sun, and we have time to reflect what life is to us, knowing that it passes, and that every bit of it, in its change and its difference, is the here and now of what we have.

Life is too short to be all daylight. Night is not less; it’s more.

(Jeanette Winterson [source])


Rereading Frost

Sometimes I think all the best poems
have been written already,
and no one has time to read them,
so why try to write more?

At other times though,
I remember how one flower
in a meadow already full of flowers
somehow adds to the general fireworks effect

as you get to the top of a hill
in Colorado, say, in high summer
and just look down at all that brimming color.
I also try to convince myself

that the smallest note of the smallest
instrument in the band,
the triangle for instance,
is important to the conductor

who stands there, pointing his finger
in the direction of the percussions,
demanding that one silvery ping.
And I decide not to stop trying,

at least not for a while, though in truth
I’d rather just sit here reading
how someone else has been acquainted
with the night already, and perfectly.

(Linda Pastan [source])


Stars were the first text, the first instance of gabbiness; connecting the stars, making a pattern out of them, was the first story, sacred to storytellers. But the moon was the first poem, in the lyric sense, an entity complete in itself, recognizable at a glance, one that played upon the emotions so strongly that the context of time and place hardly seemed to matter.

(Mary Ruefle [source])


(from) Body and Soul
(for Coleman Hawkins)

I used to think the power of words was inexhaustible,
That how we said the world
was how it was, and how it would be.
I used to imagine that word-sway and word-thunder
Would silence the Silence and all that,
That worlds were the Word,
That language could lead us inexplicably to grace,
As though it were geographical.
I used to think these things when I was young.
I still do.

(Charles Wright [source (the whole poem)*])

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What’s in a Song: Body and Soul (2)

[Image: “Body and Soul’s” opening measures, highlighting the dotted eighth rest]

From the wonderful Jazz Standards site’s musicological writeup:

Because of its complex chord progressions, “Body and Soul” remains a favorite of jazz musicians. The unusual changes in key and tempo are also highly attractive and provide a large degree of improvisational freedom.

“Unusual changes in key and tempo” might be what I think of (in my musical ignorance) as a weird near-tunelessness. At practically every turn, the song slides around what I’d expect to hear. I can’t imagine anyone whistling it while they walk along, y’know? And the weirdness all starts with that first note.

Well, technically it’s not a note at all. You can see it circled in red at the top of the post: it’s a rest.

Even more technically, it’s a “dotted eighth rest,” i.e., it’s supposed to be held for a duration of one-and-a-half “eighth notes,” or five-sixteenths of a whole one. That musicians can make anything at all from arithmetic like this is why they’re musicians and I’m not.

Which itself is weird, if you think about it. I mean, that’s the actual melody there — what a singer is expected to sing, and how. But that opening rest says to the singer: Wait! Don’t start singing right off the bat. Pause for a split-second. Then start.

And then there’s the so-called bridge…

As I mentioned in Part 1, the lyrics are hard to pin down because they’ve been so elaborated upon by so many performers. In its most common form, singers do two verses in the same “melody,” followed by a verse in a second melody, and wrap it all up with a repeat of the first one. This song structure is often depicted like this: AABA. The second melody — the B — makes up the bridge: a bit of music to carry a listener from the opening of a song through to the end.

“Body and Soul’s” bridge (“I can’t believe it/It’s hard to conceive it…”), unlike those A sections, does seem to have a real melody. And it, well, lilts.* Lyrically, the singer seems to be having second thoughts, trying to convince him- or herself that the sense of abandonment can’t be real. There must be some other explanation — “Are you pretending?” — only to conclude, with a desperate, almost audible thud in the final A verse, You do know I’m still yours, right? Please please please…?

Whatever the musical technicalities, for whatever reason, history makes one clear point: “Body and Soul” is much-loved not only by vocalists (who can appreciate not just the musical nuances, but the emotional ones in the lyrics), but by instrumentalists.


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