Wednesday, December 10, 2008

For no good reason

Richard Nantel, Dave Ferguson and I (and a few others) have been having a comment-versation about a video of Richard's daughter learning to play the guitar on Facebook.

For no good reason at all, other than a snatch of French lyrics Dave quoted, I was reminded of this song. Several people have done bang-up jobs of covering it, in French and in English (and no doubt in other languages, too) including some friends of mine. But I hope none of them will be offended if I say that no-one captures the undercurrent of quiet desperation quite like Jacques Brel did.

Learning to sing, learning to play an instrument is about more than just producing the right notes in the right order. It is about imbuing those notes with meaning; giving them life; giving them soul. Were it not so, no-one beyond a 5 mile radius of her home would ever have heard of Edith Piaf, for example. She didn't always hit the right note, she was not beautiful and she stood on one spot on the stage. But boy could she wring every ounce of passion out of a song!


Jason Allen said...

Check out Presentation Zen today for JUST what you're talking about. The featured video is of a live Cello instruction of a teenager in front of about 500 people by Zander. Nothing short of astounding.

John Zurovchak said...

Benjamin Zander would call this "singing from a point of possibility." Here he is on PopTech. Watch him transform a 15 year old cello player in the same way that you refer to Edith Piaf - not always the right notes - but a lot of passion and connection.Check it out

The upsycho said...

Wow! Both comments pointing at the same video in different places. And how awe inspiring! I watched a few minutes of it, then stopped it and fetched my beleagured 17 year old to watch it from the start with me. I wish I could say that it ignited the spark in his eyes that I had hoped it would. It didn't, but I hope that some germ of it will stay with him.

Anonymous said...

To continue the theme -- for yearning and ardor, it's hard to beat Aonghas MacNeacall's poem Breisleach (Delirium), especially when sung by Capercaillie's Karen Matheson:

I went to the hazelwood yesterday
Seeking hazelnuts for food
On every twig and branch
Your pursuing face...

I went to the alehouse
To drive you from my head
Every glass I raised
Overflowed with your beauty...

I went to bed early last night
To escape you in sleep
But you kept me awake
Until I'd make you a song...

(Original Gaelic and English translation -- scroll to "Breisleach")

The upsycho said...

Have a look at the video clip in this earlier post of mine. Technically, this woman's performance is flawed, but who cares? Does her passion not stir your eyes to leak?

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Karyn

It is the emotion of the moment conveyed by an exponent of that emotion, like Piaf. And you're right, it's is nothing about hitting the right note or looking beautiful.

It transcends theory of music and of art. I believe Joe Cocker had this ability. He could not be called a singer, but he could rend the heart with his croaking.

Catchya later
from Middle-earth

The upsycho said...

@blogger "It transcends theory of music and of art" - in fact, I contend that it should be integral to the theory of music and art. When these things become reduced to theories which preclude illogical response, then they stop being art. I have absolutely no grounds or references to cite for this contention, but I believe it with every fibre of my being.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Karyn

There is a difference between theory and practice in nearly every discipline. In music in particular, the theory and the practice are neither simulaneous nor parallel.

To define art in terms of theory alone is like drafting the scheme for a sonnet with rhyme pattern and stanza format strictly defined. The greatest works of art in sonnet form transcend the draft schemes and some don't even follow them.

Music practice is what actually unfolds into the air when a virtuoso accomplishes the masterpiece. Music theory is as dry and as lifeless as the paper the music is printed on.

Ka kite
from Middle-earth