Sunday, December 30, 2007

Modernist feeding frenzy

One of the best parameters I've come across for the success of a great work of art is that it fills a human need that you never knew you had. No-one wakes up in the morning and decides that what they really need to listen to is a nine-minute fugue on a labyrinthine subject full of tritones, but this is exactly how the B minor Mass begins, and now that I know the work I can't imagine my life without it. Likewise, I think of that moment in the first movement of Walton's Symphony No. 1, that inexorable B-flat major train ride, where the motion of the music grinds to a total halt and the orchestra screams out a series of wrenching dissonances. On a first listen to the symphony, this moment is shocking and unexpected, but on later listens you realize that this is the inevitable culmination of everything that came before. These dissonances are not arbitrary, but written into the melodic contour of the themes of the symphony, and passing through them makes Walton's final blaze of major-key glory that much more exciting.

Unfortunately, this means that writing about art, and particularly modernist art, tends to be a game of trying to sell people a product they think they don't want. However many fanciful adjectives I use, I can't make you HEAR Walton's "wrenching dissonances"; I can only hope that my description makes you want to go out and listen to the symphony. These issues are uppermost in my mind right now because I've read two recent books in the past month which discuss modernism in the arts, finding one of them wonderful and enlightening and the other significantly flawed.

The wonderful and enlightening one, of course, is The Rest is Noise by New Yorker music critic Alex Ross, and nothing I can possibly say can add or detract from the well-earned praise this book has received in all quarters. The flawed one is Peter Gay's Modernism: The Lure of Heresy, a survey of the modernist movement in all of the arts, from painting to literature to film. The ultimate difference, I think, is that Ross sets out to create a survey of twentieth-century music for non-specialists, with his role as advocate for an underappreciated repertoire; Gay sets out to explicate modernism for people who already know something about it, bringing out common concerns and underlying similarities. This means that Ross can jump wherever in the twentieth century he chooses and talk about any composer whose work he enjoys, while Gay is stuck trying to draw patterns and ends up leaving out, or slightly misrepresenting, artists who don't fit the thesis of his book. This creates unanticipated problems for Gay's narrative. Arguing that modernism is characterized by two characteristics, the desire to push the boundaries of the accepted (the "lure of heresy") and the exploration of subjective mental states, he has an easy time fitting in the French Impressionists and German Expressionists, but has difficulty encompassing philosophies like Stravinsky's Neoclassicism. This finally comes to a head when he discusses the choreography of Stravinsky's choreographer George Balanchine, attacked in his time for the machinelike precision and lack of human feeling in his ballets. Gay wriggles out of this apparent contradiction by saying that although his art did not apparently "explore subjective mental states", those who knew Balanchine testify to his genuine emotional warmth. No doubt, but this doesn't solve the problem, and from the slightly embarrassed quality of Gay's writing I think he knows it. Really, the essential flaw is Gay's attempt to characterize an entire, complex artistic movement with two points, which is the sort of thing you expect in a first-year university survey course. Ross's less structured, but ultimately more nuanced narrative seems to me to serve the artists better.

Another key difference is that Noise is simply much better proofread. As an incurable stickler for detail, I rarely read a book about twentieth-century composers without finding dubious assertions or misrepresentations of fact; in Ross's book, the most I can do is quibble with his statements about early use of birdsong in the music of Messiaen. Modernism, on the other hand, contains many mistakes of one kind or another, ranging from spelling errors (switching Monet and Manet) to irritating statements which show a lack of fact-checking (Gay writes that Pierrot lunaire did not quickly enter the repertoire of symphony orchestras, which seems sad until you realize that it is not an orchestral work) to full-out misreadings of key texts (Gay quotes Babbitt's essay "Who Cares if You Listen?" and interprets it as a composer's lament against lack of audience appreciation for modern music; in reality, of course, the essay's thesis is that composers should ignore the audience and write for each other). Finally, I simply cannot accept the book's treatment of T. S. Eliot's religious conversion. Gay obviously dislikes the Christian basis of Eliot's late works, and seems to tacitly blame the poet's acknowledged anti-Semitism on these beliefs, which I find unfair, but I am more bothered by the fact that Gay constantly refers to "High Anglicanism" with both words in capital letters. There is no such entity as the High Anglican Church: the differences between High Anglicans and other Anglicans have to do with liturgical practices and with the perceived relationship of the Church to Rome, and leave room for a variety of theological stances. To place the phrase in Capital Letters makes Anglo-Catholicism sound like some sort of homogeneous cult rather than a liturgical position within the Anglican Communion. Gay frequently bandies around semi-technical terms like "High Anglicanism" or, in the music chapter, "tonality", without explaining exactly what they mean, and in this case I am afraid he does so for the unworthy end of ascribing Eliot's more unsavoury character traits to a nebulous, poorly defined group.

I've been hard on Gay's book, and the one-sidedness of my critique is unfair; the task of explaining and cataloguing modernist art in all genres is a massive one, and I know of no other book that even attempts this task for a general audience. "Modernism" is close to the target, but it's far enough from the ideal that some brilliant polymath writer of the future may well come up with book that better accomplishes the same task. After all, few readers can match Gay's knowledge of the arts; I could keep up with him in literature and music, follow with some difficulty in painting and film, and found myself in totally unknown territory in sculpture, architecture, and dance. I probably learned less from Ross's book in this objective sense; I already knew about all of the composers, and many of the works, that he discussed, but enjoyed his fresh insights and evocative writing.

What have we learned today?

1) Writing about art is hard.
2) Always check your facts.
3) Don't be too anxious to fit your facts into an overly rigid framework.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

From the Bookshelf

[The psychiatrist] went on to say . . . that Lord Macaulay's first words had not come until he was four; a lady had spilt hot tea on him at a party, and he had said, drawing back a little from her solicitous caress: Thank you, Madam, the agony is somewhat abated.
Randall Jarrell, Pictures from an Institution

I picked this up having read somewhere that the novel is, in its treatment of university life, similar to the works of Robertson Davies. Being a rabid enthusiast of the late Canadian master's writing, I bought a copy; I've read almost everything Davies ever wrote and am anxiously casting about for substitutes. Unfortunately, Jarrell's writing style is nothing like Davies's whatsoever; the one is obviously an American poet, and the other is obviously a Canadian journalist with pronounced Anglophile tendencies. It's still good, though; uproariously funny in a very dry sort of way. You should buy it.

And, culled from the apophthegms of the Online Fathers: Corinthians Chain Letter.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Hodie Christus natus est

The staff of This Blog Will Change the World is pleased to wish you a very happy, relaxing and enjoyable Christmas with your friends and family. It's now approximately noon on Christmas morning - if you listen closely, you can hear the sound of thousands of organ console lids slamming shut simultaneously. It's over! We're free! For four days, at least.

If anyone's interested, I did manage to learn the Fauchard - I only played the first five variations, and they didn't go very well, but who cares? I was long ago disabused of the notion that anyone actually listens to organ preludes. I'll be on the lookout for a better performance opportunity next year so that I can play the whole thing.

I will be incommunicado for the next few days - I'm going home this afternoon for family dinner, then to visit my grandmother for a few days. This will be wonderful, and relaxing, and I'll get lots of reading done, but it does mean no Internet access, and no access to a pipe organ. Of course, a break from practicing for a few days will probably do me good. On the other hand, did I really put Carillon de Westminster on the music schedule for next week? Darn.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Medium and the Light

The microphone is inseparable from some form of amplification by which the relation to the public is altered. PA systems attached to microphones have developed such strikingly different characters as Ghandi and Hitler, Bing Crosby and Winston Churchill. The hardware/software complementarity is evident in the fact that the microphone permits us to do more with less. One of the more recent areas in which the mike has made its power of transformation evident is that of liturgy and ritual. Many people will lament the disappearance of the Latin Mass from the Catholic Church without realizing that it was a victim of the microphone on the altar. It is not practical to say Latin into a microphone since the mike sharpens and intensifies the sounds of Latin to a meaningless degree. That is, Latin is really a very cool form of verbal delivery in which mutter and murmur play a large role, whereas the mike does not take kindly to humming indistinctly. Another effect of the mike at the altar has been to turn the celebrant around to face the congregation. By the same token, amplifiers which are placed in the church to create sounds from all directions at once make the church architecturally obsolete.
Marshall Mcluhan, "Liturgy and the Microphone", in The Medium and the Light: Reflections on Religion.

McLuhan's ideas have fascinated me since I first grappled with them in high school, but I wasn't aware until recently that he was a Christian. Raised an "indifferent Baptist", he read large tracts of Catholic theology as part of the research for his doctoral thesis and was received into the Roman church in his twenties. I was delighted, therefore, to find this volume of McLuhan's writings on religion, which pays particular attention to the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council and their relationship to changes in the media. McLuhan views both Vatican II and the centuries-earlier Council of Trent as unsuccessful attempts to respond to technological change. In the 16th century, the new technology was the printing press, creating widespread alphabetic literacy and replacing a tribal, auditory society with an individualist, visual society. In the 20th century, a new complex of electric technologies altered our way of thinking, replacing the visual medium of the printed page with the new auditory-tactile media of radio and television. In McLuhan's view, the church bureaucracy failed on both occasions to realize that changes in the media of the time were at the root of social change.

Reading McLuhan address issues of liturgy directly is tremendously heartening for me, as I've used McLuhanian arguments for some time to demonstrate a potential way forward for church musicians. In my view, the future is optimistic. The almost irresistable imperative to replace organ and choral music with vernacular musical styles, starting in the 1950's, was clearly a product of the "hotting up" of the media through the first half of the twentieth century.

McLuhan's identification of media as "hot" and "cool" depends on the density of information they provide. A telephone conversation, for example, is cool; the person on the other end supplies half of a conversation, requiring you to fill in the gaps, and the signal quality is relatively poor. Compare this to a radio broadcast, whose continuous sound makes you a passive listener rather than an active participant, and the difference between the two types of media is clear. The changes of the early twentieth century, with very few exceptions, tended to replace cool media (the printed page, which requires you to translate alphabetic symbols into spoken words, and spoken words into a coherent narrative) with hot media (a movie, which presents a series of images which are designed to form a coherent narrative without this process of translation).

In the face of such a pervasive rise in temperature throughout the media, it was inevitable that the individualism of Western society should be eroded. After all, we must go back to the oral traditions of tribal, pre-literate society to find a time when hot media dominated the social sphere to such an extent. And, as we know, extremely hot things tend to coagulate and meld together; extremely cold things become brittle and shatter. The result was a homogenization and centralization of culture, creating the phenomenon of pop culture as we now understand it. Individual musicians or artists now had a worldwide audience and achieved levels of fame previously impossible. The flip side, however, was that mainstream pop culture eradicated fringe genres and regional variations within the arts. In music, vernacular styles tended to steamroll over the European classical tradition, the traditional folk musics of Western and non-Western cultures, and even previous vernacular styles such as jazz. In the face of such opposition, even intrinsically conservative organizations like the established church felt an imperative to include popular styles in their services - after all, the overwhelming heat of the media made it difficult to sustain any other style. Had this trend continued, any attempt to maintain the traditional church music that I practice would have been staving off the inevitable.

But McLuhan died in 1980, and changes in society since then have reversed some of the changes he identified. The centralization of television networks has given way to an overwhelming variety of channels catering to the narrowest of audiences. More and more consumers choose to stay at home and watch DVDs rather than see the latest Hollywood fare in theatres. The unified popular music scene of the 1960s no longer exists, replaced by a multitude of competing subgenres with audiences of varying sizes. Most radically, the Internet offers a platform to any hack with a computer, creating a place for the most obscure enthusiasms one can possibly imagine. The printed word is back with a vengeance - it is the lingua franca of the Internet, although it now takes the form of a spiderweb of interconnecting links, not a single linear narrative. In other words, the media are cooling back down, and those of us who want to preserve a tradition outside of the popular sphere now have a fighting chance.

The changes should not be mistaken for a decisive reversal. The media are still much hotter than they were at the beginning of the last century. But the change is real; people of my generation to whom I've shown the pipe organ are almost always fascinated and intrigued. Adults of the baby boomer generation often couldn't care less. They grew up with hot media and are convinced I'm irrelevant. Meanwhile, popular styles of church music have ossified. The musical language of most mainstream churches who offer "contemporary worship" is simply a repackaged version of 1970s folk rock, and the seats are filled with nostalgic, aging boomers. When people over twice my age tell me that the organ won't appeal to young people, you know the revolution is officially over.

Expect more intense McLuhan-blogging when I finish the book.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

In Which the Blogger Apologizes For His Extremely Sporadic Updates During the Next Few Weeks, During Which He Will Have Only Dial-Up Internet Access


Somehow, I Always End Up Reading Rather Odd Books at Christmastime

The play is Tom Stoppard's Travesties. The characters are James Joyce and the Dadaist poet Tristan Tzara.
Joyce: Grasping any opportunity for paradox as might occur, in what way is the first name of your friend Arp singular?
Tzara: In that it is duplicate.
Joyce: Namely?
Tzara: Hans Arp. Jean Arp.
Joyce: How can this contradiction of two distinct and equal first names be accounted for?
Tzara: Linguistically, each being a translation of the other, from German into French and conversely.
Joyce: Given a superficial knowledge of your friend's birth and parentage on the one hand, and of the political history of nineteenth-century Europe on the other, how would his bi-lingual nomination strike one?
Tzara: As understandable.
Joyce: Why?
Tzara: He is a native of Alsace, of French background, and a German citizen by virtue of the conquest of 1870.
. . .
Joyce: From whom did he receive encouragement and friendship?
Tzara: From Hugo Ball.
Joyce: Describe Ball by epithet.
Tzara: Unspherical. Tall, thin, sacerdotal, German.
Joyce: Describe him by enumeration of his occupations and preoccupations.
Tzara: Novelist, journalist, philosopher, poet, artist, mystic, pacifist, founder of the Cabaret Voltaire at the Meirei Bar, number one Spiegelgasse.
Joyce: Did Ball keep a diary?
Tzara: He did.
Joyce: Was it published?
Tzara: It was.
Joyce: Is it in the public domain by virtue of the expiration of copyright protection as defined in the Berne Convention of 1886?
Tzara: It is not.
Joyce: Quote judiciously so as to combine maximum information with minimum liability.

Parsley: I hope I have succeeded in doing so.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Winter Dreams

Ah, winter, when a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of spring! It's been snowing all night and shows no signs of stopping, the sidewalks covered in such a thick layer of the stuff that pedestrians have given up and are walking along the road. As I walked back from church this morning I noticed that the fresh snowfall had totally covered the footprints I made three hours earlier. I don't approve, and after crashing clumsily through my front door I put on Daphnis and Chloe and pretend it's June.

Unsurprisingly, today was the lowest attendance at church I've seen in a very long time, so only the select few got to enjoy the lineup of all twentieth-century music I had planned for this Sunday: Lennox Berkeley, Kenneth Leighton, Messiaen, and Carter. I suppose it hurts my modernist credentials a bit that the Carter piece was an organ voluntary by the thoroughly tonal Andrew Carter, not Elliott Carter, but Elliott hasn't written anything suitable for church performance. (Incidentally: a belated happy birthday to Olivier Messiaen and to Elliott Carter - born on Dec. 10 and 11 of 1908, respectively.)

By the way, the Wikipedia article on Messiaen just keeps getting better and better. Despite my general distaste for all things Wikipedian, this is not a bad place to start if you're looking for information on the composer. Also worth a look are the numerous seasonally appropriate Messiaen-related videos on YouTube:

An excerpt from Turangalila played by the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain with Andrew Davis and Pierre Laurent Aimard. The jump cuts between different orchestral instruments are unintentionally hilarious, but the performance is actually quite good. (This is actually not seasonally appropriate in the slightest, but I enjoy it too much not to post it.)

Les Bergers from La Nativite du Seigneur, as performed by Marie-Claire Alain.

Dieu parmi nous from La Nativite du Seigneur, as performed by Naji Hakim. Terrible video quality; good performance. Am impressed by the number of markings on Hakim's score.

Messiaen about to start an improvisation

. . . and the actual improvisation.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

A Mystery Resolved

It's Christmas again, and that means the "Messiah: Organist on Crack" soundfile is making the rounds again. Everyone's heard the thing. If you haven't, go knock yourself out.

Accordingly, I end up spending most of my Christmas season talking to people at social gatherings who ask me if I've heard it (I have), whether I think it's the FUNNIEST thing EVER (maybe the first time), whether I know the organist on the recording (ummmm. . . no?), and HOW something like this could POSSIBLY happen. I try to explain that many organs are equipped with transposers which, if activated accidentally, could lead to precisely that phenomenon, but by the time I finish my explanation I'm usually standing in an empty room, talking to the Christmas decorations. So from now on, anyone who asks is getting pointed here.

The interesting thing, though, is that I had always assumed a slightly different explanation. The "Hallelujah" chorus is immediately preceded by the tenor aria "Thou shalt break them", which goes up to a top A. It's quite possible that the organist had deliberately set the transposer down a semitone to accommodate a less experienced singer who didn't have the range to sing the aria, and then forgot to change the transposition for the chorus.

The problem with my explanation, I now realize, is that it would involve the organist playing in the wrong key for about FOUR MINUTES before finally twigging to the fact that he had forgotten to transpose the organ. Isn't that the sort of thing you'd mark in your score?


Friday, December 14, 2007

Huzzah for Hindemith

For one reason or another, I've been listening to a lot of Paul Hindemith's music lately. My relationship with Hindemith has been unusually productive, based mostly in performing, rather than listening to, his music. Before being asked to accompany his flute sonata, I had never heard any Hindemith, and as I learned the difficult piano part I fell in love with his unique style. There was no initial struggle with the idiom; the music spoke to me immediately. Since then, having performed many more of his works on piano and organ and listened to a wide cross-section of the orchestral music, I can't understand why his music isn't more popular.

Almost unknown to the public and criminally misunderstood by musicians, Hindemith is generally thought of as a pedantic, intellectual composer. To the average musician, Hindemith's reputation stands by the fact that he wrote a sonata for every major orchestral instrument. The conservatories and faculties of music across the country are filled at any given moment with students who struggle through these difficult works, often the only major pieces of modernist music they will study. Some emerge from the struggle with an appreciation for his style, but others emerge bitter and vengeful.

Of course, none of this is the fault of Hindemith's music. One frequently hears the complaint that a man who would want to write for every orchestral instrument couldn't possibly be driven by musical inspiration. This sort of thinking is precisely the sort of thing which most irritates me about music-making. Such essentially Romantic attitudes were crushed fairly brutally by the early modernists several generations ago but, like cockroaches, just run away and hide under the baseboards to re-emerge when you least expect them. There is, of course, no reason in the world why the desire to write for every instrument is incompatible with musicality - composing has much more to do with study and hard work than artistic inspiration, and it's likely that a mind like Hindemith's was stimulated, rather than stifled, by the challenge of writing for so many different instrumentations.

Perhaps Hindemith's music is not well suited to the times we live in. After all, the prevailing musical orthodoxy is pro-tonality and anti-serialism, and the backlash against the rigours of twelve-tone composition has made it difficult to accept Hindemith's carefully crafted compositional system. It is almost inevitable, therefore, that Hindemith will be labelled as an "academic", "intellectual" composer rather than a true artist. In a few of his works, I can see some justification for those labels, but if you think this work is dull and pedantic, your ears are on backwards:

This excerpt is the first movement of his Kammermusik I, a work rarely heard in concert halls because of its unusual instrumentation (basically, chamber orchestra with piano and accordion). The entire work is well worth listening to, highlighting Hindemith's ability to create a boisterous, rhythmic character as well as his underappreciated sense of humour. (The zany last movement gradually increases in tempo to a breakneck speed, until Hindemith finally closes things off with, of all things, a siren). Hindemith is also capable of achieving a wonderful, gorgeous lyricism, as in the oratorio When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd, Hindemith's elegy for Roosevelt set to a poem by Walt Whitman.

Hindemith's music may not be to everyone's taste, but the prevalent stereotypes of his music are inexcusably ill-founded. At his most populist, as in orchestral works like the Symphonic Metamorphoses, his idiom should appeal to anyone steeped in the Romantic orchestral tradition, and this work is probably the best entry point for people who don't know (or think they don't like) his music. But the work I keep returning to is the suite Nobilissima Visione, based on Hindemith's ballet about (of all people) St. Francis of Assisi. It has everything I love about Hindemith - the curiously melancholy lyricism, the robust sense of energy, the contrapuntal expertise - and I'm increasingly convinced it might be his masterpiece.

This post has run very long.

A miniature crisis of liturgical planning

So I have a lot of organ music to prepare in the next few weeks. For organists, the worst day for Christmas to fall is a Tuesday, because this means that we're playing three days in a row (Sunday the 23rd, Monday the 24th, and Tuesday the 25th). Which is, of course, exactly what's happened this year.

This would all be fine except that I've been labouring for weeks under the impression that I would only have to play one service on Christmas Eve (the midnight communion service). In fact, there are two services on Christmas Eve, and I haven't prepared any music for the first one.

Now, most people would play the same organ pieces at both services, or look through their library for easy Christmas music from previous years to substitute. However, this is obviously cheating. Instead, I head off to the music library to look for Christmas music I don't have, and come out with the following:

La Mystere de Noel: Poeme Symphonique sous forme de Chorals Varies sur l'Hymne de Noel "Jesu Redemptor Omnium"

The composer is Auguste Fauchard, organist at the cathedral of Laval in France. It's reminiscent of Dupre's notorious Variations on a Noel, but easier to play and, as far as I can tell from my attempts at sight-reading it, possibly a better piece of music. To my knowledge, almost no-one plays the piece, although there is a recording by Fauchard's successor at Laval. Best of all, it would fit the service perfectly; with the theme and first few variations as a prelude and the final fugato and toccata as a postlude.

Of limited interest, I know, since you're not in a position to hear the music and can't judge it for yourself - but I'm very excited about making such a major repertoire discovery almost entirely by accident. Now I just have to learn it - only ten more practicing days until Christmas!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Death of Modernism

I'm glad to have the previous post out of the way - there's nothing I less enjoy writing than an introduction, especially when I have more important matters on my mind. Luckily, a combination of extreme brevity and shamelessly plagiarizing dead poets got me through in less than a week.

The latest news in the classical music community is the death of Karlheinz Stockhausen, one of the pioneering avant-garde composers of the last century. I confess to being mostly ignorant of Stockhausen's music - the only works I'm familiar with are the electronic piece Gesang der Junglinge, the early Kreutzspiel, and the inevitable Stimmung. However, it strikes me that the death of such an important composer is most relevant as a symbolic event. When one of the most visible, pioneering avant-garde composers of the century passes away, it's clear that the era of music-making he represents is definitively over.

As an enthusiastic, almost rabid proponent of twentieth-century music, this is slightly saddening. Stockhausen is dead! All our modernist dreams are over! Pack up your bags and go home! On the other hand, this is heartening. If Stockhausen is dead, that means that Stockhausen is no longer a Dreadful Modern Composer, but an Honoured Dead Composer. And if you want your music to be accepted by the concertgoing public, it pays to be an honoured dead composer. They're safer, less likely to surprise you with unexpected sounds.

In fact, the end of the era of High Modernism may be the best thing that ever happened to it. We now have the perspective of hindsight, and our evaluations of the music are influenced neither by the academic tastemakers proclaiming the death of tonality nor by the older musicians who label the entire movement as deliberate charlatanism. And as we look back on this music, it becomes more and more apparent just how traditional it really was.

Stockhausen never wrote for organ - a surprising fact considering that he wrote for almost every other instrument - but the conflict between modernist and conservative musical tendencies exists in the organ world as well. Because organists are notoriously conservative, really modern music (by the standards of, say, Pierre Boulez or Brian Ferneyhough) is almost never heard in organ recitals, choral concerts, or church music programmes. I have been told numerous times that twentieth-century music is "inaccessible" - a word I hate - and won't go over well with an audience or congregation of non-musicians. Or will it?

An anecdote. As a church organist, I regularly receive comments on the music I play, or that the choir sings, in the service. Certain people comment on the program regularly - the presiding priest, members of the choir, and certain members of the congregation who take a particular interest in music. One Sunday last year during the administration of communion, I played the second movement of Olivier Messiaen's Meditations sur la Mystere de la Sainte Trinite. A conservative work for its time, but clearly written in a twentieth-century idiom, and I saw members of the choir make faces - they know how much I enjoy Messiaen, but don't approve. After the service, I fully expected criticism from some of the more conservative members of the parish.

But it didn't come. Instead, a man I'd never talked to before approached me and told me how much he enjoyed the communion music. He said that some of the sounds were unusual, but he liked hearing some different colours from the organ beyond the ones he usually gets to hear. He didn't know anything about music, he told me, but he thought my piece brought out the mysterious aspects of the service.

That made my day. And it confirmed something I've suspected for a long time: modern music is only shocking to people accustomed to tonal music of the 19th century and earlier. It's only offensive to people who have a modicum of classical music education. People with no classical music background have no reason to be frightened of the strange sounds; they hear worse in movie soundtracks. I noticed a similar phenomenon when, in high school, I had occasion to observe the reactions of a number of students and some staff members to hearing a recording of the R. Murray Schafer flute concerto. One of the staff members was horrified and claimed the music would give her nightmares. The music students were divided; some liked it, others thought it was too dissonant. The non-music students thought it sounded kind of cool.

Oh, why NOT.

I'm deeply ambivalent about starting a blog. On the one hand, everyone already seems to have one of the stupid things, from Geoffrey Chaucer to your elderly aunt who blogs about the adventures of her cats. Why would anything I could write serve any useful purpose?

On the other hand, there seems to be a definite lack of organ-related blogs on the Internet. Why is this? (Answer: Because organists are Luddites.) As a result, I see very little representation of issues that are important to me, such as liturgical planning, the lopsided representation of the organ literature in recital settings, reed voicing, standardizing the spelling of the word "Gedackt", and the death/non-death/eye colour of traditional church music. If I want to see these issues addressed, I'm going to have to discuss them myself.

The clincher, though, is that I have a lot of iconoclastic opinions about subjects normal people don't care about and, for my own sake, I find it expedient to put them in writing. So:

"And therefore, whoso list it nat y-here,
Turne over the leef, and chese another [blog].
For he shal finde ynowe, grete and smale,
Of storial thing that toucheth gentillesse,
And eek moralitee and holinesse.
Blameth nat me if that ye chese amis."

(Miller's Tale, 3176-81)