Friday, October 24, 2008

Poetry Friday: Wallace Stevens and Music

At my son's Music Honor Society induction last night, each new member had to perform a short piece. What struck me was how few of the young musicians enjoyed it. Out of about thirty kids, only about four seemed comfortable, even the ones with obvious talent. Why is that?

It was obviously horrific for some band members, like the trombone or tuba players, who I could almost hear thinking: if I wanted to play solo, I wouldn't be in...DUH!...a band!

Other highlights:

The gallant boy who offered to share his music stand with the girl beside him. Only she was almost two feet shorter than he was.

The girl in the fleece vest who burst forth with an operatic voice which she wrapped around French words while slouching and flipping the bangs out of her eyes. (Please, someone! Tell her what a miracle her voice is! And show her how to use it!)

Another girl sang "Killing Me Softly" like a forty-year old chanteuse. Except for the part where the soundtrack erupted into rap. But I liked it.

A friend of my son's had an entire entourage to carry his amp, cords, guitar, shirt, hat...and then he totally justified it by playing an original piece in which his fingers crawled up and down the frets like a frantic spider.

I'm not a musician. But I love watching how music bestows unreasonable gifts at random, on the awkward and graceful alike. It's the closest thing to unconditional love I've ever witnessed.

Here's Wallace Stevens, from Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction: It Must Give Pleasure

To sing jubilas at exact, accustomed times,
To be crested and wear the mane of a multitude
And so, as part, to exult with its great throat,

To speak of joy and to sing of it, borne on
The shoulders of joyous men, to feel the heart
That is the common, the bravest fundament,

This is a facile exercise. Jerome
Begat the tubas and the fire-wind strings,
The golden fingers picking dark-blue air:

Read the rest here.

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Kelly at Big A, little a.


  1. "I love watching how music bestows unreasonable gifts at random, on the awkward and graceful alike. It's the closest thing to unconditional love I've ever witnessed."

    Sara. My lord, sister. Your WORDS might be even closer to unconditional love than music. Unconditional love for life. How DO you spin a phrase this lovely out of thin air???

  2. The words "unconditional love" along with the word "bestowed" gave me a warm feeling and a few sniffles. Unreasonable, random, loving gifts bestowed ... on gawky, graceless, all-too-human us. Yes.

  3. Lovely post. Stevens is one of my favorites. Thanks for sharing all your astute observations.

  4. Okay, so Liz did what I wanted to do: quoted that beautiful bit you wrote there. Wow. That could be a Poetry Friday entry in and of itself.

    This post is so fitting for me today, as I'm re-discovering some music this week that, for me, revives my soul.

    I'm going to read the Stevens' poem later today when things are quiet. It'll be like a little gift waiting for me.

    Jules (who enjoyed reading the description of your evening, too. I feel like I was there now)

  5. "Irrational moment its unreasoning,
    As when the sun comes rising, when the sea
    Clears deeply, when the moon hangs on the wall

    Of heaven-haven. These are not things transformed.
    Yet we are shaken by them as if they were.
    We reason about them with a later reason."

    YES! Your description of the young people's music evening and the Steven's poem are perfectly matched. Thank you for this!

  6. What a beautiful post today, Sara. Thanks. It made me think of what T.S. Eliot said, that genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood. Musical compositions are the same way - and we "reason about them with a later reason." But it's your description of the kids that really hit home. I wonder if music teachers ever talk about the joy, the pleasure of it all?

  7. I wish I knew this poem when I was a full time musician.

    I can picture every one of the kids you describe.

    Music does amazing things.

  8. Sorry, Wallace.

    I like Sara's words better than yours this week.

  9. Mary Lee, I would blush, but I'm laughing too hard at your kiss-off of Wallace. I believe he would've adored you anyway.

    I enjoyed writing this post today. And last night, as I watched and listened, I was enjoying being a writer, knowing that I could save details in my head and rearrange them later on the page.

    Thank you all for attending my little concert here. It cheers me immensely know my audience is kind and patient and even shouts a few bravas now and then.


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