ned rorem


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Contrary to my previous resolution, I have not been skipping martinis the last few nights. My BP and weight has been okay. When I combine that with my late season burn out, I am delaying skipping my evening martini until I am more ready to do so.  No doubt my therapist and I will discuss this when I see him Friday.

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Instead of reading more poetry this morning, I remembered thinking last night that it would be interesting to look analytically at the Ned Rorem organ pieces I am learning for Sunday. I spent some time dissecting exactly how his Magnificat from Organbook II works.

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I like observing the beauty of his develop of his musical ideas. It struck me that this is very similar to observing beauty in poetry I read aloud to myself each morning.

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It also helps me remember something I enjoy a lot about music: the clever way composers put their pieces together.  This is a reason to like Bach. It’s also a reason I like Shakespeare. In Shakespeare’s case, it’s the beauty of language, but I also notice the way he puts language together.

When I am reading a poem by a more contemporary poet, I often stop to consider how the poem is constructed. I have been reading some more conservative poets like W. H. Auden, Richard Wilbur, and Anthony Hecht.

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Anthony Hecht (1923-2004)

These men are quite the craftsmen. I often wonder how they find rhymes and rhythms with such beautiful meaning. Usually they make it look effortless.  But I’m sure it’s not that easy. It must come out of their dedication to their craft.

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Rorem has an interesting introduction to his Organbooks. Writing in 1990t, he comments that “in the United States the organ is an acquired taste, not only for musical laymen but for most professional musicians. Laymen connect the sound with church-going, an extramusical occurrence irrelevant to the concert hall. Professionals (except, of course,  for organists themselves) can find the sound over-rich, blurred, remote from the incisive linear flow they were taught to parse in counterpoint class.”

Ouch. I wince when I read that my life’s work is “an extramusical occurrence.” And Rorem’s description of organ sound definitely describes much organ music. However, I doubt if he would feel that way about my Pasi which makes beautiful, clear, and incisive sounds. At last to my old rock and roll ear it does.

I love Rorem’s music. If it weren’t for the fact that much of his opus is for the natural voice, I would listen to it more. But despite being the son of a man with a decent voice, I don’t enjoy the sound of the classical solo voice that much. I like Bach arias and adore Dietrich Fisher-Deskau’s recordings of Schubert lieder. But I admit that my personal aesthetic admires the sound that comes from Billy Holiday, Paul Simon vocals, Randy Neuman, and others.

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Billie Holiday (1915-1959)

Once again I find myself in between worlds. It’s not a bad place to be. As someone who enjoys and values so many different musics, my life is enriched by them. Rorem seems to be still alive. He would be 94. I hope he’s being well taken care of.

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