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Assignments


Term 2, 2014


Please find below a series of ideas for assignments. Please choose any that interest you!

 



Take note of songs or snatches of song as they appear in your semi-conscious reverie. See if you can tease out ways in which they might be apt responses to your situation, to a problem you didn’t realize you were thinking about.

Cf. Doris Lessing [if you substitute ‘song’ for ‘tale’]:

"And there are unexpected resonances, such as when finding in

your mind a tale that apparently has nothing to do with the dilemma

you are in (so that you suspect the machinery is malfunctioning).

But then as you go along the relevance becomes only too clear. And

this is similar to the sometimes surprising messages of dreams."




Enlarge upon/engage with E. Y. Harburg’s quote:

“Words make you think thoughts. Music makes you feel a feeling. But a song makes you feel a thought.”

 



“...music [is] the form in which magic survives down to our day.” “...the affinity between music and magic is rooted in their very nature. ...in both, man’s sense of being at one with the world outweighs his sense of being distinct from it: what links man to man, man to thing, and thing to thing outweighs what separates them.” — Victor Zuckerkandl, Man the Musician

 



In his novel Heinrich von Ofterdingen, Novalis describes “...a very odd song, which... became very popular because it [he means the lyric] sounded so strange, nearly as obscure and unintelligible as the music itself, but for this very reason was incomprehensively fascinating and delightful as a dream to one awake.”

Discuss the appeal of a song with incomprehensible or nonsense lyrics.

 



Another German Romantic, Friedrich Schlegel, wrote:

“Through all the noise of life's multi-coloured dream,
One song sings to the secret listener.”

A lot of art is created like a message in a bottle. We hope it will someday find its way to a secret listener who understands us.

Write about a song that sings to you, ‘you’ (or another protagonist) are the person it was meant to find, the ‘secret listener.’ (Can be fiction, fact, poetry)

 



Can you think of an example from your childhood when a folk song was passed down to you by an adult? Write something (a memoir?) about that.

As research, listen to this episode of Soul Music on BBC Radio 4:

She Moved through the Fair:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01qm2fw

Duration: 30 minutes

The Irish traditional song She Moved Through The Fair is well loved and well recorded by many. To some it is a ghost story that tells of unfulfilled longings and of hopes and aspirations cut short. Sinead O' Connor and others talk about the haunting beauty of this ancient song and of why its imagery is carved into their souls.

 



A ‘favourite exercise for actors’: Try this in your own time — treat it as an experiment. Write it up as a cross between a lab report/poem:

Listen to (a) as close in as you can -- heartbeat etc -- and then (b) as distant as possible e.g. a motorcycle 7 miles away.

First you sit in absolute silence and focus your hearing closer and closer until you're listening inside your own body. Then the other way - further and further, blocking (mentally) the interior sounds, then the room, then the building etc etc. An exercise in directing attention.”

 



Using Kerouac’s ‘List of Essentials’ for composing ‘spontaneous prose’ (in Week 7 coursepack) –especially these two:

“12. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you

13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition”

write a passage of spontaneous prose in response to a poem, a piece of music, or a song of your choice.

“16. The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye” Kerouac says — for this exercise make that the ear within the ear.

Try to listen to yourself listening, “Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog”




The nineteenth-century German Romantic poet, Friedrich Schlegel, wrote:

'Through all the noise of life's multi-coloured dream, One song sings to the secret listener.'

1/ A lot of art is created like a message in a bottle. We hope it will someday find its way to a secret listener who understands us.
Write about a song that sings to you, ‘you’ (or another protagonist) are the person it was meant to find, the ‘secret listener.’ (Can be fiction, fact, poetry)

2/ Choose one of the texts from the course pack to respond to. Your response can be an essay (literary criticism), an imitation, or another kind of creative ‘response’ (prose, poetry, performance, song).

3/ Discuss the appeal of a song with incomprehensible or nonsense lyrics.



As we’ve noted more than once in this course, it’s a particular challenge to find words to describe objectively the subjective effects — physical and psychological — that music has on us, the ways we’re moved mentally and physically by a song, for instance. See if you can find attempts by other writers to do it — e.g. Zadie Smith describing the effect on her of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Blue’ in the New Yorker piece Emma showed us. (‘Blue’ moves her to tears, she wants to understand why/how).

Cf. John Updike in “You’ll Never Know Dear How Much I Love You”, his first published short story (which takes its title from a line in the traditional song, “You Are My Sunshine”). Here’s how Updike describes the impact on a 10 year old boy hearing a vocal group singing the song at a travelling carnival: “The three voices sob, catch, twang, distend his heart like a rubber band at the highest pitch of their plaint ‘—I was mistaken, and I hung my head, a-and cried.’ And then the unbearable rising sugar of the chorus that makes his scalp so tight he fears his head will burst from sweet fullness.”

(Note how in Updike's account the song’s effects are felt first by the HEART, then the HEAD. Does that agree with your own experience?)

An old metaphor for the effect sad music has on us is that it " inflicts on the soul a voluptuous wound and leaves the point therein." It sounds painful, but we like it. In “As You Like It”, Jaques begs Amiens to sing. Amiens hesitates, “it will make you melancholy” he says. Jaques replies “I thank it. More, I prithee, more. I can suck 
melancholy out of a song, as a weasel sucks eggs.”

Why we like it is a subject explored in a book called ‘Why Humans Like to Cry’ by Michael Trimble. He thinks it may be a byproduct of our need to be social — we like sharing feelings with other people, especially sorrow, because it's one of the strongest and longest lasting emotions. Trimble is particularly interested in how music and the other arts can move us to tears. How and why. He concludes that once we realised that crying provided a sort of catharsis, we devised ways to prompt this experience on demand. Certain types of music evolved in response to this. The lament, the sad ballad, blues and soul music, to name a few.

Cf. the so-called 'Hungarian suicide song' Gloomy Sunday — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gloomy_Sunday

Write about the appeal of sad songs with particular reference to Lorca’s theory of duende and the genres of Blues and Soul.




“All ethnic music is Irish,” Harry Smith once observed while listening to a recording of African pygmy music. It was a typical Smith remark—epigrammatic, facetious, and true in some eccentric sense. For Smith, the imaginative convolutions of Celtic art and music was a model for how he sought to define the aesthetic experience.

Listen to this episode (link below) of Soul Music on BBC Radio 4:
She Moved through the Fair (Series 15 Episode 3 of 5)
Duration: 30 minutes
First broadcast: Tuesday 19 February 2013
The Irish traditional song She Moved Through The Fair is well loved and well recorded by many. To some it is a ghost story that tells of unfulfilled longings and of hopes and aspirations cut short. Sinead O' Connor and others talk about the haunting beauty of this ancient song and of why its imagery is carved into their souls.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01qm2fw