Brain Dropping #90 – Orpheus Ascending
Orpheus was the mythic minstrel taught the Lyre by Apollo, and who played so exquisitely that wild animals were charmed and trees uprooted themselves to follow him. His mesmerizing music got him into the underworld where, if he hadn’t disobeyed instructions not to turn back to look at her as he was leading her back to life, his great love Eurydice would have been saved. The jealous wild women of Thrace tore Orpheus limb from limb and threw his head in a river where it kept on singing all the way to the sea. Hey! The show must go on!
There’s that old time-worn saying: “Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast.” I always thought it was Shakespeare, but it turns out it is properly attributed to William Congreve in his play “The Mourning Bride” of the Restoration Period in England, 1660 – 1710, when Charles II was king.
As I approach my dotage, music has become a vital part of my daily life soothing the quotidian hills and valleys and often elevating my spirit to a higher plane. Some days, driving along in northern Vermont on Chester Arthur Road (Named after the undistinguished President.), I have my car radio tuned to Vermont Public Radio’s classical music service. On my way to put labels on sauerkraut jars for my pal Doug Flack , I would be – well – transported by, say, Frederick Delius’ “In A Summer Garden” or Jan Sibelius’ Second Symphony building to a towering climax as Mt. Mansfield comes into view across the rolling foot hills of the Green mountains.
Duke Ellington, in talking about pop music versus ‘serious music’ said that there was only two kinds of music – good and bad! Without meaning to be snobbish I’ve got to say that its so-called Classical Music that does the job for my psyche. The thematic construction, multi-layered tonalities, and the polyphony with ingenious modulations, grips my attention like a good short story. Frequently,in my head, the music seems to have been composed with my drive along the meandering road in mind. Bach’s “Double Violin Concerto played by Pinchas Zuckerman and Itzhak Perlman rolls along with the hum of my tires on the dirt road. and then, in the adagio movement, allows for closer attention to be paid to the bordering landscape.
For me, it isn’t enough to sit and listen. Since I was in High School I have made my own music, banging away on my guitar with the old folk tunes and more current singer-songwriter songs. Bob Dylan, Eric Bogle, Tom Paxton, Pete Seeger, even Tom Waits and a host of others occupy my time trying to overcome my somewhat tin-ear in learning a new tune. I’m currently learning Paxton’s “Looking For The Moon.”
Like Orpheus’ detached head I want to keep on singing, and listening, ’til the river of time carries me out to sea.