Come, Sweet Jesus!

(MW has got his song Come, Sweet Jesus featured on the first page of the worship category at today. In the program note for the piece you can read:)

“A new ecumenical spirit is abroad in these United States, a new pride in the triumph of our Faith®, and its capacities to solve all our woes, once and for all. If it isn’t exactly a spirit of tolerance and compassion, it is instead–and ever so much better–a firm respect for the exact letter of the sacred scripture, as interpreted by great and pious men like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and of course our beloved president, George W. Bush, who was chosen for us by the Almighty® Himself.

I pay tribute to that powerful spirit with this hymn of praise and thanksgiving. If you’re right, you don’t need to be tolerant, or even curious. If you’re washed in the Blood of the Lamb®, that washes away the blood of others. Hallelujah! — and God help us all.”

As this bizarre case shows, getting “featured” depends entirely, far as I can tell, on quantity of comment text. There’s no other explanation for how this adolescent-blasphemous score would become featured on the worship page. They look at quantity, not content; indeed, it’s conceivable that there is some sub-routine in the webpage program that randomly selects pieces within the category that have 50 words or more of text, and jams them onto to the highlights page.

Rod adamantly refuses to play this game, and so never gets featured. We’ve discussed this, and I agree with Rod, writing programme notes for compositions is turnip-witted in most situations. What does pointing out that your piece was premiered by the Tuscaloosa Firefighters’ Light-Heavy Symphony Orchestra do to change the fact that the work in question is a poorly-wrought mess? Or, for that matter, that it’s a near-masterpiece? Never mind that the inspiration was the lamentable passing of your favourite pet cat, Herbert, who was a dear and jolly fellow, tragically taken away from us at the still-too-young age of 19 years, 4 months, and 357 seconds.. If there was a poetry page, would the poets’ be similarly obliged? (I doubt I’d care for the real answer to this..) I mean, we do know the realities; the pretense that this is a composer/arranger’s list, with all the professionalism that implies, is just that, a pretense. The absent “professionalism” I have in mind is precisely expressed by the prominence and prevalence of programme notes. It’s bad enough that these things are a virtually ironclad prerequisite for audiences–but for composers, examining each others’ works? It’s a sign of the times, and not a good one.

Again, there have been numerous composers since Schumann and Berlioz (who seem to have been among the first) to babble on cheerfully about their music, its meanings, aesthetics, life on earth, and the very best recipes for potato salad. And we all know, or strongly suspect, that “letting the music speak for itself” is itself just one position among many, and itself perhaps a canard, of sorts. What animates me here is personal experience, with scores both online and off. I can honestly say that personal knowledge has never once animated or directed anything I’ve learned from score study. Reading and studying Beethoven’s opus 18 quartets, composed when he was healthy, is no different from the same experience with the last five, when he was deafer than Dick Cheney’s conscience. Put another way: I have had moments, many even, of insight into the personal aspects of music. Mahler’s despair in his last few works is impossible to overlook or mishear, for instance. But I have never once had a moment of “Aha! that‘s what s/he’s doing!,” or “right, now I get it!” that was based on such things–“such things” as can be expressed in words at all, much less in maudlin perorations about dying cats, regional premieres, philosophical and political convictions, divorce and travel plans, favourite restaurants, cherished [“Kodak®”] memories, heartwarming anecdotes, or the rest of the sentimental detritus that, however much it powers our lives, has got buggerall to do with what’s happening in music.