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I am posting this as a benchmark, not because I think I'm playing very well yet.  The idea would be post a video every month for a ye...

Wednesday, November 13, 2019


Here another link.

La Argentinita

I just found this:

Al desatarse la Guerra Civil Española huyó de España y se estableció exiliada en Estados Unidos. En 1943 presentó en el Metropolitan Opera House de Nueva York el cuadro flamenco El Café de Chinitas, con coreografía propia, textos de Lorca, decorados de Salvador Dalí y la orquesta dirigida por José Iturbi. Junto a su hermana, Pilar López, actúa en el Water Gate de Washington y recorre Norteamérica durante 6 años, hasta su fallecimiento en septiembre de 1945, momento en que se deshace la Compañía de Bailes Españoles de La Argentinita.

More sparkling prose from Denby

Here are three paragraphs from "About Ballet Decoration" from Denby (1944). He presents a theoretical framework and writes a 6 paragraph essay with some concrete examples. The middle paragraph here consists of three sentences, relying heavily on the verb "to be." The other verbs are fairly ordinarily ones to, like know, make, hold, look. The next paragraph explain how a ballet set can be "pictorially alive," by doing "different and opposite things decisively."

My aim is to write this way about music. The thing about dance is that is is visual but also kinetic, performative, and auditory. So writing about it has to take into account multiple dimensions. Look how Denby summarizes here what makes a ballet "alive and satisfactory."

I would say a poet can write good dance criticism because poets are also in the business of writing something that holds the interest for "hundreds of years." Denby's own poetry is odd, and I will have to read more of it to comment on it with the required degree of acumen. Right now it seems quirky, comic, and dependent on rhyme in a funny way you wouldn't expect, but that's just a first impression.

Phrase coming to me in a dream

I come from THE EGG

to which / I have never been

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Words and Music

Here are three relations between words and music:

1) In a folksong, one simply accepts that that melody goes with those words. In other words, we don't think of someone finding a poem called "London Bridge is Falling Down" and then setting it to music.

2) In collaborative ventures, we think of the composer and lyricist working together. The words or music could come first; it doesn't really matter. Take "Stardust." It was an instrumental first, and then someone wrote a lyric for it. But our reception of it doesn't depend on whether the melody or lyrics came first. Sometimes the composer and lyricist is the same person.  Once again, it doesn't matter whether we think of music or words as prior, since in practice we often don't even know or care. As in (1) we don't think of the music as a setting of a text already existing on its own.

3) But in settings of poetry that already exists apart from music, we do think of the words as having an absolute priority, not just in time, factually, but at a deeper level. We think of a composer approaching a text and giving it a new dimension that it didn't have before, transforming it from poem to song. This seems fundamentally different from (1) and (2).

The difference is in the kind of questions we ought to be asking.  I would contend that the sort of questions we ask when considering how Fauré treats Baudelaire are rather different than those we might ask when discussing the collaboration between R. Rodgers and L. Hart in the process that produced "My Funny Valentine." We don't think about what musical treatment RR gave to an existing poem written by LH, or even vice-versa. We could still analyze how the music works with the words, etc...

This is not a judgment about quality in the least.  Many art songs in the classical tradition might be dull, and not up to the standards of Richard Rodgers. Hart wrote brilliant lyrics that are better than most so-called poetry of the same period.

So the problem of Lorca: he comes out of tradition (1), but we must approach musical treatments of his work using analytical tools based on (3).

Monday, November 11, 2019


Denby has some prose chops:

Handsome the NYC way of dancing certainly is. Limpid, easy, large, open, bounding; calm in temper and steady in pulse; virtuoso in precision, in stamina, in rapidity.  So honest, so fresh and modest the company looks in action. The company's stance, the bearing of the dancer's whole body in action is the most straightforward, the clearest I ever saw; it is the company's physical approach to the grand style--not to the noble carriage but to the grand one. Simple and clear the look of shoulder and hip, the head, the elbow, and the instep; unnervous the bodies deploy in the step, hold its shape in the air, return to balance with no strain, and redeploy without effort. None either of the becks and nods, the spurts and lags, the breathless stops and almost-didn't-make-it starts they cultivate in Paris. (On the analogy of painting the French go in for texture, the Americans for drawing.) As clear as the shape of the step in the NYC style is in its timing, its synchronization to the score at its start, at any powerful thrust it has, at its close. So the dancers dance unhurried, assured and ample. They achieve a continuity of line and a steadiness of impetus that is unique, and can brilliantly increase the power of it and the exhilarating speed to the point where it glitters like cut glass. The rhythmic power of the company is its real style, and its novelty of fashion. Some people complain such dancing is mechanical. It seems quite the opposite to me, like a voluntary, a purely human attentiveness.  (Dance Writings and Poetry, 223)

Note the abundance of adjectives. We are told to write with nouns and verbs, not adjectives and adverbs, but they provide color and texture here. There is some technical language. I don't know the difference between the grand style and "noble carriage." Nor would I be able to perceive with the sharpness that Denby does--almost preternaturally. The paragraph builds gradually, through enumeration of detail, to a stunning conclusion, a pithy statement of the major achievement of the New York City Ballet: it rhythmic dynamism. Then we are told, surprisingly, that this approach seems "mechanical' to other people! He's throwing a wrench into his own argument.  But then he has the perfect rejoinder. And isn't "attentiveness" the quality that Denby's own writing demonstrates?

I'd probably suggest some edits in a few sentences if I were an editor. I'm not saying this paragraph is perfect in all respects, but it is vigorous, attentive, varied in rhythm, as dynamic as the dance style is is describing.

The Lorca connection: Denby has a wonderful piece on La Argentinita, mentioning Lorca in passing.

Myths about writing

The main myth about scholarly writing is that one's relationship to it must be negative. The sub-myths include these:

:it never gets easier

:if you aren't unhappy doing it, you aren't doing it right

:all writers produce bad first drafts, which only become good through arduous revision

:nobody likes doing it; it is someone one does to get tenure or promotion

:nobody reads it anyway, so the important thing is having the items listed in your c.v.

I don't deny that people have an unhealthy relation to their own writing practices; what I question is the assumption that this needs to be true. My attitude is this:

Writing is like anything else: one gets better at it with practice. Thus it does get easier with time, experience, and intelligent practice. The unhappiness has to do with the expectations surrounding the writing, not the writing itself. There are many ways to be an unhappy writer, but these are all based on a cognitive distortion.  Some of us do like it, and the reason to get tenure is to be able to do more of it, not less.

The idea that you can't learn to write more easily does not line up with the practice of any other human activity. Things that were difficult for me to play on the piano a year ago are now somewhat easy. Why would writing be something so different from anything else in life?

I see some of the reasons behind the myths. The romantic idea of the struggling artist in his / her agony has a great deal of appeal. Maybe the idea of the bad first draft is supposed to encourage the student whose drafts are still shitty. The idea of negativity has a great deal of paradoxical appeal, in that suffering can be a badge of honor. I don't deny I have suffered at some stages of my writing career, and can be proud of my persistence and resilience.