Listening to a jazz radio station as we made dinner, I was surprised to hear the announcer describe every track as ‘a song’, even though the programme was a sequence of purely instrumental tracks. ‘What’s your next song?’ he kept saying to his guest, who’d reply without batting an eyelid, ‘My next song is a great one for saxophone, bass and drums’, or whatever.
I can only imagine that calling everything ‘a song’ is a habit provoked by iTunes, where everything seems to be labelled a song. But to me a song is sung by a singer. If there’s no singer, then it’s not a song but something else: a piece, a track, a number, a movement. That a song is something you sing seems something very ancient and basic. What next: will someone who plays ‘a song’ on the piano be called ‘a singer’?
To call an instrumental piece ‘a song’ seems almost like calling a slice of bread ‘a drink’. No doubt historians of language will say that if enough people call an instrumental piece a song, then ‘song’ will become standard usage, and soon nobody will think a thing about it. But as far as I’m concerned, we’re not there yet.
Unusual flowers have appeared in our little lawn this year. Violets, which we’ve never seen in the garden before, and daisies which are bright pink or deep red (see photo). When it was time to mow the lawn, we sorrowfully bade them farewell. The lawn was also full of rough-looking dandelions which needed firm treatment.
Next morning the lawn was a calm stretch of green. All the dandelions had gone. But gradually I realised that the red daisies were there again. On inspection, I saw that they had not been cut down at all, but had merely bent and lain flat on the ground as the mower passed by overhead. When the coast was clear, they raised themselves up again on their flexible stalks. It was impressive, like an illustration of the old proverb about the tree which bends in a storm, doesn’t break, and lives to tell the tale.
I’ve just finished reading ‘Julie and Julia’, an entertaining account of Julie Powell’s year spent cooking her way through Julia Child’s 1961 ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’, the book which famously opened the American public’s eyes to the art and style of classic French cuisine.
Julie Powell keeps things light, perhaps too light, but I was touched by the sudden note of seriousness which underlies her explanation of what got her hooked on this project in the first place. Flicking through her mother’s copy of ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’, Julie P was fascinated by the complexity and seriousness of the instructions, with their drawings and pages of detailed description. It was a glimpse of a world where craft and dedication would teach you lots of things. ‘I felt like I’d at last found something important’, she writes. ‘It wasn’t the food exactly. If you looked hard enough, the food started to feel almost beside the point. No, there was something deeper here, some code within the words, perhaps some secret embedded in the paper itself.’ Very much how I feel about the musical scores which are the ‘recipes’ for playing music.
This month the Florestan Trio’s new disc is out on Hyperion Records. It’s a CD of three marvellous Czech piano trios by Smetana, Martinu and Petr Eben.
It was a particularly arduous disc to record because all three works – though particularly the Smetana and Martinu – require a lot of physical stamina. In concert, short bursts of physical prowess are somehow within one’s grasp; under recording conditions, where you have to play things over and over again without any lapse of intensity, it’s hard to keep up the required energy levels. Nevertheless I think we all feel proud of the way this disc has turned out.
Many thanks to everyone who gave me feedback after my request for same on this blog’s first anniversary.
In the fevered run-up to this Thursday’s UK General Election, and with political rhetoric ringing in my ears, I’m happy to announce that I have been re-elected leader of this blog, with a mandate which clearly shows that the electorate is satisfied with my policies. Sustained by Bob’s cooking, I will do my best to live up to your expectations as we go forward. And now please remind me to switch off my radio mike.