Changing Tenses in Mid(-Narrative) Stream

Or: There and Back Again

This little review shifts verb tenses in order to effect a tesseract. Or an exercise in experimental usage. Or...to convey a sense of motion...? I don't know. I'm not the world's best prose stylist, by far. But if something seems amiss, I go running:

Figure 1: I guess I need to get the 4th Edition

"...whichever tense the writer chooses he should use throughout. Shifting from one tense to another gives the appearance of uncertainty and irresolution." (3rd Edition, p. 31)


MSO Shines in Saturday Show

One of these days, maybe not this year or next or even the year after that, Muncie residents are going to wish they had spent time listening to the Muncie Symphony Orchestra under conductor Bohuslav Rattay.

A bold prediction, tempered by absolute hedging about when it will come to pass. Couched in the future, the sentence nonetheless foreshadows the temporal adventure ahead ("One of these days...will...wish they had...").

Because, as much as some may hate to believe it, one day a larger city’s orchestra is going to snatch him up from under the MSO’s tutelage and all of East Central Indiana will refer to his tenure as the “gold ol' days.”

The temporal ambiguity (and point-of-view) is slowly introduced. The predictions ("is going to...will refer to...") are mediated by the imposition of the present at the beginning ("...as much as some may hate to believe..."), situating the reader in the current attitudes of (one assumes) residents of East Central Indiana.

Fun Fact: Residents of East Central Indiana traditionally use the unusual colloquialism "gold ol' days," which 1) uses the contraction of "old" to prevent the untoward elision of consonants threatened by the repeated "d" joining "old" and "days," and 2) replaces "good" in the common phrase "good ol' days" with "gold." The reason for the latter remains unclear; however, recent research speculates that this oddity of speech is accounted for by the fact that "gold" is a common word, coupled with the ongoing problem that Spellcheck does not understand idioms.

Rattay is that good of a conductor.

Ah, an unqualified "is"; present tense, here we come! [The construction "that good of a..." is irksome for some reason, but I cannot substantiate my displeasure. Anyone on rules of usage?]

And his greatness was especially clear during the MSO’s latest concert Saturday evening in Emens Auditorium.

Oh, dear, back to "was" again.

“The Tale of the Three Strausses” was the theme of the night, with the well-known “On the beautiful Blue Danube” beginning the evening in a unique and wonderful way.

We seem now to be situated solidly in the past tense. Or are we? (Dun dun dunnn!) Why use "beginning" instead of "began" except throw into question the temporal situation of the reader (or reviewer)? Also, the clever uncapitalized "beautiful" in the title is a wry comment on the state of the Danube today.

Rattay started the piece off slowly, a rarity with American orchestras which typically begin the piece with a bombastic flair.

Considering how the waltz begins, this 1) seems unlikely, and 2) is totally unsubstantiated.

The MSO’s process allowed the audience to tune their ears to the fanciful movements in the piece.

Assuming there was a "process" (strategy? approach? reading? interpretation?), was it the orchestra's or the conductor's? Also, there's only one movement in the piece; clearly something else was intended instead of the usual musical parlance, but...what? Finally, three uses of "piece" in the last two sentences alone gets redundant really quickly. At least we're in past-tense-concert-review mode.

The same was true with the “Voices of Spring” piece performed after the intermission.

There's "piece" again. And it's awkward; "'Voices of Spring' piece"?

This time, the orchestra began with the alert attention that was more than loud noise.

I have no idea what this sentence means.

It was the appropriate start for a Straussian piece so well known.

Hold off on "piece" for a bit, hyphenate (?) "well-known," explain what "alert attention that was more than loud noise" means and explain why it was an appropriate beginning for "Voices of Spring" (because it is "well known" [sic]?) and we'll have ourselves a sentence. Moreover, "Straussian" makes it sound like the piece (sorry) was like Strauss' work. "...a Strauss piece" would have sufficed, I think.

Sarah Hibbard was the guest artist for the evening, using her beautiful soprano...

The sudden switch of tenses back to the present in mid-sentence was appropriate considering the immediacy of the...what? Maybe the rest of the paragraph will help.

Sarah Hibbard was the guest artist for the evening, using her beautiful soprano to add more flavor to the orchestra’s interpretation of Richard Strauss. Although she did not seem as strong a soprano needed to perform “Vier Letzte Lieder," at times her voice and the orchestra’s collaboration was unbelievably beautiful and well worth the price of admission.

Wow. At least we're back in the past tense, I guess.

It is with the final piece, also by Richard Strauss, where Rattay shows his ability to take musical risks that are intriguing and enjoyable.

It is? Now? Suddenly? Is the concert still going on? Piece?

As was the case with Miles Davis during his “Kind of Blue” days, he encourages the musicians to bring their own voices to the performance.


He also transitions these amazing artists beautifully in between movements,

He transitions...the performers?

...keeping the performance in a classical realm rather than a New Age version of Strauss.

I am so fucking lost. The present sure is confusing. Miles Davis? New Age Strauss?!

Figure 2: The dawning of the Age of Aquarius?

He is incredibly expressive during the piece without being overbearing or cartoonish in his body movements. He truly feels the music and the musicians do as well. The performance from all involved was simply great.

Ahh! Back to the past! What the hell?

Unfortunately, not many community members or BSU students were on hand to see and hear this very good orchestra. Not many cities of Muncie’s size can say they house a high-class orchestra and one has to wonder what it will take for people in Muncie to celebrate the fact that they do. Hopefully, it won’t be after Rattay has moved on to his next orchestra.

Goodness gracious. It's like some kind of swiftly tilting planet.

Figure 3: A Wrinkle in Time


Empiricus said...

Even if I knew what it looked like to beautifully transition performers, how does that keep the performance in a classical realm, as opposed to a New Age version of Strauss? Does Yanni perform ugly transitions? Moreover, does he write anything in movement form? Does the Acropolis frown upon classical-like transitions?

Maybe it's all about frequent page turns.

Good find. Good dig. Weird review.

Strini said...

Whew. You gave me a start. I saw MSO at the top of the story and thought Oh no! The DR boys caught me in some unforgivable linguistic or musicological error! Gaaaa!

But it was the MUNCIE Symphony Orchestra. Not Milwaukee. So I could yuck it up with everyone else instead of crying myself to sleep tonight.

Ha! That Muncie guy. What a hapless boob.

By the way,you guys should drop by my blog: www.jsonline.com/blogs/oldsonganddance. Opened on 2/13. Don't know about anyone else, but I'm having fun with it. Also gave you guys a shout out a few entries back. -- Strini

Sator Arepo said...


Thanks, and saw the blog/blurb. We thought it was hilarious.

Empiricus said...


Ditto, SA. And it looks great--nice and simple, informative, easy on the eyes!

Still, I have some questions for you, if you have a chance--I wasn't sure if they were appropriate for a comment on your blog.

We've discussed the possibility of critical readings of blogs associated with newspapers and have a few reservations. I was hoping you might be able to let us know your situation and thoughts.

1. How much freedom are you allowed? That is, are you given assignments for the blog, like assignments for print? To what degree do you determine the content? Am I naive?

2. In what way does your employer make a distinction between print and blog?

3. Is your blog edited by someone other than you?

See, from our vantage point, the Old Song and Dance is still closely associated with the Journal-Sentinel, complete with advertisements and a full set of JS links. It still seems like a very professional relationship, which, to us, might signify fair play for our dirty work (we've tried very hard to limit our critiques to those in print, actual paper or online, i.e. the pros).

Given critics' exodus to the blog world, however, I'm becoming mildly concerned about the distinctions between personal blogs--like Guerrieri's Soho on Blogger, which exists for the love of music--and blogs that are closely aligned with newspapers, or what I might call professional blogs, whose raison d'etre is, for various reasons, suspect.


Now, The Old Song and Dance IS NOT a fake nor unimportant. I enjoy it very much (there is now a link on the DR).

In the end, I just want to know how much influence a newspaper has on a blog like yours--it seems like the JS is doing a great job letting you do what you please.

On the flip side of the coin, how do we know where our information is coming from? Is it edited by several people or is it self-published?

I mean, blogs still have a reputation for shoddy journalism. So what makes newspaper-affiliated blogs different? Editors?


Anyway, if you could find some time to let us all know what you think, we'll definitely love you forever.

...and ever.

Cheers and good work!

Strini said...

Hi guys.
Thanks for putting up the link.
The blog, although a JS product and part of my job, is pretty much whatever I want it to be. I just put the stuff up unedited. Assorted editors look it over after the fact when they have a minute, mainly to make sure that we won't get sued over some dumb thing I did.
I don't know that other papers' sites work that way, but frankly, here we no longer have the personpower to do it any other way. So far, no editor has asked me to take down or alter anything. As far as I know, all our blogs work this way.
The editors at this point seem to be simply trusting our judgment and relying on our creativity to attract some eyeballs and the desperately needed ad revenue that comes with them.
For my part, I'm trying to put stuff on the blog that makes sense, particularly in terms of links and multi-media, that wouldn't make sense in the paper. So far, we have not posted reviews in the blog context; they appear in jsonline.com proper. I think that's good. I don't want the blog to be just a sloppier version of what I do in print or a dumping ground for the brief informational items that no longer rate space in a shrinking print product.
The blog is still something of a science experiment, but I think its bias toward the immediate, wacky and amusing, with occasional forays into breaking news, seems to lean in the right direction.
I thought I might have trouble filling it seven days a week, but so far things have just somehow presented themselves. So far, so fun.
Thanks again for caring.--Strini

Empiricus said...


Thanks for the thoughtful comments.

It's difficult, sometimes--especially in such niched corners of the collective consciousness as classical music and dance--to know where the information is coming from. I think you've helped us (and not only us) to understand where a number newspapers (and the likes of our informed information) is coming from.

Again, we love you...

...for evers.


Empiricus said...

...and sometimes my prose is ungrammatical and redundant...

...most often, when I'm in the throes of sincere thanks.

Anonymous said...

YEAH YEAH YEAH, to see clearly, take step back. In this case listen to some really good music. no matter if it's classical or rock or punk or rap, the very best invariably involve a sudden, comkpeltely off the wall key change (yes you dimwit i'm comparing the plodder hack writer who may never change the tense to the humdrum composer who never changes the key)to achieve an electric shock of action in the midst of the writing/composing. some pop writers refer to as the 'drop dead' chord (re the opening chord of 'hard day's night' or the last chord of the middle eight of 'When I Saw her standing there'. Ok they are both Lennon and McCartney ('cept that, When I Saw Her Standing There is actual credited to McCartney and Lennon - that's just for the purists)

So don't get hung up on a tense change mid narrative IF it adds to the 'atmosphere'