Expanding the Parameters, or All Antecedents Have Consequences

Holiday classical musical performances beyond the 'Messiah'

David Weininger, Boston Globe, 11/17/2012

Goodness gracious, is it that time already?  Never too early to jump back into the shark-infested waters, as my mom always said.*

*May not be true.

Soon it will be Christmas.

Thank heavens for the Boston Globe.  Talk about news you can use!

What should you listen to?

Should?  Uh...

This is not a simple question.

No shit.  What I "'should'" listen to is, apparently, prescribed by to the condition that "soon it will be Christmas."  That's a whole thing right there.  Perhaps I'm not a nominally Christian white East Coast American male over 55 who gives a shit that it's almost Christmas?

Oh, wait.  This is in a newspaper.  Well, I guess you have to write to your audience.

Figure 1: The all-inclusive target audience

Historically, Christmas...

If I said that I didn't like where this was going, I'd be lying...but only because of who I am and the blog for which I write.  I'm ten kinds of strapped in and prepared for the least-researched sentence ever.

...has been an immensely prolific time for composers, especially (and obviously) for those writing for the Christian church.

I submit that the sense of "historically" being invoked here is not really anything as broad as the word itself suggests.  It seems to me that, here, "historically" means "during the 18th century."

There was actually a relatively short period of time, in a pretty small part of the world, during which most composers were employed by Christian churches.

But, of course, people, places, and times not roughly related to "the last two or three hundred years of European-American history" aren't included in "historically."

But, now, see: perhaps that's exactly what this article is after: breaking the Christmas concert paradigm.

Figure 2: "Now Andy, if you let them take thirty, they'll take thirty-five. If you let them take thirty-five,
they'll take forty. If you let them take forty, they'll take forty-five."

Slow down there, Sator.  You're a little rusty at this.  Don't be so quick to--

But this trove of musical riches is astonishingly easy to lose sight of, even in so artistically sophisticated a place as Boston.

Wow, okay.  I can't imagine that this sort of self-congratulatory onanism is going to live up to my optomistic projection.

Figure 3: The sophistication of Boston's cultural patrons is matched
only by their class and dignity.

It can seem as though holiday offerings are confined to endless renditions of the “Hallelujah” chorus and an all-too-small group of holiday favorites.

Although we're all sick of the Messiah--and I am therefore sympathetic to this sentiment--the contstruction "it can seem" is so unbelievably rhetorically weak that I'm rather put off.  Instead of invoking a familiar sensation, "it can seem" could be used to justify any number of terrible, terrible sentences.  To wit:

"It can seem like your friend's hot daughter really appreciates your attention."


How to break out of this rut?

By continuing to employ a string of weak grammatical constructions?

One strategy is to explore a Christmas distant in time and space from our own,

Figure 4: Does the rabbit-creature have a garrotte made of stars?
...and this is an experience that early music ensembles are especially skilled at providing.

I'm gonna go ahead and write this off as a segue to talking about specific groups in Boston this season, since trying to understand the logic of this sentence in the abstract, as the alternative assumes some kind of non-Euclidian rhetorical space with which I'm not adequately equipped to deal.

Figure 5: If you thought of it, there are already hundreds of images of it.

Two such groups are Boston Camerata, an ensemble of instrumentalists and singers, and the vocal group Blue Heron. This year, the former is presenting “The Brotherhood of the Star: A Hispanic Christmas,” while the latter is offering a sampling of music for Advent, Christmas, and New Year’s from 15th-century France and Burgundy.

I am in favor of both of these groups.  I think it's important to go on the record about that before proceeding.

“There’s a reason we hear ‘Messiah’ and ‘Nutcracker’ every year — because they’re so great,” said Scott Metcalfe, Blue Heron’s music director.

Ha ha yeah that's totally it.  We're not lazy or indoctrinated or forcefed a false nostalgia that poisons our present -- they're just so great!

“But doing these sort of alternative, 15th-century Christmases, there’s no sense that they have a holiday anything like ours.”

Translation: the artistic director of an early music ensemble speculates that, based on available evidence, Christmas in 15th century Burgundy was different than Christmas today.

I guess there IS a reason this is in the newspaper (based on available evidence).

This is Blue Heron’s sixth season of holiday concerts — Metcalfe said that in the group’s early years they skipped it because, ironically, many of the singers could make more money doing “Messiah” performances.

Let's leave alone that "it" seems somehow to refer to "sixth season of holiday concerts" and, instead, focus on how "ironically" is "ironically" [sic] being used incorrectly.

Boston Camerata, by contrast, began doing Christmas concerts in the early 1970s under Joel Cohen, now music director emeritus. (He is also directing “Brotherhood.”) Many have proven to be among the group’s most enduring programs.

Many of...its artistic directors?  Too many antecedents, not enough consequents.  It's what Christmas is all about!

‘For us, there is a desire to pull the curtain open and say, wait a minute, there may be other things out there. Let’s look at them, let’s enjoy them.’ Anne AzĂ©ma, the Camerata’s artistic director, said of the impulse behind them: “It came out of a desire to remove oneself from the Christmas routine.”

By putting on a Christmas concert?

By “routine,” she meant “a canon that was developed in the late 19th century in America — a mixture of German-Scandinavian-English music which created this sort of postcard idea of all things that we think now as Christmas.”

Oh.  Well, good, then, within the limited scope of expanding that notion to include slightly more European countries over a slightly longer period of time.

That includes the caroling tradition that’s especially strong in Boston, popular songs about chestnuts and angels, “Messiah,” and other time-honored entries.

Since I have a blog, I'd like to take this opportunity to mention that the only thing I hate more than angels (which are, conveniently for me, imaginary) is people who just fucking love angels.

I'm sorry, you were saying something about Christmas concerts?

“It’s wonderful material,...

Is that a nice way of calling it "not music?"

...some of it at least,


...but it’s become so overfamiliar that its impact is often lost.”

Ding ding ding!

If I was still an academic postmodernist asshole I'd call it "overdetermined" - but I quit being that, so I won't.**

**Technically, I am no longer an academic.

“In a way, caught among all these things, you tend to forget that Christmas has been happening for quite a while,” she continued.

Like basically since Halloween! Every year!

“For us, there is a desire to pull the curtain open and say, wait a minute, there may be other things out there. Let’s look at them, let’s enjoy them.”

First, this the second time in three quotes you've used the "pull the curtain" analogy.  I will refrain from speculating about that.

Second, I like "look at" as a metaphor for "listen to."  If you get too literal you scare away the rubes!

Third, this:

These are, nevertheless, holiday concerts, which means that an audience, no matter how adventurous, is going to want something that resonates with their own experience, even if the music is unfamiliar.

Yeah, this is about where I stopped reading, but only partly because the rationalization-to-description ratio became untenable.

Happy Thanksgiving from your friendly if unreliable bloggers at the Detritus Review.


Danny said...

You'd think an article like this would be the perfect place to throw in the fact that Messiah is an Easter Oratorio that was somehow appropriated by Christmas. Strengthens the idea that these early music programs are a better alternative if you want something authentically Chritmasy.

Sator Arepo said...

Heh, yeah. Nostalgia is like The Blob - it just assimilates everything into the normative mass.