The moods of melody

October 26, 2008

I have four older siblings and was influenced in different ways by each of them. Music was handed down to me by each one, vicariously listening to the bands and records that each brother or sister brought into the house. I can’t say in the musically correct way that I like all types of music, but the styles I do love are a direct reflection of specific influences.

 I was blessed to have grown up just outside of New Orleans and the live music that could be experienced on any given night was always at my doorstep. Every Friday I searched the Lagniappe section of the newspaper to see who or what was on the schedule for the weekend. Often, big name artists would visit small intimate venues like Tipitina’s, Jimmy’s or the Maple Leaf bar, up close and personal. Playing music in a band taught me how to listen, and listen intently to the various parts of music, training my “inner” ear to engage my mind as I isolated each instrument, which made up parts of a well constructed whole. It’s how I listen to music to this day. Sometimes unconsciously relaxing and just letting the sounds go over me, and sometimes going deeper into the construction of the parts.

Sounds and especially melodies, can affect us in deeply emotional ways. Like a familiar smell which triggers certain physical and psychological responses, music is even deeper. A melody can moves us across the emotional spectrum at will, shaping our thoughts, and inspirations. Music has become an integral part of marketing, but in the last few years I’ve noticed that certain commercials have resurrected a certain time segment of music tracks in their productions. The 60’s and 70’s especially. Obviously targeting the now adult audience of those years. If they can cause us to associate a certain time period with the emotion that was attached to that era and at the same time marry their product with it, then we are hooked. But again, it’s an emotion that they are appealing to, and they do it with music.

 There is an untapped spiritual side to music that I am only just beginning to understand. Major and minor key melodies tend to affect us in major (happy) and minor (melancholy or bluesy) ways. It’s why some songs are sad regardless of the lyrical content. Music theory appears to be something of eternal nature, given to laws and constants that are just as concrete as physics in comparable ways. But just as the pilot of the plane needs not know how to do repairs and maintenance, so anyone who understands the basics of music can pilot the ship of emotion that music is. Robert Plant’s haunting melody “In the mood”, with it’s verse “i’m in the mood for a melody” could just as well be phrased, “I’m in the melody for the mood”.

Music. It surrounds us in many ways. Imagine a movie without music, or church without singing. For this reason Bach stated..

“the aim and final reason of all music, should be nothing else but the Glory of God and refreshment of the spirit”


October 24, 2008

Fall is my favorite time of year. The oppresive, balmy heat gives way to cooler dryer air from the north and it just feels so good. So many things change. The angle of the sunlight, the prevailing wind direction, sounds, trees, moods. I’m grateful the earth was created to cycle through seasons. It seems that each one lasts just long enough to appreciate the next one. Except summer. For me fall is the time I head outdoors. Into the woods, when the insects and the serpents are hiding. It’s a peaceful time of year. And as Melville says in Moby Dick, I personally don’t mind a little “damp drizzly November of the soul” myself, every now and then. It has a way of awakening that contemplative part of the mind. As we slowly head into that autumn of the earth, I think of how we each go through seasons on a personal level. Not cyclical and exact as the timing of the earthy seasons, but seasons nonetheless. Life, waning, death, resurrection. A time for everything.

“To everything, there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven” Ecclesiastes 3:1

Trees have always fascinated me. There’s something nostalgic to me about seeing a single oak tree in its perfect symmetry standing alone in a field, or a beautiful oak alley which occurs along the river in South Louisiana.

 This section of the Florida panhandle is not known for its majestic trees, but having recently read The Wild Trees by Richard Preston, I’ve begun to appreciate the forests that we have here in this part of the country. The book documents how botanists ascend into the redwood and sitka spruce canopies to study their unique worlds. Special things are there. Plants and the unique way that the trees interact with each other happen nowhere else. Things that can only be observed in the canopy. So they climb. And climbing becomes an important part of the narrative as the sport of tree climbing is growing rapidly. I began to think about climbing trees. It was a huge part of growing up as a kid, but can it still be done in an “adult” kind of way? This question taught me a lesson in perception.

We live in an area that was heavily seeded and dominated by longleaf pine trees. Large tracts of land were planted for the paper industry and for their resinous sap used in the turpentine industry of the 40’s and 50’s.  Now, hundreds of these acres of land have been preserved here and set aside for recreational uses. But among these forests are trees which no man has planted. And they are large. They were here all along.

It’s human nature to get comfortable in a routine. To settle into a pattern of life with no happy surprises.   So, in my regular pattern of driving, whether to and from work or just running around town, I almost unconsciously began to look at these forests differently. Rather than allowing my eyes to follow the normal patterns, I looked intently into the woods for a difference in shape. Almost like a camera racking a subject in and out of focus, trees began to emerge I had never seen. They weren’t hard to find when I began to look. But there they were. Pine trees with trunks like I had not seen since I moved here 18 years ago. Cypress stands whose beauty and sage like characters appear to be artwork from pre-history. I shared this with my friend Billy, who has become my climbing partner. I began to get phone calls as he discovered the same. And he too was amazed as he saw things he had not noticed before.

This fall may prove to be the best season of my life so far. Billy and I are going to ascend some of these trees and see what else lies just out of reach of the realm of the commonplace.

“A common man marvels at uncommon things; a wise man marvels at the commonplace”

The courage to write

October 22, 2008

Writing is an act of courage. It is a daring act.  During one of my impulsive visits to Barnes and Noble, I came across a book titled The Courage to Write, by Ralph Keyes. It spells out in graphic detail, the fear that (apparently) every writer wrestles with as they cautiously put their thoughts on paper. For whatever reason, maybe to be revealed in upcoming “posts”, i’ve decided to create this blog. I struggled for a little while with what I would say for the first time and what I may continue to say, and then I remembered this book and how strongly it spoke to me.

“Writing is public speaking on paper but to a much larger audience… Spoken words blow away in the wind. Published ones last as long as the paper which they’re printed.” The Courage to Write p.8

So to those who think that this is something easy to do, the fear factor is quite large, for me at least. I’ve learned that fear is a natural part of writing and it should be. Fear of exposure, fear of criticism and a lack of knowledge of the subject at hand and many others.

So here is my first post. I think it’s a good place to start. A good foundation from which to build a structure I have no plans for yet.

Be fearful and “you are at the place from which writing comes”…