Tuesday, August 2, 2022

A Story for Our Time

Day 6 in my Level III training is a journey through 400 years of music history in three hours, from Gregorian Chant to Palestrina. By singing select works and analyzing how styles changed and developed, from the single monophonic line to the 4-part polyphony of functional harmony, we gain some insight into our own work teaching kids to move from pentatonic scales to diatonic modes to I-IV-V harmonies. 


Along the way, I offer many ideas about culture, consciousness and community. How, for example, in the Dark Ages, the extreme patriarchy of the Judeo- Christian religion failed to ignite the imagination that requires opposites to prosper. How it was the ascendance of the Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus around the 12thcentury that ignited a cultural explosion that marked a turning point in Western culture. Notre Dame, for example, that exquisite cathedral dedicated to “Our Lady” was built in 1163. In the same century, the King Arthur stories arose and the Knight’s code of chivalry toward women and art of courtly love, along with the worship of the Virgin Mary, allowed for the entrance of the feminine into the psyche. Soon after came the love stories— Abelard and Heloise, Lancelot and Guinevere, Robin Hood and Maid Marian, Tristan and Isolde, the forerunners of Romeo and Juliet leading eventually to Tony and Maria. Dante’s extraordinary Divine Comedy was sparked by seeing an 8-year old girl, Beatrice. The rise of the troubadours in Southern France, Spain, Portugal and Italy, the trouveres in northern France, the Minnesingers in Germany, elevated the feminine to a romanticized ideal and sparked an imagination that flowered in song, poetry, painting and the building of the great cathedrals.


One of the turning points documenting the change in attitude to both the feminine archetype and actual women was a fable called Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady. After reading this way back in 1990, I wrote a rhymed version in one uninterrupted sitting at my dining room table and later performed it, with music and dance added, with the 7th graders at my school. I hadn’t thought about it in a while, but after telling a short version to my Level III, went back to the poem to see if it held up.


It did. And more than ever today, as the faithful reader will discover when they find out the answer to the riddle. People are accusing the Supreme Court of turning the clock back to the 1950’s, but it’s more like they’ve de-evolved all the way back to the 11th century. Read on and you’ll see how. 


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