The Mouth of the Bell

The Mouth of the Bell
Saturday, November 9, 2013, 8:03 p.m. 

It’s too sentimental to admit to having watched.  There are deaths, tragedies.  The majestic soundtrack promises that these are noble sacrifices for the sakes of those who remain, those who keep the peace, who persevere week after week as others drop around them.  Could this be a lesson that some lives are more valuable than others?  And if that is the case, then whose are which?  Does it depend on when the trumpets come in?

Now that the orchestra has turned in for the night, a mask has been removed.  Outside, in the distance, there are bells.  It is eight o’clock plus three minutes.  Did it begin on the hour?  Usually I hear the carillon at six in the summer (an hour earlier in winter), and while the archaic method of calling out to a congregation is enchanting in principle, over time the daily hymns have begun to grate as I’ve found myself singing along mindlessly with the secondary dominants.  They always fall in the same places, and they always go exactly where expected.  They’re too much like music.

I’ve never been entirely sure where the carillon lives, though I think it is across the cemetery on Witherspoon Street, to the west, and I consider setting out some evening at 5:45, hunting my prey, but I always forget to go, and once “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” begins, I’ve missed my chance yet again.  I wonder where tonight’s metal is striking, and from the front walk I think it may be at Saint Paul’s—that’s south.   At least I think it is.  One or several centuries ago, citizens would have known which direction was which, would have known from how far the bells sang and shook and rattled, would have known which faith the metallic voices called out to, would have been able to interpret their language.  The bell was, along with thunder, one of the loudest sounds many generations ever heard.

I wonder what the typhoon sounds like.  I have only heard a little bit, from a distance.

Two notes: they seem to call out that something important is happening, right this moment, even as they make time stop.  Staying put while moving forward: the two sounds alternate, but the rhythm is always changing, and it’s much more interesting than downbeats and measures and chord progressions.  It takes me a moment even to wonder about the source: there was a time when certain sounds always signaled agency and effort, someone or something making it happen, whereas now, it can run on automatic.  There is something alluring and hypnotic about the irregularity, which keeps me listening for whatever might be new within the repeats.  Are there two people? Are they pulling big ropes like Charles Laughton in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, using their whole bodies in an inefficient economy to make just one sound each?  Are they trying to stay together, or are they aiming to strike in one another’s silences?  Either way, they’ve got it half right in their lopsided diligence.  The mouths sing, together and apart, meeting up and swinging away from one another again.  Two voices make a duo.  They need only one note apiece.

What important message am I hearing? A storm?  A funeral?  An observance for veterans a day and a half early?  Without knowing what I am being told, I am unable to craft a response.  Should I be heading south, or in whatever direction the bells live?  Am I needed at the church, or somewhere, and if so, for what?

Only later, when I hear the familiar neighborly train whistle, will I wonder whether the tolling might have masked something too.  What did I miss once the trumpets gave way to the bells?

I’ve left the door open to listen.  The heat kicks in.  Warm breath takes over, the outside fades, and the bells are quiet again.  I’ll remember them for days, trying to imagine not knowing that together they sang a major second.


Zero, One: Empty Cookie, Lobster Roll.

Zero, One: Empty Cookie, Lobster Roll.  July 10, 2012.

On my way to meet Dean for the first time, I listen to his From Square One on the train.  It is not, he has told me, an audio book, but a musical composition.  He says, “Time ruins everything.  Because of it, food spoils, breasts sag, loved ones die.”

(Yes, a breast sags, sometimes.)

Later: “Whether focusing our attention on om or on 6-Down, we take control of that part of the brain that is normally hijacked by the voices telling us we’re not good enough, smart enough, attractive enough.”

And later: “There are so many nonnarrative ways to engage the mind, and still our culture puts stories front and center.  We are drowning in stories, whereas poetry subsists in the margins.”

He also speaks of loss, of longing, of compulsion, of limitation.  Of Manhattan, of Brooklyn, of Vermont, of Brigadoon.  His avowedly unpolished rendering of Joplin’s “Solace” is more engaging and touching than a rehearsed performance.

I stop at Ollie’s for lunch.  I remember coming here—that is, the one near Columbia; now I am over near Merkin Hall—for the first time, in 1996.


While I eat, I chew—as I often do—on Mark Epstein’s discussion of the ever-receding pleasure of the lobster roll, of the interrelationship of experience, memory, desire, and experience again.  Epstein is a Buddhist as well as a therapist.  Lunch is completed, and my check comes:


There is nothing inside.

Ollie’s has bestowed upon me The Fortune Cookie of True Emptiness.  Such luck!

Up and Down. January 30, 2013.

January 30, 2013. Up and Down.

One more time I proofread my article concerning good fortune and misfortune and the music of what happens and determine to send it off to Ben.  Later, though: it’s unseasonably warm: worrisome for the planet, but conducive for my running.  Parking my Insight at the canal, I notice a somewhat shifty-looking (why?) guy; I size up the situation as best I can, pronounce myself safe, and head for the trail.  In order to ensure I don’t overdo it, I run three minutes exactly and then make myself turn around to run the three minutes back.  I feel blessed to visit my favorite spot in town and to reorient myself at last toward running, another intangible possession, alongside Weakness, that I want to reclaim after the bedlam of the previous year.  I lament that I cannot run my desired forty-five minutes yet, but I feel lucky to be starting again, and I am uncharacteristically relaxed as I approach my car.  There is no reflection in the driver’s side window.  Could I have left it down?  Unlikely.  But I must have; what else would explain what I see?  As I approach my car, the guy in the truck drives off, and I realize that my window has been smashed in; I might have been able to catch him, but it’s too bad I was so blissful and unsuspicious.  On the other hand, it’s a good thing I was unable to run longer, since I seem to have interrupted him by returning so soon.  It’s also unfortunate that I am without a phone: when I run at the canal, I always leave it at home with my purse just in case my car ever gets violated, even though I know the likelihood of that happening is small.  So, on the other hand, it’s a good thing I have foregone my phone, for if I had brought it, I would likely have lost it.  Feeling grateful that I’m strong enough to run another few feet, I race off and ask a stranger in the furniture store parking lot to call the police for me.  Somehow the police have never heard of the furniture store, which is on—Main Street.  Gabby kindly offers to walk me back to my car to inspect the damage.  I am kicking myself for being slow to perceive a problem and for missing my chance to chase after the “perp,” but Gabby reassures me that it may be better that I did not run after the pickup truck—“what if he had had a gun?”  I observe, bemused, the safety whistle on my lanyard, designed for the trail—“good thing I am so careful!”—but not much use against a getaway pickup truck.  Unfortunately, the police are slow—an hour, perhaps longer—but luckily, Gabby’s name suits him in the most delightful way.  He describes his work as a upholsterer and laments youngsters’ attraction to new and rickety furniture, but he brightens when I tell him mine was fashioned in Denmark in 1960.  He tells me about swimming across Lake Carnegie, down the road: “that was not so smart; what if there had been alligators?”  We agree that people in this region are proportionally pushier than in some other places and wonder together whether that may be because there are proportionally more people to push: “it’s just one God, why fight over black or white or different religions?”  We ponder the relative advantages of more homogeneous and more heterogeneous societies.  He talks about raising four children on his own after his wife left without explanation, and he wishes we would all treat one another better.  He never solved the mystery of his wife’s departure, but he observes that one finds a way to keep going even when difficult things happen, that it’s all just part of life, and somehow he sounds more wise than denying, more philosophical than macho, more Pema Chödron than Ayn Rand.  I wonder whether his vocation nurtures his ability to recover things; to join and stitch and seal; to render a dispersable object contained, connected and whole.  Having learned that he emigrated from Thailand at age fifteen, I wonder aloud whether a Buddhist consciousness may nurture his ability to practice acceptance, and he says yes.  Marveling at how fortunate I am, since I almost never leave valuables in my car, even though my friends tease me about my caution, I suddenly remember that I was so organized earlier that I remembered to change out of my expensive eyeglasses with their canal-unfriendly Transitionsâ lenses, trading them for the spare pair I keep in the glove compartment.  How lucky I am to have an extra pair—but the extra pair is what I am wearing, and so the thief has taken off with my “real” glasses.  What a loss!  They are only three months old, but I realize that fortunately the turn of the year has just rendered me eligible for a new pair through my insurance.  However, it is unlucky that I will be unable to use that benefit for the new reading glasses I also need.  At least, though, I’ll be able to decline the unappealing Transitionsâ option this time around.  It’s an expensive revision, to be sure, but I feel fortunate that I have a vision plan at least.  Then, when Officer Mohan arrives and asks for my license and registration, I explain that I tend to leave my purse at home when I run, that therefore I have only a photocopy of my license to offer, and I am grateful that he accepts that.  But I notice, unfortunately, that my registration and insurance card appear to be missing.  I remember that there may have been a spare house key in the glove compartment (or was it to someone else’s house?), next to the eyeglass case, and I begin to worry that I have spent the last hour contentedly chatting with Gabby while the thief may have been availing himself of the possessions I so wisely left safe at home.  I ask officer Mohan to help make sure my cottage is secure.  He suggests that I call the Princeton police, but I remind him that I am fortunate to be phoneless, and so he calls them for me, and within ten minutes, when I arrive home, they are standing guard at my front and back doors.  When I escort the officer inside, I gather the mail, which includes a replacement credit card, which I am happy to see arrived so quickly after I learned yesterday that someone stole my information to buy video games.  (I felt lucky then that Citibank texted me about the anomaly.)  I apologize to the officer for the untidiness of my house and explain that the pile of rocks just about blocking the front door is part of my work, and he replies that he has four kids and that this mess is nothing.  Then he asks how the rocks are part of work, and I explain that I am a composer and I am recording them.  He asks, “How do you record a pile of rocks?!”  I say, “Oh!  I have to play them.  I don’t record them at rest.”  After the officers depart, I realize that it is two o’clock and that I have not yet had breakfast, so I am feeling light-headed, but I am grateful to find a locksmith who can come by three, though I am disappointed to have to wait even longer to shower, though it’s just as well, because when I finally get warm and wet, enthusiastically soaping and scrubbing, a virtuosic runaway pinky gives me my first ever hygiene-induced nosebleed.  Bummer; but once that is attended to, I am pleased to wolf down my sandwich, and the doorbell rings.  I’m in luck!  But wary: this is not the first time I have entrusted my safety to men who—knows how to change locks.   The Second Locksmith—who, if it were not inappropriate, I would describe as “played by James Purefoy,” who also made a compelling Mark Antony —inspects, and I worry that he is casing the joint.  After a while, he says, “cute”; and I ask, “The house?”  “Yes.”  Later I tell the two, “I’ve been trying to hear what language you are speaking—Arabic?”  They reply, “Hebrew.”  I say, “Well, I was close,” and they smile indulgently.  I am grateful that they have not gouged me (the window and nostril were enough slashing for one morning), though I have meantime learned that my car window will not arrive for four days, unless I pay extra, which I do, since I am fortunate to be flying to Cape Breton in a week.  However, I did not know I would have all these expenses when I booked my flight last night, and although I have yet to rent the car that will cost more than the plane ticket, I begin the process of feeling insolvent.  Window, locks, eyeglasses, planes, hotels, rental cars, upgrades to four-wheel drive in anticipation of a blizzard.  (A week later I will find my insurance card and registration and reflect that shelling out for new locks was unnecessary, but I am pleased to have one key for both front and back doors at last.)  In any case, as I watch the locksmiths tend the boundary between outside and in, I feel lucky that my person is unharmed and that I have nothing planned for my car for a few days.  Later I will observe that over the course of a few hours, I have interacted with six considerate men—and this isn’t even Canada!  There were three very professional and helpful police officers, two very professional and considerate locksmiths—and, of course, Gabby, who is as least as reflective as my lost window.  (If I include remote interactions, there is also the very helpful Jeff at Honda.)  The Second Locksmith says, “I really like the lavender in that vase on the mantel.”  I thank him.  He says of the vessel, which is made of glass and rests in a rustic iron housing,  “It would look even better if you put rice in the bottom to fill in the space.”  “What a good idea!” I exclaim, tickled that he has continued to case the cute details of my once-again protected joint; and I explain that the lavender has followed me from home to home and predates my good fortune in owning a cottage with space for a perennial outdoor lavender garden.  The First Locksmith interrupts to say that I’ll have to pay 10% extra if I use a credit card, and I have $280, so I am about twenty short.  Oh well.  I hand him my card and say, “Next time my car gets broken into unexpectedly and I have to change my locks on a half hour’s notice, I’ll make sure to plan ahead and have three hundred dollars in cash on hand.”

By a stroke of ill fortune, a severe storm is predicted for the night, but I am relieved that, while my outer tarp, weighed down by bricks and paint cans, flies across the yard, the car’s vulnerable opening is successfully sheltered by the garbage bag and painter’s tape underneath.  A few days later, I drive through my neighborhood, noting another breath of early spring, and I feel fortunate to be able to lower the newly installed window.  Later, when I press to close, it rises toward its destination, arrives,  and—bounces off the top of the frame and lowers again.  Up.  Down.  Up.  Down.  It’s unwilling to rest in the closed position: it’s as if my Insight insists on remaining porous, open to the elements.  This machinery seems to have has a mind of its own, to discern what is appropriate for a given moment, even if it is neither what I expect nor what I request.  I’m transfixed by this automated convenience gone awry, like Jean Tinguely’s mechanized paper-demolishing pen, or the Sorcerer’s Apprentice’s broom.  I play my window, marveling at its utterly consistent uselessness, experimenting with varieties of tempo and pressure.  Up, down, up, down.  U-u-u-p—DOWN!—up, up, up, up . . .

Maybe I won’t bother with a repair this time.

“Bach Unplugged”: A Harmonic Distillery

Bach Unplugged, ca. 1941
A Manuscript Unearthed by Prof. Charlotte Jacobs, 2012    

[Peter Lieberson in memoriam]

[Ed note: In late 2012, Prof. Charlotte Jacobs discovered a long-lost manuscript of the familiar, unattributed music theory text Bach Unplugged: Voices Unencumbered by the Voice, known heretofore only through its edited and updated edition disseminated for university use beginning in the 1950s.  The manuscript includes a “Note to the Instructor,” excised in all published editions, which does much to explain the confounding rationale of music theory teaching in the latter half of the twentieth century.  Its writing style, as much early-century dreamy stream of consciousness as mid-century modern streamlined rational, remains a subject of speculation, though it is suspected that its cookbook-like instructions point to a female author, which in turn may explain why the text has for so long remained unattributed.]

Extract chorales from can­tatas from his­tor­i­cal con­text from sacred ritual from specter of anti-Semitism. Strip off texts too and play on piano to obscure any hint of regis­tral iden­tity or tim­bral char­ac­ter or vocal sen­si­bil­ity as well as ille­git­i­ma­cies such as crossed voices or prohibited melodic intervals.  Direct ini­ti­ates to remem­ber con­ceived for voice but con­tinue to play on piano to encour­age con­jur­ing of the voices in the inner ear rather than the audi­tory real­ity of the voice which is too easy and it’s espe­cially good for the instruc­tor to play badly like a com­poser whose cre­ative work pre­cludes get­ting his [sic] hands dirty.  Remem­ber not to men­tion Bach did not write the tunes (it’ll just con­fuse them with extraneous notions of his­tor­i­cal con­tin­gency and under­mine the power of the indi­vid­ual author) and def­i­nitely don’t point out that the tunes are often odd and pre-tonal and demand har­monic real­iza­tions that are less about explicit or con­sis­tent tonal func­tion but are modal and unpre­dictable.  Avoid observ­ing that some of the most inter­est­ing aspects of musi­cal works are ambigu­ous or involve a dia­logue between con­ven­tion and idio­syn­crasy with the ear lead­ing rather than a dog­matic rule­book guar­an­teed to achieve suc­cess by unthink­ing obe­di­ence but instead give them a list of incon­tro­vert­ible traf­fic reg­u­la­tions of what not to do with­out any dis­cus­sion of what is of value and stay away from any acknowl­edg­ment that musi­cal syn­tax is a mar­velous vol­un­tary mass delu­sion, in which we agree to con­spire in believ­ing that the way invis­i­ble pat­terns move in the aether has some sense and order to it and that it is a mat­ter of acousti­cal and aes­thetic virtue rather than con­tin­gent upon envi­ron­ment, train­ing, and idiom.  When you play through chorales in class (badly if pos­si­ble), say, ooh, isn’t Bach a genius for cross­ing voices and frus­trat­ing the lead­ing tone and using those weird unex­pected chords at that spot?

In private lessons, abandon all the above, but ask, “Are you sure you want that octave there?”  (Octaves, in any century, are high-maintenance.)  Listen to your student’s concern about her own creative future, and encourage her to learn by exploring the “resistance” she so fears.  She will.  Remember her when you bump into one another twenty years later, and compliment her graciously on her creative growth and professional accomplishments.

She will learn from you and thank you, she will remember the transcendent cello solo in your Piano Concerto, and she think of you when she in turn mentors the next generation.  She will mourn you when you depart.

Taciturn Tingueling, Freezing Fingerings

[dedicated to Seth Cluett, Ph.D.]

Morning, December 17, 2012
Lawrence Lord’s Old Farm Museum 

Après-Matic Latérale

Relief Meta-Jardinique

Ferme Fermée Installée

Shankar’s Fundamental Structure

Shankar’s Fundamental Structure
by Rose Marie McSweeney 

October 1983, Harvard University, Ear Training Class:

“Well, it’s really just a prolongation.”

“Well, Shankar would say it’s even simpler than you have there on the blackboard.”

[In my inner ear, a long sustain appears, followed by a descending sparkle.]

“Yes, he would . . .  but Shankar took it to extremes.”

[In my inner ear, and my retrospective eye, I recall this prolongation.
It was the first orchestral music I ever heard.]

And the delivery system:

A year or two later, I learn about something called the ursatz.

[R.I.P. Ravi Shankar.]

Bicycle Plants (No Fish)

Bicycle Plants (No Fish)
Prof. Charlotte Jacobs 

[dedicated to Annea Lockwood]

Music 500 (Graduate Seminar)
Prose Writing for Composers
Final Exam

Earlier this semester, we all listened to and wrote commentaries on the (then) three most recent CDs published by New World Records. Recently I had occasion to look them up on iTunes.  Results:

  • Presented with a name search of “Mathew Rosenblum,” iTunes showed the new New World CD Circadian Rhythms.

  • Presented with a name search of “Robert Carl,” iTunes showed the new New World CD From Japan.

  • Presented with a name search of “Annea Lockwood,” iTunes showed several other CDs but not the recent New World CD In Our Name.

  • And for “Annea Lockwood In Our Name,” again nothing.

  • Puzzling: Lockwood’s was published in June, the others later.  Why is it missing?

  • Responding to a search for “In Our Name,” iTunes delivers the CD, In Our Name, listed as having been authored “by various artists.”

Essay Question: Explain the above in the space. Be sure to use proper practice for citation and attribution.


[dedicated to Geoffrey Burleson]

Newly invented fingering for Bach chorales.
Please advise on outer voices.


A colleague suggests:
“What about 431 on GFC, 2 on E, 31 on FC?   (And then left 12 on Bb A)?”


It’s Certainly a Thrill: Fred Crüger’s Archival Soul

It’s Certainly a Thrill: Fred Crüger’s Archival Soul
By Prof. Charlotte Jacobs

With Thanks to Fred Allen, Princeton Class of 1616

Schmücke dich, Enjoy the show

[Rule No. 451 of College Teaching:
Beware of “optional” assignments.]

Having invited the club to learn, transcribe, and perhaps even complete, a fragment of a chorale melody newly discovered on an archival recording collected in 1649, I ask whether anyone has composed a conclusion.  The lovely audience falls still, and my heart goes lonely.

Then Fred stops the show and raises a smile by offering his conclusion and agreeing to post it, complete with squiggly trillo—especially impressive coming from a post-Baroque clarinetist, for these things go in and out of style—on the blackboard:

Fred’s Third-Degree Trillo

I ask whether Fred would like to sing his song, and he asks his classmates, “What would you think if I sang out of tune?” and registers the counteroffer of a piano interpretation.  I sit back, let the morning go, and observe the following:

  • The astute application of ornaments convinces even the jaded ear that the tune’s author is present;
  • Fred’s closing phrase is nearly identical to Crüger’s, and, indeed, both Fred and Crüger pretty much repeat the second phrase.  Such economy, such restraint.  And who is channelling whom?  To wit:
  • The medallion on the back of Fred’s t-shirt: a Baroque seal of some sort?

I thought you might like to know:

Upon more careful inspection, the graphic reveals itself:


Moreover, as if the preponderance of the mediant third degree in Fred Crüger’s intertext were not enough to suggest a parallel, the texts dispel any uncertainty, and so I conclude that the 1649 tune is a recomposition of the title track from the 1967 album—which, in turn, must have sampled today’s instantiation.  It is, after all, 2012, and we have just stepped in to the teens’ sixties’ forties.

Der Herr voll Heil und Gnaden
We hope you will enjoy the show.
lässt dich iztz zu Gaste laden.
Sit back and let the evening go.

Twenty years ago today all would have been different.
It’s wonderful to be here.
It’s certainly a thrill.

[In our next episode: Gilligan’s Island’s Carmen’s Habañera’s Hamlet’s Soliloquy]