& occasionally about other things, too...

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

'Our Musical Scene in Two Tones'

I’m on vacation in Bombay. It’s raining though not incessantly. It’s tolerably hot and humid, and I’m surrounded by a few hundred books belonging to my grandfather and my father – truly the only inheritance that is of any value to me – that I dip into to discover nuggets that at once inspire, dazzle, amuse.

One such nugget is a copy of 1940 magazine Twice a Year “a book of Literature, the Arts and Civil Liberties” (Editor: Dorothy Norman Assistant Editor: Mary Lescaze). It comprises essays that re-evaluate Dostoevsky, Miller, Gide, Mann, Kafka; essays by Einstein, Saroyan; fresh translations of poems by Lorca, Rilke, reports on the religious controversy generated over Russell’s appointment as a professor at College of the City of New York; the history of birth control, and many other scintillating pieces.

Reproduced below are verses from Roy Harris’s essay ‘Our Musical Scene in Two Tones’ on the revolutionary technological changes (such as radio, public broadcasting, the vinyl record) transforming the consumption of music by the American public.   


If you want to see America’s World of Tomorrow
                Go to The Fair,
For Beautiful planned Cities of Homes –
Sunlight and air
Landscape Countryside
And music with it –
Third rate Broadway Nickelodeon
                Our eyes, palates, nostrils, stomachs,
Lungs, skins, must feast on the
Fresh harvests of the earth –
Our ears –
Broadway Nickelodeon
                Or maybe just the warmed over
                Enthusiasms of Europe’s Yesterdays.
                Give ‘em a phoney façade
                And a new coat o’ bright paint.
                Don’t yuh luv “modernistic?”
                I think it is so “int’resting.”


The ear and eye
Are in pitched battle for the attention of the public
Supporting the eye –
Architecture, sculpture, painting, photography,
Sports, theatre, dancing, beauty culture,
Supporting the ear –
Radio –
Oceans of Sounds –
Waves of vocal inflections
Gay, sad, turgid, muddy, bright,
Swift, slow, loud, soft, old, new,
Mostly old.
Dressed up in new garbs,
Collaborating new word ideas,
Doctrines – causes,
Mostly old supporting the Ear,
Records –
There for ears that hear and hear not,

And television promises much
for America’s hungry eyes.


Will the ear survive to live
In Peace with the eye?

Will the ear challenge Industrial Barons?
Will we ever pause to listen?
In our day of glory will there be
A moment of contemplation?

Will our ears hear
The proud, fierce, searching, sad,
Fearful, soul hungry, groping,
Triumphant, whispering, clamorous,
Abstract articulations of
Our innermost selves –
Will we sing our songs
And will we hear?


Don’t take it so hard, Brother
The people like it
Or they wouldn’t pay for it.
“William James was no musician.”
New melodies, new harmonies,
New melodies, new harmonies,
Counterpoint – Form –
What does it all mean,
It’s just music to my ears.

What’s wrong with this tune, anyway?

All right boys – Polish it up!!
Seven minute Crescendo –
How-do-yuh like it – eh!

You’re not telling me anything –
The longhairs can’t fill Carnegie
With a hundred piece band.
It’s just a Park Avenue Party to me.
“William James was no musician.”


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