The Tragic Decline of Music Literacy (and Quality) | Intellectual Takeout

Family singing at the piano

Over the last 20 years, fewer people are learning how to read and compose music. What impact has that had on the music we listen to?

Source: The Tragic Decline of Music Literacy (and Quality) | Intellectual Takeout

“Oh yes, we need a little Christmas, right this very minute:
Candles in the window, carols at the spinet!”

These famous lines, from the still-popular secular Christmas song “We Need a Little Christmas” (1966) are not just me longing for Christmas, in this steamy central Maryland August (although neither would I deny it), but an illustration of the linked essay‘s point: that although most people listening to it today probably gloss right over the line without a clue as to what is meant, the song would have been unlikely to contain those lyrics, if “carols at the spinet” (a once-popular type of small, drop-action piano) had not been an easily-recognizable feature of Christmas cheer at the time it was written.

It’s certainly recognizable to me! Born in 1965, the third and much the youngest of three brothers, I grew up with a “spinet” (actually a furniture console piano) in our home: one which my father had purchased for my mother years before – at a time when they were still struggling financially – because he knew how much music meant to her. Continue reading “The Tragic Decline of Music Literacy (and Quality) | Intellectual Takeout”

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London’s last working shire horses revive centuries-old tradition of cutting rare hay meadows | Daily Mail Online

Ham House head gardener Rosie Fyles said: 'There's something really special about witnessing the sights and sounds of this centuries-old rural tradition in the heart of London today. We know these flood meadows have been part of the London landscape since the 17th Century and would have been used for grazing and ploughed for hay and feed'

London’s last working shire horses are reviving the centuries-old tradition of cutting rare hay meadows without heavy machinery to encourage the return of wild flowers.

Source: London’s last working shire horses revive centuries-old tradition of cutting rare hay meadows | Daily Mail Online

There are some things draft horses – or “heavy horses,” as they’re known in England – can do better than any tractor, and one of those is protecting the ecosystem that they’re working:

Despite weighing up to a tonne, the heavy horses are still lighter than tractors and compact the soil less as they plod the fields, which helps plants and wildlife to flourish…

The National Trust said it decided to return to the traditional method of managing the land because of its many benefits for nature. The horses are a throwback to a bygone era of farming, before the invention of the internal combustion engine. Their remarkable stamina also mean they can work well into their 20s and can mow an average of 10 acres of grass in one day.”

And of course, the “exhaust” they produce fertilizes the land, rather than polluting the air; and unlike tractors, they can breed their own replacements!

Heavy horses back at work in London, even if it is only on one select site… Perhaps Jethro Tull (the band, not the 18th-century agriculturalist) was prophetic:

In these dark towns folk lie sleeping
As the heavy horses thunder by,
To wake the dying city
With the living horseman’s cry.
At once the old hands quicken,
Bring pick and wisp and curry comb:
Thrill to the sound of all
The heavy horses coming home…

— Jethro Tull, “Heavy Horses

“Ubi sunt?” – Song of the Rohirrim: a lament

Viking warriors – wallpaper – vintaged

Where now the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing?
Where is the helm and the hauberk, and the bright hair flowing?
Where is the hand on the harpstring, and the red fire glowing?
Where is the spring and the harvest and the tall corn growing?
They have passed like rain on the mountain, like a wind in the meadow;
The days have gone down in the West behind the hills into shadow.
Who shall gather the smoke of the dead wood burning,
Or behold the flowing years from the Sea returning?

This lament the great J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, and placed in the mouth of Aragorn son of Arathorn – heir of Isildur and rightful King of the West, of Eriador, in Tolkien’s magisterial Middle Earth mythos – as he was describing the Land of Rohan and its inhabitants, the Rohirrim (“Horse Lords”); and later, in part, in the mouth of Theoden, King of Rohan and Lord of the Rohirrim, himself.

But it is of a mode that would have been easily recognized by our forebears in the ancient and medieval worlds, for it is a well-known poetic form: the lament, known by scholars as “Ubi Sunt?” from its Latin incipit: “Where is…?” It is a lament for the greatness of things now past, and perhaps, irrecoverable: “the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome,” as we might say.

Hiraeth

Tolkien disliked allegory, but he did allow for what he called “applicability.” And so we can agree with him that The Lord of the Rings was not written as a direct allegory of any historical event, either World War Two, or the Cold War, or today’s social, cultural, and political struggles, with which this blog – originally intended merely as a celebration of things English, British, and Anglican – has become inexorably and inescapably emmeshed.

But we, as Men of the West (*), in this present age of the world, can also recognize that this passage, a lament for the Rohirrim, is applicable to our current age, and can also serve as a lament for us – for the West – in our present and dire situation.

A lament, yes, but perhaps also a rallying-cry?

For the Rohirrim, by their defense against the assaults of the fallen wizard Saruman, and later and most famously by their critical role in overthrowing the Siege of Minas Tirith in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, did much to help break the power of the Shadow, and make possible the destruction of Mordor and of its Dark Lord, Sauron.

So where, Men of the West, are our Rohirrim? Where is our King Theoden (whose name meant “Lord of the People”)? Who is our Aragorn Elessar?

Ubi sunt…?


* “Men of the West” in the old sense, in which “Man” or “Men” was inclusive of all members of a people, folk, tribe, or region – or humankind in general, depending on context – and not merely those who are biologically male.


Following are some additional quotes by Professor Tolkien, some of which may encourage us, and some of which may, let us hope, strengthen our resolve:

“Always after a defeat and a respite,” says Gandalf, “the shadow takes another shape and grows again.”
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” says Frodo.
“So do I,” says Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

conversation in J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

“War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.”

Faramir, Ranger of Gondor and son of Denethor, Steward of Minas Tirith

“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”

Haldir, an Elf of Lothlorien, in “The Fellowship of the Ring”

“I look East, West, North, South, and I do not see Sauron; but I see that Saruman has many descendants. We Hobbits have against them no magic weapons. Yet, my gentlehobbits, I give you this toast: To the Hobbits. May they outlast the Sarumans and see spring again in the trees.”

– Professor J.R.R. Tolkien: a toast at a “Hobbit Dinner” in Rotterdam, Netherlands, 1958.

 

General Robert E. Lee explains the concept of “sacred geography” | YouTube

Sacred geography… one’s home territory, one’s homeland… the “soil” half of “blood and soil,” the two-pronged basis of nations and peoples, as they have been historically understood and experienced. The place one is willing to fight and even die for, because of what it means, the connection one feels for it, the history one shares with it. Even “liberals” of an earlier time – and not so much earlier, either, I’m talking the 1980s and even ’90s – would have understood, if you called it a “sense of place,” or “connection to one’s bioregion.”

We all have such a place. For many of us, it is the region in which we have grown up; to which we are joined not only by our own experiences, but those of our ancestors:

Sometimes, just our immediate family (I was the first of my family to be born in Maryland, but most of my life has been spent here, my parents lie in the ground here, and I deeply grieve at what it has become, and the thought that I might one day have no choice but to leave it… it will be a kind of exile, no matter where I end up); and sometimes, many generations of our forebears, as Gen. Lee speaks of in the clip above.

One’s sacred geography, one’s “home range” (to use an ecological term), should be source of comfort, reassurance, and stability. But when it has suffered disruption, and particularly when one is pondering the prospect of departing from it because of that disruption, to seek a place where one can find fertile ground to plant and tend the seeds that one is endeavoring to salvage from the wreckage, it can be a source of deep pain.

But either way, I pity those who do not have such a sense, of such a place. They are rootless and groundless, indeed.


N.B. What is “blood and soil”? Stephen Clay McGehee explains, from the perspective of Southern Agrarianism:

“Southern Agrarianism is a Blood and Soil movement. It takes in two of the most basic concepts in all of history: Our People, and the soil that provides the food that feeds our people. It means that, while we wish all the best toward others, our immediate family comes first, followed by ever larger circles of extended family, and then on out from there.”

In other words, it is not a concept / movement that teaches hatred toward others, nor does it seek supremacy over others. It simply places our priorities where they should be: on those closest to us, and on the land that supports us and them: the sacred geography of our homeland.

Jethro Tull – Heavy Horses

Believe it or not, though I have liked Jethro Tull for many years (and passionately loved their album Songs from the Wood, which has been one of my favorites since late high school / early college days), I just listened seriously to this one, and read the lyrics, for the first time the night before last. Wow! I did not know what I was missing:

Let me find you a filly for your proud stallion seed
to keep the old line going.
And we’ll stand you abreast at the back of the wood
behind the young trees growing
To hide you from eyes that mock at your girth,
and your eighteen hands at the shoulder
And one day when the oil barons have all dripped dry
and the nights are seen to draw colder
They’ll beg for your strength, your gentle power
your noble grace and your bearing
And you’ll strain once again to the sound of the gulls
in the wake of the deep plough, sharing.

Standing like tanks on the brow of the hill
Up into the cold wind facing
In stiff battle harness, chained to the world
Against the low sun racing
Bring me a wheel of oaken wood
A rein of polished leather
A Heavy Horse and a tumbling sky
Brewing heavy weather.

Again, wow. Lifts the hair on the back of my neck! For someone who loves the great draft horses as I do, this is a deeply moving song. Magnificent!

horse
A much younger Anglophilic Anglican, ground-driving a Percheron mare, at a draft horse driving workshop at the Carroll County Farm Museum, c. 2000-2001.

 

George Washington Mural, and America’s Past & Present | National Review

We’ve seen something like this fight before, in 1861 — and it didn’t end well.

Source: George Washington Mural & America’s Past & Present | National Review

“If progressives and socialists can at last convince the American public that their country was always hopelessly flawed, they can gain power to remake it based on their own interests. These elites see Americans not as unique individuals but as race, class, and gender collectives, with shared grievances from the past that must be paid out in the present and the future.”

Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest. This is what we’re up against. Dark times!

 

This badass Edinburgh photo shows two ladies in long dresses and hats rock climbing in the 1900s | Edinburgh Live

Who needs specialist climbing gear when you’ve got formal frocks and heels?

Source: This badass Edinburgh photo shows two ladies in long dresses and hats rock climbing in the 1900s | Edinburgh Live

Occasionally, those of us who favor a more traditional – dare I say, “old-fashioned”…? – approach to life, and especially if we should presume to suggest that women look more feminine in skirts or dresses (as they have worn, with few exceptions, here in the West, since before the dawn of recorded history), get responses along the lines of “But, I can’t do anything in a dress! It’s too restrictive.”

To which I suspect one of these ladies might say, “Hold my cup of tea, and watch this!” 😉

Mind you, I’m not suggesting that women go back to rock-climbing in dresses and “sensible shoes.” Nor, for that matter, am I suggesting that femininity or decorum require quite such voluminous skirts! But this does rather put the lie to the notion that it’s impossible to do strenuous physical activity in them.

So, for that matter, does my experience working for a number of years on an organic community-supported agriculture produce farm. We had several female interns and apprentices who preferred to work in loose cotton “peasant” skirts, and on the rare occasions that they got in the way, they simply “kilted them up” until they were done that job, and then let them down – as, again, women have done for untold generations.

It ain’t rocket science, folks….!