Thursday, September 27, 2007

Thursday's Dr. Thursday Post

The Wind: Setting the Volume to Max

As I have mentioned in last week's posting, there are a lot of memories connected with September. It was in September of 1969 when I first picked up a bow and began to learn the bass fiddle, also called the double-bass or string bass, the largest of the orchestral strings.

It was a lot of fun... I was never very good, but I did play in the high school stage band, and also in the string ensemble at college. That first practice we began with Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" and it was so awesome that I forgot to play, I was just so amazed by being "inside" the orchestra.

But my playing the string bass had another outcome: a good friend who is now the organist of a cathedral. He provided the musical talent when I built the pipe organ in my basement, and played at its first (and only) recital. From him, from our music teacher at high school, from a number of books, and from direct experience, I learned a lot about pipe organs, which have some strange associations with computers. Computer scientists aren't the only ones who care about numbers like 32, 16, 8, 4, 2, and 1 - but organists must also deal with two-and-two-thirds and one-and-three-fifths, the so-called "mutation" stops, which we can talk about another time.

The first thing one learns about the pipe organ is that it is two major parts: a collection of pipes sitting on a box full of compressed air (the "wind chest"), and machinery to control them (keyboards, stops, and so on). One must have at least five dozen pipes - because each pipe can make only one sound. An organ pipe is not like a flute or clarinet, which has a number of holes, and various keys covering those holes. In an organ, the music comes by having a "rank" - a set of 61 pipes, each made as similarly as possible to the others, except for its size - one for each of the 61 keys of the standard organ keyboard. (That's five octaves and a note, from the "C" 2 ledgers below the bass clef to the second "C" above the staff.)

Most organs have several ranks of pipes. Each rank will have its own shape, which gives that rank its particular "timbre" or tonal quality... again this amazing topic is something for another time.

But I tell you about this very high "system" view of the pipe organ for this purpose: all the keyboards and other various switches (called stop knobs or tabs) are arranged simply in order to control getting the "wind" (the compressed air) to each single pipe. The particular key pressed determines which size pipe - what pitch. The stop knob selects which rank of pipes - what tonal quality. Obviously, when you press several keys, you play a chord, and notes sound in harmony (let us hope!). And, when you pull out more than one stop, you get an increased and mixed tonal effect. This is the origin of the phrase - "pulling out all the stops" - which is called "full organ". In rock and roll, it is called setting the amps to "ten" ("eleven" if you are in "Spinal Tap"). The first album of the rock group "Rush" directs the listener to "set the volume to maximum for best results" (See here for more on that.)

Now it may seem surprising to go into such details about music on a Chesterton blogg. It is said that he was nearly tone-deaf: "Yet it was all but impossible to teach Gilbert a tune, and Bernard Shaw felt this (as we have seen) a real drawback to his friend's understanding of his own life and career. Music was to Shaw what line and color were to Chesterton; but to Chesterton singing was just making a noise to show he felt happy." [Ward, Gilbert Keith Chesterton 276, my emphasis] Father O'Connor, perceptive and careful, applies the scholastic distinguo: "[He] was tone-deaf, though most sensitive to musical rhythm or tempo. [O'Connor, Father Brown on Chesterton, 21, my emphasis]

But as usual Chesterton understood a lot more than we think.

To hear more about this, pull out all the stops and click here...

I think GKC would have greatly approved of the instructions from "Rush", or the "eleven" on the amps of "Spinal Tap" - because - of all things - he understood just what really happened on Palm Sunday.

Now, if that sounds like a Father Brown riddle, perhaps you have not yet read Tremendous Trifles, which is again available! Here is the solution:
I remember a debate in which I had praised militant music in ritual, and some one asked me if I could imagine Christ walking down the street before a brass band. I said I could imagine it with the greatest ease; for Christ definitely approved a natural noisiness at a great moment. When the street children shouted too loud, certain priggish disciples did begin to rebuke them in the name of good taste. He said: "If these were silent the very stones would cry out." [GKC, "The Tower" in Tremendous Trifles, quoting Luke 19:40, my emphasis]
As usual, there is something more to be discovered, if one takes the time. This is an example of where saying the Rosary can pay off - careful reading of Scripture, or real attention at Holy Mass have equal effects, but the Rosary is designed (ah, let use keep to our musical theme) to compose variations on a basso ostinato.

On that Sunday before Passover, as the palms were strewn and the children raised their voices, there was something more than just making noise - there was, to use a modern term, an advertisement, an attention-getter. Specifically the cheers and cries of "Hosanna!" called attention to something going on - to a piece of news - to a new event.

And, if one takes a look at the events exactly eight weeks later, one finds the exact same thing happening. But this time, the sound had a rather different origin:
And when the days of the Pentecost were accomplished, [the Apostles] were all together in one place: And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty wind coming: and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. [Acts 2:1-2, emphasis added]
Wow. Talk about setting the volume to max!

Here we see that Someone has controlled the wind! The master Organist of the Universe has "pulled out all the stops" in order to call attention to something new. ("Behold, I make all things new." [Rv 21:5])

This new wind is so powerful, and yet so subtle that Chesterton could not help but call upon it in his own writing:
"How The Great Wind Came To Beacon House"

A wind sprang high in the west, like a wave of unreasonable happiness, and tore eastward across England, trailing with it the frosty scent of forests and the cold intoxication of the sea. In a million holes and corners it refreshed a man like a flagon and astonished him like a blow. In the inmost chambers of intricate and embowered houses it woke like a domestic explosion, littering the floor with some professor's papers till they seemed as precious as fugitive, or blowing out the candle by which a boy read Treasure Island and wrapping him in roaring dark. But everywhere it bore drama into undramatic lives, and carried the trump of crisis across the world. Many a harassed mother in a mean backyard had looked at five dwarfish shirts on the clothes-line as at some small, sick tragedy; it was as if she had hanged her five children. The wind came, and they were full and kicking as if five fat imps had sprung into them; and far down in her oppressed subconsciousness she half remembered those coarse comedies of her fathers when the elves still dwelt in the homes of men. Many an unnoticed girl in a dank walled garden had tossed herself into the hammock with the same intolerant gesture with which she might have tossed herself into the Thames; and that wind rent the waving wall of woods and lifted the hammock like a balloon, and showed her shapes of quaint cloud far beyond, and pictures of bright villages far below, as if she rode heaven in a fairy boat. Many a dusty clerk or curate, plodding a telescopic road of poplars, thought for the hundredth time that they were like the plumes of a hearse, when this invisible energy caught and swung and clashed them round his head like a wreath or salutation of seraphic wings. There was in it something more inspired and authoritative even than the old wind of the proverb; for this was the good wind that blows nobody harm. [GKC, Manalive, first chapter]
As you may have expected, I bring all this up for a purpose. For in just over a week, the date of October 7 shall again occur on a Sunday, as it did in 1571, when the young Don John of Austria defeated the galleys of the Turks in the historic battle of Lepanto. That Sunday morning, he had small hope for victory - the Turkish fleet was far larger; the forces of the West were hodge-podge, barely united under Don John's command. Their hope, such as it was, was based on the plea of the Pope, who had asked for prayers to be said - in particular, the prayer of the Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, wherein the various mysteries of the birth, life, death and glorification of Jesus the God-Man are recalled.

The records tell of the dramatic moment after Holy Mass, soon after sunrise, when the forces of the West rowed into the wind, towards the sun, in the battle-array of a cross - facing the west-sailing galleys arranged in the Crescent of the Turks....

But then! Ah, how to make this pivot dramatic... Then as the historian Beeching puts it in a paragraph of just five short words:

And then the wind changed.

The wind swung into the west (as it did on Beacon Hill for Innocent Smith!) aiding Don John and thwarting the Turks - and hope sprang up for the forces of the Cross.

Yes, that battle was won. But we must still face evil - not fearful galleys on a sunrise sea - but the hidden Powers of Darkness. They continue to assault our world, our country, our cities, our families, our own lives - not with swords or guns, but with every spiritual weapon, to destroy peace, wipe out hope, darken faith, quench love.

Where can we go for aid?
"And they came to him, and awaked him, saying: 'Lord, save us, we perish'." [Mt 8:25]
We must pray - we must ask for the Spirit of light, of strength, of love. We must again appeal to the One Who directs the wind, Who came upon the Apostles in tongues of fire!
And Jesus saith to them: "Why are you fearful, O ye of little faith?" Then rising up, he commanded the winds, and the sea, and there came a great calm. But the men wondered, saying: "What manner of man is this, for he winds and the sea obey him?" [Mt 8:26-27]
So, please join in the nine day novena of the Rosary, starting this Saturday, September 29, and continuing to Sunday October 7.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Join our FaceBook fan page today!