Yet another Transition (not a Snippet) that is out of order from The Boats. Trasna Na Dtonnta (Across The Waves). Irony. Get Out. Staging. That’s what Directors are for. Counterpoint. Pachelbel was boring. Bartok was not. Translyvania and Normal. Rubick’s Cubes. Breathing and whistling in the right key. Schmaltz It Up. Black It Up. Whatever.
Roger CortonLast time we talked about Transitions. And this time we’re still talking about Transitions.
JCHWhere will it all end? (laughs)
RCThis is the last one, right?
JCHI think so.
RCYou’re not sure?
JCHWell, like I’ve said a jillion times, this is rev one. Look what happened with Detroit! I could one day realize that the whole thing needs to turn left and my ‘ninety percent done’ meter could instantly flip to ‘fifteen percent done’.
RCStipulated. But right now, this is it? Si?
RCSo the tune is…
JCHTrasna Na Dtonnta. I guess that means ‘across the waves’. That’s the whistle tune I play over and over.
RCYou don’t sing here but I noticed that there are lyrics.
JCHRight. It’s supposed to be a “Coming home to Ireland” happy song. You know? You’ve been gone for years soldiering or being a serf or whatever and you’re on board a ship heading west for Ireland.
JCHBut there are some odd things about it. You never hear it sung here even though it’s one of the most popular songs. Everyone in Ireland learns it–even the Gallai. (laughs)
JCHSome people translate it as ‘Brit’ but it’s really a mild pejorative for ‘non-Irish speaker’ or maybe ‘Honky’ (laughs). Anyhoo, as kids, we never heard the song as ‘happy’. It was too sappy. It always felt like a GET OUT! (monster voice) kind of song.
RCAs in leaving Ireland. Why?
JCHI don’t exactly know, I just know that that’s my memory of it from music class as a kid. Everyone thought of it as a sappy, “I’ll never see my country again” deal. Totally not what’s in the lyrics. So right before the finale, the brothers all break into a drunken rendition of it.
RCStill don’t get it.
JCHWell part of it is that the guy in the song is heading West. So I guess that meant he’s coming back from Europe. Who cares? But going west ‘dul siar, dul siar’ (sings) meant to us that the guy was going to America or Canada.
RCGo West, young man!
JCHExactly. The irony is built-in.
RCAnd that’s in the string parts, right? You’re playing a happy tune, but the backup is sad.
JCHExactly. It’s like a break-up conversation, you know? “I’ll always love you. You’re so great.”
RCNow hit the road, Jack.
JCH(laughs) Right! If things are so great, why do I have to move out, Bernice? THAT’S Trasna Na Dtonnta.
RCGot it. So, something I was thinking about. These ‘Transitions’ are to fill time while sets are being moved around?
RCAnd all the cast stay on stage during the Transitions? They work as crew to help move things.
RCBut I looked at the Stage Directions and they don’t say anything specific about what the stage looks like or what people are supposed to do. How do you know the music goes with the sets the company will build?
JCHThat’s a good question! You have to let go somewhere. And this is the place where I say to the director, “Listen to the music and apply your own creativity and vision to it.”
RCOK, but do you have an idea of how the stage will look?
JCHSort of. But this is the one area where I’m leaving it up to God. I know the emotions the characters need to have during these Transitions and the music speaks to those. But I honestly don’t have a whole storyboard in my mind. To me, that’s one of the wonders of opera–the joint effort. All I can hope is that, if this thing ever gets mounted, the designer figures it out from the music and the lyrics.
RCLet’s circle back to the music. This is very different from most of the snippets. There are no drums or bass. But the big difference is that the strings don’t seem to ‘back’ the tune. They compete with it.
JCHThat’s a really good observation. I wanted it to sound like an accompaniment that slowly goes off the rails. And then it decides to become its own thing.
RCAnd that ‘thing’ is the irony you talked about.
RCAt first I thought it was like George Martin. Yesterday, right? But it gets a lot more complicated.
JCHWell, it But it’s nothing fancy. It’s just three melodies from other parts of the show that are mashed up here. I guess you’d call it (cough) ‘counterpoint’. Any voice could be a ‘nice’ harmony on its own. It’s a rip-off from Bartok, I suppose.
RCToo weird. I don’t hear the connection.
JCHThat’s because you’re not Hungarian, dude. (laughs) The toughest thing for people to ‘get’ with that stuff is that, if you grew up in Translyvania–no jokes, Vlad–this would sound as ‘normal’ as Garth Brooks does to you. He’s just using his native melodies and harmony. And so am I.
RCI know. We’ve talked about this before, but it’s still hard to get.
JCHIt’s this prejudice our ears have. We tend to think that stuff from other cultures isn’t ‘normal’.
RCWhen you say ‘counterpoint’, how is that different from chords? I guess what I mean is, if you pick some tunes to ‘mash up’ how do you know ahead of time what chords you’re gonna get and how they fit together?
JCHIt’s funny you should say that. It’s the mystery of the ages. Beethoven, Mozart, they all struggled with counterpoint. Beethoven has these impassioned notes in his conversation books about failing over and over. “I cannot get the voices to do what I want them to do!” And I could never figure out What the fuck are you talking about, dude? You’re Beethoven! (laughs).
RCSo how do you do it? In twenty five words or less.
JCHYou just have to do it. The reason Bach was so great at it is that the guy didn’t think in terms of ‘harmony’ like we do. It’s like the thing with Bartok. It was his ‘normal’. Bach didn’t think in terms of boom-chick, boom chick. Chord. Chord. Chord. He really thought in parts constantly winding back and forth. They all did back then. So you give him three melodies and? Presto-change-o! He gives you back, like a TRIPLE FUGUE! (laughs). But that style went the way of disco and musicians just forgot how to do it. That happens with all skills. It’s like kids who work those stupid Rubick’s cubes. You do it a few million times and then it becomes automatic. You can’t even tell people how you do it. I mean, you do something like that all the time with your country band. You work out three part harmonies, right? It just happens. I take comfort from reading that even Beethoven suffered with this shit. Because let me tell you, the first 10,000 times I tried doing anything like this it was not pretty (laughs).
RCIt sounds like a lot of work.
JCHI guess so. But if you don’t do it, when you try to write anything ‘classical’ it just turns out like this bland version of Pachelbel’s Canon. Just chord. Chord. Chord. All this shit is too damned boring without some movement.
RCGotta keep moving. Especially at our age. And speaking of shit that just happens. I’ve noticed that your whistle playing is sounding damned great, son. I assume that means that your breathing is getting better?
JCHIt is. Plus, oxygen or no oxygen, I had to learn to play vaguely OK, in order to do these tunes.
RCNice and clean. None of that pffffffffffffffft I hear from lots of players. Even really good players.
JCHWell, one factor is that my whistle is tuned really high, which makes it a lot easier to play clean lines. The lower whistles definitely ppfffffft. Also the whistle I used isn’t in the key of this music.
RCWhat does that have to do with it?
JCHIt’s just like a harmonica. The kinds of tremolos and ornaments and bends are determined by the tuning of the whistle. If your whistle isn’t in the right key, pretty much all you can do is play it straight–unless you’re a real master. Which I am obviously not. But a real whistle player would schmaltz it up a lot more.
RCSchmaltz it up? I guess that’s another one of those ‘real Irish’ expressions.
JCHYeah, you know. Schmaltz it up. Give it some soul.
RCBlack it up (laughs).
JCHYou know damn well what I’m talking about (laughs).
RCOK, I think we’ve had enough for now. If this really is the last Transition, I think next time we should get back to that ‘compilation disc’ we talked about last month.
JCHI’ll keep ya posted.