Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Mercoledi Muscicale

Back in my high school days I was fortunate to have several teachers who encouraged my interest in music, theatre and literature.  Doug Livingstone was our music and drama teacher - yes boys and girls we had music and drama classes.  He desperately attempted to teach me how to read music but had the good sense not to allow me any where near an instrument.  But he did allow me to try my hand at acting - the annual school play, assembly appearances and, just for the joy of it, exploring plays in Drama Club.

One year a drama club exercise was a reading of Under Milk Wood,  that remarkable evocation of life in Llareggub*, a fictional seaside town in Wales by Dylan Thomas.   Being a bit pompous - a bit? - I had started to read the introduction in my best poetic manner when Mr Livingstone stopped me and said,  "Just read the words in your normal voice".   Being a brash little bastard I probably sniffed with that "what does he know" adolescent sniff.  But as I simply read it in my natural voice I found that the rhythm of the lines, the portmanteau words,  the alliteration and the simple beauty of the language produced a voice of it's own that was almost like singing.  

To this day I dare anyone to read that passage out loud and not end up sounding like they are singing:
To begin at the beginning:
It is Spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched, courters'-and- rabbits' wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboat-bobbing sea. The houses are blind as moles (though moles see fine to-night in the snouting, velvet dingles) or blind as Captain Cat there in the muffled middle by the pump and the town clock, the shops in mourning, the Welfare Hall in widows' weeds. And all the people of the lulled and dumbfound town are sleeping now.
Though Thomas's words provide music of their own a chance mention by a friend of one of the characters in Under Milk Wood led me to this lovely Anglican chant setting of the Reverend Eli Jenkins' Morning Prayer.

Every morning when I wake,
Dear Lord, a little prayer I make,
O please do keep Thy lovely eye
On all poor creatures born to die

And every evening at sun-down
I ask a blessing on the town,
For whether we last the night or no
I’m sure is always touch-and-go.

We are not wholly bad or good
Who live our lives under Milk Wood,
And Thou, I know, wilt be the first
To see our best side, not our worst.

O let us see another day!
Bless us all this night, I pray,
And to the sun we all will bow
And say, good-bye – but just for now!

In this frightening age of absolute  I find that third verse reassuring that there is a middle ground and, God willing, not just in Llareggub.

* Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru (the National Library of Wales) has a map that Thomas sketched of his fictional town.   By the way Llareggub has no special meaning other than being "bugger all" spelled backwards.

05 November - 1872: In defiance of the law, suffragist Susan B. Anthony votes for the first time, and is later fined $100.


yvette said...

Memories again ! I lived in Swansea long time ago just below a famous park: cwmdonkin park, where Dylan Thomas sets a very famous poem, with a fantastic view of Swansea Bay going up Sketty road. I Loved your post, and I can hear Dylan Thomas 's voice reading his poems, chanting, you are right, with Welsh accent too...singing, yes.(I have a vinyl I brought back those days with Dylan reading his poems and some narrations, but I cannot listen to it now... luckily I found his voce and poemreadings on the web!)

David said...

I remember being so instantly hooked as a teenager by the opening of Under Milk Wood when the drama group I soon joined put it on. Those lines went straight in.

I've been meaning to revisit the famous Burton recording, but somebody a couple of days ago was telling me about the all-celebrity broadcast with cameos from Bryn Terfel, Catherine Zeta Jones and many other surprises. Curiosity inclnes me towards it.

Ur-spo said...

I wonder if today's teachers inspire to music like what you had.