Sunday Lit Crit Sermon #85: Orson F. Whitney on Poetry, Music and Silence

OFWhitneyWhat makes poetry work? Why is it different than fiction and other genres? I’m not sure any scientific answer is possible to this question, since it involves so many elements, many of which simply can’t be measured objectively. But this view hasn’t kept appraisers of literature from trying to say what makes poetry different.

Part of the difference is found in the “music” of poetry–its use of rhythm, rhyme and other features to connect to the reader or hearer of its words.

Continue reading “Sunday Lit Crit Sermon #85: Orson F. Whitney on Poetry, Music and Silence”

Jake Workman on The Guest and the Ghost

Wm talks with Jake Workman about his new album + prose ebook project The Guest and the Ghost, the dearly departed band The Sweater Friends and other things musical and creative.

You may know Jake Workman as one-half of the Utah-based acoustic, quirky, funny, lovely harmonies and catchy melodies band The Sweater Friends. That group is, alas, no more, but Jake has a new project out that combines his music writing with prose writing. It’s called The Guest and the Ghost and is available at Jake’s bandcamp site (the album is available elsewhere, but if you want the accompanying ebook get it from him there).

How did The Guest and the Ghost come about? How did Henry Pickett Pratt begin to haunt your artistic mind? And related to that: why tell the story in both music/lyric and prose?

The idea started with the fourth song on the album called “Pickett.” I had several guitar parts and melodies that fit well together. I thought it would be cool to write a story with the parts and have different melodies be different voices and people. I was still playing a lot with Allyson and The Sweater Friends and it fit our capabilities nicely.

The main character in the story, Henry, came from my love of Southern Utah. At the time I had become really interested in Butch Cassidy. There are a lot of myths and rumors about his life. I had family on my Mom’s side who lived in the town Cassidy was born in and it got me thinking of a distant relative maybe passing him on the street or catching him cut through their pasture. Henry came out of this interest. As I thought more and more about Henry and decided to write other songs based on him or his point of view, the imagery I was creating did not lend itself completely to lyrics. I wanted to go deeper. Luckily I had a really creative bandmate in Allyson who supported me in this idea of telling a more holistic rendition of Henry with both song and written word. Continue reading “Jake Workman on The Guest and the Ghost”

Another Early Mormon Drama

As I’ve looked at 19th century newspapers and other documents, I’ve come across literary works or references to literary works that I didn’t know about, and that, apparently, are unknown among those of us interested in Mormon literature. Yesterday, I discovered another.

Continue reading “Another Early Mormon Drama”

Cupcakes Can Kill You. . . (An Interview with Mr. Tim Part II)

MisterTimMics10x8_72-300x240The second part of this interview is really more of a guest post. Mr. Tim one of the few people I know who lives artfully. He doesn’t just make music in his studio and then come home and forget about it. He doesn’t go to Church and be Mormon on Sunday and then go and be a musician and performer on Saturday. All the parts of his life intersect and feed off each other to create an aesthetically unique existence. Which is probably why he gave me such a long and fabulous answer when I asked him about religion and music.

For Part One of this interview click here. For more about Mister Tim go to mistertimdotcom.com Or you can look him up on facebook.

LHC: How does your religion intersect with your music? Does being Mormon influence your creative process?

Mr. T: These things drive everything I do: I want it to be clean, I want it to be inspiring, and I want it to MATTER.

I cut my teeth as a professional performer, and in the a cappella world, with my comedy quartet moosebutter. moosebutter was an outgrowth of many of my musical influences, but also, as it turns out, of my odd sense of humor. Comedy group, singing silly songs, and yet I always felt that moosebutter was a spiritual group. In fact the initial inspiration for the group, and every significant event that lead to the development and progression of the group, was very spiritual. As a group, and now by extension as I incorporate comedy into my solo act, comedy has always served to break down doors and open minds to the gospel, or at the very least to the idea that Mormons are real people. moosebutter did a lot of touring, and I now travel all over the country, and Mormonism ALWAYS comes up. With moosebutter it usually came up because we were from Utah or from the fact that Weston spent a section of the show jumping around and shrieking in Spanish. When asked about the language, he would always tell people that he had served a Spanish-speaking mission for the church.

What about not-comedy music?

When I am inspired. . .when I am moved by the Spirit . . .I write music. I usually carry my own hymn book to church, because in the middle of singing hymns I get song ideas and the easiest place to write is in the book I’m holding. When I am at peace, when I feel a connection to the divine, I write music. I do not write overtly religious music. I, personally, do not enjoy listening to “inspirational” LDS music. Nothing against those musicians, and nothing against those who listen to it, I just don’t enjoy it. And I certainly don’t need to write that kind of music, because there are lots of people doing it better than I ever would. But beyond me not enjoying it, that’s simply not what comes out when I write.

[Laura’s note: Go here and check out some of Mr. Tim’s hymn arrangements. He says they are works in progress and would welcome any feedback. I really like “Silent Night”.]

I write about some very heady subjects, some very dark subjects: addiction, human brutality, frustration, depression. I feel that I have a responsibility to at least try to share messages of hope and redemption with audiences that are typically not LDS. That requires a different kind of delivery. I still write a lot of comedic songs, or I think more accurately still find comedic or quirky elements emerging in songs: sometimes to soften the delivery of the material, but sometimes just because I tend toward a slightly-twisted delivery. I think it’s a good mix: a song like “Cupcakes Can Kill You” is straight up silly”¦ but, if you ask my English-degreed wife, it’s also a biting satire. Even if I’m not trying to be funny, the goofy creeps in, because that’s who I am. But,
that’s not all I am, and it can be difficult getting people to even listen to my songs that don’t have punchlines.

[There is also a real] burden of fear: fear that I’m wasting my time, fear that my life and my work will not be of consequence, fear that in trying to make music that has popular appeal that I will make it shallow, or morally compromised; fear of working in a service industry, and that I’ll not be able to make a living.

Even if I am inspired to write something, does not mean it will be successful. The process, the work, the editing is mine to do. It is not uncommon to have tangible bursts of spiritual inspiration, and to have the resulting work fail miserably. Why? Leading to something more? Just because something is inspirational to me, if it feels directed or touched by the spirit, does not mean it will necessarily be inspiring to someone else. To expect that it will be, that my inspiration will equate to commercial success, or a publishing deal, or mainstream attention, that kind of sells short the diversity of workings of the spirit, doesn’t it? Who am I to limit what inspiration is intended for?

Some of my most successful work was not inspired in a powerful or notable way, but just happened; in fact, I think most of my best work did not feel bosom-burny at the time of conception, did not have Ensign article-worthy experiences, but just”¦ happened. They came out like they were the most natural thing in the world, just made sense, just worked. If I look back on them, most of those probably came from progress made from other projects, and probably are connected to some of the inspired work that failed.

As I travel as a solo act, I always mention that I have (as of two months ago) 6 children. Not hard for people to figure out (“are you Catholic or Mormon?”), and then all of a sudden they know a Mormon, and he’s this guy they saw on stage who did this cool thing, and maybe he was funny, and “¦ well. Once they think I’m “cool” I can talk about anything and it has the chance to get through. When I tell college kids in North Carolina that I don’t drink, some of them look at me like it has literally never crossed their mind that someone can not drink”¦ but now it has crossed their mind. I spend a lot of time working with students, and usually all I want is for them to see clean, uplifting art. And if not art, then at least clean and uplifting. There is a lot of entertainment out there, and not much is clean. The best experiences I’ve had as a performer is when families come up after a show and tell me (or us) that everyone in the family loved what I/we did. Something fun, memorable, and clean that a whole family can do together: not a bad days work.

I feel very strongly about moral questions, political questions, and ideological issues that I see as vital to the health of society and the health of individuals. The problem with important issues like these is that the artist cannot be obvious when trying to speak about these issues. The audience will tune out if you are overt. The art is finding a way to speak truth without being preachy.

Be sure to check out Mr. Tim’s online calendar to see about upcoming performances. He’ll be in Utah March 9-11. He is also available for school assemblies, work as artist in residence, and workshops. Also check out his mp3 store where you can purchase music or listen to tracks in their entirety. Also, his work is available at the Plumbers of Rome and Vocality Singers websites.

Weekend (Re)Visitor: The Music of Low

The wife and I saw Low last night at the Varsity Theater in Minneapolis. It was a great venue and a great concert — we got treated to two sets and an encore, a good two hours of music. I don’t go to many concerts so I suck at reviewing them. I didn’t take notes so I don’t have the playlist. Nor did the experience, although it was great, provide me with any major insights in to the band, its music, indie rock, Mormon culture, etc. But I can share a few minor thoughts that I had during the course of the evening:

  1. The band is both much darker and a bit more funnier than I had previously realized.
  2. Alan Sparhawk is rather a bluesman, isn’t he? Watching him sit with a guitar in his lap and hearing it and his vocals — Alan is singing the blues.
  3. The harmonies sound even better in person.
  4. There is a lot of talk about blood and deserts and flowers and bodies of water and bodies.
  5. When Low gets written about, it’s always about Alan. When it is about Mimi, it’s about her in relation to Alan. When it’s about the bassist (Low has had 4; the current bassist is Steve Barrington), it’s about his relationship to Alan and to Alan and Mimi. In performance, yes, Alan is clearly the front man, but in some ways all 3 members are in their own world. There’s little interaction except through each of what they contribute to the music, but, you know, that’s what you want, I think, from a band like this. I guess what I’m getting at here is that the band doesn’t work without the bassist or any of the other members — the way the music is built just really works and when you can see every note being played and song, it really hits that point home.
  6. All three members of the band close their eyes much of the time while they are playing. Like prayer or meditation or simply intense focus. And it makes sense, not just because of the emotional intensity of the songs, but also because so much of  the music require precise hitting of and timing of notes (and of getting the silences right).
  7. Alan is one intense dude. I don’t know whether it’s an act or whether it was an off night (it sure didn’t seem like), but he was struggling in parts. Or maybe just really feeling it. Near the final 1/3 of the first set he deliberately pulled out four or five guitar strings at the end of a song that ends with the repeated lyric “I am nothing but heart.” He then mumbled a joke about it and casually got another guitar.
  8. There’s nothing explicitly Mormon in the music of Low. I mean, yes, you can pull out phrases and images. But it’s all rather oblique. However, what is clear is that Alan is grappling with faith and violence and love and humanity in his lyrics. And some of them give you chills — Murderer and Cue the Strings, in particular got to me last night. But really, that’s only the beginning. I mean, they must have played more than 20 songs.

LINKS

Low: Official site, MySpace, Wikipedia

YouTube: Murderer, Monkey, In Silence, Belarus, Breaker

AMV: Alan Sparhawk on God’s language; Low’s “maudlin Mormon message”

Linescratchers: Q&A with Alan Sparhawk

Kulturblog: Susan M reviews a Low concert

Alan Sparhawk on God’s language

I apologize for the lack of Friday feature posts of late. I keep attempting to revisit Margaret Young’s novel Salvador again and failing to say what I want to say. Plus life has intervened of late. I still have hopes of saying something more about Salvador, but meanwhile: here’s a quote from Low’s Alan Sparhawk:

Sparhawk simply doesn’t see the divide that many outsiders envision between his Mormon lifestyle and his rock ‘n’ roll career. “Making music is one of the most spiritual things in the world,” he said. “This is God’s language, man, and you don’t touch that [stuff] without feeling something bigger than yourselves. If you don’t come to terms with that and call it what it is, you’re going to have a long fight.”

It’s a long fight anyway, but yeah. That’s an interesting way to look at it, imo.

For more, see the Star Tribune column I took the second paragraph above from. Also check out this article on Alan and Mimi’s work with Twin Cities choreographer Morgan Thorson.  Retribution Gospel Choir’s new album is simply titled 2 ( Amazon link ).

An excerpt from The Island of Bali is Littered with Prayers

Last week Mormon Artists Group announced the availability of a fine edition version of BYU Assistant Professor of Music Jeremy Grimshaw’s The Island of Bali is Littered with Prayers, an account of his trip to the island to study gamelan music and subsequent efforts to start a gamelan orchestra in Utah. I’m pleased to bring you the following excerpt from the book. Tomorrow I’ll post a Q&A with Jeremy.

The fine edition version is limited to 25 copies and costs $125. You can purchase it (and read more about it) at http://mormonartistsgroup.com/ (for some reason the website doesn’t do direct links to its pages — so click on “Works” when the page loads and then The Island of Bali is Littered with Prayers). Other editions of this title may become available in the future. Mormon Artists Group fine editions almost always sell out so if this does interest you and is within  your means, act quickly.

From the section on unpacking the gamelan instruments when they arrive in Provo.

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When the instruments arrived, I couldn’t help but notice that the unpacking party was a kind of music of its own: a polyphonic chorus of hammering, the groan of boards being forced out of square, nails squealing at the pull of crowbars. The twenty-one crates, some of them as big as refrigerators and all of them sturdy enough to protect their heavy, precious cargo on the nine thousand mile, three month- long journey from Bali, Indonesia, to Provo, Utah, put up quite a fight before giving up their contents. Continue reading “An excerpt from The Island of Bali is Littered with Prayers”