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Mr. FLG has got himself a comment debate going about the invitation extended to Obama to go speak at Notre Dame’s commencement and the backlash it is provoking among conservative RC’s, given Obama’s well-documented lack of concern for fetal life.  (You will hardly be surprised to learn that I think it was a terrible idea.)

I’ve already contributed a bit, but I wanted to emphasize in my own post here the danger of bandying about the word “rights” in this debate.

If we are speaking of the First Amendment, we must be very careful to remember its limitations.  It reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Emphasis on “Congress”.   That means the Guv’mint.  It does not mean anybody else.  There are plenty of instances where even if the guv’mint cannot abridge the free exercise of religion or speech, some other non-governmental authority can.  Otherwise, for example, parents would be powerless to shut up their children or make them stop watching tee vee and would have no choice but to kill them.

Now I think that this concept of 1st Amendment rights often gets turned inside out these days.  People believe that freedom of speech or religion actually means a positive obligation on the part of the guv’mint to ensure that nobody curtails what they say or hear, and when or where they say or hear it.   (And following the Orwellian logic of our day, that usually translates into a belief that the guv’mint has a positive duty to suppress expressions of religion in favor of a semi-official state secularism.)  My favorite example of this attitude occurs almost yearly at Christmastime.  There’s a middle-aged Korean guy who likes to get on the metro and sing hymns between stops.  On several occassions somebody has started shouting at him “You have no right to do that here!” –  presumably on the mistaken belief that the singer is somehow infringing on everybody else’s freedom of religion or speech when, in fact, he is only exercising his own.

From a 1st Amendment point of view, Notre Dame can choose to invite whoever the hell it wants, without guv’mint interference.  Conversely, though, from a 1st Amendment point of view other non-governmental agents may seek to influence that choice – also without guv’mint interference.  So far as I know, Notre Dame is a private university with ties directly to the Church.  It certainly holds itself out as a “Catholic” institution.   If there is any meaning left in that term, then this is exactly the kind of debate that ought to be had.

But as I say, this is God’s fight, not Uncle Sam’s.  There is absolutely nothing legally wrong with orthodox RC’s or the Church itself opposing the bringing of Obama to campus, and of doing everything they can to get the University to reconsider its invitation.   Nobody’s rights – not the students, not the faculty’s, not the Church’s, not Mr. Obama’s – are being infringed one way or the other.  It isn’t even a question.

I have started to be bombarded here by spam comments for “procopia” or whatever it is.

One of the bells n’ whistles that I like about WordPress is the fact that when you delete a spam comment, it flames up red before disappearing.

Sort of a little foretaste of hell on the way there.

Those Tolkien geeks among you may be interested in hearing how my reading of The Lord of the Rings to the eldest gel is progressing.

Well, now.

You may recall my recent post about how I planned to adopt Mako’s “Sorcerer” from the Conan movies as my model for rendering the voice of Ghan-buri-Ghan?  I was really quite excited about the prospect, thinking I had some solid material from which to work.

Alas, it didn’t turn out the way I had hoped.  I couldn’t get the gravelly quality right.  In the end, Ghan-buri-Ghan came out sounding like Tonto.

Oh, well.

On the other hand, last evening we got to the Houses of Healing in Minas Tirith.  I had not given any thought at all to how I was going to deal with the Master of the place, except that I wanted to capture his qualities of ineptitude and chattiness.

andydevineImagine my surprise, then, when as I started reading him I realized that the voice I was gradually adopting was that of Andy Devine’s Marshall Appleyard from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

All I can say is that it worked.  By the time I got through his bumblings about the liguistic history of kingsfoil and athelas, like Gandalf and Aragorn I was ready to strangle him myself!

I suppose that the moral here is not to try and plan too far ahead of time but just to go with the natural flow and rhythms of the characters.

Which leads me to another observation:  Either I have just utterly muffed my rendition of him, or else Aragorn doesn’t sound anywhere near as well as he reads.   I was looking forward to trying out his teasing of Merry about his pack, but it came out both flat and pompous and I was completely unable to convey his subsequent confession that he had been joking.

I attended the eldest gel’s spring concert at school last evening.  (For those of you who don’t have your programmes handy, she’s a second violin in the school orchestra.  This semester she also won herself a place in one of the smaller advanced groups that travels about the district for various concerts and competitions.  Not bad for a kid who only picked up the instrument six months ago.)

I must say that I enjoy these little shows tremendously.   The gel’s orchestra, so we are told, is the largest in the entire district and one of the biggest in all of NoVA.  It is also one of the most successful thanks to the tireless efforts of the magnificent lady of obvious Irish extraction who rules over it with an iron fist in a velvet glove.  Granted, they’re only a pack of fourth, fifth and sixth graders, so one simply doesn’t expect the musick to reach celestial heights, but for all that they still sound pretty durn good.  Also, I will say this:  An event like last evening’s is a powerful reminder that even a poorly-executed live performance has qualities about it that cannot be captured by even the best recording.  For one thing, there is the simple matter of sound quality.  For another, when one can see the orchestra in action, one gets a much better understanding of what the composer had in mind in putting together the musick for them.

Anyhoo, a few observations on the evening:

♦  The program started, as seems usually to be the case, with a series of short solos.  I quote entirely from faulty memory here, but Bertie Wooster once described such a violin solo thus: “It was loud in parts and less loud in other parts and, like every other violin solo I’ve ever heard, seemed longer than it actually was.”

♦  There were about a dozen of these solos, ranging in quality from some really first-rate Vivaldi by a four foot tall wunderkind to a couple of short bits that I couldn’t identify even with their names printed on the programme.   And when a pair of blushing boys broke into a duet arrangement of the Offenbach “Can-Can”, the fellah next to me turned and with a pained smile said, “Bet you’ve heard this before, huh.”

♦   The final piece was the finale from Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.  I started laughing at the end of it because the editors who had arranged it in a form suitable for junior ensembles obviously decided that Beethoven’s ending was juuuuuust a leetle too long and needed some pruning.  Their own much more condensed coda would, I’m sure, have had the old bastard frothing at the lips and throwing things at people.

♦  A first word about audience behavior.  I know that we mostly go to see our own little prodigies perform, but is it really too much to ask that we remember that everyone else is doing the same thing and therefore that we not interfere when other people are trying to listen?  The woman sitting on the other side of me from the burnt-out Offenbach afficianado, once her own Joshua Bell had finished his solo (one of the incomprehensible ones – if that was Schumann then I’m a hobbit), whipped out her cellphone and started making business calls.  Ce n’est pas nice. Ditto with the stream of camcorder-armed parents streaming to the front and then stumbling back after they’d pixillated their little stars.  (I have a whole theory about the inability of Modern Man to take in the world around him except via video screen, but that is for another day.)

♦  A second word about audience behavior.  The expression “Woo Hoo!!” and its ilk do not belong at a serious musick concert, whatever the performance level.  A football field, yes.  A rock gig, I suppose.  A string concert, no.  I pointed this out 23 years ago to a girl I was seeing at the time and she looked at me as if I had a hole in my head.  I’m still right, though.  (I was right about a great many other things, but again, that’s a story for another day.)

♦  A third word about audience behavior.  It is bad enough that every middling professional performance gets a standing ovation these days, but I’ll be damned if I do it for a pack of elementary kids.   I successfully smothered in its crib an attempt to start one by the cellphone lady beside me by means of the thin smile, the icy glare and the firm adherence of the bottom to the chair.

♦  I have long believed that there is nothing quite so angelic as the sight of a choir singing.  (I often think this to myself when the nine year old is doing her stuff at RFEC.)  But there is also something very charming about watching a group of  musicians sawing away.  From where I sat, I could just see the gel, her face a study in concentration,  going through her paces.  Sometimes she was bent on her sheet musick.  Sometimes she glanced up at the conductor.  Sometimes she looked at her standmate.  All throughout, it was a joy to see her participating in the ensemble.   My freshman crew coach once said, “Gentlemen, when a boat is rowing right and swinging together, there’s not a prettier sight in the world.  When they do it wrong, there’s not an uglier one.”

For the most part, the gel’s orchestra swung together.  And it was a pretty sight.

**People get this wrong these days, thinking it’s “savage beast” because they only remember the joke from Bugs Bunny cartoons.  The original is from William Congreve’s 1697  play The Mourning Bride:

Music has charms to soothe the savage breast
To soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.

Curiously enough, that same play is the source of another often-misquoted line:

“Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.”


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March 2009