When I decided to start a blog, I told my husband that I wanted to find a name for it that was “literary but not pretentious.” He was enthusiastic about this description as the name itself, and while I wasn’t so sure, I decided to use it for a time. I’m one of those people who has a tendency to get bogged down in smaller details, and when that happens, whatever project I’m working on stalls or fails to start at all. I’ve noticed this in my academic writing, when I face problems like “I can’t find the perfect word!” or “This sentence isn’t flowing right!” or “This paragraph needs a transition!” I’ve learned to use placeholders, so that I can come back and fiddle with these problems later, and that in the meantime, my thoughts can continue flowing.
At this time, I would like to announce the new title of this blog, and include some nerdy explanation. In keeping with the dual nature of this blog, its name is derived from both musicology and literature: I crafted this title by uniting a 17th-century collection of early music with a favorite novel by Hemingway.
A Musical Feast
I began my study of English lute songs three years ago. These duets for singer and lutenist from late 16th- and early 17th-century England captivated me since the first time I heard John Dowland’s Flow My Tears in my introductory music history class. After a year of ensemble coaching as a lute duet, my guitarist friend Matt decided he would be too busy to continue on a formal basis, and thus the school’s lute became available for me to borrow. I have now taken two years of lute lessons and while still a beginner, I’m just starting to be able to accompany myself on simpler lute songs. One of the first pieces Matt and I worked on was a version of Caccini’s Amarilli mia bella, taken from the 1610 anthology of lute songs A Musicall Banquet, compiled and published by John Dowland’s son Robert. I have fond memories of singing from this facsimile. A Musicall Banquet was a hodgepodge of lute ayres from various countries – in addition to English lute songs, there are French and Italian. Naming this blog after a mix of styles appeals to me, as my intention is to create a similar medley of reviews on various topics.
“Paris is a moveable feast,” wrote Ernest Hemingway in his aptly named, autobiographical novel A Moveable Feast. I finished this collection of essays this autobiographical novel, based loosely (almost entirely?) on Hemingway's early experience living in Paris with his wife, back in January, though I had begun several months earlier. I savored this book slowly, reading only a few of the short, episodic chapters at a time. His simple prose manages unbelievably rich, sensual descriptions of food, wine, cafes, and the writing process. One scene that stuck with me is a description of Hemingway taking a break from his daily writing to peel a musty orange. The discipline of writing every day, in a different building than that in which he lives with his wife, is a compelling one. Hemingway’s “moveable feast” is a space in which he writes every day with discipline and vigor, while savoring the sights, tastes, and smells around him. Hemingway’s clear prose is a beautiful model, standing in contrast to the unnecessarily complicated jargon and vocabulary that seems to characterize much academic prose. And finally, I appreciate the implicit idea that it is through writing, not merely in reading, that an idea becomes a part of you. My husband and I both consider this to be one of our favorite quotes from literature, ever.
“I've seen you, beauty, and you belong to me now, whoever you are waiting for and if I never see you again, I thought. You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil.” (13)