Oral Tradition 2/2

Oral Tradition 2/2



well but actually this raises a really interesting question in my mind Tom which is that it seems to me that one of the kickers we talked about how the poem came out of oral tradition and how that that's that's that's lost to us because we don't have video cameras we don't have anything but it seems to me that the the metrical structure is one of those keys because what we do know about performance in composition is that the the metrics play an important important part of that and when we think about the anglo-saxon to think poetry and anglo-saxon England meant to think in this one very specific metrical form not in a whole bunch of different laws so maybe the refinement that you're seeing is you know the process of several hundred years of working within this what for the poet's but for us seems our unnatural lives were for them had to have been a very natural language as Albert Lord talked about way back when with a singer of tales when he talked about the grammar of what these things do so I mean I think you're exactly right I think the meter shows us that this is high artistic achievement I think it's also the meter curiously enough is also one of the keys to its trip to its survival of transmission before being encoded on the page exactly and what you said about lord.and and what john can remind us of is that as soon as oral formulaic poetry is discussed metre enters into the definition of what it is and you can probably give us a succinct definition of an oral formulate form better than I but it has to do with phrases that are repeated using the same metrical structure or a variation of the metrical structure something like that the thematic elements due to the you know sort of the grandeur thing of or the larger item of story patterns that's so we have and all of these things serve a function so the the metrics didn't develop just for technical to be technically dazzling but they were serving up some sort of mnemonic function or something having to do with the composition and I think it actually that that is so strong that that that push is so strong that the importance of the metrics the importance of the form is so strong that even once we take it out of the performance arena and our writing that no it's still write that way don't work not as if they're imagining themselves performing but that's just the way they think of they think of poetry among your comments was the observation that sometimes there is a melismatic moment several notes to a single syllable as far as the meter I would say that there are two ways that the music and the instrument can work for or against the meter and that's exactly it for or against the meter when you and I began collaborating I had a notion of a syllabic style one note to a syllable and in fact for these descending patterns of stress that you get in compound words I wanted to hear a high note on the heaviest stress or the highest accent a lower note on an intermediate stress and yet a lower note on a syllable that didn't have stress in a one-to-one pattern so that to my mind the melody would enhance the perception of the linguistic structure now a melismatic moment in which there's several notes on a single syllable could arguably obscure the quantitative value of the syllable and to my mind that's not a problem because in the text as we have it certainly there are almost mathematically precise measurements of quantities of syllables but I see nothing in the earlier traditions as we reconstruct them or as in the parallel traditions of old high german and old saxon that would eliminate these melismatic moments so that's one reason I have said that I see your performance as less bookish than what we've got from the person who wrote down Beowulf and very likely at very plausibly to my mind the way it could have sounded in the mead hall but that's the old question was mead-hall and when when and because there were many mead halls over many centuries right and of course there are many reference to several references and bail oft to the performance and in the mead hall and I find it I find it hard to think that they're referring to what's going on right now that this seems to me a kind of nostalgic antiquarian moment looking back to our glorious dramatic laureate or Germanic heritage now a melismatic moment for many people also for many musicians is considered to be a moment of weight that the weight is on the melisma but for for singers and melisma can also be something which is just delaying the arrival at next syllable which might be very short but it might be more important by having had that melisma before it and and that's the whole problem with the idea of accent versus length you know in a vocalized performance that the long note isn't necessarily the accented note the short note isn't necessarily a weaker syllable all those things are quite variable depending on the register you choose the rhythmic context of the performance around it is it is it in a very rapid moment when I'm really going as fast as I can or is it a series of unimportant syllables leading up to something very important there are all kinds of variables at work and I'm in agreement I'm I was just rehearsing what a pedantic critic who focuses on the meter as I have done at periods in my life might raise as an objection yeah but the more we find ironically the more we find out about the meter the less I think that that's an objection the melismatic moments yeah I intended to bring closer no it's just it it's alive in the mouth of the singer the tradition is alive the the song is alive the metrical rules are there but just as we break all sorts of grammatical and syntactical formance does it doesn't become a storm I agree entirely we threw that it's there on the page but I I don't think that the singer the performer is imprisoned by them at all and so I mean as long as you're staying within certain certain ranges of things I think the the text and again this comes back to our sort of text bonded or text text mindedness that the text is there and we like regularity we like fixity along those lines I might add something just a little bit heretical that might support some of what Ben is doing and I don't really think that you should feel badly about either the instrument leading you astray or you're leading yourself astray because in any performative situation where the rubber meets the road is the effectiveness of the performance how are you communicate not with an audience that we might dredge up heuristic aliy from some moment in anglo-saxon England but this audience here how are you communicating with the audiences you perform before at Lincoln Center wherever else it might be you have found a way to communicate the living presence of Beowulf with arguably more accuracy to anglo-saxon philology than any other performer and yet at the same time to connect to audiences here and now in the 21st century that's what performance is about it isn't only about respecting rules of meter or phraseology or pronunciation or other things it has to do with are you communicating it's a problem in reception are you communicating with this audience now and that you do so well and I think that's what any performance that successful does

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