Sunday, 30 March 2014

Never say die

I was chatting to my son about idioms, sayings, adages, them what you will, they are an integral part of every language and the secret code by which die-hard native speakers can be separated from others. Even those who have command of any language do not necessarily know that code, which can include deliberate or even accidental misuse. At the supermarket (here in Germany) yesterday I heard a woman call in English "I don't see her". OK from the massage point of view and a common error for native German speakers translating. But she should have called "I can't see her" because that's what a native speaker would do. However, in German, the word for "can" is stronger, so strong in fact that you can use it as a full verb rather than just as a modal. I consoled myself that she hadn't shouted "I am not seeing her", which is the continuous form and a 'book with seven locks' or 'Bohemian villages' to German trying to speak proper English, there being no continuous form in German, except the one the Germans have invented (e.g. they say 'ich bin am Singen', a construction using a preposition and a Gerund, which is frowned upon by Germans wanting to speak high German, but used by everyone, including Frau Merkel and all the other politicians, and you'd think they knew better!). BTW, those 2 quotes earlier are literal translations of lovely German sayings for which I can't think of an English equivalent.

That last sentence should lead me to the (dubious?) use of prepositions at the end of sentences, a rule of thumb in an English native speaker, while it is drummed into English learners that they should avoid end prepositions (e.g. in the last sentence I could have put 'for' at the end of that sentence, but I have a cockney friend who prides himself on his perfect grammar and chides me if I do that - both forms are correct!). Ridiculous, but as I intimated, there are still Brits who disapprove, though Winston Churchill made fun of that grammar rule yonks ago. At the very latest, when a verb is accompanied by 2 or even more prepositions, the rule becomes a dilemma. It's a delicate topic, so I'll leave it to your imagination or online instruction books...

To cut a very long story short, idioms are the spice of any language. My son (a perfect bilingual!) finds it entertaining when I throw anglicized German idioms into the conversation, but in this case he started the ball rolling by exclaiming that I should 'scratch the curve' as we were driving somewhere. "What?", I hear you say. Of course, anyone bilingual English/German knows exactly what is meant. In English we would say something like "Get a move on!", but scratching the curve is definitely more fun than getting a move on. And there's even an example of the preposition thing in there. Can I say "Did she get on a move?" Not if I want to ask if someone drove fast, I can't. Getting on a move is a rather spurious verb construction meaning something else (but not in general use, or is it?), and does not mean 'Give gasolene/petrol!' which is a German way of telling someone to get a move on (German: Gib Gas!).

Facit: The waters are muddy between any two given languages, but probably as muddy as it gets between English and German.

I have to rescind and repent my last post in this post. This weekend I did two singouts with my small chorus/ensemble and they did splendidly. We were helped by generous acoustics, admittedly, but any music performer is grateful for anything merciful about the acoustics of a venue, so that can't be the only reason they were good. Top form is the answer. Every athlete aims for top form and has numerous strategies for attaining it. It's the same for any performer. Useless being on top form the day before or after. In the theatre, a poor final dress rehearsal is usually regarded as a good omen! I suppose there are several reasons, the most poignant one being that it scares performers into doing better at the actual performance. Stress, anxiety and nervousness are useful instruments, but should not be exaggerated, of course, as then a numbing effect sets in (Oh dear. Can I point out that it would be impossible to put the preposition before the verb as it would destry the meaning of the sentence!). Our final rehearsal before the concerts was pushed through by me because we had to do the whole programme run-through. After that we repeated the newest songs (those causing the most anxiety). My strategy worked. But I had also placed the two most feared (because just learnt) songs early in the programme, so there was a general feeling of relief when they went well and a consequent lift in spirits that wafted us through the rest of the evening.

So plans for the future are still possible and viable. Can we get some new singers to replace those who have left for reasons best known to themselves? Difficult. My arrangements? My son's colleague, with whom he played jazz at the first concert, declared that the sound was amazing for so few singers. The sound sounds more complicated than it is to learn. Most of the sound work (is there such a thing?) happens while I'm writing an arrangement. Sometimes the ladies are irritated when they sing a line on their own, but when it all fits together and sounds great they are gratified and proud. I try to write melodiously, but it's not always possible, and in modern pop songs the beatbox effect is hard and sometimes impossible to avoid. But we get there in the end. If I go on, my explanations will become more complex. The ladies learn by ear. Experience has taught me that if I can't sing a phrase straight off, they'll have trouble, so every first rehearsal gives me a chance to alter anything that only sounds good in theory (or on my e-piano, which I use to test arrangements since I can prerecord the tune and accompany it), but in practice depends in my chorus on who is singing what. That involves regrouping, so some of the singers switch voice category now and again to get the balance and sound right. 

Now I need to spend many hours getting some new songs arranged. I add repertoire according to tempo and mood. We need a new ballad and a swing number. A fast song would also be a good asset. I have several days to complete at least one project and we will learn them during the coming weeks and perform them at the earliest opportunity. It's a strategy that works and a mechanism for keeping us all interested. We warm up on songs we have already sung in public, especially those that need more routine. Last word: We are not a barbershop chorus, where a pre-planned 'interpretation' is battered, bruised and brainwashed till it sits. I want to keep a strong element of improvisation in what we do. That works for us.

Definition foolery: Barbershop is classed as jazz, but isn't. Jazz is basically improvisation on a given tune, or free use of musical elements in a spontanous fashion. That is exactly the opposite of what happens in barbershop. You only have to experience the rigours of a barbershop rehearsal to realize that. The effects are splendid, but for an outsider, experiencing a whole day of a barbershop competition is as boring as it gets, tedium being offset mostly by the dress code and girations of each chorus. Quartets are less boring if they are good. As one very experienced barbershopper explained: It's a participant sport. The audience at a barbershop convention comprises mostly the chorues not actually performing or warming up. And it would be churlish to assume that barbershop choruses actually like one another, though their message is friendship! Rivalry is rife!