What do limericks and music have in common? No, that's not a joke with a punchline.
I suppose this is, though:
There once was a man from Nantucket
Took a pig in a thicket to **
The pig said with a gasp
Get away from my **
Come around to the front and I'll **
Personally, I find it funnier with the asterisks. It lets you use your imagination.
Does music have semantic meaning? Does it convey a message with some meaning. I took formal languages in college (computer sci). We studied grammars and syntax and Chomsky and all that but never got into the deeper realms of linguistics, so bear with me if I get some jargon wrong as I waste your time by comparing the syntax and semantics of limericks and music.
First, let's distinguish between syntax and semantics. Syntax is about form. A sentence like the following:
My red postulated flavor flew outside a mechanical smoke ring.
Has perfect syntax. It has a subject, predicate and object. The words are all in the right places, and they are the right types of words: nouns, verbs, adjectives, prepositions, articles. All properly used. But it's nonsense. Syntactically it's perfect. Semantically, it's meaningless.
So this is a matter of some debate. Does music have semantics?
It seems to me that music is like syntax WITHOUT semantic meaning. Just as the rhythm of a limerick (da dada da dada da dada...) has a form without a meaning before you fill in the words.
There once was a maid from Nantucket,
Who clanged darkly through a soft bucket,
The postulate's red,
The smoke ring has pled,
And now maple dragons have drunk it.
I suppose I could make something even less sensible. Perfect syntax. The words themselves have meanings, but the limerick itself has no semantic meaning.
Although I wonder... and maybe somebody who knows more about this can answer this, because I honestly don't know. Can syntax ever create its own semantics? I think to a limited extent it can, and if it does, it does it in music, which is all form, all da dada da dada... without the words. The words are all notes and chords organized into a form, but it's impossible to say any particular note or chord has a meaning outside the context of the musical piece it is in and the whole form it is in.
Change the form of the music, and you change the music itself.
Now, I could rewrite a sensible limerick several different ways and convey the same meaning without the fun rhythm. But I can't do that with music. I can't do a wholesale reorganization of the notes and chords without making it into a different piece.
Case in point. I made a little limerick melody as a test. Don't criticize it. It's just an experiment. I tried to give it a bit of the limerick up and down flavor.
It's not exactly funny, but neither was my first example. But there is a bit of fun to the rhythm. 6/8 rhythm (when it's played at the right tempo) has always struck me as a little vulgar and familiar and taunting.
It's not just the association with limericks, either. 6/8 is the rhythm of children's jump rope type songs, which we talked about before.
Bella and Jacob sitting in a tree,
First comes love,
Then comes marriage,
Then comes Bella with a baby carriage.
So does 6/8 rhythm used a certain way convey its own message, above and beyond the individual notes or words it is constructed from? I suppose it does, but I'm not sure enough to swear to that, nor to swear I'm even using the word semantics right.
People into poetry know that sometimes the shape of a word has as much or more to do with the poetry than the actual words. For instance, the phrase:
Piddling puppies picked apart peony petals.
Not really a poem, but it's a poetic sentence in that there is alliteration (words starting with the same consonant) and the pace of the words is fast. It's possible to compose a sentence using slow words, too. Let me try that. See how quickly you can pronounce this:
Orange orangutans defenestrated Alphonso forthwith into the fjord's chasm.
Eh, not too bad. Defenestrated was an inspired choice. I applaud myself.
There's a name for this kind of poetry pacing trick and I'm too lazy to google it up, right now. You do it and tell me. Oh, you don't want to? Well, we're both lazy then so don't complain.
While I was making the limerick melody above, as I started to fill in the harmony, it suddenly dawned on me, hey... this sounds familiar somehow!
I rummaged through my mind and came up with this scene, from the film Copying Beethoven, the scene where the copyist shows him a melody she wrote that is almost identical in form to the one above. Beethoven unwittingly breaks her heart by laughing at it and calling it a new musical form, Fartissimo! He starts to play it and makes farting sounds as he plays.
Different notes and chords, but not very different. The limerick rhythm is what most makes them similar.
But notice the different reaction of the (fictional) Beethoven and the copyist. She took this so much more seriously! It is in a minor key, the key we usually associate with sad, serious music. Yet she and Beethoven hear the same music differently.
I'm more on Beethoven's side on this one, because to me, the limerick rhythm is flippant. The sudden awkward stops at the end of each phrase contribute to that impression. Well, they do to me. That's my impression.
I wonder if the filmmakers realized that they too were channeling a limerick when they made that little ditty? Maybe they said,
"Guys! We need some little tune that Beethoven can mock and call Fartissimo in this part of the script. What can you come up with?"
"Yo, boss. I could do something in 6/8 with a few sudden stops where the fart sounds could go. Let me think about it and get back to you..."
And thus, perhaps, through parallel development the limerick is reborn as music, just as bats and birds developed wings.
Future Diaries in Thursday Classical Music: I've been getting a little burned out lately. I suppose I could churn something out every week, but my head just isn't into it enough right now to do it properly. So I'm going to continue doing diaries for Thursday Classical Music, but do them less frequently. I'm not sure how frequently. So I guess it's not REALLY Thursday Classical Music, since that implies some weekly regularity. Perhaps it's really Occasional Thursday Classical Music. Until I get inspired again.
Why? Eh. I blame daylight savings time. It always fucks me up. But Dumbo, it's been four weeks since the changeover! Yeah, tell me about it. You're all prisoners of my fluctuating moodswings.
In the meantime, any people that have been itching to post some music diaries, now is a good time to step forward and fill in the gaps as best you can. The only thing I request is that you PM me about the date scheduling so that I can keep two or more people from colliding their diaries into the same week. I have *absolutely* no requirements other than that. You can post whatever meaningless drivel you want and call it Thursday Classical Music and everybody will grateful because you're keeping the torch lit. Honest. Read the above diary and see what I mean!
Dave in Northridge has committed to doing something Christmasy on Thursday December 20. We can all eagerly await that.