A New Love Song

The framed engraving sits forlornly on my desk, awaiting the day when I have a spare moment to hang it above the Lovely Lady’s work station.  It is a distinctly romantic scene, probably more suited for the feminine eye than the masculine.

I like it, nonetheless.  Probably not for the same reason she does.

I am a lover of language.  I especially appreciate a phrase with a clever double meaning, skillfully rendered.  This beautiful print fits the description.

It may take a moment to explain what is happening in the old painting.  Let me transport you back over a century ago to a time more relaxed, a time with more personal interaction than our own day which is driven by technology, both in the practicalities and in the arts.

It was a day when you couldn’t pick up a smart phone and access the internet, sampling music, or settling intellectual arguments with a quick look at Wikipedia.  No, there wasn’t even a CD player, or a cassette player, or a record player–not even a crank-driven Edison reproducing machine.  Music was live or it didn’t happen at all.

Live.  Always a singer, or an instrumentalist.  Always.

Necessity being the mother of invention, the publishing houses understood they couldn’t sell songs which hadn’t been heard.  So, was born the song plugger.  Music stores actually had a position for such a person.  Usually, a pianist.  Always with the ability to carry a tune vocally.  George Gershwin in his early days in the music business was a song plugger, singing and playing other composers’ hit songs so the music store could make the sales necessary to drive the popularity of the next big sensation.

Earlier than that, on street corners and at fairs, vocalists carried the limp rags of the new songs (our crisp, glossy sheets wouldn’t arrive for decades) and sang the verses and refrains at the tops of their lungs to attract a crowd of passersby.  Then they hoped that both the performance and the song itself would help them to earn their living for that day.  If they went back to the publisher with the printed sheets still in hand, they made nothing for all their effort.

And finally, we arrive back at our point of departure, as we contemplate the engraving seen above.  Just such an event is depicted.  The attractive young lady singer stands at the curb on an obviously cold day, music in her hand.  Clearly, the song has been sung.  The crowd is still gathered around.

The transaction taking place is of interest to me, though.  There are two people in the picture who seem to play a prominent part.  The pretty young singer, certainly.  Her customer is the other–a young man holding what appears to be a carriage whip in his off-hand while placing money in the singer’s hand.

The title of the painting is simple.  A New Love Song.  That’s all.  A New Love Song.

Well certainly.  She sang the new love song and he liked it, so he bought it.  It was a new love song.  He would take the music home and someone there could play the harpsichord or lute and sing the words.  End of story.

I’m not so sure.  As I look at the scene in front of me, I see seven people.  The thing is, only two of them are involved in any kind of interaction.  They are entirely focused on each other.  Everyone else is just looking on.

A new love song?  Do you suppose it means more than just notes and words on paper?  Perhaps, a love song no one else in that little audience could hear but the singer and her young friend.

I do love a good turn of a phrase.

You know I have more to say on the subject, don’t you?  I’ll attempt to be brief, but I make no promises.

My spirit laments the loss of personal interaction which has come with our modern age.

Funny.  We boast of our ability to communicate better than we ever have.  No longer limited as in former days to written messages delivered by post, nor even to telegraph or telephone messages, we can now look directly in the face of the person to whom we are speaking, half a world away.  Emails are sent by the millions daily, delivering their personal messages and even their commercial ones.  Entire commercial enterprises are built solely on electronic communications handled while never speaking verbally to another person.

The pitfalls of such a system are myriad.  I have my own collection of tales from personal experience in the business world.

And, proud as we may be of the ability to speak, virtually face-to-face, to family in lands far away, I would invite you to ask any grandmother who utilizes such a system if it is adequate for spending time with her grandchildren.  The answer will almost certainly be a resounding no.

Her arms ache to hold her growing grandchildren.  Virtually communicating will never–never–take the place of hugging and touching and snuggling with them in her arms.

The same is true of my business.  No.  I don’t mean the snuggling part–I mean the reality of face-to-face communication.  I have lost a number of customers with whom I have never had the opportunity to speak in person, but that number shrinks to nearly nothing when I consider the ones with whom I could not work out a problem when they were standing in my presence.

We are made to interact one to one, face to face, with other humans.  Our Creator made it so.  Our spirits are made to interact with others of shared experiences.  Friendships, real friendships, are developed as we walk and talk together–as we face problems and life’s disasters together.

We work through issues.  We talk through the misunderstandings.  We come out on the other side stronger for having the experience.  Together.

I love to listen to music.  Many of my online acquaintances post videos and recordings for others to listen to, some nearly daily.  I listened to a few of those tonight.

One in particular was gorgeous.  Yet, somehow, I was uneasy as I listened to it.  The recording was of a young man who used a popular recording technique, one I see frequently these days.  He had recorded himself singing a song which required eight vocal parts.  He covered every single part himself, adding video and audio feed as each part entered.

I figured out what made me uneasy about it.  The blend was flawless.  Flawless.

You wouldn’t think that would be a problem, would you?

Recordings of vocal groups are never flawless.  Really.  Never.  Voices have different timbres, different overtones.  Some are full and rich, while others are airy and light.  When a vocalist sings in a group, they have to work to blend in.  They listen to the subtleties of the others in the group, adjusting their singing to fit with the other members of the ensemble.

The result is a sound which has many aspects, many tonalities.  The difficulty of listening carefully, of responding to the nearly imperceptible disparities in pitch and rhythm, increases the beauty of the whole.

One voice, singing all the different parts, can sound spectacular.  It’s no big thing.  There is nothing different with which to blend, no hardship to overcome.

I wonder, do we practice blending with each other?  Harmony in music is not so different from harmony in living with other humans.  If all we do is make sure we interact with others who have the same voice we do, we’ve accomplished nothing we were intended to accomplish.

The Teacher, when He taught His followers, talked about a table set for many which was mostly empty.  The instructions were not to find others just like the ones who were already seated at the table.  He didn’t suggest that messages could be sent to family and friends.

“Go out.  Out into the hedges, into the back roads, into the paths you’re not familiar with.  Show them a reason to come to the table with you.”

I wonder.

It’s been awhile since I’ve sung on the street corner.

I’m thinking there’s still a new song or two left to sing.

How about it?

Maybe it’s time to plug a new love song.

“In the end, we shall have had enough of cynicism, skepticism, and humbug, and we shall want to live more musically.”
(Vincent Van Gogh ~ Dutch artist ~ 1853-1890)

“It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.”
(Albert Einstein ~ German-born American physicist ~ 1879-1955)

© Paul Phillips.  He’s Taken Leave.  2014.  All Rights Reserved.

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