Archive for the ‘Language and religion’ Category

Shouting songs

May 19, 2022

Continuing a series of recent postings on the music of joy, now specifically joyous praise to God, and even more specifically “shouting songs” from the Sacred Harp tunebook.

This is loud, passionate praise, rooted in the evangelical camp meetings of early 19th-century America (and England and Scotland before that), capable of seizing your body and sliding you towards ecstatic engagement with the message and the music. Somewhat tamed by being captured on the pages of a hymnbook rather than being created live in the fervor of a camp meeting, but still standing out as something special in the Sacred Harp.

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Angel Band

May 6, 2022

(At various points, there will be moments of plain talk about men’s genitals and man-on-man sex, so this posting is dubious for kids and the sexually modest.)

Yesterday in my posting “Joyous praise”, about joyous praise of God, joyous praise for military victory, and joyous praise for victory over death:

in this vein [of joyous praise of God] … is this exulting carol by Jeremiah Ingalls, “Glory to God on High”, Andrew Parrott leading the Taverner Choir and the Taverner Consort (Warner, 1989), link here. And it has angels: give me angels (muscular angels, angels of power, not delicate or cute angels) or trumpets (equally powerful) or both, and I’m in

The angels and trumpets then took me from the music of joy to music expressing a quite different emotion through similar means: the music of hope. Such music expresses longing for the release of death — release from the pains and tribulations of earthly life — and for the reward of eternal life in heaven with Jesus / God, this reward achieved by rebirth, by resurrection and transportation to heaven. This is gospel music.

And despite the fact that I don’t hold any of the beliefs that undergird gospel music, I am passionately attached to much of it, for reasons both narrative — the (metaphorical) stories that gospel music tells are wonderful stories, deeply satisfying emotionally (oh, to be carried away on the wings of angels to a world free from pain and full of delight!) — and musical — much of the music is fabulous, in both tune and text.

You get angels in both the music of joy and the music of hope, but they serve different functions: for joy, the angels announce the good news to you, as in the Ingalls fanfare; for hope, the angels provide a means for you to satisfy your longings, as in the gospel song Angel Band (which is what this posting is mostly about). In both cases, the angels are resplendent, bathed in light, and robust, loudly trumpeting the good news or sturdily bearing souls away. They are beautiful; they are powerful; they are intense, awesomely so. (Cue the archangel Michael.)

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Easter Morning redux

April 17, 2022

Some close analysis, and some reflections, on the Jacquie Lawson animated greeting card “Easter Morning”, that I posted about yesterday, in “Sheep grazing among the Paschal roses”. There I looked at purple hellebores (and some other other crucifixion-symbolic flowers) and at Bach’s aria “Sheep May Safely Graze” (a performance of which accompanies the animation).

Now about the details of the animation’s images (especially, but by no means only, the plants).

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LET US NOW PRAISE FAMOUS BLACK WOMEN

April 15, 2022

What I posted to Facebook on 4/8, on the occasion of Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation as an Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court. My follow-up said that, yes, the reference was to Agee (the book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, on which more below) and added:

 I can’t begin to say how pleasing KBJ’s appointment is to me.

To amplify a bit. This is not the Promised Land, but it is nevertheless a Big Fucking Deal. One of the things about my hero John Lewis that moved me especially was that he truly believed that we could reach the Promised Land in this life (not in an afterlife on Jordan’s other bank) — just not in his life, it would take some time. [More below on Lewis and this astonishing bit of faith on his part.] Meanwhile [Lewis believed], we have to keep moving on the path. KBJ is a highly visible step on the path, and that’s a big thing, a moment of joy.

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The self-rising mascot

March 13, 2022

(Considerable discussion of sexual practices in this posting — largely in cautious language, but some may find the topics — male masturbation and male-male sexual acts — distasteful.)

To understand the brilliant 3/11 Wayno / Piraro Bizarro, you need to marshal detailed information about the Pillsbury Doughboy, the Roman Catholic confessional, the language of male masturbation in English, and self-rising flour (I wonder what, say, a Japanese exchange student in the U.S. would make of the cartoon; there is just so much culturally specific knowledge needed to understand it):


(#1) (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 5 in this strip — see this Page.)

You must recognize the central figure as Poppin’ Fresh the Pillsbury Doughboy (though you can’t see the Pillsbury label on his chef’s hat), the dough-creature mascot of the (American) Pillsbury baking brand since 1965; and you must recognize that he’s at the grill, or screen, separating the penitent from the priest in the confessional box of a Roman Catholic Church, where he is confessing his sins (seeking absolution from the priest); then you must understand that the particular sin he’s confessing is masturbation (stimulating his penis by hand to become erect — to rise — for the purpose of sexual pleasure), and that this is a grave sin, requiring confession; and finally, and crucially, you have to see that his reference to his masturbating as self-rising (metonymically causing himself to rise) is a play on words, the ordinary use of self-rising being to flour (available mostly in the US and the UK) with added ingredients that will cause dough made from such flour to swell — to rise — on its own.

What makes the cartoon so delightful is that all of this is woven together by the fact that Poppin’ Fresh is an anthropomorphic being — a male one, with the desires of a sexually mature male — made of dough.

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Follow-up: a regular genius

February 21, 2022

It starts with my 2/19/22 posting “A regular genius”, on quintessential regular (NOAD example: this place is a regular fisherman’s paradise), vs. run-of-the-mill regular (NOAD example: it’s richer than regular pasta).

Which elicited this Facebook comment from Joel Levin:

I get a sarcastic note from he’s a regular genius, in that one might so describe a person who had done something particularly doltish. I thought I might see a mention of that sense in the column.

And then AZ > JL:

In some contexts I get that note too, but I think that’s just an example of the generalization that any compliment can be used sarcastically, not a fact specifically about regular.

And then a comment from Ben Yagoda, making the Jewish connection: it’s probably relevant that JL’s Jewish and I’m, so to speak, Jewish-adjacent; we’re more inclined than a random person to detect a sarcastic or ironic tone in he’s a regular genius. The tone is available for anyone to pick up, but some of us are predisposed to detect it (and to convey it in our own speech).

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The SIN and GUILT of a LINGUIST

February 6, 2022

The admirable John Wells has made my Sunday morning by informing us on Facebook that the Sunday Times (of London) cryptic crossword contains the anagram

LINGUIST = GUILT + SIN

Secretly, linguists have known all along that each of us bears the stain of sin and guilt. Now that hard truth has been made bare via the lit(t)eral magic of anagramming.

We cry out to be shriven, to present ourselves for confession, penance, and absolution. Give us peace.

In the words of a hymn text by Charles Cole (1791), set to the tune Gospel Trumpet in the 1991 revision of the Denson Sacred Harp:

Thy blood, dear Jesus, once was spilt
To save our souls from sin and guilt,
And sinners now may come to God
And find salvation through Thy blood

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The Burne-Jones Adoration

January 9, 2022

More for the Epiphany season, following on a section on four artistic representations of the Adoration in my Epiphany posting “Commercial Christmas 2021: DJ’s third quarter”; and on my Epiphany Morrow posting “Royal Melchior”, about a Leonetto Cappiello poster depiction of the Magus Melchior. Assembling these postings led me through famous depictions of the Adoration (by Leonardo, Botticelli, and Rubens), which are enormously crowded, while my interest was in the Three Magi, and (because I’m Arnold Melchior Zwicky) in the Magus Melchior specifically.

So I came to stumble on an idiosyncratic delight, an 1894 tapestry (by Burne-Jones and others) depicting only the central figures of the Adoration scene: the Christ child, Mary, Joseph, and the Three Wise Men, plus (in the actual center of the image, rising in the air above the other figures) the Angel of God (responsible for the Annunciation to the shepherds, who don’t appear in #1), holding the Star of Bethlehem, which guided the Magi from their home in the East (the geographic neighborhood of Persia, Babylonia, and Assyria) to the site of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

To come: the tapestry; the background on this blog; about the tapestry and its interpretation; about Burne-Jones; and about the celebration in song of the Angel of the Lord (with glory all around) proclaiming to the shepherds. (The music of the Star of Bethlehem I leave for another time.)

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Sacrilegious puns for Pride Month

June 10, 2021

… on t-shirts from the Hear Our Voice on-line store (“empowering feminist clothing” — also clothing on Black, LGBTQ+, kindness, and disability rights themes), in a Facebook ad today (I believe the shirts are available from other sources as well). In the ad, a complex pun (both verbal and visual) on the song title “Proud Mary”; and then, elsewhere on the site, a pun on the religious exclamation amen.

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Idumea

May 31, 2021

My 5/29 posting “The hairy and the smooth” is about (among other things) a story from the biblical book of Genesis, about two fraternal twins, Esau the hairy brother and Jacob the smooth one — Esau also known as Edom, Jacob as Israel. Edom is the Semitic version of the name, Latinized as Idumea / Idumaea. Both Edom and Idumea gave their names to the lands of their descendants. From Wikipedia as quoted in my 5/29 posting:

Edom and Idumea are two related but distinct terms which are both related to a historically-contiguous population but two separate, if adjacent, territories which were occupied by the Edomites / Idumeans in different periods of their history.

My 5/29 discussion then turned to the shapenote song Edom. It turns out that the Sacred Harp has not only Edom (SH200), but also Idumea (SH47b), both song names from the placenames.  Edom is joyous, but Idumea is something altogether different: by turns, powerful, moving, dark, mournful, literally apocalyptic, and shivery, a package that has has made it a great favorite of folk singers. Music from the Denson Sacred Harp (1991 revision):


(#1) SH47t Primrose and SH47b Idumea — both from the early flowering of shapenote music in the South in the early 9th century, both on salvation and resurrection, in Primrose (in A major) merely joyous; in Idumea (in A minor), triumphant, as part of the Apocalypse  — texts from two amazingly prolific writers of hymn texts, Isaac Watts in Primrose, Charles Wesley in Idumea

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