From Futility Closet:

As telegraph lines began to appear along London’s railroads, they came to fascinate commuters. One wrote to the Illustrated London News to suggest that cornet lessons might now be given on the moving train.
“The medium of tuition will be the wires of the electric telegraph. On these, being five, notes will be fastened by non-conducting materials, and the pupils will play them as they travel. The andante movements will be placed close to the stations, where progress is slow, and the tunes will be so arranged as to finish at all the stoppages. These will be constantly changed, to extend the benefit to all classes: for instance, galoppes will be chosen for the express trains; sets of quadrilles for the stopping ones; and marches, or dirges, for the luggage trains. At the same time, the passengers, generally, will be diverted with agreeable harmony.”
Another commuter responded: “The great objection is, that the notes once passed could never be taken up again, and especially the high ones; for, before the pupil could get his lips to the necessary embouchure, he would be a mile beyond the bar. A non-musical friend, given to senseless ribaldry, suggests that fugues should be chosen for the music; because, as he says, those compositions never appear to have beginning, end, middle, or anything else, and may be commenced or left of anywhere with equal effect.”
He adds, “It would be better, sir, for you to confine yourself to practical improvements than ingenious but futile schemes. … After my entertainments given in the country, I am usually asked to supper by certain of the leading inhabitants, in gratitude for the amusement I have afforded them; and, from drinking healths, I rise next morning with a dizziness. And then, on my return to town, are the wires of the electric telegraph most dreadful. They go up and down, down and up, for miles and miles, until at last, seeing nothing else, I begin to think that they are stationary, and it is the carriage which is undulating; and this has such an effect, that I am as indisposed upon arriving at the terminus as if I had just crossed the Channel. A little care on the part of the directors can remedy this. Why cannot the wires be turned upright, like those of a piano?”

From Futility Closet:

As telegraph lines began to appear along London’s railroads, they came to fascinate commuters. One wrote to the Illustrated London News to suggest that cornet lessons might now be given on the moving train.

“The medium of tuition will be the wires of the electric telegraph. On these, being five, notes will be fastened by non-conducting materials, and the pupils will play them as they travel. The andante movements will be placed close to the stations, where progress is slow, and the tunes will be so arranged as to finish at all the stoppages. These will be constantly changed, to extend the benefit to all classes: for instance, galoppes will be chosen for the express trains; sets of quadrilles for the stopping ones; and marches, or dirges, for the luggage trains. At the same time, the passengers, generally, will be diverted with agreeable harmony.”

Another commuter responded: “The great objection is, that the notes once passed could never be taken up again, and especially the high ones; for, before the pupil could get his lips to the necessary embouchure, he would be a mile beyond the bar. A non-musical friend, given to senseless ribaldry, suggests that fugues should be chosen for the music; because, as he says, those compositions never appear to have beginning, end, middle, or anything else, and may be commenced or left of anywhere with equal effect.”

He adds, “It would be better, sir, for you to confine yourself to practical improvements than ingenious but futile schemes. … After my entertainments given in the country, I am usually asked to supper by certain of the leading inhabitants, in gratitude for the amusement I have afforded them; and, from drinking healths, I rise next morning with a dizziness. And then, on my return to town, are the wires of the electric telegraph most dreadful. They go up and down, down and up, for miles and miles, until at last, seeing nothing else, I begin to think that they are stationary, and it is the carriage which is undulating; and this has such an effect, that I am as indisposed upon arriving at the terminus as if I had just crossed the Channel. A little care on the part of the directors can remedy this. Why cannot the wires be turned upright, like those of a piano?”

dms-a-jem:

Kraftwerk - Trans Europa Express

They really know how to make train rides look fun, don’t they?

MEDIUM WELL

(Music and Other Media)

Tony Hoagland - “Two Trains”

We all influence art, even if we’re merely passively consuming it. That’s the central idea of the poem above by Guggenheim fellow and poet Tony Hoagland from his collection What Narcissism Means To Me. Centered upon the blues standard “Two Trains Running,”1 the piece tracks the different interpretations of the song that Hoagland accepts over time. (You’ll have to trust me on this, but based upon the rest of Hoagland’s work, I think it’s safe for us to conflate the speaker and the author. I mean, just look at the book’s title.) As he progresses through life and meets people with differing opinions, he decides that the song is about trains, then sex, then Jesus, then death.

His opinion changes the first couple of times due to the persuasion of other people. The first is an unnamed “somebody” and the second a fellow named “Mack,” each of whom brings a different perspective on the song. Thus, their different interpretations of what the song’s images represent is likely due to some difference in the two people as individuals. It’s impossible to say what, but differences in things like age, knowledge, and opinions influence the way that an audience member views an artistic work. It’s like looking at the same object through different colors of glass or from different distances: the thing itself doesn’t change, only your view of it.

But his final change in opinion doesn’t come because of external forces. Instead, his interpretation of it changes due to experiences he himself has had, primarily those of loss. These experiences clearly color his revised evaluation of the song’s lyrics, as death is undoubtedly the greatest loss one can endure. This is one of the great truths about viewing art: nothing exists in a vacuum. Any analysis of art is subjected not only to the particular proclivities of the person involved but also to the whole of their knowledge and experiences.

You know, reading this over, I feel like I might be explicitly spelling out what’s already abundantly obvious in the poem itself, like a great flashing neon sign screaming “SUBTEXT SUBTEXT SUBTEXT.” If you feel this is the case, I sincerely apologize and offer the following alternate caption:

This is a good poem about music and criticism. Read it, won’t you?

-TWG2

1. Search for it on YouTube and you’ll get a dozen different versions of the song, intermingled with clips from various productions of August Wilson’s play of the same name.

2. Since I brought up Hoagland and music, I feel obligated mention his exceedingly controversial poem entitled “Rap Music.” You can see him read it here. Since its publication this piece has earned its writer accusations of racism and heaps of scorn. Other, better writers have already discussed it ad nauseam, and it would take a couple more dozen paragraphs to properly discuss, so we’ll just save it for another time. Suffice it to say I don’t think the poem itself is racially prejudiced, though some of the thoughts its speaker has unquestionably are. At least, that’s my opinion of it today. (It seems to change every time I read the poem.)