Two-Week Roundup

A lot has happened in the past two weeks. In two weeks from now, I will already be on my way back from the U.S. (I head out there on Friday). I am not bringing the laptop, so any updates during those two weeks are likely to be brief (though you never know).

So, a roundup:

The school year ended, and the faculty went on a trip to the village of Demjén. We visited a winery and thermal bath. It was a beautiful day.

I went to three concerts over the past two weeks: Cz.K. Sebő and Felső Tízezer (at the A38 Hajó), then a performance by Zsolt and Marcell Bajnai (at the Szolnoki Művésztelep), then the Platon Karataev duo at the TRIP Hajó. In addition, I attended two literary events at the Szolnoki Művésztelep (at the ARTjáró Összművészeti Fesztivál): one featuring the literary journal Eső, and one featuring Légszomj, Gyula Jenei’s Covid diary in verse with György Verebes’s art. I also attended an online event featuring the poet and translator George Szirtes. All of this is enough to fill the mind and soul for a long time.

As far as writing goes, the inaugural issue of The Penny Truth is out and about, My long semi-satirical poem “Apology in Seven Tongues” was published by The Satirist, and my newest poem, “Day of Rage,” received some nice comments here on this blog. I am working on two translation projects (poetry and short stories), both of which are an honor for me. I will say more about them later.

Two weeks ago, I posted my cover (with cello, guitar, and voice, and a homemade video) of Cz.K. Sebő’s “Out of pressure.” I learned a lot from playing the song.

Radio also figured prominently in these past two weeks. I have been enjoying WFMU”s Continental Subway, and also listened to Marcell Bajnai’s interview on Megafon.

Speaking of songs, I have a few to recommend. Two have come up on this blog already, but that’s all the more reason to mention them again.

The first is Cz.K. Sebő’s “First Snow.” Listen to the whole song, the lyrics, the drums. This song sounded especially beautiful at the concert at the A38 Hajó; I have been hearing it in my mind ever since.

The second is Felső Tízezer’s “Majdnemország,” about which I have written here.

The third is Lázár tesók’s (the Lázár Brothers’) new video, “Olyan egyszerű” (“So simple”). The song is from their debut album, Hullámtörés. If you just listen to the melody and watch the video, you might think it’s about how nice it is to be out on Lake Balaton together. But the song is not nearly so cheery, and that’s part of what makes it beautiful: the combination of moods and colors. And that they composed and performed it so well.

And then, to wrap it up, Marcell Bajnai’s most recent song, “legjobb metaforám,” which I have heard in three forms so far: as a recording, in live performance, and read aloud as a poem (during the radio interview; the interviewer, Marci Lombos, read it aloud, and Marcell read “Forróság környékez” by Norbert Siket. This might be my favorite of Marcell’s solo songs; it is certainly one of them.

And that is a good way to end the day.

Song Series #15: Doing Almost Nothing

Some of the most beautiful songs that I know work with silence and air. They seem to do almost nothing. Or maybe there’s a lot going on in them, but also a simplicity. I will bring up four such examples today.

Let’s begin with Jacques Brel’s “Départs,” one of his very early songs, recorded in 1953. The guitar has a simple chord progression and rhythm; for the most part (but not always), he strums on the beat, softly. But the little variations—of rhythm, stroke, volume—give the song a brooding texture. The lyrics are extraordinary on their own (about all the friendships that we abandon, all the good-byes we say, in our urge to travel the world in search of happiness), and the guitar gives them an extra tautness. (If you click on the picture, this will take you to the recording on YouTube.)

Toutes les amitiés
Qu’on laisse mourir
Qu’on laisse tomber
Pour aller courir
Sur de vains chemins
Cherchant pas à pas
Un bonheur humain
Qu’on ne connaît pas
Amitiés anciennes
Vieilles comme la vie
Idées faites siennes
Et que l’on renie
Visage sans nom
Prénom sans visage
Rires que nous perdons
Inutiles bagagesTous les “au revoir”
Qu’on lance à la ronde
Parce qu’on croit devoir
Parcourir le monde
Et tous les adieux
Aux filles donnés
C’est trop d’être d’eux
Allant guerroyer
Les bonheurs qu’on sème
A chaque départ
Meurent vite d’eux-mêmes
Sur les quais de gare
Tous les “au revoir”
Et tous les adieux
Nous rendent l’espoir
Nous rendent plus vieux

The next song is “Csak mi” by Lázár tesók (the Lázár brothers), whom I had the joy of hearing in concert a week ago. This song (about a relationship that can see in the dark, that becomes luminous in the dark) keeps playing and playing in my head and in my headphones; it’s the first song on their album Hullámtörés. In different hands, and with different lyrics, the vocal melody could have led to something cheesy. But they make it unique with the syncopated guitar and the beautiful repetitions of piano phrases and notes. It’s that repeated note on the piano toward the end that gets me; it’s like seeing in the dark itself. I think it’s possible to appreciate this song without knowing Hungarian, but here’s a rough translation of the lyrics:

A storm is stirring, light doesn’t come in
Everything in the window is already dark
Only you, only you can see (me) as such
This is me, I emerged just now.

When everything is invisible, that’s when I live
When everything goes dark, I shine

The edge of the setting sun is dark red
It floods the evening, but comes to an end
Only you, only you keep vigil at night
And that is the time when I emerge

When everything is invisible, that’s when we live
When everything goes dark, we shine
When everything is invisible, just then we appear
Just you, just I, just we have remained

The next song is “Psalmus” by Platon Karataev, whom I will hear next week at the Mini Fishing on Orfű festival! I am going just for Thursday night: bringing my bike (and tent and sleeping bag) on the train to Pécs, and biking from Pécs to Orfű. And then head back early in the morning. This will be the first time I hear the full band in concert; I heard Sebő and Gergő in an acoustic duo last August, and I heard Sebő play a solo concert just recently. I love this song for its long layers, among other things. First there’s bass alone. Then Gergő’s guitar comes in, and then, at the instant that he begins to sing, the drums come in too. Then Sebő’s quiet backing vocals. The whole band holds back so much in this song, it builds up so slowly, and its confession or offering is so bare. (You can read the lyrics here.) The Live at Gólya video is especially beautiful, because it lets you see some of what is going on musically. The song is from their second full-length album, Atoms.

I will end with Dávid Szesztay’s “Hullámzás,” which has also been playing in my head this week. It was beautiful at the concert on Wednesday and has become one of my favorite songs on the new album. The colorful chords and arpeggios combine with the simple vocal melody and the repeated words, like “elaludtál” (you have fallen asleep) and “ideúsztál” (you swam over here), and the single repeating note in the background. I won’t translate it here, since it would be hard to do correctly. The song seems to have to do with spending time with a person, morning and night, traveling together, waking almost together. Sometimes I think it’s a little bit about death, but then, everything is, in some way.

Oh, heck, here’s one more, because it has been one of my favorite songs over many years: “Strip Darts” by Hannah Marcus, from her 2003 album Desert Farmers. (“Strip Darts” is actually the correct spelling, even though it appears online as “Stripdarts.”) For this I have to use Spotify, because the song isn’t available on YouTube or Bandcamp. Listen to its story, its incantations, and the way it goes on without words. Even within the words, there is so much unsaid; you sense a person going through a private crisis, and someone else watching from the outside, with wry compassion. There is hope in this song. “But just when you think your love’s in vain / Look out here comes the desert rain / Look out here it comes.” And yes, there is the rain, in the music, and what a rain.

My descriptions here have been rather sparse, but that’s in the spirit of doing almost nothing. These songs have a way of coming back again and again.

Music and Age

Last night I went to hear the extraordinary Lázár brothers (Lázár tesók), accompanied on piano and xylophone by Márk Csernovszky, who played so subtly, you wanted to catch every note. The Lázár brothers, Ágoston and Domokos, are members of the renowned band Esti Kornél, which began in 2006 in Mezőtúr (not far from Szolnok), where they grew up. I have just begun to listen to Esti Kornél, but I can say that the Lázár duo (and trio, and quintet when they have cellos) are worth hearing at any possible opportunity. They sing beautiful sparse songs where every word and note matters—about life and death, memories, the passage of time, happiness, places. I could hear and understand almost every word; putting all the meaning together is a different matter, but that’s part of what relistening and albums are for. In between the songs, they joked easily with each other and the audience and retuned their guitars quickly (some of the songs had alternate tunings). One of my favorites was “Szabadon él”:

Another favorite from the concert was “Keringő”:

This is music for all ages; on the one hand the musicians are relatively young (in their thirties, maybe?), with a youthful presence; on the other hand, they sing, in part, about losses, illuminations, getting older, things that the grey-haired listeners understand all too well. The music itself is too beautiful to be trapped in one age or another. The audience reflected this; the ages ranged, I think, from about fifteen to seventy, with just about every age in between. That was partly thanks to the venue, the beloved Tisza Mozi, which has a way of bringing people of different ages together. But it was mostly thanks to the music itself.

This is how it should be. But there’s also great pressure on musicians to have a youthful following (not that musicians themselves would complain about a young crowd). That’s what looks good, that’s what gives the impression of something up and coming. Venues, videos, all sorts of marketing devices aim at a younger set. I was once at a show where some enthusiastic middle-aged women were dancing and having a great time. The band’s photographers then recruited teenagers in the audience (most of whom had stayed close to the wall) to come forward so that they could be photographed dancing to the music. That, I suppose, is what looks good on a website or Facebook page. It wasn’t a bad thing; I think the teenagers were happy to have an excuse to come out and dance. But there was a purpose beyond increasing their enjoyment.

This may not even be a “Sailing to Byzantium” situation. The music may not be commending “whatever is begotten, born, and dies.” But so many messages, not from the musicians themselves, say, “The more young people, the better.”

So if you are older, you (or at least I) have a double consciousness about it all. I know that I am welcome in the music. From that perspective, I belong in any audience where I want to be. That belonging is unbreakable. It exists no matter what anyone says. On the other hand, not last night, but at other times, I feel acutely that I am not of the wanted age, that too many of me would be a disappointment.

This happens to musicians too, and across all genres of music. Some time ago a violinist friend was telling me about how orchestras subtly inform their older members that they are replaceable, that younger musicians would be a better fit. It must be terribly hard to play in an orchestra for decades and then to start feeling that you aren’t really wanted in it any more.

Granted, youth has a lot going for it: energy and talent finding their way to form; attractiveness; a sense that the peak is still far ahead. There are plenty of reasons to support and nurture youth. Teachers know this! In addition, some kinds, aspects, phases of music really are youthful, and that is fine. The young get to be young and to have other young people around them.

But I admire those musicians, and those venues, who can break through that a little, who can make and host music that cuts through time. Where anyone who listens with full heart can be at home.

Photo credit: Lázár tesók (from their Facebook page).

  • “To know that you can do better next time, unrecognizably better, and that there is no next time, and that it is a blessing there is not, there is a thought to be going on with.”

    —Samuel Beckett, Malone Dies

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

     

    Diana Senechal is the author of Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture and the 2011 winner of the Hiett Prize in the Humanities, awarded by the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. Her second book, Mind over Memes: Passive Listening, Toxic Talk, and Other Modern Language Follies, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in October 2018. In February 2022, Deep Vellum will publish her translation of Gyula Jenei's 2018 poetry collection Mindig Más.

    Since November 2017, she has been teaching English, American civilization, and British civilization at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium in Szolnok, Hungary. From 2011 to 2016, she helped shape and teach the philosophy program at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering in New York City. In 2014, she and her students founded the philosophy journal CONTRARIWISE, which now has international participation and readership. In 2020, at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium, she and her students released the first issue of the online literary journal Folyosó.

  • INTERVIEWS AND TALKS

    On April 26, 2016, Diana Senechal delivered her talk "Take Away the Takeaway (Including This One)" at TEDx Upper West Side.
     

    Here is a video from the Dallas Institute's 2015 Education Forum.  Also see the video "Hiett Prize Winners Discuss the Future of the Humanities." 

    On April 19–21, 2014, Diana Senechal took part in a discussion of solitude on BBC World Service's programme The Forum.  

    On February 22, 2013, Diana Senechal was interviewed by Leah Wescott, editor-in-chief of The Cronk of Higher Education. Here is the podcast.

  • ABOUT THIS BLOG

    All blog contents are copyright © Diana Senechal. Anything on this blog may be quoted with proper attribution. Comments are welcome.

    On this blog, Take Away the Takeaway, I discuss literature, music, education, and other things. Some of the pieces are satirical and assigned (for clarity) to the satire category.

    When I revise a piece substantially after posting it, I note this at the end. Minor corrections (e.g., of punctuation and spelling) may go unannounced.

    Speaking of imperfection, my other blog, Megfogalmazások, abounds with imperfect Hungarian.

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