We are the 99%

July 19, 2009

A Short Note About Musical Metaphors

Unless you know what you're talking about, run them by someone who does.

Case in point.

In today's P-G, Rob Owen has a piece on WQED that begins with this:
Every few years, the soap opera that is WQED Multimedia reaches a new crescendo. Multi-year attempts to sell WQEX was a veritable aria.
He really should have run this passage by Druckenbrod. And if he did, Andy should have done a better job of correcting him. Or maybe the original was much worse and Andy really did all he could to clean it up.

First off, Rob starts by framing the larger metaphor as a "soap opera" then goes on to rattle off a few musical metaphors beneath the larger one. But a "soap opera" is not a musical form but a dramatic one - and a TV critic should know that. Given the melodrama his story describes about the financial situation at QED, perhaps "Grand Opera" would have been a better fit. It certainly would have fit with any music metaphors to follow.

Now about the metaphors Rob misused. He writes that every few years the situation at QED "reaches a new crescendo." So what is this thing, this "crescendo" he writes about? (This is one of my pet peeves, by the way. ) It's that place in a piece of music where there is a change of dynamics and the music gets louder - for instance it goes from soft to loud or loud to LOUDER. A decrescendo is the opposite - the music gets softer. Given the definition, saying what's happening at QED has "reached a crescendo" only means that it's reached the place where it is about to get (or is in the process of getting) louder. The music is moving to a place of greater tension.

But I don't think that's what Rob meant to mean. He's describing a point where things have already gotten complicated and dramatic - the end of a crescendo, perhaps, where the musical tension has reached a high plateau. But that's not a crescendo - at least not in musical terms.

And then he describes the "muti-year attempts to sell WQEX" as an aria. A "veritable" one, in fact. So what is an "aria"? One of my college professors used to begin his description of the "Sonata Allegro Form" with a completely useful caveat (so useful it works here as well). He said:
It's different things at different times, in the hands of different composers.
Let's keep that in mind as we proceed. In general, an aria is that shorter musical piece in an opera (or a cantata or oratorio) that is more or less self-contained. It contrasts the recitative in that the latter is the place in Italian opera where the action takes place while in the aria is, again in general, that place where the action is described. In Shakespearean terms it's the soliloquy. In opera the dramatic narrative has paused and the character is revealing more interior emotions in the aria.

How can that metaphor be used to describe a "multi-year" effort?

I don't know. And I don't know how to fix the bad metaphor usage, either.

Don't get me wrong. Rob's a good guy and a good TV critic. Just a bad music metaphor user.

6 comments:

Clyde Wynant said...

David -

Agreed. The jump from soap opera to aria is particularly dissonant....

But to the article itself, while perhaps not fodder for a political blog, it is a pet peeve of mine, like improper musical metaphors are to you.

I think the largest unanswered question about QED in particular, and public television in general is; what is the point? I am a huge fan of NPR and find it invaluable as a clear, smart and ever-fascinating source of news. Public Television could go away tomorrow and I'd never know it.

While I have enjoyed some of Rick Sebak's stuff over the years, that can't be "all there is," can it? Shouldn't QED be doing the sort of investigative journalism that the local commercial stations are too afraid to do? Tell you what, I'd trade a years worth of On (and Off) Q for one decent investigative piece.

I'm guessing that one of the reasons QED's fundraising is soft is that I'm not alone; both individual givers, as well as corporations and foundations are wondering if their money might not be spent better somewhere else....

Dave said...

I think the largest unanswered question about QED in particular, and public television in general is; what is the point? I am a huge fan of NPR and find it invaluable as a clear, smart and ever-fascinating source of news. Public Television could go away tomorrow and I'd never know it.

While I have enjoyed some of Rick Sebak's stuff over the years, that can't be "all there is," can it? Shouldn't QED be doing the sort of investigative journalism that the local commercial stations are too afraid to do? Tell you what, I'd trade a years worth of On (and Off) Q for one decent investigative piece.


I agree to a certain extent. However, public television in the US is about the only media outlet still doing decent investigative journalism. "Frontline" and Bill Moyers' show are the only regularly broadcast shows that consistently question the "conventional wisdom" and the powers-that-be.

Clyde Wynant said...

Dayvoe -

Agreed, when it comes to Moyers and Frontline. However, on a local level, I just desperately wish for more.... I've learned all I need to know about hot dog shops, now I'd like some actual meat!

Dayvoe said...

Clyde -

That wasn't me. I wasn't the "Dave" that commented.

FYI

Clyde Wynant said...

Opps. Sorry about that, Chief!

I saw the Dave and jumped to that conclusion....

You are a David, not a Dave, right?

Clyde

Dayvoe said...

Yes, I'm a David.

No disrespect to any of the great Daves out there!