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Wendell Berry's HomesteadDo not listen to the clip above! At least not yet. Our regular Sunday morning exercise is upon you.

This past Thursday our production staff gathered to listen to what will be next week’s show featuring an interview with Ellen Davis, and the voice of Wendell Berry, who kindly read some of his poetry for us. The show’s coming together, but one point of disagreement among the group is the music that provided the transition from Krista into one of Mr. Berry’s readings.

Music is, of course, just as subjective as any art form. So, our exercise. I’ve produced three versions of this short section of the show. The pieces are identical with the exception of the music that is used make that transition. While you are listening to these clips, consider a few questions:

How does the music change the way you heard the poetry?
In what way does it enhance or detract?
Does it create any images in your mind’s eye? Or take you to a place?
Or, perhaps you might suggest some alternatives?

Musical option #1 (mp3)

Musical option #2 (mp3)

Musical option #3 (mp3)

Now, this isn’t American Idol so don’t feel like you need to rank the contestants. To be honest, I’m not sure which, if any, of these will make the cut so you’ll have to check out next week’s show to find out.

And, as for the audio at the top of the page, if you resisted listening to it then I had a little fun with those who couldn’t resist temptation. You did follow directions, right?

By the way, if you’re curious whose music was used, Song #1 is David Byrne, Song #2 is Bill Frisell, and Song #3 is Ben Harper.


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61 Comments

Thank you.

Did anyone ask Wendell Berry? (By the way, the hyperlink to this page misspells his name).

I suspect he, as I, would feel that no music is needed to accompany the words - they are all a distraction and a clutter.

Dear On Being People, I can only speak as a poet who works within and without music. You are not asking the right question. It is one thing to chose to write to music, meaning music playing in the background. For me A. Part, Bach, Mozart, P Glass have been sustaining composers whose music I can play in another room to provide a kind of insectual hum or rational counterpoint while I write. But I just as often choose silence, letting the house thrum around me so language seems to emerge from some deep quietude. However the question of music and poetry reading is another, aesthetic domain. Is the poetry being performed in conjunction with music? Are composer and poet working together? If not, then the poetry is reading over the music, the voice is in competition with the music, is placed in competition with it because the choice is neither a collaboration nor an artistic decision but one of selection on the part of an audience. I have given many readings and nothing is more disheartening than having to compete with noise, which is what music not chosen by the poet becomes, no matter how well-meaning on the part of those choosing.
Regards, Patricia Waters

     My mother was pianist at our Baptist church in small-town Texas, and I began piano lessons at age 7.  Maybe because I am so tuned in to music, I generally find it distracting when played under the spoken word.  When it is loud or jarring, it is downright annoying to me, and the combination ruins both the music and the words. Adding music to everything is just one more way in which we clutter our lives.
     Fortunately, the music offered here was appropriate and unobtrusive, but can't we just focus on thing at a time?

Beautiful, nuanced, and content-rich poetry---heard for the first time by most of your listeners---gains nothing but loses much by any sort of aural overlay.  The best music in the world, played behind or over poetry, becomes, by definition, "noise."  By contrast, when the spoken material is widely familiar, "mood music" can enhance the listeners' experience.  This seems so obvious, so basic, that I'm astonished your team did not already understand it, and more astonished that you could make it the subject of a public poll.  The hour's final reading---a ghastly experience---indelibly made this point: an unrelated musical idea leads into Berry's first lines, "shaping" them in a direction unintended by the poem; then we hear some further spoken lines, clean and unadorned, and are permitted to absorb them for themselves; then a third mood intrudes during the final lines, as new music takes the poem in a different direction altogether.  This brief reading constituted one of the nastiest moments I've heard on radio all year.  And you took a poll !?

What irony, given the content of "How to Be a Poet"--
Please, please, please consider not playing any music (for this and other programs, too). It not only detracts, it also distracts. (As per the latest brain research results, there is no such thing as multitasking, but just very fast distrupt-and-retun attention mono-tasking, when we try to concentrate.)

I have single-sided deafness so the addition of background music to any poetry being read makes word discrimination more difficult for me.  Of the three, however, number 1 was the least distracting.  Thank you for providing the transcripts; I depend on them for all of the On Being programs in terms of filling in the words that are missed while listening due to music in the background.

Thanks for adding your experience to this discussion. It's very helpful in reminding us of the many needs of our listeners.

Poetry IS music. From a Southern poet no less. Why the need to add a soundtrack? I don't see one.

While
convert youtube service is extremely simple to use, it must be mentioned that
it can take an eternity sometimes for this service to convert even the smallest
video.

I liked number 3 the best.
Thank you.

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