Tuesday, December 27, 2005

political dissonance

A good musical analogy can be a beautiful thing, but a bad one can drive me to insanity. I don't know how many times I've read about things "reaching a crescendo," when the writer is obviously unaware that the most quiet moment comes when the crescendo has just been reached. I guess this is one of my pet peeves. Anyway, here's David Greene in a recent column on npr.org:
Vice presidents usually sing in harmony, if not in unison, with their boss. But there are times when the No. 2 voice in the administration is most effective in counterpoint.

Vice President Dick Cheney has been especially effective in this role, often playing the "bad cop" when President Bush has chosen a softer, more sympathetic tone.

So it was again this week, when the two men defended the administration's goals and policies using highly disparate styles.

- from "Cheney's Plain Talk on Presidential 'Authority'" by David Greene, Dec. 23rd, 2005, online at npr.org

Okay, I probably shouldn't get so annoyed by this. But contrapuntal lines don't have to differ in dynamic, tone, style, and certainly not in harmony. Maybe David Greene listens to a lot of Charles Ives, but when most of us hear 'counterpoint,' we think of Bach, or maybe Palestrina. Their styles allowed for a great deal of independent, contrary motion, but only within a very strict, harmonically integrated framework. The Wikipedia entry for counterpoint does have a section on dissonant counterpoint, but you have to scroll down pretty far to get to that.

Still, I hope David Greene and other political pundits won't abandon their musical analogies altogether, since it is kind of nice to imagine Bush and Cheney singing in tight Renaissance polyphony. Maybe in Maureen Dowd's next column they can do an isorhythmic motet.


mkh said...

Even as a lapsed musician I find the misuse of musical metaphor annoying. It's nice to hear I'm not the only one a little touchy on the subject.

Also, the "Charles Ives" comment elicited an honest snort from me, sufficient to wake my sleeeping cats. Thanks for that.

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