Wednesday, January 4, 2012

That perfectly timed crescendo

Building... slowly... perfectly... to a resounding, soul-shattering crescendo. Sadly, too few musicians master the timing of the crescendo, which is both a shame in that they are not more easy to come by and also lovely in that when they are found unexpectedly, they arouse that much more delight and charm from their scarcity.

It was love at first listen for me. Some many months ago I discovered Mumford and Sons and their album "Sigh No More." It was, indeed, some happy, fortuitous months ago that I first heard them. Although they are relatively new to the music scene, they have already mastered the art of the perfectly timed crescendo.

Imagine the first leaves of fall, which cause excitement in their scattered state because they signal cooler weather to come. And imagine leaves upon leaves that coat the ground more and more fully with each passing day until finally, the ground is coated completely with a crunchy, brown blanket. Or imagine standing at the water's edge with tentative, tender waves lapping lightly at the tips of your toes. And imagine them washing further over your feet with the passing minutes and hours, and growing, until the tide has enveloped your ankles and shins with warm, lovely bath-like waves. Or imagine just a simple outline of a sketch with pencil or charcoal. A mere gesture drawing, showing action and promise but not yet alive. Then imagine layers of paint lovingly applied. Layer upon layer upon layer, blending, darkening, highlighting, tightening, until finally the true image appears, and you reach the pinnacle of that image and know it is final, it is finished. Well-placed and timed crescendos in life are something to strive for and to be celebrated, and when music manages to get them just right, I simply cannot help but sit up straight and notice.

Mumford and Sons tactfully employs crescendos that move my soul both in individual songs on "Sigh No More" and in the full album as a whole. Individual songs you should absolutely try if you have an deep affinity for perfect crescendos like I do: The Cave, Little Lion Man, and Roll Away Your Stone. But it is an absolute must that you listen to the album in its entirety to appreciate the perfect cadence and appropriate crescendos and decrescendos in the course of the album in its entirety; the album has utterly intimate and quiet moments that are balanced perfectly with the magnificent crescendos that have the capacity to bring tears to my eyes because of their emotion-stirring perfection. Especially moving moments that counterbalance the perfect crescendos are in Timshel, Awake My Soul, and After the Storm.

I have listened to the album probably hundreds of times by now and have even seen the band perform it live, but my favorite experience of the music is probably listening to it while driving, alone, very loudly. The quiet beauty in the nuance of each of the songs as well as their magnificent crescendos can be fully appreciated through crisp speakers that have the power to surround and envelop you in solitude.

And while I am applauding the grand crescendos so expertly mastered by Mumford and Sons, I would be remiss if I failed to also share with you some samples of the stirring, haunting, gentle, and thoughtful lyrics that blend beautifully with the amazing use of crescendos. Here is a small compilation of but a few of them:

.... And you have your choices; and these are what make man great: his ladder to the stars.... The flesh that lived and loved will be eaten by plague, so let the memories be good for those who stay.... And I have filled this void with things unreal, and all the while, my character it steals.... And so I'll be found, with my stake stuck in this ground, marking the territory of this newly impassioned soul.... Weep for yourself my man, you'll never be what is in your heart; weep little lion man, you're not as brave as you were at the start; rate yourself and rake yourself, take all the courage you have left, and waste it on fixing all the problems that you made in your own head.... In these bodies we will live; in these bodies we will die; where you invest your love, you invest your life.... Get over your hill and see what you find there, with grace in your heart and flowers in your hair.

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