Four songs


I’ve been trying to organise my thoughts on a topic close to my heart – the defence of musical theatre, a medium which comes in for more than its fair share of (snooty) criticism. Yes, the musical can be blooming silly and rather pointless, but it can also achieve an astonishing level of power and artistry.  CabaretWest Side StorySweeney Todd.  Incredible works of art by any standard, surely.  However, try as I might, I cannot write something without ranting or babbling incoherently.  Perhaps one day I’ll manage it, but for now, I’ll simply mention just four songs written for musicals which never cease to amaze me.

  • ‘Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye’ from Seven Lively Arts, by Cole Porter.  I’ve never been in love, but this song speaks so eloquently of loss and longing, of the highs and lows of parting and reuniting.  It is one of a very small number of songs that can make me cry.
  • ‘Night and Day’ from The Gay Divorcee, also by Cole Porter.  This is a searing song of yearning and desire with powerful lyrics.  But pay attention to the music as well, and the song reveals just how good Cole Porter was.  The staccato opening verse contrasts brilliantly with the soaring, swooping liquid melody it leads to.  It’s simply gorgeous.
  • ‘(I Wonder Why) You’re Just in Love’ from Call Me Madam by Irving Berlin.  This one just makes me smile – it’s a duet between a young man experiencing love for the first time, and an older woman who is touched by this.  His verse is very sweet and simple, while hers is more bouncy and belty (it was written for the very scary Ethel Merman, so it’s hardly a surprise).  And then they sing them together!  I have never understood counterpoint, but I love it.  It makes me very excited, whether it’s in a mass or a love song.  I really do wonder how they write them like that.
  • The ‘Quintet’ from West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim.  This is surely the pinnacle of theatre music, with counterpoint taken to extremes.  Only ‘One Day More’ from Les Mis comes close for this sort of thing – disparate groups of people anticipating a specific time, and putting their hopes and fears into words and music.  The rival street gangs anticipate their rumble, the two lovers look forward to meeting, and Anita adds a sexual frisson.  And they all come together into something that is greater than the sum of its already-incredible parts. 

I could go on, and make the longest blog post ever, but I won’t.  I don’t wake up and launch into ‘Oh, What a Beautiful Morning’.  I don’t automatically sing ‘My Time of Day’ if I wander the city streets at night.  I don’t (thank goodness) drag out ‘The Sun Has Got His Hat On’ every time the clouds part.  But I’m glad to have a body of songs from a supposedly inferior source to draw on, to sing and to listen to.  As Abba said in ‘Thank You For the Music’ from the mini-musical The Girl With the Golden Hair, ‘without a song or a dance, what are we?’  I don’t know, and I hope I never have to find out.

Rudeness and gratitude


Anyone who works in any kind of service industry, or indeed any public-facing job, will know that people can be unutterably rude sometimes.  And anyone who knows a librarian, or who reads the very funny webcomic Unshelved will know that libraries can attract some of the rudest (and some of the most implausibly stupid) people out there.  Some recent examples…

The student/staff member (not library!) who is rapidly becoming one of my least favourite patrons.  She likes to wander into my office unannounced.  An office with a closed door.  Which has a big sign saying ‘Library Staff Only’ on it.  But this sign evidently doesn’t apply to her, as she will merrily waltz in whenever it pleases her.  It doesn’t matter if I’m talking to a colleague, or on the telephone, or doing some thrilling data entry.  She will walk straight in and loom over my desk, tutting impatiently until I speak to her.  If the door is locked (many of our office doors have a number-pad entry system for lone worker security purposes), she doesn’t knock.  She rattles the doorknob.  She tuts.  She slips notes under the door.  Mysteriously, her requests tend to slip to the bottom of the pile.  Most odd.

Or there are the people at the issue desk, who will lean over and wave their library cards at you to get your attention instead of waiting their turn.  This can happen while I’m cashing up, dealing with someone else, filling in a form or (more than likely) having a heart attack. 

I have, of course, already mentioned the charming people who tell us that they pay our wages.  Then there are the people who think it’s acceptable to refer to a colleague as a ‘stupid cow’.  Actually, dear, both she and I have two degrees, while you have none.  And you clearly don’t appreciate how stupid it is to wind library staff up.  We may be unfailingly polite to you, but we have power…

But on the other hand, you meet some wonderful people. The ones who’ll ask your opinion on anything and everything and have a fascinating conversation about it.  The ones (very, very rare) who present library staff with a box of chocolates when they graduate.  The ones who’ll take the rude people to task.  This week, someone said something so encouraging that it inspired me to write this post (although, I admit that the majority of it has been a rant).  “You are the heart of things, and you do a great job.  Without you guys, we can’t learn anything.”  He’ll go far.  He’s polite, he knows how to stroke our collective ego, and he clearly appreciates the awesome power of library staff.  And most important of all, he makes up for all the rude people and makes us realise that it really is worth doing what we do.

The trouble with students


I think I’ve worked it out.  The trouble with students these days is that they don’t really come to university to learn any more.  They come to be taught.  And there is a difference that goes beyond spelling and transitivity.  You see, I think it comes down to money.

Students today have to pay an awful lot of money to come to university, and they’re not shy about reminding you of it.  ‘I pay your wages’ is a relatively frequent cry of the man, woman or monster who isn’t satisfied with the responses to their questions.  To a certain extent, I suppose that could be true, but each student probably only pays me a penny or two per month, so I’m not all that worried.  However, they do indeed have to pay a lot of money to come here.

So they expect to be taught, not to learn.  They want to know what the answer is, not how to find out what the answer is.  They want to be told what to think, not how to think.  In the library, they want the three books on the reading list and nothing else.  No reading around the suject, which was one of the most interesting parts of study for me (and I’m only 27, can things really have changed that much?).  No forming of opinions.  No righteous anger at social injustice.  Just an endless frustration, for they all want the formula for how to get a first class degree handed to them on a plate, and most don’t understand that such a formula is impossible.  It’s about curiosity, imagination and reason.  It’s not about regurgitating facts A, B and C in the correct order.  It’s about disagreeing with your tutor and arguing your case, not blindly accepting what they say.  Or at least it should be.  Or is it just me?

 There are exceptions, of course.  The students who really want to learn, who want to expand the boundaries of their world view, who deliberately seek out authors with views that contradict their own.  And these are the students who make working in a higher education library worth while.  They are few and far between, but they bring a smile to my face like a breath of cool breeze on a muggy day.  The enthusiasm to learn is a rare and precious thing which needs to be encouraged.  If only I could work out how to do that…

To begin…


Well, a blog.  Something I swore I would never do, because it’s just too geeky.  But the time has now come to unleash my inner geek, bare whatever bits of my soul I feel like baring and write something fascinating.  Perhaps tomorrow. 

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