Monday, January 26, 2015

"You cannot be a Christian by yourself":

John 8.53-54  Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died?  And the prophets died!  Who do you claim to be?

[Photo: Fr. Dean Taylor, St. James' annual blessing of animals]
Can we know the living God by dead prophets?  In John's Gospel, the experts on dead prophets fail to recognize God when they see Him face to face.  "You can know the Father only by knowing the Son," Jesus tells them.  But where does that leave us, 2000 years later?  How can we today know the living Jesus except by letters from dead apostles?

Perhaps you, like me, keep letters and photos of family.  My mother and one uncle are all who survive of the grownups who nurtured and taught me.  Who will care for those family mementos when I'm gone?  To honor those who loved me, I must tell their stories to the younger generation.  I can't leave that work to artifacts.  I want today's teenagers to hear in my voice the inflections of my grandmother telling about her grandmother.  They can't know these people by words alone; it takes relationship.

Our Episcopal church passes on its traditions like a family.  You may remember when St. James' young deacon Joseph Shippen was welcomed into the priesthood.  He had studied scripture, passed the tests, earned the degree.  But then he knelt in our nave, where the Bishop in ancient regalia and all the clergy of the diocese gathered.  I'd not seen so many priests standing together, and I was struck by their obvious delight in welcoming their younger brother.  They laid hands on Joseph -- as clergy of earlier generations had laid hands on them, back to the time of John's Gospel.

To know Jesus, we don't have to rely on text alone:  Wherever two or three are gathered, Jesus is there, for we are the body of Christ.  That's what our Episcopal Church preaches.  In the words of a hymn we sometimes sing, "Here [at communion] we meet God face to face."  This is partly what Father Dean meant when he once told us, "You cannot be a Christian by yourself."  We should study scripture; we should continue private devotions in quiet time; and we should stay involved in the life of our church, where, like it or not, in ways beyond words, others embody Jesus to us, while we embody Jesus to them. 

Written for "A Pilgrimage Through Lent," printed by The Pilgrimage at St. James' Episcopal Church, Marietta, GA, 2011.  Based on readings assigned for April 2, 2011. Find links to many more of my reflections on the Episcopal church, scripture, and on others' perspectives of the same topics at my page Those Crazy Episcopalians

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Why I'm Episcopalian, Part One: The Prayer Book

I recently found a file where I started a list under the heading "Why I'm Episcopalian," then forgot about it.  The following thoughts about the Prayer Book are as far as I got:

Prayer Book:    In prayer, whether I’m alone or at church, my mind wanders, especially if I’m worried about arriving at some choice.  I’m inclined to rush to a decision, or else I make detours through scary options.   But the prayer book, with its familiar deliberate phrases, puts guidelines up and the brakes on:  invocation and praise of the Lord of the Universe certainly puts my little world in perspective, and a Scripture reading always injects something I hadn’t thought of in awhile.  By then, I’m ready for prayer, but even that starts way high and carries me through concerns for everyone else before finally, it says, “Let us pray now for our own concerns, and those of others.”  Then I can free-form my prayer, and by then, the message I’ve already received is, “This decision isn’t that big a deal, God supports you, and you have time.” 

Since I wrote that, I've posted many other essays lauding other features of the Episcopal church that I appreciate. See my page, Those Crazy Episcopalians!

Update, 25 January 2015:  Friend Kemper Anderson, recently ordained, sent this link to friends, for 11 Things I Love About the Episcopal Church.  Very well done!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Song Parody: "Camelot"

If I could write song parodies for a living, I'd be happy.  For the retirement of our Parish registrar Michael Campion this past Sunday, I took off from "Camelot."  Little did I know that Michael, just shy of his 90th birthday, met Richard Burton backstage within a couple of years of the actor's introducing this song.   To get some "in" jokes, you need to know that Michael immigrated here from England after World War II, that he was also the head verger, and that he directed the parish's theatre group "Polk Street Players."
Our registrar keeps up a little list, here
Parishioners since St. James' was begun.
He never gets his knickers in a twist, here,
Not Campion!

When you see acolytes are in a tizzy,
Or vergers in their vestments on the run,
They're freaking, asking everyone "Where IS he?
Where's Campion?"

Campion!  Campion!
We guess he's over sixty - four.
But for Campion, our champion,
Retirement's a bore.

Despite his age, he'd climb up high on ladders
To light the Polk Street Players as he'd like.
In short, there is no one
Who knows how things are done
More serious or generous than
Michael Campion!
I'm especially pleased that I could match Alan Jay Lerner's subtle inner rhyme on the syllables "Like" and "Mich-"

Paw and Order: Chet and Bernie go to Washington

Chet the dog narrates Detective Bernie Little's foray into political intrigue and espionage in Paw and Order.   The main fun in this series has always been Chet's own exuberant voice, but human interactions grab more of our attention in this story.  The sycophants, spooks, and hypocrites of the Federal City bring out deeper shades of noir than we've seen earlier in the series. 

It's a romantic whim that brings the pair to Washington, Bernie surprising his girl friend Suzie with a visit.  But the surprise is on Bernie, when he meets another man in Suzie's apartment.   In the back - and - forth between Bernie and Suzie, Chet feels an emotion new to him, jealousy.

But he keeps his spirits up, a model for us all.   "Nothing compares to the start of the day," he tells us, "except for the end and everything in between"(190).  (Note to self:  Keep the sayings of Chet handy next to my Bible and Prayer Book for morning inspiration.)

There's more fun in what Chet knows that Bernie can't detect.  At the crime scene, Chet alone notices the unmistakable aroma of guinea pig.  He knows before Bernie when someone's lying, because, "When humans are sailing along nicely, they've got all their bodily moistures under control, and when they start to go off the rails, the moistures rise up" (112).  Chet spots a weird "bird" hovering nearby, and we figure out long before Bernie does that he's under drone surveillance.  At one point, Bernie wishes aloud that Chet could talk.  Chet is incredulous, thinking, "I talk all the time!"  But Bernie doesn't get it.

Quinn skillfully sets out clues to a big revelation, and we follow Bernie all the way up the ladder, to find something we hadn't expected.

The story's good, and any time spent with Chet is a pleasure. 
Quinn, Spencer.  Paw and Order. Kindle Edition. Atria, Simon and Schuster, 2014.

I've written about other books by the same author:  

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Tenor's Recital at Spivey Hall: Matthew Palenzani with Julius Drake

[Photo from Spivey Hall website: The hall, the tenor, the pianist]
"Chopsticks" was the first number on yesterday's program at Spivey Hall at Clayton College, Morrow, Georgia.  After applause, the pianist Julius Drake announced that they would perform Beethoven's extraordinary "Adelaide" (pronounced Ah - de - lah - EE - da), just as soon as Drake retrieved the music backstage.  To fill the time, Palenzani played a little piano, and chatted with the audience about his son's piano lessons. "I like this," he said. "Now you know we're just regular guys."

Regular guys should have such range and control!  The Beethoven, in four contrasting stanzas, gave the two artists chances to impress us with the softness of the sounds they could sustain, and with volume that shook our seats in the resonant hall.

But, more than a program of songs, a recital can also be a kind of theatre.  

The program called for a range of characters and situations, all mimed from the piano, center-stage.  For songs by Liszt, Palenzani seemed to be visualizing the images of the text -- swans, blossoms, a violent storm.  Another set of Liszt, all texts by Victor Hugo, gave Palenzani some characters to play, too:  the gentle lover,  the self-lionizing lover ("If I were God...") who reaches a sheepish conclusion, that he'd trade "heavens and the worlds" for a kiss.    Palenzani would adjust his stance, and set his eyes on some visualized image reflected in his face and voice.  Drake got into the act, too, leaning forward where "intensity" increased, bowing his head over hands at rest on the keys for a moment of solemnity, launching his right hand in a backward arch after snapping a note.

The composers and the poets were present as characters, too.  Erik Satie lightened things up with a song about a bronze frog, which Palenzani ended with a wry expression on the ironic line, "At night, the insects go to sleep / in his mouth."  Each of Satie's songs got a laugh.  Ravel's accompaniment for Five Greek Folksongs punctuated the text, and gave emotional depth that I didn't see in the translations before Palenzani performed them back-to-back:  Following a wedding song that ended with the exuberant proclaimation that "In our two families, [now] everyone is related,"  Palenzani, with Drake and Ravel, shifted into a different kind of place where families are reunited: the church graveyard.

The finale was a suite of "Hermit Songs" that Samuel Barber composed for Leontyne Price.  In an interview this week, Palenzani noted that some of the texts are clearly from the masculine point of view, while only one, "St. Ita's Vision" is clearly feminine.  In any case, we had no trouble believing Palenzani in the roles of various 8th century Irish monks, devoted to their faith and work, recording some of their stray thoughts in the margins of texts that they spent their lives copying.  One rues his own "heart, not softer than a stone," while another speculates about where a village lass might be sleeping that night.  Another imagines throwing a party in heaven, where he'd treat Jesus and the rest to a "lake of beer."  A meditation on the pain of the Crucifixion is intensified by the thought that Jesus would see the suffering he caused his mother.  Finally, there's "The Monk and His Cat," a translation by Auden of a monk's whimsical observation that he, trying to "catch" the elusive meaning of a text, is like his faithful cat Pangur, trying to catch a mouse.  (See my blog post about that text, Reading, Writing, and Pet Ownership ca. 800 AD)

Naturally, we rose to demand encores.  The artists were "in the mood," and obliged with three, the last being Ravel's only composition in English, a Scottish tune.  I'd come with my friend Susan because we'd both heard this duo perform "Danny Boy" on public radio's Performance Today;  Ravel's was similar in character, a little more rarefied, and very effective at conjuring what Susan called "joy in sadness."

A personal note:  at intermission, I recognized Dr. John Clum, who had taught me in many contexts at Duke University back in the late 1970s.  I've written about him on a page of tributes to my teachers.  Find it here

Monday, January 12, 2015

God's Trumpet: A Shock to the System

1 Thessalonians 4.17  We... will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.

Pearl Harbor was attacked early on the first Sunday of December 1941.  Many parishioners remember the event, and the rest of us have seen it on film.  So when Paul imagines a trumpet call from heaven, the dead climbing from graves, and believers rising to the clouds, his vision of glory mixes with our memories of sirens wailing, enemy bombers clouding the blue morning sky, soldiers fallen, and fighter planes taking off from cratered runways.

Yet, in Scripture, isn't every call from God an alarm, a shock to the system, and the death of "life as usual?"  God called Israel to a land of milk and honey, but to reach it, Israel's people uprooted their lives, endured wilderness, warred, and erred.  A hymn reminds us that the apostles were "contented fishermen" until they followed Jesus far from home to martyrdom.  Following God's call, Paul himself suffered confrontation, ridicule, deprivation, torture, and execution.

Yet again, is there any agony in Scripture that does not also begin a process of redemption?  The crucifix embodies that notion.

This is not to say that every cloud has a silver lining.  It's distasteful to speak of "silver linings" in war, earthquake, disease, or unemployment.  It is rather to say that redemption has a cost:  Pearl Harbor roused the United States out of isolation to assume leadership against totalitarian regimes, at the high cost of blood and treasure.

So, in this season of down comforters, of gathering friends, family, and food, our Church reminds us that our faith has never been about sticking to what we have, where we are, and who we've always been.  Are we contented?  Then we must listen for God's call and must not, as Father Wallace Marsh once told us, "rationalize" ourselves out of heeding it.  Are we anxious?  Then we can take strength from the promise of redemption embedded in our faith. 

[This essay first appeared as the reading for the first Saturday of December, 2010, in a devotional booklet published by St. James' Episcopal Church, Marietta, GAFind links to many more of my reflections on the Episcopal church, scripture, and on others' perspectives of the same topics at my page Those Crazy Episcopalians!]

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Logic and Faith: How to Judge Value?

Romans 11.29 For who has known the mind of the Lord?  

[Image: It seemed like a good idea at the time...]
On July 14 in 1789 a mob of men and women in Paris freed prisoners from the Bastille, a royal fort.  The French celebrate this as the root event of their republic, a triumph over those born to privileges by supposed divine right.  Thomas Jefferson saw this also as a triumph of rationality over superstition.  But the logic of radical equality led shortly to a period known as "the Terror," persecution and total war against all perceived enemies of "the people."  Anglican eyewitness Edmund Burke saw the French Revolution as the grim triumph of "economists and calculators" whose rationality denied the "super-added ideas" that brought beauty and "unbought grace" to life.

So it's fitting that our reading in Romans today is about rationalizing God's "unbought grace" for people of privileged bloodline.  To us, that doesn't make much sense.  Why should one group get preference, in spite of its actions, just because of its ancestry?  Yet to some in Paul's audience, it didn't make sense that God might accept, by faith, people who were not of the chosen bloodline. After a few stunted arguments, Paul gives up on logic:  God's reasons are unsearchable and inscrutable.

Much of what we do at St. James' has value beyond logic.  Try explaining why we read aloud the same words every week, sing Psalms, ring bells, or light candles.  What's gained by sending Pastoral Care volunteers to visit shut ins or by hosting luncheons for mentally challenged people who aren't even members?  What's the logic behind communion or prayer?

Useful for analyzing data, logic has nothing to say about value.  An economist friend of mine, being logical, deplores the use of Americans' sympathy for needy children to promote policies that inhibit economic development for all.  He has many examples to prove his point, but Jesus counters in today's reading that whosoever fails to assist anyone sick, naked, or imprisoned has failed to serve our Lord (Matthew 25.45).  On this Bastille Day, let's remember that logic is only one tool for understanding our world; faith is another.

[This essay was first published in a booklet of daily meditations on the lectionary.  This one covered scripture assigned for July 14. Find links to many more of my reflections on the Episcopal church, scripture, and on others' perspectives of the same topics at my page Those Crazy Episcopalians! ]

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Jesus and Dogs: Matthew 15.21-28

Mt. 15.21-28  Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.

[Image by Sebastiano Ricci]
Try mentioning dogs in the Parish Hall when you sit with people you don't know well.  Suddenly, everyone's telling a story -- funny, heartbreaking, or both.  I tell about my dog, neglected by his previous owner.  Going home with me, he laid a paw on my shoulder and licked my ear as if to say, "I trust you.  Thank you."  Then there was the stray who gracefully sashayed through my back door and settled down as if she owned the place.  Twelve happy years later I watched her step with painful delicacy into the vet's examination room, the last time I saw her.

The Canaanite woman in today's Gospel plays the dog card for leverage with Jesus.  She begs him to heal her child, but the apostles disdain her, and even Jesus dismisses her.  But her retort about dogs seems to take Jesus aback.   Maybe he had always planned to minister not just to Jewish men but to us Gentile dogs; maybe he pretended rudeness to make a point; but that's not the way it sounds in Matthew's telling of the story.

This Canaanite woman evidently grates on the nerves, but she makes an impression that sets the early church off in an unexpected direction.  Likewise, dogs are often pains in the neck, but the most difficult ones often become the greatest blessings in our lives.

As members of the Church, we have a mission to be Jesus to people who may be difficult, who may challenge our beliefs, or who may be tiresome -- like that one in the Parish Hall always talking about his dogs.  All of them have the potential to move us in unexpected directions.

This summer, while we may take a vacation from work, let's not forget our mission.  Let's deepen our connections to St. James'.  The more we bless each other with our time and gifts, the more we may be blessed. 
- for reading June 7, 2010, "A Summer Pilgrimage," devotional booklet published by The Pilgrimage at St. James' Episcopal Church, Marietta GA.  Find links to many more of my reflections on the Episcopal church, scripture, and on others' perspectives of the same topics at my page Those Crazy Episcopalians

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Into the Woods: Sondheim's "Fault" & Virtuosity

[Photo:Huttlestone, Corden, Crawford, Streep, Kendrick from ITW]
With Disney's wide release of the film Into the Woods, more people may be able to understand why I often cite "Your Fault," a brief number from the second half, as my favorite Sondheim song.

A casual observer might not even recall "Your Fault," because it leads into the Witch's show-stopping solo, "Last Midnight."  That's one of the things I like about the song, that it does its job!   But "Your Fault" is a prism that concentrates the brilliance of the entire show and refracts the many virtues of Sondheim as artist.

"Your Fault" Focuses the Story
James Lapine's script for Into the Woods interweaves four familiar fairy tales with an original.  Seeking objects demanded by a Witch to break a spell, a Baker and his Wife cross paths with Cinderella, Jack (of beanstalk fame), Little Red Ridinghood, and Rapunzel.  Mid-way through the show, everyone has reached their "happily ever after" conclusion; in the second half, however, there are consequences.  "Your Fault" is the song that draws all the strands of the story together.

The song "Your Fault" emerges from a scene of strong emotions.   In a clearing of the woods, we see Cinderella, Red Ridinghood, and the Baker with his infant son, hiding from a lady giant who has trampled the kingdom in her search for Jack, who killed her husband.  Jack appears, dragged by the Witch, who plans to appease the giant's desire for revenge. Jack tells how he found the Baker's wife at the foot of a cliff, killed in the giant's rampage.  A dissonant vamp begins slowly and picks up speed as the Baker says to Jack, "It's because of you there's a giant in our midst and my wife is dead!"

Jack responds in song (rhymes italicized):
But it wasn't my fault,
I was given those beans!
You persuaded me to trade away
My cow for beans!
And without those beans
There'd have been no stalk
To get up to the Giants
In the first place!
The Baker fires right back:
Wait a minute --
Magic beans
For a cow so old
That you had to tell a lie to sell it,
Which you told!
Were they worthless beans?
Were they oversold?
Oh, and tell us who persuaded you to
Steal that gold!
Red Ridinghood joins in, saying, "So it's your fault!" to Jack, who accuses the Baker,
Wait a minute, though --
I only stole the gold
To get my cow back
From you!
In lines that follow, every character incriminates every other character.  The song clarifies how the characters' choices from the first half of the story, like seeds, have now grown up to wreak havoc.

Music of "Your Fault"
In the same way that five magic beans are the root of the whole story, Sondheim takes five notes -- Do, Fa, Sol, Mi, Re -- to be "seeds" for the entire score.   (A photo of Sondheim's initial worksheet, labeled "Motifs," appears in the second volume of his memoir Look I Made a Hat, p. 93).  We heard these five notes first when the Witch explained how to reverse the curse. The same motif obsesses Rapunzel, and sounds prominently in melodies for songs "Giants in the Sky" and "Stay with Me"; the five notes combine in chords that accompany solos for Red Ridinghood, Jack, and Cinderella.   Now, in "Your Fault,"  Jack outlines the bean motif on the syllables "only," "stole," "gold," "get" and "cow" (the last two notes reversed). The motif returns to form a bridge to a final round of accusations.  (Later in the show, it's played and partially sung as a counter-melody in the ballad, "No One Is Alone.")

Two other motifs on Sondheim's manuscript repeat throughout this song.  One is the rising interval of a major second, associated in the first sung notes of the show with the words "I wish," a starting point for the motifs belonging to each character.   In "Your Fault," the "wish" motif makes the ostinato in the bass.  Over that ostinato plays a dissonant chord labeled "Spell" in Sondheim's manuscript, the major seventh chord with augmented fifth. Its sound is already familiar from every appearance of the Witch.

So, it's not a stretch to say that the entire score as well as the entire story is compressed in this one number.

Sondheim builds the song efficiently.   He repeats the same basic material three times, but extends each ending in a different way to escalate the action -- and the key -- to each new iteration of the idea "it's your fault." The song builds to a point where four voices in unison accuse the Witch: "You're the one to blame! It's your fault!"

But Sondheim tops the song's emphatic last phrase with a surprise: "Shhhh!" Where applause would start, the Witch, finger to her lips, hisses for quiet. Over steady deep bass notes that recall the footsteps of the giant, she sings ominous words, "It's the last midnight."  The tune begins with a rising augmented fifth, the dissonant interval we've heard in the accompaniment throughout "Your Fault."

As "Last Midnight" develops, the Witch mocks the other characters: "You're not good, you're not bad, you're just nice.  I'm not good, I'm not nice, I'm just right!" Contrast, musical continuity, and theme make "Your Fault" an effective ramp up to the Witch's show-stopper. 

Actors' Virtuosity in "Your Fault"
This is all esoteric stuff to admire in a study with soundtrack and piano; but Sondheim writes for actors, not scholars.   Artists want to show some virtuosity, or the audience won't be impressed.    Audiences want contrast, a wide range of expressions, and some physical accomplishments.  This song gives the actors lots to show them off.

Actor James Corden, who plays the Baker in the film, explained in one interview how difficult and rewarding it was to sing Sondheim, because the songs are "so specific" to the character and situation.  He quoted a tongue-twister from "Your Fault" as an example of something hard to say but also exactly right for the character.  

Great performers act between their lines, too, displaying the characters' thoughts and feelings that grow into the next cue.  At any given moment in "Your Fault," four actors are giving us four characters' different responses to another character's lines.   For example, in the first lines of the song, quoted above, while the Baker backs away from Jack's accusation, he regroups to find an answer.  When he does, the accused again becomes the accuser. 

The approaches, the backing away, the regrouping, the reversals all imply action on stage.  The song becomes a kind of furious country dance, as participants pair up, spin around, and start over with a new partner.   In the film, director Rob Marshall tracks the actors as they trace a pretzel shape around the branches and stumps of the clearing.   The choreography takes a different kind of virtuosity that impresses the audience, even while we may be so wrapped up in the story that we're not conscious of the planned movement.

While Jack, the Baker, and the Witch argue about the five beans that got them into this tangle "in the first place," Cinderella seems uninvolved in the story, until Jack asks,
I chopped down the beanstalk,
Right?  That's clear,
But without any beanstalk,
Then what's queer
Is how did the second Giant get down here
In the first place?
(confused)  Second place. 
(I laugh out loud at that momentary confusion of Jack's, perfectly natural, but also built into the repeating structure of the lyric!)

Cinderella pounces, "Yes!" and the others follow suit, four characters' four syllables spoken in four beats:  "Yes!" "How?" "Hmm," "Well--".  In time to the music, each character displays a different reaction with a word.  Talk about virtuosity!  

When Jack asks, "Who had the other bean?" and Cinderella echoes, "The other bean?" the actress (Anna Kendricks in the movie) invests that question with dawning knowledge that she herself is the one who tossed away the fateful sixth bean, providing passage to earth for the second giant.  She is already backing away while the Baker figures it out:
Wait a minute!
She [i.e. his wife] exchanged that bean
To obtain your shoe
So the one who knows
What happened to the bean
Is you!
Pausing a second to look at the lyric closely, we notice that lyricist Sondheim plants the word "your" on a beat that composer Sondheim emphasizes with a raised pitch.  Sondheim often faults others for emphasizING the wrong syllaBLE.  Wouldn't the word "shoe" be emphasized in normal speech?  But this emphasis gives the actor playing the Baker an "aha" moment, when he blames Cinderella.

Apologetic as usual, Cinderella tries three expressions of innocence, all unfinished, and then she, too, lashes out:
You mean that old bean
That your wife --?  Oh, dear --
But I never knew
And so I threw --
Well don't look here!

Ridinghood and Jack each accuse her, "So it's your fault!"  Cinderella protests weakly, "But...,  But..."  while she casts about for some way to return the blame to Jack;  "If you hadn't gone back up again --!"  He protests, "We were needy!"  She corrects him: "You were greedy! / Did you need that hen?"

Red Ridinghood follows the action, singing "So it's your fault!" at every turn, trying to pin definitive blame on someone else.  When Jack finally turns on her, pointing out that she's the one who dared him to climb the beanstalk that last time, she is most defensive of all, simply denying what he says:  "I dared you to?  ...Me?  No, I didn't!... Wait a minute!"

Where's the Witch in all this?  She withdraws early, building up her case against the other four and against the whole human race, all detailed in "Last Midnight."

If "Your Fault" didn't slide so smoothly into "Last Midnight," the audience would go crazy with applause.  We want virtuosity, we want our artists to take risks, and this song delivers: So much is going on at such a rapid pace, that one dropped cue, one misstep, and the whole thing would fail. When it all goes together, it shines, it makes us laugh, and it builds tension to the next song.

Virtuosity of the Lyricist
I've marked the rhymes, often coming in threes, often sounding in the middle of phrases; to what purpose?  Sondheim's essay "Rhyme and its Reasons" (in his memoir, volume one, Finishing the Hat) gives us many reasons:
  • "A perfect rhyme can make a mediocre line good and a good one brilliant."
  • "There is something about the conscious use of a form in any art that tells the customer, 'This is worth saving.'"
  • "Craig Carnelia, a first-rate composer and lyricist, put it exactly: 'True rhyming is a necessity in the theatre, as a guide for the ear to know what it has just heard.'"
  • "A perfect rhyme snaps the word, and with it the thought, vigorously into place, rendering it easily intelligible; a near rhyme [e.g., "together" and "forever"] blurs it."

Aside from rhyme's emphasizing the key points of a lyric, Sondheim says a "chief reason" for using perfect rhyme is "the sheer pleasure of verbal playfulness."  That's rhyme, but also, in "Your Fault," his playing with the idiom, "In the first place," as when the Witch tells the Baker,
It's your father's fault
That the curse got placed
And the place got cursed
In the first place!
Sondheim concludes his essay on rhyme with an analogy:  "Using near rhymes is like juggling clumsily."  The audience might have fun, he writes, but not nearly so much pleasure as watching a virtuoso juggling knives.

If the soundtrack didn't play, the lines of this song spoken in rhythm, would sound as natural as dialogue.  For all the virtuosity we find in both words and music of "Your Fault," its craft is concealed so as not to distract us from the characters in their story.  For me, that's the best reason of all to love"Your Fault."

[See my Sondheim page for many other reflections on matters relating to Sondheim, his shows, and musical theatre more generally.]