Monkey Business - Music History & Theory Desnobbified

Discussion in 'Music and Recordings' started by GuySmiley'sMonkey, Nov 11, 2022.

  1. GuySmiley'sMonkey

    GuySmiley'sMonkey Almost "Made"

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    Over the years and in various incarnations I've written articles on SBAF about music history and theory. This thread will gradually pull together articles in abandoned and tainted threads and supplement them with ongoing additional content. Feel free to interact, asking questions and bringing in your own insights.

    This first post will have a growing index of the major articles. FWIW, my approach is to not take things too seriously, to try and make the story of Western Music accessible to non-musicians and/or those who are curious. I call this process "desnobbification".

    Music History
    Ancient Music
    Gregorian Chant: An Origin Story
    A Musical Mystery: Dating an Old Book (Part 1)
    A Musical Mystery: Dating an Old Book (Part 2)
    A Musical Mystery: Dating an Old Book (Part 3)
    The Contributory Competent Comment Cash Comp
    @Tchoupitoulas' comparison of two editions of The Genevan Psalter

    Music Theory
    Bob Ross for Monks & Headbangers (Modes & Scales)
     
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    Last edited: Nov 26, 2022 at 10:12 PM
  2. GuySmiley'sMonkey

    GuySmiley'sMonkey Almost "Made"

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    Prologue - Ancient Music

    A good place to start is the beginning. In our case the “beginning” is music recorded by a continuous and evolving tradition of musical notation, but let's rewind a bit further still. So, how do we know what music sounded like before it was written down? Surely, you'd think, it would be like asking about Neanderthal poetry or neolithic dance steps.

    That hasn’t stopped people from trying, though. There have been healthy attempts by musicologists and musicians to create speculative reconstructions. This involves more than just pulling random ideas out of their… heads. Rather, it’s based on at least a modicum of evidence.

    Through the work of archaeologists we have the remains of a few musical instruments and depictions of them in art. Literature and verse provide scholars with some clues to rhythmic content. We also have a body of international folk music that provides a convoluted thread to the past. This is vanishing as a living tradition, though, thanks in part to communication technology and the cultural ascendancy of the west.

    Here’s are two examples of thought provoking musical speculation.

    The first takes us back to the late third millennium BC, over four thousand years ago. The lyrics of this work are supplied by the Sumerians in the form of the opening lines of “The Epic of Gilgamesh”, an amazing piece of literature with some portions similar to Genesis, the first book of the Bible. In Peter Pringle’s performance he accompanies himself on a long-neck, three-string, Sumerian lute known as a "gish-gu-di”. His singing style and the melody’s construction take their cue from traditional forms of middle-eastern music.



    The short documentary embedded below is well worth 15 minutes of your time. It explains the reasoning and evidence behind the recreation of a concert of music dating from the works of Homer through to Classic Greek music of the second century BC. The performers range from professional musicians to passionate academics.

     
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  3. GuySmiley'sMonkey

    GuySmiley'sMonkey Almost "Made"

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    Gregorian Chant: An Origin Story

    This is not Gregorian chant:



    Just thought I’d chuck that in there because I like Monty Python. If it isn’t Gregorian Chant, though, what is it and what makes it different from Gregorian chant?

    In order to separate the fake from the real, we need to know what the genuine article looks like. To be true Gregorian Chant, the music must have all the following qualities:

    1. This is an instrument free zone (unaccompanied [1] )
    2. All of the participants sing the same notes at the same time (unison or monophonic)
    3. The text is always in Latin or Greek, but mostly Latin
    4. It was/is historically accepted by the western church (now known as the Catholic Church) as universally suitable for worship (liturgical)

    Chant in the Christian Church is a tradition that developed long before a method of writing it down had been worked out. It was well and truly alive in fourth century AD and, arguably, even before the inception of Christianity. It mightn’t have been notated, but it was still faithfully passed on orally. This is analogous to specially trained members of pre-literate societies passing on their stories, traditions and genealogies by recitation, and training others to take their place.

    Another characteristic of chant is that it was fit for function. Originally the congregation participated in the singing of chant. These were untrained people, so simple was good. Over time specially instructed singers were added to the mix of worship; soloists and choirs that were often made up of monks, clerics and, in some settings, nuns. They had the skill to provide more elaborate melodies in appropriate places as suggested by the text they were singing. Here we move from simple syllabic chant (one note per syllable) to melismatic chant that contained long stretches of notes sung one after another, drawing out the vowels of a single syllable. You’ll often find this on words like “alleluia” and “amen”. If there was such a thing as a spectrum-of-vocal-busyness (how florid the music sounds) , a third category called "neumatic" could also be added, in between syllabic and melismatic.

    Not all liturgical chant was Gregorian, though. As you’d expect in the days before mass communication there was regional variation. Many diverse cultures were Christianised in the early Middle Ages and we can see traces of their own musical styles creeping into their church music. In Britain there was Celtic chant, Ambrosian chant in parts of Italy, Roman chant in another, Gallic chant in France and Mozarabic in parts of Spain. Gregorian chant was primarily the child of two of these: Roman and Gallic.

    Thus we enter the world of Charlemagne and his Father, Pepin the Short [2], in the eighth century AD. Pepin had all the powers of a King, but not the actual title. To turn his creds into a crown he needed the support of the Pope, which he gained. When Charlemagne comes along it just so happens that the Pope crowns him the first Holy Roman Emperor, (incidentally triggering a thousand years of western-European bloodshed and infighting). These political advantages weren’t merely a couple of friendly dotards shaking hands. There was an element of ingratiation and “you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours”.

    After hearing a mass conducted in the Roman way Pepin says to the church leaders, “OK boys. I like this. This is how we’re doing things from now on”. There was some resistance, but the King had his way and we have the imposition of a new hymn book (only minus the book and, pedantically, the hymns). That said, Gallic chant also had its contribution. It filled in the gaps missing from the Roman rite, giving the monks something to chant the whole year round. No doubt there were slight modifications made to the Roman melodies as the Frankish singers filtered these new sounds through culturally-old ears.

    Here’s an example of well-recorded authentic Gregorian Chant, simply performed by professionals:



    With a couple of exceptions, Gregorian chant hasn’t changed much since the time of Charlemagne. It was adopted by the church in Rome and spread, replacing other local chant for official liturgical use in almost every western-Europe location. While it fell out of favour and widespread use with the advent of more interesting, entertaining music, there was a revival in the early twentieth century. The Catholic church encouraged it, and encourages it, as a suitable form of worship: A living tradition.

    There’s a nineties group called Enigma that blended Gregorian Chant with chill electronic beats in their song “Sadeness” (no, it’s not a typo). I doubt that they realised they were blending a politically-influenced blend of two traditions that were, themselves, a blend of older styles.

    Oh yes. This all started with Monty Python and their search for the Holy Grail. What is it that those masochistic monks are singing if not Gregorian chant? Those with keen ears will notice that it’s not strictly in unison pitch-wise: It’s not monophonic. Some are singing the bass notes, others higher (a fifth above, for the musically literate) and others higher still (an octave). This is called “organum” and is a topic for another day.


    [1] Insert your own joke about unaccompanied minors. I’m too lazy to think of one.

    [2] No Napoleon complex here. He just kept his hair nice and tidy as opposed to the typically long flowing locks of other monarchs of the time.
     
  4. GuySmiley'sMonkey

    GuySmiley'sMonkey Almost "Made"

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    Bob Ross for Monks & Headbangers

    Scale /skeɪl/ noun - A device of torture often used by piano teachers to destroy a child’s love of music and their parent’s sanity.

    If you’ve ever learned a musical instrument you might be familiar with scales. Apart from being an instrument of torture they happen to be the building blocks of almost every song you have every heard.

    Growing up I thought there were only two sorts of scales: major and minor with major sounding “happy” and minor sounding “sad”. I was taught this by my music teachers in much the same way you were taught that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. However, it’s rubbish. Absolute bollocks.

    For those of you who aren’t musicians, let me explain what a scale is. Most music has a home. If I played a well-known tune to you but finished at the second last note, you could almost certainly sing the final one. This final pitch is usually the home (“tonic” for music nerds). Let’s give this pitch an arbitrary name, like “C”. Simply put, here are the steps a musical biologist would take to dissect a melody to work out which scale it was based on.

    1. Write down the name of the “home” note (this is used to describe the “key”)
    2. Isolate all the unique pitches in the song. “D” might appear 20 times and “E” 12 times, but we’d only count each one once.
    3. Put these pitches in order from highest to lowest, beginning with your home note and ending with your home note, but an octave higher.

    Voila! Easy, no?

    Well, no. While some scales are remarkably simple, others are remarkably complex. There are five note scales (pentatonic), whole tone scales, microtonal scales (scales that you can’t play on the piano because you’d need to extract sound from the cracks between the keys) ragas etc. As an aside, wanna hear something weird and cool? Check out King Gizzard and The Wizard Lizard playing their flying microtonal banana. Anyway, scales provide the limited colour palette you use to paint a tune.

    Are you familiar with Bob Ross and “The Joy of Painting”? At the start of each show he provides a list of the colours he’ll be using (and selling to his devotees). These are limited and strongly influence the intended feel of the finished artwork. Lots of yellow and reds in an autumnal scene. More blues and whites in a winter landscape. The same is true of music. Of all the many, many possible pitches song writers only choose to use a handful at a time. Far from being restrictive, this helps impart a “feel” to a piece.


    Bob Ross.jpg

    For those of you who have been following along, Gregorian Chant used a very limited range of notes (or so theorists of the time would have you believe), but more “scales” than the “major” and “minor” system I was indoctrinated into. These scales were called “modes” and, originally, musical theorists only recognised eight of them. I’m going to pare this back to four, each of which had a name borrowed from ancient Greek musical theory: The dorian mode, phrygian mode, lydian mode and mixolydian mode.*

    There’s much more that could be said about modes, but our purpose here isn’t analysis, merely enjoyment and a bit of infotainment. It’s enough to know that modes formed (most of) the colour palette of Gregorian chant and helps to form its character and “feel”. If you have any questions about scales and modes, though, feel free to ask. I’m not the only one here with a background in music, so others are welcome to chime in with answers and comments.

    Let’s stop making words about music and actually do some listening. Here are three pieces by modernish musicians who have stretched their arms back in time to the Dark Ages, returning with modal influences. There’s something about their character that helps them seem otherworldy, belonging to another place or time. This is partly thanks to the use of a “mode”.

    1. The Dorian mode - Miles Davis – “So What”



    2. The Phrygian mode – Pink Floyd “Set The Controls for the Heart of the Sun”



    3. The Lydian mode – Fleetwood Mac – “Dreams”



    * The modern adaption of the medieval modes recognises seven: Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian and Locrian.
     
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  5. GuySmiley'sMonkey

    GuySmiley'sMonkey Almost "Made"

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    A Musical Mystery - Dating an Old Book
    Part 1

    I came into possession of an old looking music book as a sixteen year old in the early nineties. For a while I tried to date it, but didn't have the resources of the Internet at my disposal. Couldn't read French either. Since then I've tucked it away as a hidden treasure and haven't looked at it very often.

    Recently I decided to dig it out and try to find out a bit more about it. Thought some of you might be interested in reading about my adventure.

    Genevan Psalter 1.jpg

    Genevan Psalter 2.jpg

    Genevan Psalter 3.jpg

    It turns out that this is a copy of the Genevan Psalter:

    "The Genevan Psalter is a collection of metrical Psalms created under the supervision of John Calvin to encourage congregational participation during worship. The first edition appeared in 1539, but this 1562 edition was the first to contain settings of all 150 psalms, mostly based on the work of French poet Clément Marot, and French theologian Théodore de Bèze. The Genevan Psalter has been in uninterrupted use to the present day by Huguenot and other French speaking Protestant churches, and many of the tunes used in the psalter can still be found in most modern hymnals."
    (Source)

    This old collection of Psalm settings that made a huge and enduring impact on protestant worship music and liturgy. In its original form it was monophonic and is analogous to Gregorian chant in the Catholic church. As with chant, serious composers used the tunes from the Genevan Psalter as the basis for larger musical works. The psalter has also been harmonised in its entirety.

    I've embedded below two audio samples. The first is a simple monophonic rendition of Psalm 2 that will give you an idea of the original performance practice: A whole congregation singing the same melody without harmony or accompaniment. The second example consists of a polyphonic treatment of the tune by the late Renaissance Dutch composer, Sweelinck. For those of you who've been following along with this thread, the tune of Psalm 2 is in the Dorian mode.







    Psalm 2.JPG

    My copy isn't an original first edition. If it were I wouldn't own it any longer and would instead be sitting on a beach somewhere in the Caribbean rather than wasting my time on SBAF LOL. In order to determine its age or edition I'll examine the following:

    1. Musical notation used
    2. Method of printing
    3. Fronticepiece
    4. Binding
    5. Any errors I can find in the setting of the blocks/type

    Wish me luck!
     
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    Last edited: Nov 12, 2022
  6. Erroneous

    Erroneous Friend

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    Honestly this is interesting as fuck and keep updating this thread please. Great work.
     
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  7. purr1n

    purr1n Burned out

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    You are taking me back to my Music 101 class at Uni. Please continue.
     
  8. jowls

    jowls Never shitposts (please) - Friend

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    I only drop here occasionally these days and I am glad I caught this in the 'new posts'. Super interesting thread.
     
  9. jowls

    jowls Never shitposts (please) - Friend

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    tumblr_nfxbv41TwE1sx2peuo6_250.gif.gif
     
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  10. GuySmiley'sMonkey

    GuySmiley'sMonkey Almost "Made"

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    A Musical Mystery: Dating an Old Book
    Part 2 - Vintage Photos & Musical Notation


    You’re rummaging through some boxes in the attic and happen upon a pile of old photographs squirreled away in corner by some long-gone former resident of your home. There are no captions on any of them and you don’t recognise any of the people, but you still have some sense of their age. The men are wearing suits that look like they’re from the interwar period, there's a large radio in some, art deco style furniture and all the camera/film technology was monochrome. Almost instinctively you guess the photos were taken some time in the 1930s.

    1930s photo.JPG

    In the same way, there are some immediate clues to the age of my book that have to do with culture and technology.

    Let me jump back to 1993, the first year of my music degree, when I showed it to a research assistant specialising in music of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. He looked at a few pages and suggested it might have come off the press sometime in the late seventeenth or early eighteenth. I was disappointed as I instinctively thought it was older. One of the clues we were both using related to the style of musical notation.

    Even if you’re not a musician you will have come across these music symbols, the treble clef and the bass clef. The five lines music are written on (staff/stave) are useless without clefs. It would be like having a map of hiking trails without an indication of scale or knowing where to find north. A clef is the means by which musicians assign a particular pitch to a particular line. For example, the treble clef indicates that a note written on the second bottom line is the “G” above middle C, near the middle of a piano keyboard.

    All our clefs have their origin in a system of musical notation (mensural) that was used across Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth century. There were originally three basic symbols used: The “F” clef (the ancestor of the bass clef), the “G” clef (ancestor of the treble clef, a relative late comer in the second half of the 16th century) and the “C” clef (still used today for viola music and less commonly for trombone, bassoon and cello).

    Clef Development.JPG

    All three clefs were used less rigidly than clefs are today and could move up or down. This is best explained using an image using the modern symbols. Beginning with the third clef along (C clef), the pitch of middle C is variously assigned to the bottom line, the second bottom line, the middle line etc.

    Clefs.png

    When you look at my copy of the Genevan Psalter (first example below) you’ll see that it uses an “F” clef on the top line (it’s the first symbol after the letter “H”), what might today be called the sub bass clef. Compare this to a form of the clef used in the example below from around 1520 (taken from a manuscript containing a mass by the Renaissance composer, Obrecht).

    Line 1 GP.JPG

    Obrecht.JPG

    How does this help us with dating? Not much, unless the lass or lad of our attention is also a music nerd. *GuySmiley’sMonkey looks around and ducks for cover*

    Seriously, though, it may be of some assistance. The system of music notation used in our copy was in widespread use at the time the first complete edition of the Genevan Psalter was printed (1562), so it isn’t helpful at setting a date-floor (earliest possible date of printing). It might be helpful though in establishing a date-ceiling (the latest possible or likely date of printing).

    The mensural notation used in our book gradually fell out of favour during the seventeenth century and by the time of the mid and late Baroque the system of music notation looked much as it does today. Does this mean that it was printed sometime between 1562 and 1700? Maybe, but not necessarily. Just because a technology or cultural norm falls out of fashion doesn’t mean that it can’t be used later. We need to dig deeper.

    There's another head-scratcher that needs explaining, apparent to literate musicians but opaque to everyone else. In the example above from my Genevan Psalter you'll notice the flat sign (it looks like a lower case letter "b") is on the second bottom space between the lines. Assuming that the top line is "F", it would seem that the piece has an A flat. Conventionally, a piece shouldn't have an A flat (as a key signature) unless it also has a B flat and an E flat. Either the clef is on the wrong line, the flat is in the wrong position, or musical convention has been ignored. Mistake or outlier? Hmm. A mystery within a mystery and one that we'll return to later.
     
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2022
  11. GuySmiley'sMonkey

    GuySmiley'sMonkey Almost "Made"

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    A Musical Mystery - Dating an Old Book
    Part 3 - Stripping Back the Varnish

    It’s no accident that most of the posts in this thread are related to church music in one way or another.

    The organised Christian church (initially Catholic, but Protestant as well beginning in the sixteenth century) had both the need for music and the means to support it. The body of music known as Gregorian chant, for example, came about because monasteries and congregations needed liturgical content that uplifted the soul and made the words of the mass, psalms etc easier to remember. The churches often also had the wealth necessary for the support of professional musicians and composers. During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, music was by and large paid for and delivered to the established church.

    In the middle of the Renaissance there was a seismic shift towards simplification that came with the reformation in the first part of the sixteenth century. In England composers such as Thomas Tallis supplemented their elaborate and florid large scale polyphonic works with greatly simplified four-part writing when writing specifically for the nascent Church of England.

    Tallis - Spem in Alium (a 40 part (!) motet in Latin)



    Tallis - If Ye Love Me



    This shift came from three of the fundamental beliefs of reformers such as Luther and Calvin and so to understand sacred music of the sixteenth century it's necessary to understand the faith that gave it birth.

    1. The Primacy of Scripture (Sola Scriptura) – The protestants believed (and mostly still do) that God is revealed through the Bible, not through experience, and that it alone forms the basis for Christian belief and practice. In such a mindset, the lyrics of worship songs were more important than the music. The words were no longer in Latin, but in a language the common people spoke and understood. Compare this to the contrasting idea that music was one path to spiritual ecstasy.

    2. The priesthood of all believers – At its core, early reformers emphasised that a relationship with God is found in faith through Jesus alone. There was no need for a mediating priest to stand between mankind and God. This cluster of beliefs includes the (theoretical) rejection of hierarchy in the church. Music in worship became centred around the participation of the whole congregation in singing rather than professional performance. This required simplification.

    3. Glory belongs to God alone (Soli Deo gloria) – This extended through the ages and is not unique to the Reformation, frequently found in inscriptions made by composers JS Bach and Anton Bruckner. However, this statement was understood differently by different people. Luther, for example, took much delight in music for music’s sake, being the first to say, “Why should the devil have all the good music?” The Lutheran church gave music a more significant role than the churches founded on the principals of John Calvin. These were initially and generally more austere with a mistrust of anything that might draw the worshippers’ attention from God. In early Calvinistic-style services no instruments were allowed, the music consisting solely of voices of the congregation.

    This is the context of the Genevan Psalter, the book I’m trying to date. The music is stripped of absolutely anything unnecessary, even the ghost of frippery. Calvin's music was single part and a simple tune with no florid melismatic passages so that anyone could sing it, so that the words were clearly understood and so that nothing detracted from the glory of God.

    This is Psalm 23 ("The Lord's My Shepherd") from the Genevan Psalter. It's as simple as or even simpler than much of the Gregorian chant that predated it by a millennium.



    In the next post I'll be comparing the first line of two editions of the Psalter to help hone in on the date of my copy and solve the mystery of the clef.
     
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2022
  12. Thad E Ginathom

    Thad E Ginathom Friend

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    And so (insert a few hundred years here*) they got out the guitars, tambourines, and keyboards.

    :eek: :rolleyes:


    *Or read about them in GSM's coming posts.
     
  13. GuySmiley'sMonkey

    GuySmiley'sMonkey Almost "Made"

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    Cash Prize!
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    Let's get some interaction happening here. I'm too lazy to want to do all the work.

    gettyimages-712-40-640_adpp(2).gif

    The two images below show the first line of the first Psalm of two different editions of the Genevan Psalter. Make some observations and post them here. You don't need to read music to do this and don't be afraid to point out the obvious or look like an idiot. No idiot shaming here.

    There's a limit of one observation only so that others get a chance too.

    1. Compare the pair - Spot the differences, large or small
    2. Consider every aspect, including the quality of printing, the notes and other stuff as well
    3. See if you can draw any conclusions or make any informed guesses about the relative age or even dates based on the limited evidence given here.

    Everyone who makes an observation (no duplicates) will go in the draw for $10 USD sent to their PayPal account. Have a few beers or coffees on me.

    Closing Date: Wednesday 30 November 2022

    Example A

    Line 1 O.JPG

    Example B

    Line 1.JPG
     
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2022 at 1:04 PM
  14. yotacowboy

    yotacowboy McRibs Kind of Guy

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    </shitpost>
     
  15. GuySmiley'sMonkey

    GuySmiley'sMonkey Almost "Made"

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    To use an Aussie turn of phrase, yeah... nah. Your name's not going in the hat for this one old mate LOL. In fact, you can buy me a coffee!

    :) :piratemug:
     
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2022 at 5:09 PM
  16. dasman66

    dasman66 Self proclaimed lazy ass - friend

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    french... but I don't understand the first one. The second one I can understand
     
  17. zottel

    zottel Almost "Made"

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    In the second one, the lines are not continuous. Did they use some kind of ready-made letters a la Gutenberg for printing this?

    Edit: So if I’m right, the second one would be post 1450.

    Edit again: But we’re talking about Calvinist music here, so it’s 16th century or later, anyway, and I’m feeling a bit embarrassed now.
     
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2022 at 11:09 AM
  18. Erroneous

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    Guessing first one is more recent because it's more uniform and flowery.
     
  19. GuySmiley'sMonkey

    GuySmiley'sMonkey Almost "Made"

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    The observations so far have been great and do have a bearing on the dating of my book. Keep them coming. Plenty of other stuff there. The devil is in the detail.

    @Muse Wanderer, I was hoping that you'd contribute rather than disliking my post (which is OK in and of itself as we all see things differently). I really enjoyed and valued your input in the Classical Music Introduction thread.

    Thinking about it, I might go around a second/third time and re-create this, cleaning it up and updating MIA embedded clips. It serves a useful function and deserves updating. I intend sticking around SBAF in this incarnation to see the project through.
     
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2022 at 5:51 PM
  20. Erroneous

    Erroneous Friend

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    @GuySmiley'sMonkey Don't take a dislike to heart when you're putting out relevant content. Just smile and keep moving forward. No one will ever please everyone in life so just keep posting interesting content. Water off a duck's back.
     
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    • Agreed, ditto, +1 Agreed, ditto, +1 x 1
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