October 19, 2005

Omit needless noises

When I said that I was looking forward to Strunk and White, The Movie, I was kidding. But in today's NYT, Jeremy Eichler's review of the new illustrated edition reports on Strunk and White, The Song Cycle. And I'm afraid that this one is serious:

She [Maira Kalman] explained that while she was painting her illustrations, she found herself singing the words and dreaming of a Strunk and White opera, or even a ballet. She turned to Mr. Muhly, whom she had known for more than a decade as a family friend and co-conspirator in various neo-Dadaist adventures. (Ms. Kalman once ran a Rubber Band Society - for people who love rubber bands, naturally - and invited Mr. Muhly to compose a work scored for rubber bands, which he did.) “I knew that Nico and I would have an immediate conversation in shorthand about humor and imagination, and that he’d completely get it,” Ms. Kalman said.

Mr. Muhly, 24, is a talented and audacious graduate of the Juilliard School who has worked with Philip Glass and Bjork. His Strunk and White songs are eloquently scored for soprano, tenor, viola, banjo and percussion. They also include parts for Ms. Kalman’s friends and family, who will make “little gentle noises” through amplified kitchen utensils (vintage eggbeaters and meat grinders) and a set of dice shaken in a bowl.

Apparently Ms. Kalman is the author of the New Yorkistan New Yorker cover, which gives her a lot of whuffie, at least in my personal accounting. I haven't heard the Strunk and White Song Cycle, but I suspect that her balance may plummet when I do.

Luckily the (apocryphal) ballet version is safely stashed in the vast virtual file of defunct witticisms:

White's granddaughter Martha White ... quoted from a letter White wrote in 1981: "You might be amused to know that Strunk and White was adapted for a ballet production recently. I didn't get to the show, but I'm sure Will Strunk, had he been alive, would have lost no time in reaching the scene, to watch dancers move gracefully to his rules of grammar."

Heaven forfend.

[via Chris Waigl at Serendipity, who points out that "Dadaism was a reaction to utter despair"]

[Update 10/30/2005: here's a link to a page describing a performance of the song cycle at the NYPL.]

Posted by Mark Liberman at October 19, 2005 08:18 PM