Ostinato

In the ever present quest to ensure that we all align words with action, I've taken some time to meditate on certain things. Oftentimes, this meditation involves music, so I've been focusing on one of my favorite tropes: the ostinato.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines "ostinato" as "continuously repeated melodic or rhythmical figure or phrase. Also in extended use." Since it's a musical term, it's clearly Italian. It comes from the Latin obstinatus for obstinate or persistent. It's Brad Mehldau's left hand in his cover of Nick Drake's "River Man". It's Antony's "Brutus is an honorable man" in his eulogy of Caesar. It's Maurice Ravel's "Boléro." It is that thing that keeps going on. It is fluidity and ongoing, cyclical, and yet it is referred to as obstinate. It's persistent. It's stubborn.

The ostinato is just a nuance of the African tradition of call-and-response. The theme is stated and the audience can follow along and even take part, if need be. When the ostinato occurs in discourse, it stands as a strong persuasive technique. When it rises and falls at the right time in the right structure, it can move the reader, the listener, or the overall audience to emotion or action or whatever the author intends. The purpose of the ostinato is clear as a tool of persuasion. It's no wonder why it's defined as persistent and stubborn.

Yet we have an age in which people don't follow this idea in rhetoric but personify this trope in action. The President of the United States has spend the last eight years blocking divergent ideas and promoting an agenda, holding to the rhetoric of his speechwriters and his own ideas with little waver while still seeming cacophonous in his actions and the direction of the nation. Both candidates willing to take his place hold to their soundbites on the campaign trail and in their major speeches but still manage conform their ideas to polls on a weekly basis and neither to come out much stronger by the end of Friday's debate. They managed to be both stubborn in their race and not stubborn at the same time.

Our nation is in turmoil. We face a mortgage crisis, an energy crisis, a stock market crisis, a social security crisis, a health care crisis, a Homeland safety crisis, and Lord only knows what else. While the dire state of our country has a clear ostinato, it appears more as a crescendo into chaos.

We have a new generation focused intently on consumerism who may very soon have to suddenly shift this paradigm for we may not be able to consume as we once did. And yet, we now are emerging into a reality in which this generation is making children of its own. Will they hold to the same mentality of their mothers and fathers? Will they believe they are as special and coddled as everyone else? Or will they learn of loss and strengthen because of it in this brave new era that is the 21st Century? Will they have the wherewithal to be stubborn?

Thus, we are facing a new era. We are looking to the ideas we have developed in the 20th Century and trying to figure what we can bring with us into this new age. We are asking if our market strategies can hold steady in this Internet age. We are asking if we can continue to coddle our children if they may be sent off to Iraq or Afghanistan or even Iran. We are asking if we can still maintain the angst we held before in our art. We are asking if we even have the right to be stubborn in the 21st Century.

A new age is dawning and our way of life is crumbling around us. The housing crisis is bringing about a death to suburbia and our idea of the neighborhood is changing. Our dependence on oil is becoming more glaringly apparent everyday and our idea about transportation is changing. Our approach to media consumption is evolving and now our market strategies for television and movies are changing.

We are soon to see the dawn of the 21st century but first we must wander through the darkness. And we must do so while casting aside our stubbornness. Perhaps this is the time for us to discard the ostinato.

What's a jazz lover to do?

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