“The sheer mastery of the Ring, the sustaining of such an imposing achievement at a white heat of inspiration for something like 20 hours of music, is among the most amazing achievements of the human spirit.”
Michael Kennedy, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music
It's Ring Cycle time in NY: Wagner's series of 4 mythic, musical masterworks are being done at the Met over the next two months, and we need your help. How do we explain Wagner's "Ring" to someone wondering what all the fuss is about?
Well, condensing the story of the ring - its monsters and gods and siblings and lovers (and sibling lovers) - oh, and its music - is a challenge worth taking. At first, we thought we'd ask for 6 word capsules. This has become a fun thing at the annual South By Southwest Festival, where writers will attempt to give you a 6-word description of as many of the 2000 bands there as possible. It seems to have its inspiration in those short movie summaries you see in the newspaper tv listings. ("Jaws - fishermen gonna need a bigger boat"... That sort of thing.)
Now, depending on where you got your knowledge of Wagner from, a capsule summary could look like one of these:
"Bugs Bunny eludes Elmer Fudd. Again."
(In the classic Bugs Bunny cartoon “What’s Opera Doc?” Bugs and Elmer and the gang romp through Wagner’s world, with Elmer singing “Kill Da Wabbit” to the tune of the “Ride of the Valkyries.”)
"Crazed cinema colonel scares Viet Cong."
(Perhaps the most famous scene in the film Apocalypse Now, when Robert Duval’s character blasts “Ride of the Valkyries” from his helicopters as they attack the Viet Cong “because it scares the s*** out of them.”)
"Pin ears to wall; buy Maxell."
(Somewhat more obscure. Maxell had a ubiquitous ad campaign for their cassette tapes that showed a guy in a chair in front of his stereo with his hair blowing straight back from the force of the music. The TV ad, inevitably, used “Ride of the Valkyries” as that forceful sound.)
"I'm confused. When does Frodo appear?"
(Referring to the similarities between JRR Tolkien’s fantasy books The Lord Of The Rings and Wagner’s Ring cycle. Both drew on Norse and Icelandic mythology, and while some Ring nuts can get all smug and superior when anyone mentions Tolkien, the fact is that some of us actually got into Wagner because it sounded like Tolkien’s world set to music.)
Then we decided Wagner's Ring in 6 words, while a fun and potentially funny idea, was also impossible. So we toyed with the idea of giving you the length of a tweet - 140 characters, including spaces, punctuation, and smileys. But some of us - okay, one of us - is getting a little sick and tired of tweets and Twitter, so we finally hit upon the haiku idea. And that is your challenge. Summarize this astonishing act of human spirit, 20 hours of sustained inspiration, in a 3-line, 17-syllable form. Tomorrow we’ll read some of our favorites on the air.