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Our Theme - June/July 2022

Ebony and Ivory – forever linked in contrast and balance

Ebony and Ivory – forever linked in contrast and balance

Musing on our theme, Ebony and Ivory, I see my hesitant young fingers on the piano, idly wondering who decided to position the blacks and the whites just so and what would happen if I could scramble the keys around. Today I’m wise enough to know that, had I mixed them up in childish mischief, I would have destroyed the delicate balance that is piano music.

It is the question of balance that keeps me musing. Our theme denotes contrast, balance and nature. Black and white. Dark and light. Wood and bone. Talking interior design, it could translate to starkness and softness. In the spiritual realm, to sin and purity. Opposites they are and seemingly in balance like the seesaws of childhood.

Seesaws. Municipal parks. Fathers. Ah! Father’s Day is on the calendar, too. Some fathers and mothers are, these days, ebony and ivory/ivory and ebony: modern marriages having to find their own personal balance in a largely conservative country.

In art there is the famous Italian word chiaroscuro, meaning ‘light-dark’, where contrasting light and shade are used to dramatic effect, balancing natural light and dark surfaces. Think Vermeer (The Milkmaid) and Leonardo da Vinci’s anatomy sketches.

From art to music: Andrew Lloyd Webber’s beguiling Music of the Night from The Phantom of the Opera is an enthralling piece aimed at enticing the female character to stay below in the sewer with the Phantom. It glorifies darkness: “Turn your face away from the garish light of day, turn your thoughts away from cold, unfeeling light… and listen to the music of the night!” Despite his persuasion, (“…open up your mind, let your fantasies unwind, in this darkness that you know you cannot fight…”) the Phantom loses her to his competitor. A song sung with such fervour you can imagine giving way to the forces of darkness.

Life. Is it really black or white, right or wrong? What about the mid-ground in between? Modern, rational individuals prefer and allow more grey areas – a kind of blurred compromise for when society hurls new concepts at us and the choices are embarrassingly difficult. Is choosing grey an opt-out? You decide.

Meanwhile, a road trip through the desert to the coast revealed a signboard pointing into an Adolph Jentsch landscape: EBONY. A railway siding, not visible to the passing eyes, where in 1915 at the start of World War I the South African troops won victory over the governing Germans. The latter had built makeshift stone ramparts overlooking the Khan Valley, later photographed by historian Klaus Dierks. At least they could watch the play of light and shade while awaiting the invaders.

Best of all in this desert landscape, in this wonderful year of rain, was the yellow grass waving at passers-by. A perfect picture of Ebony and Ivory.

Christine Stoman

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