I want to share with you today my favorite line from “The New Ashmolean Marching Society and Students’ Conservatory Band.” Yesterday, the Plaza Singers–a choral group at the Senior Center where I live– sang it and some other songs from failed Broadway plays.
To really appreciate the line, you have to grasp the perspective of the narrator. When he knows the band is coming he admits “the bright gleam of pride is in my eye.” Further, “the old college spirit is upon me and I shout every time at the top of my voice.” And “to me,” he summarizes, the finest in the land is the New Ashmolean Marching Society and Students’ Conservatory Band.”
He mentions some problems. There is, he admits, “a suggestion in the oboe of the sound of a hound beneath the moon; the “trombone’s a little independent” and so on.
So we know where the narrator is coming from. Even so, he is forced to admit that there are some who feel otherwise. It is the character of their critique that caught my attention. Here it is.
If you’re analytical, sensitive, or critical, you’ll like it more the farther back you stand
Note the three traits that he admits might make the experience problematic. Being “analytical” will not help, although he did make that invidious remark about the oboe. Being “sensitive” might also be a difficulty. It is a dysphonic marching band after all. And finally, being “critical” might predispose you toward offhand remarks.
There is something you can do, however, and this is what I like best about this line. You can keep your distance. In fact, if you have any of these three disabling difficulties, the farther away you stand the better.
But what do you get for taking these precautions? You will like it more than you would if you did not take the precautions. In the language of this payoff, two words stand out. They are “like” and “more.” As agile as the other language is, it cannot accommodate “like.” For people who tend to be ASC (analytical/sensitive/critical) there is no question of liking it. Possibly there is a question of surviving it.
But not only might you like it if you take the proper precautions, there is the chance that you will like it more. The more space you allow to buffer yourself from the experience, the more you will like it.
It is that final turn—not “like” so much as “more” that makes the whole lyric so sweet.