“I don’t think I could write something every day in a blog,”my younger daughter who is one of my regular readers said on the phone yesterday. I reminded her that I have been doing this since before the term, “blog,” was in use. Originally I wanted to build a web site where I could have conversations with readers and friends. Now I have the site and blogging is a rage of many different kinds of writing but the conversation I have is most often with composers and poets I examine and listen to.
So be it.
On Monday my improvisations for ballet class left an odd taste in my mouth. I felt disconnected. Subsequently I dragged Schubert’s dances along yesterday and dropped a few in. This seemed to help even though composed music is not actually flexible enough to do the trick easily. In one combination (as the ballet people call it), I matched a little Schubert waltz to the rhythm outlined by the teacher. Then the teacher repeated the exercise at a much quicker speed. Although she had expressed approval of my use of the Schubert waltz, she suggested I might want to change the music. When I attempted the waltz at her speed, she pointed out that it was too slow. I just changed and improvised something appropriate. Much better.
Schubert has been on my mind. I am playing my way once again through his piano sonatas. I have recently played my way through Bach’s English suites for keyboard. I guess these are my conversations. Schubert glides quickly and satisfyingly (to me) into chords that surprise and melodies that stay with me. I play him even though critics have sometimes assigned his piano sonatas as so called “lesser works.” I still find them very satisfying.
I listened to a bit of this NPR interview with Joshua Bell yesterday. I found it “quaint” when Bell and the interviewer discussed his role as conductor from the first chair of the violin section. There has a been a bit of a move to break out of the constraint of the traditional conductor vs. orchestra set up of the 19th and 20th century. I find it exciting. But Bell seems locked in the idea that one person leads an orchestra.
I was reminded that it was Bell who several years ago unsuccessfully tried to busk in a subway station.
He is a great player. But in both cases he seem to be working from a weirdly naive point of view.
I have been reading in Musicking by the late Christopher G. Small. It’s sitting on my Kindle and I read in it once in a while.
I find his ideas reinforce some notions of my own, like the idea that music is more verb than noun… i.e. “it’s something you do.”
He also spends several chapters examining the orchestra concert situation in the late 20th century. He outlines a shrewd and careful examination of the actual roles of the participants (listeners who gain access through purchase of a ticket but are not allowed any role but the one of passive consumer, expert symphony players who disdain the audience’s taste even as they willingly perform the music chosen, conductors who lead and composers who provide the notes to be played). He also mentions context as determining a large part of the meaning of the music that performers and listeners expect.
In Small observations I think he had Joshua Bell’s number. In the first case, it would seem to me that the whole celebrity conductor thing is expanding to include other ways to do music, especially when the Western tradition eases its stranglehold on how we think of music. Bell seems stuck in the past here. And as far as context, I wasn’t surprised that one of the finest players in the world was treated with indifference on the street. I continue to find that the quality of both the music being played and its interpretation is something that listeners need some guidance on otherwise they are likely to ignore it.
You know, like in church.