Tuesday, July 06, 2004

I suffer a hallucination...

I am an amateur essayist. I'm also completely disorganized and tend to loose things. In an attempt to keep my essays in one place, I'll occasionally place one on this site. I wrote these one a few years ago after playing a wedding job in a place called Beaver Creek....

Usually I don't look forward to string quartet wedding jobs; the repertoire is, year after year, mostly the same (Pachelbel Canon, Entrance of the Queen of Sheba, Trumpet Voluntary, etc.) and the job I played last Saturday in Beaver Creek promised to be no different. You would think that the Queen of Sheba, poor girl, would get tired of it all. The same music, the same rural "Cream City Brick" church in the same placid little rural town -- and (how could it be)? the very same couple walking down the aisle. Was it possible that Todd and Heather were getting married yet again? Enough is enough you would think. The problem for me here was clearly that I was suffering from a case of WJHS: "Wedding Job Hallucination Syndrome." It had to happen sooner or later. But I had to keep reminding myself: there is some good news. According to experts this malaise can be fought or at least postponed. NO...I had never been in the township of Beaver Creek before. NO ...
This was the first time I had ever seen Heather and Todd. NO... This is the first time I had played the third violin part to Pachelbel's celebrated Canon.

But here is the strange thing. Despite this panic attack, I came away from that church and Beaver Creek thinking that the wedding job was really one of the most remarkable experience of my musical life. How could this be? Certainly the level of musicianship was solid, but that's not enough to make it seem like I had come face to face with St. Cecilia herself. Although I hadn't played with these particular people for quite some time, I remembered them to be all pleasant people and expressive musicians as well. It was as if we were all good friends who hadn't seen each other for a long time and here, in the middle of nowhere (or "East Jesus" as my dear parents used to say) we quite unexpectedly found ourselves, after many years of going our separate ways, together again.

So the musical part of the occasion was nice enough. But certainly not nice enough to make it as memorable as it was. What was going on? There had to be more to it -- something else I couldn't quite get. But then in measure 48 of "Entrance of the Queen Of Sheba," it happened. For it was precisely in that measure, during a convenient rest, that I looked up and saw her. The Queen of Sheba herself. And she wasn't your typical Queen either. This one was not Elizabeth Taylor with lots of cheap ornamental gold jewelry. This one was different: She looked like she was recently arrived from Ethiopia -- and, better still, she wasn't marching. She was dancing. There was joy in her every part as she slowly made her entrance from the back the church exactly three feet above the aisle. Elizabeth Taylor this was not. This was more Odetta than anything. Measure 48 and there was the Queen. Honey...what took you so long?

And if all this wasn't exciting enough, by about measure 62 I made another discovery. She was not the only one. Four others people in that church were dancing as well. It was us; the string quartet. We had come many miles from our homes to Beaver Creek so that we could boogie, in our stilted subrban style, with the Queen.

And we had come to Beaver Creek to dance with each other as well. For do not musicians, (I have come to think) and especially string players, when a certain consanguinity is achieved, become dancers? The retaking of bows in unison, the slight and subtle swaying in time to the tactus of the music, the eye contact shared that helps make a physical gestures happen at exactly the right moment so that the motion itself becomes significant and even radiant. And when we play music do not the fingerboards of our instruments change into dance floors? It is not only feet that can pick up and move. Fingers can do it too. And do. And in Beaver Creek no less. If it can happen there, can't it happen in Peoria as well?

There will someday come a time, I have often worried, that even the most
sublime string quartet will fail to move me. But now I have a different,
more reassuring knowledge. Because even if I know exactly what musically is going to come next in "Death and The Maiden" or Opus 76 #5 , and I don't look forward to it for the mundane reason that I have heard it so many times before, I will still be able to find joy in the dance of the quartet, in my own dance, in the dance of the moment. The music might not be new, but the dance always is.

Should we try to be singers when we play our sonatas and trios? Perhaps. It's nice to think of Chaliapin, or Buddy Holly or Alfred Deller or Melissa Manchester as we go about our work. And we can learn much from them. But there is always that frustrating understanding that no matter how close we come and how well we phrase, they always did it better than we ever could. The greatness of Heifetz was that he was Jascha and not Buddy. Buddy Heifetz just doesn't sound right.

But as dancers we always make it to the church on time. We can always come from Sheba, or from anywhere, and, exactly three feet above Heather's future mother-in-law, start to dance.


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