Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Landour Morning....

Woke up to a beautiful morning. The sky is deep blue and the temperature is in the brisk forty’s. The flowers are still blooming with their Spring vigor. Reminds me of “Landour, Mussoorie” April mornings. From Prospect Point, at the top of the hillside, we would walk down the zig-zag mile path to Woodstock School. We would be dressed for the chill mountain air. The twenty or so minutes it took to reach our destination was enough exertion to stimulate the best wide awake class room ready to learn mental state.

It is a little different here...there are no mountains and no deodar conifers to perfume the air nor mock orange blossoms. (We had a mock orange at Idavere in Roanoke and mountains all around).Still, I relish the expectancy that seems to hover in the air on these special days. Later the sun will warm everything just up to comfortable. That would be around 10:30 when the school had its mid morning break. The box wallahs would be gathered in front of Parker Hall waiting for the students to rush out to buy sweet goodies from them. For a few minutes the world seemed suspended in timeless perfection, when the Lord might look down from above and pronounce his creation “good”. I thought about all this while taking the trash out to the garbage bin this morning.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Playing String Quartets,,,

I was first introduced to string quartet literature by Harvey Krasney and Rex Britten
at Virginia Music Camp. They were on the faculty and I was a cabin director. Hearing this beautiful music one night, after hours, and findng the quartet playing, I expressed an interest and they invited me to bring my fiddle and join them the next night. Think we read through some Mozart quartets.

Several years later it was my good fortune to be eligible to attend the symphonic workshops at Orkney Springs sponsored by the American Symphony Orchestra League. There were many fine string players in attendance and informal chamber music sessions were squeezed in between rehearsals. Availed myself of every opportunity to play quartets over the ten years I attended these summer institutes.

About the same time John Hitchings, Bill Heffernan, Ivor Brown, and I organized the "Roanoke String Quartet". We were members of the Roanoke Symphony and met several times a month and actually performed two or three formal concerts. We also may have played a few weddings. Somewhat later this group dissolved and for many years the only quartet experience was whatever I could arrange with my best public school students.

Then Joyce Foster, a student in my first years at Patrick Henry HS and Carol Sawyer an adult cello student at Roanoke College invited me to be a part of their chamber music endeavors. We enjoyed rehearsing whatever literature we could play and even did some weddings together. Then Lib and I moved to Richmond...

Doug Kellner, the strings teacher at Midlothian HS advised me to audition for the Richmond Philharmonic as a means to make new string friends. I did and was accepted.
During our Christmas performances that first year, Christina Jennings (cellist in the RPO) invited me to a chamber music gathering at her home. And from that time on I
continued accepting invitations to play quartets, quintets, whatever she was interested in pursuing. We read through a significant portion of the quartet literature and once in a while we would tackle a big one such as the Mozart Clarinet quintet in A and a Brahms sextet. When we met as a quartet it was Lani Wisner (violin) me on violin, Ben Warner on viola, and Christina on cello.

When Francis Church who was a cellist in the RPO wanted to know if I was interested in playing some string quartets I couldn’t say “By all means!” fast enough. By this time I had been playing chamber music with Christina’s group (mostly quartets) for about a year, so I felt comfortable joining another group. I’m so indebted to Christina for getting the ball rolling. We continue to meet and explore the wonderful chamber music genre several times a month.

We four men met at Bel Air Presbyterian Church usually on Mondays, Dave played
viola and Larry played 1st violin. Sometimes we were joined by Lenore when we read through Mozart quintets. It soon became obvious that Francis had a wide repertoire of string literature with which he was acquainted and that if I were going to add to the group it would take a significant practice time commitment. After all, this was what I had hoped would happen in Roanoke and did for a few years before family and other commitments dissolved our group.

Then Larry had to undergo a back operation and a lengthy convalescence. Sandi, a delightful lady was called in to play second violin, and it was my happy task to play 1st. This was a new challenge for me as my position in orchestras and quartets has been 2nd violin or viola. I had to practice twice the time to learn the high notes, the fast notes, the melodies that a first violin is privileged to play. During some of this time I performed in the 1st violin section of the RPO. I definitely put on another layer of technical skills. We also looked at some composers whose quartets I had never played such as Grieg, Shostakovich, and Ravel. There were also many standard works from Beethoven, Mozart, and Mendelssohn that I read for the first time.

There was also a second quartet that was convened by Francis on Thursdays sometimes in the afternoon. Again, different folks and different repertoire. Last year Sandi got together a chamber music weekend in April where a number of quartets formed to study and perform the literature as well as together as a string orchestra. It was my pleasure to take part in that activity. The Richmond area just has many competent and gracious musicians.

Why this recital of my musical journey? Simply to encourage older string musicians to actively keep up their skills, to meet regularly and grow musically and learn to know people who have usually led fascinating lives. What I began in Roanoke I thought was never going to go forward, there just wasn’t a large enough base to make it happen. Then we moved to the Richmond area, and through the mysterious moving of the Spirit I began to encounter the people who would help me be useful as a musician again. Many would say it was just “luck”. Those of you who read my blog know that I see a Hand guiding my life. The longer I live the more I’m convinced of this truth.

Christian musicians have been instrumental in providing the contacts and opportunities that have kept me going. My grateful thanks to all of you who in any way have had a part in my happy musical and spiritual journey!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Music..some ramblings...

Elevator music, recorded music in restaurants, the incessant jingle-jangle in mall stores, people with earplugs piping in their own tonal requirements are a few signs of the pervasiveness of this addiction the human race has for music. Musical genres are a rainbow of national cultures and some are so different as to be nearly unintelligible from one country to another. An Indian friend once told my father that he just couldn’t get into western harmony...too many strands to follow. I find Native American drum and chant music fascinating, but difficult to understand in a similar opposite way.

There are ways to be open to the world’s expressions of this art. It was late at night and I was driving home from a meeting in a city several hours from home. Browsing the radio for something to keep me awake I came across a female choral group on a PBS station startlingly different from anything I’d ever encountered in my jaded musical life. The words weren’t English, there was a rich, strange harmony, but it wasn’t based on western models. Vocal production was highly nuanced from stringent and harsh to velvety seductive. Determined to play musical detective I ran through all the possibilities, except music from another world and could find no parallel. It held me in thrall as great art should and I eagerly awaited to hear the announcer tell the group’s name and ethnicity. It was the Bulgarian Woman’s Chorus . (Listen with your eyes closed and then with them open to have some inkling of what I was experiencing that night many years ago.)

Bulgaria, a small country with an ancient history of civilization mixing. European and Middle Eastern musical traditions colliding and competing and finally blending and forming a new color in music’s spectrum. What attracted me was the artistry, the precision of vocal attack, release, and timbre unanimity. It was obvious that what I was hearing was a finely honed and disciplined ensemble and the strangeness of it’s other architectures served only to make it more intriguing. I made a mental note to see if I could purchase their performance on CD’s and to my delight, the local music store was able to find and order it for me. Looking them up on “YouTube” was delighted to find them there also.

Which brings me to “YouTube”. What a repository of most anything that has ever been put on film! Since our move to Richmond I’ve been involved with a symphony and several string quartets. I needed to learn music that I had only heard of and quickly. Just barely knew that “YouTube” earlier computers were too slow to use this medium effectively. Early on I needed to know how a Brahm’s Sextet should sound. On the spur of the moment I entered it into my browser and voila, there were several complete performances to select from which to learn! Would never have thought it possible to find something so esoteric.

In American culture there is a sub strand of what I will designate as “youth music”. It is a whole universe and each devotee believes his group will last until the end of time. There are new ways to propagate these emanations and those that speak to the universal human condition may survive a generation or more. But there is so much common “ ham hocks and beans” with groups imitating each other that one has to listen long and arduously to discover the unusual and artistic. Perhaps this is the function of the late night PBS disc jockey to discover and promote the new and unusual.

Because of an early life in India, I encountered its music as a child before western music. I didn’t like western “geets” and so expressed my early preferences. That must have spurred my father to begin my violin lessons. He did let me learn how to play a few “tabla” rhythms and learn something about the techniques and esthetics associated with them. I’m indebted to his broad minded approach to all things musical. In my young adulthood I would hear a live concert by Ravi Shankar and several decades later attend a blend of East Meets West concert when his daughter, Anoushka, performed sitar ragas in Roanoke. I blogged about that event and invite you to read it, if you’re interested, on my blog “Garumchai” You will also find clips of Ravi and Anoushka performing on “YouTube”.

Many years ago there were rumors that symphonic music because it was “museum music” and expensive to reproduce would go the way of the dinosaurs. Interestingly that has not been the case. Yes, some orchestras may disband temporarily because of economic downturns, but just in my life time I have seen Virginia’s own growth of symphonies from three or four, one in each major metropolitan area to one on almost each university and college campus. There are a number of youth and volunteer symphonies and some of the richer public high schools have creditable orchestras of their own.

Because it begins its life in the human intellect, music continues to evolve in all its forms and threads The fine minds in each community are attracted to the live study and performance of their great music wherever they live.. Much of it is banal, but there will always be examples that dazzle from virtuosity or art. Great music has a long life span. Some of it seems capable of living as long as human life continues. Philosophers and rulers will continue to try to understand the place and function of music in our existence. There will always be the great debates about “The Mozart Effect” on one hand and the “ruining of this generation’s mind with degenerate music” on the other. Because music can be such an intimate art, it follows that at least some music is powerfully linked to courtship and sex, very basic human activities and interests. Hence the myriad love songs one encounters all over the world.

Music attends many other human functions. There is ceremonial music for worship and military functions. It helps celebrate marriages and eases the parting of death. It is the engine that energizes and inspires dance. Without music most of our entertainment media would be boring, it is the music that tells us what we should feel about what is about to happen. Good music, good food, good companions, and scintillating conversation is usually hoped for at dinner parties.

It is my great privilege to be able to make, teach, and use music. Do I relish silence sometimes? Absolutely!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Faith and Statistics....

We who are seekers and believers know to “live by faith”. Even the apostles who were near the initial events had to learn to discern and listen to the inner voice or look for “signs” they were moving their lives congruently with His will.

At different times in my own life there has been the experience of stepping out into a threatening situation in faith and finding a helping Hand in retrospect. I suspect Jesus in his finite form had the same doubts, especially in those awful moments when he felt the cold grip of death and all seemed lost causing him to cry out “My God, why have You forsaken me?”

Several years ago Lib and I momentarily lost control of our car on an icy West Virginia road. We were moving fast enough that had we run off the road or collided with another vehicle death or great injury was most probable. Thank goodness after a few fishtail moments the car found pavement to right us and we were out of harms way. We gave thanks for nothing more than a bad scare. We also learned how quickly one’s condition could change! That God had more plans for us grew into our thinking.

My youngest brother, a survivor of the Vietnam conflict, believes more in statistics. He had seen good friends die on each side in horrible ways and came to believe that it was just a matter of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. To die is humanity’s universal lot. In war perhaps one is more inclined to believe that statistics governs all. One can’t change the laws of physics, but just perhaps there are other operative factors. Survivors always seem to ask, “Why me?” Believers and seekers dimly see purpose for each life and how it plays out. Scripture points to
that with story after story and one can argue with God, but there it is.

A few days ago this younger brother was rammed by a tour bus and his van totaled. His own words were “ I’m amazed that I’m still here!” Many remarked on a social network what a loss it would have been had he been killed. One even asked jestingly if “ he was bullet proof?” We live by opposite belief systems but just sometimes the Source takes the proverbial baseball bat and makes His presence felt most forcefully. Was it just statistics and physics or a tap on the shoulder from a Friend saying, “There is meaning in all life and your’s isn’t over yet! I have need to work out my plan through what remains of your life span. Get a grip!”