Thursday, September 25, 2014

Another World

Well, that title's no good--it's the name of a TV soap opera and a video game. Maybe I should title this post "The Real World". No, wait, that's another TV series on MTV and one I am delighted to say I have never watched. Isn't it a reality show? What I was trying to capture turns out to be nothing but a cliché. Or is it? Here's the idea.

As I have said before, music is like a separate world. Musicians are like people who live in another world and just visit the "real" world. This is why it is so hard to talk to drummers. Other people whom I am pretty sure live in another world are mathematicians. But what does this mean? Speaking for myself, it means that a lot of what gets most people excited or upset doesn't bother me too much. I'm not so anxious over troubles like accelerating hair loss, what my annual income might be or what I am going to have for dinner. I am concerned about things like noisy neighbors or people that are late for appointments because that seems to impinge on the inner musical world.

The musical world has continents and hemispheres and islands just like the "real" world. One of these continents is called "Mozart". There is a whole hemisphere that consists of Bach and his sons and another that is all the other Baroque composers. Beethoven is almost a planet to himself, or perhaps the equivalent to the Pacific Ocean. There are large islands like Domenico Scarlatti and small ones like Russian balalaika music. There are distant exotic isles like Rumanian gypsy music or the player piano music of Conlon Nancarrow. There are weird little suburbs like Captain Beefheart or polka music. But you get the idea.

Lots of people live in this world, though they may have a wildly different map than I do. Perhaps for some, Beethoven is a weird little suburb and Captain Beefheart a whole ocean. But I would question the skills of that mapmaker. Some find it easier to enter into this world than others. It is easy for me, just as it is to be captured by the atmosphere of a novel or movie. As a young man practicing the guitar endlessly, my poor mother would call out to me asking what vegetable I wanted for supper and would get only grunts or "sure" or "ok" for an answer. Sorry, I'm in that other world, could you please leave a message?

This other world might be more familiar than the "real" one. I know the twists and turns and swells and falls of the Symphony No. 5 of Beethoven much better than I do the streets and avenues of most of the cities I have lived in. I am closer to the emotional landscape of a Mozart Piano Concerto or Shostakovich String Quartet than to most of the people I know. When I used to move from one apartment to another I would always unpack my guitar and stereo and recordings first, then the kitchen stuff, my clothes and so on. Sometimes there would be boxes I never did unpack.

My closest friends in this other world are those artists who make music the most vividly, people like Nikolaus Harnoncourt, who conducts Beethoven like no-one else, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, who sings Schubert as he has never been sung, Grigory Sokolov, who plays anything on the piano with astonishing depth and Hilary Hahn who is a great violinist, in that tiny club of great violinists that includes Jascha Heifetz and very few others.

But I don't want to depict the musical world as being without problems: there are lots of those! For example, there are poor musicians who are technically incompetent, musically dense or just soulless careerists (but pretend otherwise, of course). There are dull, boring composers, or ones who just want to bully the audience. There are evil business managers and bad instrument builders and crappy publicists and board members possessed by demons. There are zombie bass-players and oboists who quack like ducks. But far worse than all of these, there are billionaire hip-hop celebrities and people who let their cellphones ring during the quiet bits of symphony concerts. I'm sure that there is a special place in Hell for them, way down where it is cold and icy.

So, the musical world is just like the real world only better. There is really nothing like this in the "real" world:


David said...

Bryan, thanks for your verbal encapsulation of the "other" world. Rachmaninov's op 16, Six Moments musicaux, provided the sound scape as I read your description and proved the truth of your words.

Bryan Townsend said...

That's what I should have called it! The "other" world. And thanks for the musical suggestion. I have never listened to those pieces so I will look for them the next chance I get.