Saturday, January 7, 2012

Romantic Symphony

You’d arrived at a time in your young life when teachers had begun presenting educational materials to you in terms of ages.  In rapid succession you’d been shuttled through Ice, Stone, and Bronze Ages.  Because you grew up in California, you had to take the tour of the Spanish Settlers Age, but then the bus stopped at the Transcendental Age long enough for you to make some connections between certain nineteenth-century individuals and altered, unconventional states of awareness.

In the most relative of terms, a girl named Pauline was covering alternate states of awareness within the crowded hallways of Fairfax High School and your body.  You knew enough to appreciate these changes and the portents of this awareness.  You did not know the techniques and psychology to bring this transformation to Pauline’s attention with any hope of her cooperation.

You were seventeen, well into your final semester at Fairfax High School, when your teacher of music appreciation said one afternoon, “I think you need to hear this.”  She paused to let the need impress itself on us, knowing many of us were not likely to listen to teachers as intently as they might have wished.  “You are all of The Romantic Age.  There are things you ought to experience at this age.”

Again thoughts of Pauline who, it was true, had allowed enough cooperation to expand your imagination, if not your actual experience.

At the time of these events, the 78-rpm vinyl recording was the most prevalent medium for musical reproduction.  The ”this” of which the teacher spoke in terms of you needing to be aware of it, was The Romantic Symphony, Number Two, Opus 30, in D-Flat Minor, by Howard Hansen, an American Composer, still in fact living.   When she placed the stylus on the record to play the first movement, the moderato, you were transfixed to the point of forgetting your aching preoccupation with Pauline.

The teacher was quite right; this was the time for you to hear The Romantic Symphony.  At this age, you listened to music for its unabashed emotionalism and sentimentality, its guileless luxuriating in the exploration of being in love with everything in any way suggestive of romantic focus.  You would soon be told you needed to read the works of Thomas Wolfe with all deliberate speed and due diligence before age eighteen got away from you.

You listened to Howard Hansen’s symphony to the point where it became the sound track for your dreams in which you made sense of Pauline’s body. You read Look Homeward, Angel, you read Of Time and the River, You Can’t Go Home Again, and The Web and the Rock, as though they had been written to show you how to effect your own breakthrough into the serious revelation of feeling, time, and place.  There were no surprises in the Howard Hansen or the Thomas Wolfe.  Seventeen and eighteen are not ages for seeking surprise.  Seventeen- and eighteen-year-old lads were as much able to deal with surprises as you were able to cope with Pauline.

The Romantic Symphony, Number two, became a permanent fixture even though, you soon met and had your head turned by Maurice Ravel’s ballet suite for Daphnis and Chloe, which indeed had surprises of theme and tone and harmony.  You also met Ursula, who had surprises.  So did Diane, who introduced you to music you never thought you’d be able to abide.  And Janet, and Gail, and, of course, the wrong Louise, which is to say the splendid young lady you’d come to believe was the Louise who was reported to have a serious crush on you.

Through this exploration of your own romanticism, you’d been led to such transcendental adventures as the blues, which put a perspective of consequence on romanticism gone wanting, then to be-bop, which was a new way of hearing old romanticism.

Nearly twenty years later, during which time you’d more or less forgotten about Howard Hansen and The Romantic Symphony, you’d become what Publishers’ Weekly referred to as one of the youngest editors in chief in trade publishing, you had occasion to meet Pauline again.  She was the attorney for an associate of your publisher.  She looked every bit an attorney; you were certain you looked to be the you of The Romantic Symphony. “You really had it for me, didn’t you?”  It was not by any means a question; it was an acknowledgment.

As you were driving, miles and years away, yesterday, you chanced to turn on the radio to a classical music station.  You quickly recognized the animato and largamente sections of the third movement of The Romantic Symphony.  No surprises there.  The surprises came in waves of memory, of teen-aged yearning for, yes, of course, Pauline, but also for a voice of your own, a theme, a focus.  You of course thought of the girls you believed you loved and the atmosphere you carried about with you as you ventured headlong into the romanticism of your years.  You saw the things you thought you knew, the things you were so sure of then, and the growing awareness of how precious and enriching romanticism was to the person you were now.

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