Monday, October 7, 2013

Old Friends, New Books, and as Yet Unwritten New Songs

 Sometimes, old friends surprise you in ways you'd not expected.  You've developed a habit of completing sentences for them and watching with pleasure as they complete sentences for you--even ones where you'd thought you were out on a reach of discovery.

In many ways, such friends are paradigms for the way you judge other acquaintances, prior to that wonderful merging chemistry where you find yourself in that committed relationship of friendship.

Music works that way as well for you.  Things you've heard for most of your life ease through your awareness, causing you to remember the who and what and where of when you first became friends with that music.  You recall the sense of secrecy you experienced when you understood that the song "Donna Lee" played first by Charlie Parker, was, of all things, the chord changes on "Back Home in Indiana," and that Tad Dameron's "composition," called "Hot House" was the changes on "What Is This Thing Called Love?"  Which led you to figure out for yourself the number Sonny Criss and Teddy Edwards performed was the changes on the old Gershwin standard, "Oh, Lady, Be Good."

You could not and still cannot read music beyond a basic ability to recognize durations, beats, measures, but somehow the horn trio in Beethoven's Eroica Symphony sent goose bumps emerging along your arms and back and the idea of a freaking bassoon carrying on a conversation with an entire orchestra caused you to swear some kind of fierce loyalty to Beethoven and screw Mozart or the moderns.  

But when you heard the adagio from Mozart's Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra, in A Major, you realized all the listening to Beethoven had prepared you for this moment, this time when you felt your heart broken.  ABA, but not the usual A for orchestra, B for soloist arrangement.  The adagio begins with the solo instrument, laying out its investigation of the human soul, singing inspiration to itself, seeming to become voices of acute sadness and heart rending inspiration, then allowing the soloist the classical music equivalent of a solo, the cadenza.  

And isn't Maurice Ravel's The Mother Goose Suite your musical equivalent of comfort food?  Doesn't the segment built around the dance pattern Forlaine, lift you to plateaus of pleasure you spend hours trying to express in words?   And isn't that what you feel you ought to be spending your time at?   Well, perhaps the solo piano transcription of Ravel's The Waltz provides mischief as well as comfort and inspiration.

The same kind of old friend-ness works with books, the familiarity with the old allowing you to see secrets within them to the point where you can find places in new books and in some cases entire new books to begin that long road of committed relationship.  If it is an exaggeration to say you've read Huckleberry Finn five hundred times, the exaggeration is not far enough away from real to be be serious.  You would think to be tired of it, to take it for granted, to see it as something you feel the awareness of nostalgia for rather than the passion of attraction.

It seems now that for every new book you read, your memory draws you back to some old friend from the days where you read as though your life depended on it, triggering the memory of a scene or passage or an entire character to the point where you have to look the book in the eyes once again.  Your life no longer depends on your reading, you've learned at least that much.  Your life depends on the work you are able to manage, and the voice, cadence, vocabulary, and insights you've stored as a result of reading such books and from listening to such music.

Your life depends on conversations with the old friends who remain, the memories of those who have gone, and the anticipation of experiences with those friendships in progress.  Your life depends on how much Ravel and Mozart and Wayne Shorter and Jimmy Giuffre you can hear, and how many freed-up, unselfconscious sentences you can bring up.

It is not lost on you why you value the solo piano transcription of Ravel's La Valse.  Not for the harmony and humor and inventiveness and satire alone, but for the difficulty of performing it.  The fact of its difficulty, even for you who cannot play Chopsticks on the piano, is no guarantee of its resonant beauty, but the performance speaks to the sort of statements you wish to make and devote your practice to being able to approach.

The best you can do is to attempt to approach this state of being able to pluck fireflies and lightning bugs and the occasional mocking bird from the skies, then choreograph them into a story where one of them, fly, bug, or bird expresses a sentiment in a way that makes you cry.  The reader will see that, then wonder if the tears are for joy or sorrow, perhaps even which came first.

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