Have your ever heard the music of the Altiplano, the high plateaus of the Andes Mountains in Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador? It’s haunting music, usually played only on a flute, the simplest of instruments. Sometimes, it’s accompanied by a small drum, played with bare hands. It is music that belongs in its place: eerie, sad and able to carry through the thin air to reach the people who herd llamas and alpacas. There are no words – at least, I don’t think there are words – because what more can you add to this haunting music? It is its own poetry.
Think for a minute about the sound of bagpipes, yet another intensely regional sound. Again, this music can be somewhat mournful – which is why it has found a place at funerals in recent times. For all its squeaks and squawks, it is somehow a very dignified music, meant to express the wonder and beauty of the Highlands as well as the longing for home. Again, no words needed.
There are no words – at least, I don’t think there are words – because what more can you add to this haunting music?
It fascinates me to think of music (some call it “ethnic”) as having found a place and then be able to transmit the heart and soul of that place to others who may never have seen the Andes or the Highlands of Scotland. Some of our most famous composers in the West have also written music that speaks of a place. Think of Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, Sibelius – each so strongly identified with a place and yet able to engage our 21st century American imaginations.
The beauty of all of this music, from whatever place or century, is its universality. Just as it’s entirely possible we don’t all see the same color we describe as “red” or “blue,” it’s entirely possible that we don’t hear the same music. We can track the notes, we may even be able to hum along, but once the music reaches the corners of our brains, something happens to allow us to respond to it.
It’s pure magic to sit before a group of master musicians, with their instruments, and listen to them transmitting the idea of a place, a time, and emotion.
How does music transcend place – and time, for that matter? It’s pure magic to sit before a group of master musicians, with their instruments, and listen to them transmitting the idea of a place, a time, and emotion. Perhaps it’s a palace on the Rhine, a grand Austrian ballroom, a hall hung with amber in St Petersburg, ancient China, a milonga in Argentina. Perhaps it’s a place you’ve seen and it is as though it’s right before your eyes as you listen. The music can transport you there, just as certainly as the sound of bagpipe can carry you to the Highlands or the mystical sound of the simple flute can lift you to the Altiplano. Evocative? But more! You are allowed to sense and understand what the composer and the musicians sense and understand.
Wouldn’t you enjoy an afternoon’s journey with the San Antonio Chamber Music? The fare is only $25, the seats are all first class and you will find the trip delightful.