How do you feel about summer? Not the sweltering, where’s-the-next-air-conditioned-space summer, but perhaps the summers you remember from your past . What about the summers that the song, “Summertime” bring to mind? You know: “Summertime, and the living is easy…” That kind of summer. Think, for a minute, about the summers that included, perhaps, a beach, lazy surf, sandy towels, sand castles that were presented to the tide and, of course, seashells. Is there a better occupation than strolling along an early morning beach, eyes downward, checking out the treasures the night tides have brought ashore?
You might have surmised by now that I am deep in beach reveries – and why not? It’s summer, after all! With Debussy’s beautiful melody in the recesses of my mind, I would like to share with you my very favorite beach reminiscence.
I was living in Brazil, a country whose coast is decorated with some of the world’s most beautiful beaches. Specifically, I’m remembering the beaches closer to Sao Paulo than Rio, not the giddy revelry of Copacabana nor the bikini exhibitionists of Ipanema. No, the beaches I’m thinking about have wonderful, silly names like Ubatuba. There are no – or few – tourists and sometimes, no one at all. The water is an unbelievable aquamarine (hence, the name of that gorgeous stone from Brazil) and it is just the right temperature for an utterly lazy summer float. The sand is golden and, if you’re lucky, studded with sand dollars and little bright pink slipper shells.
I went over to say hello to her mother. I asked where they were from and, indeed, the answer was, “Chile.” But she added that they were living in Brazil, owing to her husband’s military assignment. Friends had told them about this wonderful beach on the kind edge of the Atlantic, and they decided to come see it. Of course, Blanca Stella was very excited about a day at the beach. It had been a long time since they’d been to a beach, and in Chile, the beaches tend to be very rocky and the water very cold. So here they were – at “my” beach, but I was glad to share it with the family of beautiful, ecstatic Blanca Stella.
As the day settled into one of those bright, golden days that only happen on a Brazilian beach, picnics were eaten and everyone settles into a post-prandial languor of listening to the tide and watching the sea birds stitch the water. Everyone, of course, except for Blanca Stella – and she wanted to run back to the water. By now, her black hair was spangled with sand but she still resisted any attempt at a hat. I offered to walk along the beach with her. I was hoping we would see a little rivulet down the beach a way where I knew there was a colony of sand crabs. I was thinking everyone likes to watch sand crabs as they scurry into their holes, then cautiously peek out, then ever so carefully emerge to grab a pebble or a bit of sand. I think sand crabs are wonderful, but Blanca Stella lost interest at crab three or four. So we headed back towards her family, but were stopped in our tracks by a conch shell that the tide had just brought in. Still shining from the water, it was a rare jewel to find on this beach.
Of course, Blanca Stella ran over to it, picked it up fearlessly and asked, “Que es esto?” (What’s this?) I took it from her, checked it carefully for occupants, then held it to my ear. I said to Blanca Stella, “This is how you hear the sea.” Her dark eyes widened, partially in disbelief and partially in wonder, and she held out her hands to hold the treasure. She put it to her ear, and I asked her, “What do you hear?” After a moment of intense concentration, she sang to me what she heard.
“La cucaracha, la cucaracha, ya no puede caminar…” and then she danced to her own music, the shell still clasped to her ear.
So here is a beach treasure for you. I hope you enjoyed Blanca Stella and her personal shell music as much as I did. And while on the subject of treasures, of course: have you sent in your subscription for the treasure of a stellar music season that’s on the horizon from the San Antonio Chamber Music Society? This is our 75th Anniversary season, you know, and it will sparkle like the shells and the beautiful water of Ubatuba.
– E Doyle
Your fearless blogger has indeed dared a train ride, but a very special one. This was the Rocky Mountaineer which slithers sensuously through Canada’s snow fields, glaciers and, oh yeah, mountains. Ten days of ooh-ing and ah-ing at gorgeous scenery, bears, elk and big horn sheep, but nearly spoiled by music, of all things.
Now I want you to understand that I am not a snob and can usually get along with just about anyone. With that proviso in mind, also note that a cluster of really drunk Aussies can spoil even the most magnificent scenery (my fault for not have noise abatement equipment – but it never occurred to me I might need it on a train, of all things). So here’s the story:
Cruising along in quiet – no train noise at all (remember this is Canadian Pacific, not Amtrak) – seated in a very comfortable, heated seat (no, really) with a glass of Canada’s Okanagan wine on the tray table, we are watching eagles and osprey enjoying themselves dipping and swooping above us and various ungulates grazing calmly on mountainsides, seemingly unaware that one misstep would spell disaster and totally nonplused by the train. Occasionally, we descend to the dining car and you know what they say about train food: fattening and utterly delicious. Blueberry pancakes made with fresh berries, salmon that the day before was leaping in the frigid river. Does it get any better?
Ten days of ooh-ing and ah-ing at gorgeous scenery, bears, elk and big horn sheep, but nearly spoiled by music, of all things.
Well, it was still a memorable trip and I really hope that none of our traveling companions went overboard on their subsequent Alaska cruise (or were put out on a glacier to reprieve Waltzing Matilda). As we went along, I thought of the wonderful music of Sibelius and Grieg. They who were accustomed to snow and glaciers and could transcribe this scenery into immortal music. And now that we’re back in good ol’ H&H (that’s hot and humid) Texas, I think I’ll put the mostly magical train trip in my memory bank and turn my attention to anticipation of a truly sterling set of performances I will thoroughly enjoy come SACMS’ silver anniversary season. Please do look at the web site, SACMS.org, to see the wonders in store. If you should hear any faint strains of Waltzing Matilda, just have a nice glass of wine and ignore the Philistines.
– E Doyle
Everyone who has ever attended a symphony performance has experienced it: that crystal moment that quivers in the air right after the house lights dim and just before the conductor walks on stage. It’s a moment of anticipation, it is delicious. A few people are still chattering, but for the most part, everyone is quiet, focused on the stage and the musicians. The musicians may be running the first bars of the music through their minds, thinking about the sounds they are about to produce. Do you know the first selection to be performed? If so, you too may be running the melody through your mind in glorious anticipation of what you are about to hear; if not, you may feel the expectation that you will hear music that will open your mind and create an emotional response. The maestro arrives, picks up his baton; instruments come to shoulders, chins, lips and there is a collective response from the audience. Some sit forward, straining to see; some relax back into their seats, awaiting that first wonderful measure. Every performance is the same. Every performance is unique.
And then there is the moment just before a performance of chamber music – so different from an orchestral performance. Three or four or five musicians walk onto the stage, arrange their music stands, perhaps tune their instruments to one another – and then it happens: the moment of anticipation, of the sure confidence that you are about to hear magic. Symphonic musicians read a score; chamber musicians read one another’s mind. You know that from this small group you are about to hear sounds that will evoke a smile as a familiar sonata is performed or that will astonish you with the fresh air of new music.
Symphonic musicians read a score; chamber musicians read one another’s mind.
We often talk about conversations among musicians as they perform. For orchestral musicians, the conversation occurs between sections – the violins pick up the cellos’ theme, the horns echo the strings. For chamber musicians, each one is precisely attuned to the other. You could call it a “neat trick,” but actually it represents hours and hours of practice, of listening to one another and adding just the right color with his instrument, be it voice, viola, piano or clarinet. Chamber musicians must develop an intuitive knowledge of musical emotions and then be able to express this knowledge at the right moment.
It has been our great pleasure to enchant you with remarkable music this season. We have been performing magic for 74 years, but the musicians and music we present are fresh, memorable and thoroughly enjoyable. As for me, I love that wonderful moment of anticipation just before a concert begins. It is a privilege to bring you these great performances, to enhance the cultural life of our city and to provide our audiences with those special moments.
Now, just wait until you hear the 75th season:
Pacifica Quartet with Sharon Isbin, guitar – October 15, 2017
Rebel Baroque with Matthias Maute, flute – November 12, 2017
Chanticleer – January 21, 2018
American Brass Quintet – March 4, 2018
Orion String Quartet – April 15, 2018
– E Doyle
They sing with intensity, but never sound forced; they are always controlled, but never stented. To achieve the level of perfection the Calmus has must take hours and hours of practice, but the music they produce doesn’t sound contrived.
This was, most assuredly, an unusual concert. Did you hear your brain clicking in as this very sophisticated music struck some seldom-used neuronal synapses? Did you hear the sound of the audience listening intently? Any pins drop?
When Calmus returns, I for one won’t be thinking Lager, I’ll be enjoying champagne.
– E Doyle
This all started with the search for a good summer read, and then one thing led to another. The book I found was a novel about the coffee trade in Holland in the 15th-16th centuries (The Coffee Trader, by David Liss). Coffee had recently been introduced to Europe, and everyone, for reasons that are totally incomprehensible, took to the dark, bitter liquid made from the coffee bean like Gen Xers to Starbucks. Go figure.
From this fascinating historical novel, I began thinking about the effect of coffee – and specifically, coffee houses – on the culture of Europe and subsequently, America. And that (plus Google) led me to Zimmermann’s Kaffeehaus in Leipzig . No ancestor of Starbuck’s here; no strangely named, expensive concoctions with little resemblance to actual coffee and consumed by individuals lost in their phones and tablets. This grand institution was founded in 1702 by Gottfried Zimmermann in Leipzig at 14 Kathrinenstrasse – the most elegant street in all of Leipzig, and the place where Bach and his buddies hung out (in a manner of speaking).
So I checked out the Coffee Cantata by Bach, and things just went all over the place from there. I soon discovered that one cannot talk about Bach and his concerts at Zimmermann’s without learning about perhaps the most famous (certainly the most prolific) composer and musician of his age, Georg Phillip Tellemann. Sit back, read and prepare to be amazed. (You may want a cuppa to enjoy while I enlighten you….)
After a long and incredibly productive life, Tellemann died in 1767 at the age of 86 – oh, an in his spare time, he had published his own music.
Now, the road leads back to Zimmermann’s Kaffeehaus. In 1702, Tellemann founded the Collegium Musicum which was hosted – at no charge – by Gottfried Zimmerman. Admittance was also free, and herr Zimmermann was able to profit by the patrons’ proclivities for beautiful music and really good coffee. One of the habituees was none other than Johann Sebastian Bach, who took over the Collegium Musicum in 1729 and directed its productions of recitals and chamber music (see? You knew I’d get to chamber music eventually!) until 1739. The music essentially died with Zimmermann in 1741, but the building existed on Kathrinenstrasse until the bombing of Leipzing during World War II. It was, sadly, reduced at last to rubble.
All of the above at long last brings up the Coffee Cantata by Bach – see the connection? Think about the ladies – yes, ladies were allowed to attend the musical events at Zimmermann’s – and gentlemen in their satins and lace thoroughly enjoying their coffee and some of the most remarkable, enduring music the world has ever known.
By the way, you too will enjoy some of the most remarkable, enduring music in the world (sans coffee) at San Antonio Chamber Music Society concerts. This season will conclude at Temple Beth-El with “Calmus” – an a cappella vocal quintet from Germany, singing music inspired by Shakespeare. You are going to love it!
– E Doyle