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Politics

Hey! It’s an election year! Aren’t you just all aquiver with excitement??! Just imagine: months of our elected and wanna-be elected officials blathering on about issues they actually understand but little, nevertheless expounding wonderful (awesome?) solutions to every problem the nation faces. Just imagine!

But if you prefer not to imagine, I have some escape suggestions. To begin with, surely your TV has a “mute” button on it somewhere; use it! When it’s announced that so-and-so is giving an exclusive interview on a major channel, check out what’s on the Food Network. A little vicarious dessert will not expand your waistline nor affect your cardiac function and might even help you retain any vestige of sanity you may have left.

If you find yourself at a gathering, be it Sunday school, a cocktail party or a dinner, and someone says something like, “Can you believe that [fill in the blank}?!  [He/She] said that….”  Well, you get the picture.  After you’ve politely said, “How interesting,” you say, “And did you see that column by Martha Stewart on drying flowers?  Such a talented person.”  At that point your companion’s eyes should begin to glaze and you can continue to a more reasonable topic or just quietly slip away.

Things are a little trickier if The Other happens to be your spouse – but still not impossible.  There’s always the time-honored and always useful, “Huh?  Did you say something?”  And if there’s persistence (as there often is when couples have been together for more than two years), you might try, “Were you talking about the dishwasher?  It is making a funny noise, and I wish you’d have a look at it.  I guess we could just call the appliance repairman.”  I can almost guarantee that statement will change the conversation.

And last but not least, there are those really tricky situations when you find yourself trapped in an elevator or a carpool or across a bridge table, and there’s just no getting away from the venom.  That’s when, with tremendous self-restraint, you just nod your head – just like you’re hanging on every bead and drop – and send your mind off to some other more pleasant place.  With luck, the speaker will be so frothed about his/her subject, he/she won’t ask, “Don’t you agree?”

…we were all taught never, never, never to discuss religion or politics, right?  But some folks just can’t help themselves…

Of course, we were all taught never, never, never to discuss religion or politics, right?  But some folks just can’t help themselves and I hope the foregoing will help you avoid the pitfalls.  If not, and you find yourself unable to extricate yourself gracefully, try this:

“By the way, I’ve got a couple of extra tickets to the next San Antonio Chamber Music Concert.  Wouldn’t you like to hear beautiful music for a change?” Might work. Try it.

– E Doyle

Mercí

My old car, Slick, was a real prince! Faithful, handsome, plenty of power – but Slick was getting a bit long in the odometer, so the time came to find another car, and I was fortunate enough to find Mercy. She’s a sleek, dark silver beauty with many great car features. Each time I happened on one – such as the blue interior running lights or the sound of the Romero Brothers filling the car – I found myself saying, “Mercy!” So my new car became Mercy. One of the exclamation-worthy features of my new car is the trunk that can be opened by a kick under the back bumper at just the right spot. Voila! The trunk springs open to receive the armloads of whatever.

One of the exclamation-worthy features of my new car is the trunk that can be opened by a kick under the back bumper at just the right spot. Voila!

Well, not always. I was returning to my bright new car one exceptionally cold and windy day, my arms filled with the week’s provisions, and I thought, “Boy! This is the kind of situation this trunk opener was designed for!” I positioned myself at the rear of the car and commenced kicking. Nothing. I kicked again. Still nothing. Trying desperately to hang onto my composure as a competent person, kicking for all I was worth, I noticed someone approaching. He had a puzzled look on his face which undoubtedly had something to with the spectacle of the person kicking away at the underside of a car. Some new form of line dancing, perhaps?

And then reality dawned: I was kicking the wrong car – probably this guy’s car! I scurried away (at least as best I could, with my arms loaded with bags and my face to the ground) all the while trying desperately to remember where I had parked my beautiful new car with the kick opener. I thought about going down the row of cars and trying to kick each one that looked even vaguely familiar, but I didn’t think my arms would hold up – not to mention my self-respect. Finally I realized that I was one row over from where I had parked. I made my way, as inconspicuously as possible, between the cars to the correct row, and there was my beautiful new car! I marched right up to the rear bumper, my head held high, and confidently kicked. Mercy! It opened.

I know some people are clever enough to take a picture of where they’ve parked, but I’ve never quite understood what they took a picture of – I know what the car looks like, the cars around it may move and there aren’t enough markers in the lot to be of much help. Maybe I should just take a picture of the bumper; at least I know where to start kicking.

I thought about going down the row of cars and trying to kick each one that looked even vaguely familiar, but I didn’t think my arms would hold up – not to mention my self-respect.

I just want you to know if you happen to see someone after a SACMS concert wandering through the parking lot of Temple Beth-El, kicking under car bumpers and calling, “Mercy,” don’t be alarmed. It’s just me, looking for my new car and taking the opportunity to thank all of you for coming to the San Antonio Chamber Music Society’s 2015-16 season.

– E Doyle

Crystal Ball

After Concert Dinner with the Dover Quartet
I am now gazing into my crystal ball. Some may call it a computer screen, but just between us, it’s really a crystal ball. And what do I see? A very, very bright future for four remarkable musicians. It’s coming in clearer now: it’s Joel Link, Bryan Lee, Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt and Camden Shaw. It must be the Dover String Quartet!

You really don’t need a crystal ball to see successes after successes for this group. Although they’re so young you’re tempted to ask, “Do your parents know where you are?” they are truly brilliant. If chamber music quartets came with trophies, this group would already have a room full. They have so much sparkle, so much perfection that my crystal ball is in overdrive.

Be sure to remember the name Dover String Quartet. You will certainly see more of it in the years to come. My crystal ball sees them alongside the greats of classical quartets. We are so fortunate to have been able to book them now, because before long, we’ll be booking them years out!

Wanna know what else my crystal ball sees? It’s the 2016-17 season of the San Antonio Chamber Music Society. You will be amazed, giddy with emotion and utterly flabbergasted by the talent that’s coming our way: the Danish String Quartet (Oct. 23), the Brasil Guitar Duo (Nov. 20), the Aeolus Quartet (Jan. 22), Les Amies Trio (Feb. 26) and the Calmus Ensemble (April 23).

My crystal ball sees them alongside the greats of classical quartets.  We are so fortunate to have been able to book them now, because before long, we’ll be booking them years out!

Well, I’m sorry to say my crystal ball has begun to fog over with the steam of pure joy, so I must stop predicting – except for just one little thing:  when you come to the SACMS concerts, you will forget your worries, your heart will be glad and your mind will resound with music.

– E Doyle

Ugly music?

On this we can agree:  there is music that sounds like melted caramel, and there’s music that sounds like shards of broken glass caught in a meat grinder.  Let’s discuss this a little.

You have your “Moonlight Sonata.”  It’s pure molten caramel crossing your senses and easing  you  into a state of well-being and calm.  You can almost hum along (if you can hit that second note without your voice cracking).  It’s the kind of music you can taste – and, for me, it tastes like something sweet and ineffably good, makes you want more and more.

Then you have your very modern, atonal compositions (some don’t consider them “music” at all).  Mostly recent compositions, they were created to grab the listener, evoke strident emotions,  even cause pain.  Why would anyone write such sounds and subject classical music audiences to them?

I think these compositions are like looking through a kaleidoscope:  the little shards of color constantly changing shape and arrangements as the viewer tries to make some sense of them.

I think these compositions are like looking through a kaleidoscope: the little shards of color constantly changing shape and arrangements as the viewer tries to make some sense of them.

And there’s the major difference.   The great classical composers of the distant past wrote music that was predictable.  The line goes up, the line goes down.  The phrase repeats, then repeats again in a slightly different form.  Always  predictable.  There’s no predictability in atonal compositions.  Keys change abruptly, scales are altered, what goes up may just stay up.  Strings screech sometimes, and you wonder if they will suddenly break.  The audience is uncomfortable, not soothed.  Could it be they’re thinking?  Maybe thinking, “When will this end?”

Think of this as a musical Rorschach test.  Everyone who hears these compositions has a different idea of what the composer is trying to transmit – and it’s worth your time and effort to make your own interpretation.  Remember that some of the most traditional composers, by our modern sensibilities, horrified their contemporaries with their unique turns of musical phrase.

Some of the most traditional composers, by our modern sensibilities, horrified their contemporaries with their unique turns of musical phrase.

Now consider the music of Gershwin:  is it classical?  That can only be the judgment of time.  But is it evocative?  You bet!  You just can’t listen to “Rhapsody in Blue” without seeing New York.  Let’s try something a little more difficult, say “Blue Cathedral,” by Jennifer Higdon.  Okay, they’re both “blue,” but Higdon doesn’t give the listener the same kind of clues as Gershwin.  Her music is abstract, but it grabs the listener’s attention nevertheless.   Up the scale of difficult enjoyment, you might come to Philip Glass.  I grant that some of his music makes your toes curl, but if you uncurl and just focus, you might just find understanding.

So why bother?  It’s all about attention.  You can just stay all comfy with your Beethoven and Mozart; nothing wrong with that.  Or you could reach your musical mind up to, say, Charles Ives, Alban Berg, or Arnold Shoenberg.  The music that crashes and slams against your sensibilities demands attention.  It says, “Sit up and listen to me.  I’ve got something important to say to you.”  It is definitely not “easy-listening” music, would never be background music for an elegant dinner,  but it can be remarkably clear.  This “ugly” music is an exercise for your brain to understand, to learn something new and, believe it or not, eventually, to enjoy.

– E Doyle

Gracias, señor Polo

Muchas gracias, Marco Polo!!!  (Does that count as a mixed metaphor?)  If the great explorer had never made it to China, would we have had to wait a few more centuries to learn about the incredible tradition of Chinese music – or firecrackers, or paper, or gunpowder, for that matter?  But let’s just stick to the music, ok?

If you had the pleasure of attending the concert presented by the Shanghai String Quartet, you heard music I’ll bet you never heard before.  With Wu Man, who is the equivalent of a classical music rock star in Asia, the very polished quartet played evocative, calm music.  Then the quartet launched into Beethoven’s “Serioso” String Quartet in F minor; I suspect they did it just to prove that they are masters of Western music, too.  I think “impeccable” is the word I’m looking for….  Finally, a modern Chinese composition, Ghost Opera, with its sly asides and rollicking humor, all tied up in a ribbon of marvelous sound.

…a modern Chinese composition, Ghost Opera, with its sly asides and rollicking humor, all tied up in a ribbon of marvelous sound.

And let’s discuss this very small Chinese lady with her beautiful Chinese lute.  She is a ballerina of four strings, each graceful movement  eliciting sounds that simply carried the listener to an idealized China.  And here’s a very good reason to join the SA Chamber Music Society as a Patron:  over dinner, we had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of Honggang Li, the Shanghai Quartet’s magician of the viola.  He spoke about the music, of course, but he also analyzed modern China for us.  He allowed his dinner companions a view of where modern China has come from and where it seems to be headed.
…a ballerina of four strings, each graceful movement eliciting sounds that simply carried the listener to an idealized China.

So muchas gracias, señor Polo!   Not only did we learn about the pipa and the evocative music of China and how these particular musicians came to and mastered Western music, we learned something about China.  I’d call that an afternoon well spent.

– E Doyle

A Place for Music

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.

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