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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

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

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.

The Sounds of Music

Where did music begin?  Why do people need their music, and what made them think of melody and rhythm?  Who was the first – hominid?  Australopithicine?  Homo ergaster?  Neanderthal?   Homo sapiens? – who thought of music?  And how did it begin?

It was long thought that the first instrument capable of producing music was a hollow bone with holes drilled in it.  Voila!  The flute was born!  But that leaves out a whole realm of musical expression, it seems to me.

Think about this a minute.  Someone pounds two rocks together and, before he or she even knows it, there’s rhythm.  This is pleasing and makes the work of pounding rocks into, who knows what?  Scrapers, weapons or maybe just smaller rocks?  Perhaps the rhythm of the pounding brought a smile to the face of the pounder.  Perhaps others joined in.  The first true rock band was born!

Think about this a minute.  Someone pounds two rocks together and, before he or she even knows it, there’s rhythm.

Did someone figure out how to whistle?  If ancient mothers were like mine, they each had a special whistle they used to summon the kids.  Two or three tones, two or three tones:  music.  If they knew how to whistle, how far could it be to making melodies?  And we have always heard melody in the sounds of insects and animals, and sometimes we’re able to mimic these sounds.  More melody.

And then, of course, there’s that magic flute.  No one knows with certainty that it was actually used as a musical instrument, but what else could it be?  You couldn’t hunt with it.  You couldn’t carry water with it or start a fire or sew clothes with sinew.  So it makes music.  What music?  And why?

Just as there is a need for things like order, predictability, love, there seems to be something in us that responds to music.

Just because no one’s ever found the remains of an e-string, who’s to say that our ancestors never figured out the logic behind the shortening and lengthening of a “string,” whatever it may have been made of, to produce melody.  (Doesn’t this bring to mind a group of, say, Denisovians, crouched around a camp fire with their proto-Strads entertaining the others in the community and keeping the predators at bay?  Just picture it.  Humor me.  The first chamber music ensemble.)

So now we come to the central question:  why do we need music?  What is it about melody and rhythm, tones and harmonies that we find so satisfying?

Just as there is a need for things like order, predictability, love, there seems to be something in us that responds to music.  Did you hear the Chamber Ensemble of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields?  If you were in the audience, you know exactly what I mean.  The rhythms, the melodies, the harmonies worked on a whole series of synapses in your brain and brought a sense of order and perhaps of profound emotions such as joy and sorrow.  If you didn’t hear that concert, you will have a feeling of regret; but remember, you have four more chances to try to understand why music speaks to us – and always has.

Your next opportunity to experience the music of the ages is Nov. 8 with the Zemlinksy String Quartet.

– E Doyle

Food For Thought: The Admiring Audience

Eric Hoffer, an American philosopher and author writes the following quote in his book, Reflections on the Human Condition:

“The contemporary explosion of avant-garde innovation in literature, art, and music is wholly unprecedented. The nearest thing that comes to mind is the outburst of sectarian innovation at the time of the Reformation, when every yokel felt competent to start a new religion. Obviously, what our age has in common with the age of the Reformation is the fallout of disintegrating values. What needs explaining is the presence of a receptive audience. More significant than the fact that poets write abstrusely, painters paint abstractly, and composers compose unintelligible music is that people should admire what they cannot understand; indeed, admire that which has no meaning or principle.” 

Eric Hoffer

Eric Hoffer

Hoffer published those words more than 40 years ago, yet they seem strangely relevant today. With everyone having more tools readily available to create and distribute literature, art and music, it is no surprise that the present-day generation has had its own explosion of innovation in all these areas. Thanks to the Internet and social networks, almost anyone can create a “work” and reach some kind of receptive audience in the matter of seconds. Indeed, this receptive audience not only admire the “work”, they would go on to promote and share it.

Hoffer seemed to have been more upset by the existence of an admiring audience than by the creation of “avant-garde” works. Are such works never valid, simply because some of us find them “unintelligible”? Or do you believe that since all “art” was once new and therefore different, innovative works deserve at least acceptance (not rejection) if not appreciation? Where do we draw the line between “pop culture” and “legitimate’ art? Keep in mind that Baroque music was the Rock & Roll of its day. Let us hear your thoughts!

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