I first fell in love with Aaron Copland over an old tape player, lying on the green shag carpet in my upstairs bedroom. I’d stolen a tape from Daddy’s collection under the stereo, and from that point on, it belonged to me. Or should I say it owned me?--I don’t recall; we were completely enmeshed. It was my escape, my newfound deeper connection with life, love, beauty, and death.
From one single note, hope grew in small green shoots, pushing toward light from the thawed earth. From there, all of creation joined in the celebratory dance. It was all so terrifyingly beautiful, the tenuous hold that life keeps over death: in the dark shadows, unseen, death waited. But with all that death around, what better reason to celebrate being alive? Simple, I know, but nothing is more satisfying than to be grateful for such a gift as life.
I listened to it every day. I fell asleep there on the shag green carpet, dreaming that someday I could play it myself. I would play like that, that’s what. But instead, I played that tape until it broke, that’s what. I cried that day, and since I was afraid to tell my parents I’d broken a tape that I’d stolen, I hid it away and never found another copy. (If anyone happens to know where I could find a recording of the St. Paul chamber orchestra’s version, I’d love to have it again!)
Years passed, and eventually I’d all but forgotten about Appalachian Spring. Then, by twist of fate, the Anchorage Symphony added it to their October 2008 program. When I found out about it last spring, I just knew that something would prevent me from playing it. I didn’t even dare hope that I would live long enough to see the end of October. What happens after lifelong dreams are realised, anyway? Isn’t that the end of the movie? Do the credits roll? Everyone gets up and leaves the theater? I wasn’t sure.
But no, I showed up to rehearsal, business as usual, and we began to hash out the difficulties that come with Copland: counting, counting, and counting. It would have been easy to be so occupied by the working out of our parts that we’d neglect to see the forest for the trees. Copland made sure I wouldn’t forget, though. Without fail, the sounds would pull me from my efforts, and suddenly I’d become so overwhelmed I couldn’t see the music for the tears. Surely, I’d have to put an end to this emotional spillage before Saturday’s performance! Most of my rehearsal time, I’m ashamed to admit, was spent trying to keep myself pulled together.
Fortunately, a major portion of the music was given to only the front half of the section, so I could afford the luxury of sitting back to listen. In fact, the very last refrain worked out this way. We proclaimed our joy in unison, then I set my bow to rest in my lap while the rest continued to speak in devout, hushed tones. As I sat on the stage during those final notes, I got a distinct familiar feeling.
I don’t know, it was kind of like dying. But I’ve never died, so what do I know?
Some things, you just know.
Move it, please--no, not that way. To the right, and hold it still. Every time I adjust for you, you put it in my way again.
Good lord, it's the hugest thing; it covers every cue, every downbeat, until I'm so far behind I'm playing the previous movement. Strain, strain, I edge left until I'm playing the harpist's strings instead of mine.
I have no other option: move your head before I cut it off.
I only play in the dark now.
Once the lights are out, the colors and shapes can come to life in my mind, and they pop out of my violin like I was Walt Disney or something. It's so fun to be at that stage of recital preparation where you can toss the black dots on the paper aside and begin to connect with the ideas in your head and really hear what's coming into shape. This is an entirely new level of music making, and it only happens once you know it by heart.
Now that I think of it, I'm not sure you really know your music unless your heart knows it.
It was a slow evening at the coffee shop, and since it was mostly my friends that comprised my audience, I took things a little more casually with my fiddle paying. With O’Neill’s 1001 Jigs and Reels before me, I had no shortage of repertoire, to say the least. So tonight, rather than playing through the usual fare, I decided it would be more interesting--at least to myself--if I sight read through some new stuff.
The most interesting thing about O’Neill’s jigs is definitely the titles. I often wonder about the stories, long forgotten, that brought about their naming. ...I know. Maybe I could take turns dedicating a jig to each of my friends. With the rosin to the bow, I began.
Paul, this one’s for you, it’s called “The Jolly Old Man”. Paul smiled and chuckled as I played for him. And for Janette, I played “Get Up Old Woman and Shake Yourself”–she laughed as I fiddled along. There’s Joe now, come in from who knows where, with drink on his breath and red on his nose; for him, I play “The Humors of Whiskey”. And for my absent brother, there’s that one called “Tom Steele.” And to the early change of seasons I played “The Frost is All Over” and “The Snow on the Hills”.
At one point, I began a random jig and played it through three times before I began to look for an exit and discovered none existed. It looped until finally I stopped mid-phrase: “There’s no ending to ‘Up and Down Again!’” I cried with a shout. Another I began in a major key and played it through before realizing the key signature had requested minor. This jig was a grump, not a grin! And the title? “Get up Early.” Ha, I should have known...
“This next one reminds me of my parents.” I announced.
“What’s it called”
“Smash the Windows.”
“Hey, do you know Orange Blossom Special?”
“Um... no. This next jig’s called ‘Another Jig Will Do.’”
The flitch of Bacon. Mixing the Punch. The Barronstone Races, and First of March. Denis Delaney and Doctor O’Niell, Drive the Cows Home, the Maid at the Well.
“Evening was Waning”, and soon it was dark. “Happy to Meet You and Sorry to Part!”
I'm giving a violin recital.
On the menu for this November 7th at 7:00 pm, Christ Lutheran Church, will be the following:
Schubert, Sonata in D Major
Bartok, Rumanian Folk Dances
Stravinsky, Serenade, from Suite Italienne
Leclair, Sonata in D Major
Bach, Double, from b minor Partita
(Not in that particular order.)
Please come if you can! Email me for directions, if needed.
I keep trying to spot those little perfect moments and snip them out from the rest of the scene, because then I can look back over them and realise that we've lived happily ever after in little bits all along the way. We can forget all that other stuff. But let's not forget this.
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