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Laurie Niles

Listening Anew

August 25, 2010 at 12:19 AM

 My daughter doesn't play a musical instrument, yet she does appreciate classical music. She hears it with different ears than I do.

Almost every piece of classical musical that I hear, I've played at some point in my life. I look at every piece through the prism of the violin section, first or second. I think about how the music felt in my hands, what were the difficulties? What key is it in, and time signature? Who was conducting when I last played it? Was it an inspired performance or one of those frustrating ones?

For example, I still remember, as a teenager about my daughter's age, reading Beethoven's Symphony No. 7, having never heard it in my life. The second movement astounded me, the murmur that began in the cello section, spreading to the rest of the orchestra, taking wing…What did it sound like? A beautiful and ingenious experiment in which I'd better do my part correctly.

Today, in the car, my daughter and I heard Respighi's "Festivals of Rome" on the radio -- a very nice version with the Dallas Symphony. Ah yes, I believe I played this with the Colorado Springs Symphony, maybe also in the Omaha Symphony. Respighi builds these ridiculous musical climaxes, but aren't they fun? And the brass, what cool stuff they've got. And then there are these strange moments of aural chaos…

"It sounds like someone fell through the window of a windchime shop, and now they're all tangled up in the chimes, walking around," said my daughter. "Ooo, and now the owner of the shop is getting angry…"


How about the second movement of the Brahms Violin Concerto, which was on when we got back into the car after her doctor's appointment? That oboe solo is so gorgeous, it just soars. It starts simply, and contentedly.

"It's a lark, in a tree, and people are having a tea party below," she said.

"Yes, but isn't it a little too sad and poignant for that?" I said, as the music turned a little sadder and more poignant.

"Oh, he is sad," she said. "He can't have tea with them…"

This went on. I love it, too. She hears the music whole, bringing her life associations to the sounds. No baggage about this passage or that, or what weird thing the conductor asked back at a rehearsal years ago, or who was playing the clarinet solo, whether or not everyone is playing a harmonic.

How does it sound? How fun to get back to that, to hear things anew, through her ears.


From Giancarlo L
Posted on August 25, 2010 at 3:24 AM

Very nice piece. 

From Julian Stokes
Posted on August 25, 2010 at 10:55 AM

Great visualisations - I wish I saw pictures like that!

From elise stanley
Posted on August 25, 2010 at 11:03 AM

lovely piece - it raises the issue of how everyone experiences everything differently, not only because of age and experience but differences in genetics, upbrigning, opinions, etc etc.  And maybe the loneliness of existence.  No wonder then that music is such a group bonding and even totem phenomenon - creating a commonality for people witih simliar sensations and opinions. 

But I babble!  Thanks for a lovely and provocative piece.

From Alison Daurio
Posted on August 25, 2010 at 12:53 PM

Hehe, i STILL do that :) I've gotten distracted at rehearsals more than once because of it!

From John Cadd
Posted on August 25, 2010 at 1:02 PM

Paul Tortelier did a lot of that imaging.  He talked us through a Bach movement where the composer tiptoes in to see his child asleep then comes out and closes the door quietly. Another time with glaring eyes and head tossing around he describes  horses galloping. We need a large corner to store all these valuable "pictures ".

More abstract is part of the Brahms Concerto where Vasco Abadjiev gives an impression of falling out of control. It`s there in the notes but I never felt that with another person  playing it.      Just to pin that down--Slow movement  7.00 to 7.30     After reaching ever higher it all comes adrift  ( that`s the musical intention ,I mean ), and then the slow long fall happens.

From Dion Ackermann
Posted on August 25, 2010 at 3:48 PM

I do not know the age of your daughter but it looks like a career in the visual arts. Or has she already made up her mind?

From Rosalind Porter
Posted on August 25, 2010 at 4:55 PM

I love these vivid descriptions by your daughter!    Especially the Brahms one which is particularly evocative...    I can foresee another writer/journalist in your family!  

From robert keith
Posted on August 25, 2010 at 5:31 PM

 Hi Laurie, nice story about your daughter. Your daughter can hear abstracts.  I hope she decides to play music. Does she attend your concerts? We should all know and play the piano  at least to a beginning advanced level and then, move on to our instrument of choice. I remember when I was attending North Texas State University, there were many music people that where great in their instrument, but they could not pass the piano barrier.  The piano barrier was required and there were no exceptions.

Thanks for sharing with us.


From Jim Hastings
Posted on August 25, 2010 at 7:33 PM

Your daughter, with her visual imagination, reminds me a little of the way I was -- and still am.

The opening movement of Brahms's Symphony No. 2, Op. 73, paints in my mind the rural landscapes of my early childhood.  I'm walking home, covering about a mile, going by the cow pastures, freight tracks, and orchards.  It's a warm, partly sunny afternoon in mid-summer.

The pianissimo drum-rolls at 32 and 36 suggest distant thunder and a dark western sky.  For now, most of the land near where I'm walking still has full sunlight, dimmed now and then by a passing cloud.

After some lyrical stretches and some high drama, the distant thunder rolls again at 342, 344, and 346.  The storm builds up rapidly, then breaks at 386 -- I'm safely home by now.  Things start to settle down about 424, and skies begin to clear at 447 for a tranquil evening.  At 497, I'm off on a short evening walk toward the setting sun.

This symphony is one of the first orchestral works I remember hearing at home -- I wasn't even preschool age yet.  I was 16 when I purchased a copy of the full score in miniature.  At 20, I played my last orchestral concert.  This work was the final selection on the program.

From Laurie Niles
Posted on August 25, 2010 at 7:57 PM

 More great images! Yes, she gets me thinking outside the box, that's for sure!

From John Cadd
Posted on August 26, 2010 at 4:19 PM

Laurie   That oboe solo in the Brahms turned up unexpectedly once.I made the little Spectrum computer play random notes .The whole tune came out exactly right until the second last note. I made it repeat a few times just to check it. 

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