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Pauline Lerner

Bach -- he's dead, isn't he?

January 17, 2006 at 5:31 AM

Today I went to Barnes and Noble to get/order some CDs. (See my blog 1.13.06.) I had decided to ask the staff to order a couple of Heifetz CDs so I could listen to them and then decide which ones to buy. The CDs I have in mind are undoubtedly great performances, but the original recordings are decades old, and I’m concerned about the sound quality. I have listened to some recently remastered CDs made from very old recordings, and sometimes the background noise is so strong that I can’t enjoy themusic. I also decided to buy a CD that I’ve been wanting for a long time. It’s Musical Offering and Art of Fugue, the Marriner recording. I have it on vinyl, along with gems of Milstein playing Bach, but I don’t listen to my vinyl recordings any more. I know that I looked for the Marriner recording on CD for a long time, and I thought I must have found it and bought it. I looked and looked for it in my home, but I couldn’t find it, so I put it on my shopping list.

I was well prepared. I had found the CDs online on the B&N website and printed out all the ordering information for the ones I was interested in. I figured that B&N would have a few Heifetz CDs in stock. I have bought some there before. Tonight all they had was one copy of one CD, and it wasn’t one that I wanted. I spoke to the one staff member in the music section, a young, slow, unenthusiastic woman. I guessed that she didn’t know much about classical music, so I told her that I was interested in some classical music CDs of Heifetz playing the violin, and I spelled Heifetz for her. She moved slowly and grudgingly to the computer terminal and asked me whether Heifetz was the first or last name. I told her that it was the man’s last name and wondered whether I should just go home, order the CDs online, and take whatever I got. I steeled myself and stayed in the store. She found one of the Heifetz recordings and then came to the Bach/Marriner one. She asked me whether Marriner was the composer. I was losing my patience, and I asked her whether she had ever heard of Bach. She responded, “Yes, but he’s dead isn’t he? I didn’t think a composer would – oh, never mind.” Her disdain for those who have gone before us and paved the way for us bothered me. She is enjoying some very important freedoms that billions of people elsewhere in the world would die for, some of them literally. The American Constitution and Bill of Rights were written by a bunch of dead guys but – oh, never mind. She continued with her task, stopping now and then to ring up a sale, and I kept my eye on her. After a while, she said to me, “I don’t know why, but I just can’t find this one” and pointed to one on my list. I told her that I had seen it on her monitor just a few seconds ago and asked her to retrace her steps. She found it but was still confused. She told me that she had typed in the information for one CD on my list and the computer had come up with the information for another CD. I looked at my list and saw what the problem was. My list had 5 CDs on it. The formatting was the same for each of them: title, picture, B&N number, and UPC code. She couldn’t tell which set of numbers went with which CD. I helped her. I was polite. I did not scream and shout and throw things. I did not laugh in her face. I just watched her complete the order, took my list, and left.


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