Monday, March 25, 2013


I have been roaming this planet for nigh on 60 years and have yet to feel that anything is really too much, or I am too old to grasp the latest in culture or technology. My parents were very much into trying out with somewhat middling success, old stone-age computer games, PONG, or TANK, or whatever the current game was at the time on BETA Max and all sorts of horrible stuff.

I am currently having a good run of luck, telling those idiots on Twitter, something like "@Microsoft will pick your PC". I keep sending them messages like, “Thanks for the advice, I'll be sure to get that Commodore 64, you assholes. It sure beats the blue screen of death.” Some idiot actually answered that. I also told them I was thrilled for the quick response regarding the Atari that I should purchase. Microsoft. Motto: We can accommodate any level of stupid.

Same thing with music. I follow 2 shows pretty religiously; "Grimm" and "The Following." Imagine my glee when they both used some Rammstein which is a hugely popular death-metal band out of Germany and employs very traditional old world (read Beethoven and mostly, 2nd Viennese school types of song-writing.) I find them to be most distinctive, not only in sound, but they are one of the only bands since Pink Floyd and the Police who compose and perform songs in odd meters, like 7/4. That really thrills me when bands are so willing to take a chance like that. They will be remembered years from now. Some of my younger friends don't get it.

But Mary,” they'll say. “You're eleventy-billion years old, how can you like this stuff?” 3 words. I've played it. And much more. One thing about most musicians, we're always scratching around for good contemporary music that pushes that envelope. Cutting edge, but not shit. There are those who think that Alban Berg is horrid, and Arnold Schoenberg is terrible, and that's fine. I do like them. But, please God, no Anton Bruckner. We had a rehearsal one night, and for some half-assed reason, the conductor decided the violinists weren't putting enough whatever into their tremolo. He spent an hour and a half on that shit and 4 wind players fell asleep and out of their chairs. I fall asleep playing Bruckner. He's glacial, but I don't hate him like I hate Mozart, but still, he runs a close second. I have yet to run into any neo-Romantic, or really contemporary music that wasn't pretty awesome.

Well, actually, I take that back. I had to listen to some total shit in college. I remember 2 pieces (mercifully, only 2) by student composers; always a crap-shoot in my opinion. I can't write music worth a shit. I took Composition and wisely decided to hang up my feathered quill after the “sure-fire method” provided me ever so kindly, by Mr. John Hathaway, provoked him to comment, “God, that's terrible!” And, it truly was. I never tried to conduct either, as that would be akin to cows trying to drive; a force against nature. Leave me to my true talent; the viola. I just pretend to play violin and I don't even pretend that I do. I come right out and tell people that I can't play the fucking violin. Yet, for some reason, people insist on hiring me to play the damned thing. I guess they feel the need for some random stupid, especially if it's in the 1st violin section.

Anyway, these 2 student composer pieces were going to change the face of modern classical music I am sure. To what I am not sure. One was for 2 upright pianos, and a celesta, a sort of tinkly little drawing-room sort of keyboard-y contraption. This piece was as much about the placement of the instruments as the performance, which tells you something about the quality of the music right there. It was a giant fail on both counts. The pianos were set very close together, with the celesta jammed in between the 2 pianos. The players sat with their backs to the audience and proceeded to beat in a very clamorous and monotonous manner for 3 movements. There were no changes in tempi, dynamics, just a bunch of clanging around, then stop. More wild clamorous clanging. Caesura. Repeat clanging. And so forth. Finally, the people stood up and faced the audience. Wild applause at the end, because at last, this abortion was over and done with. The players took their bows. I didn't have any tomatoes or rocks to throw, so I was rather put out. And no shots rang out; the firing squad having fallen asleep.

The next opus, was by some guy named Duckworth. His piece was called something asinine like “4 for 440.” He had 4 oboe players in every corner of the concert hall and all they did was play a 440 A for about a zillion years. The gimmick here was that they did the same A in different meters, different lengths, triplets, 16th notes, yada yada yada. It sucked. About 5 minutes into it I was already calling it “that piece by Duckshit.” 45 minutes later, this snore-fest was still going on, as these asshat oboe players were flinging this same A all over the hall. The atmosphere was funereal. You couldn't hear any breathing; I think the patrons had died. Death by double-reed boredom.

I hate gimmicky music like this. We had to go to these concerts in college and I think we were made to, because our Professors did and so, we were made to suffer, because I sure didn't get anything out of any of it, except what not to do, should I ever write music (yeah, that was gonna happen) and a passing grade. I actually got stuck playing in one; a god-forsaken trombone and viola duet. The stupidest pairing of two instruments ever and “complete” with interpretive dancing, another stupid art form that is usually performed by 70-year old women in church, to some avant-garde mass, written by a music minister who flunked 1st and 2nd year composition, but insists he was just “misunderstood." Balls. He sucked as a composer.

These dancers, in leotard unis and hoods, snaked their ways over the theater seats, towards us, the hapless musicians. Maybe there was a point to be made there, but I was edging my way to stage-left, on the chance they were carnivorous. I didn't want to be some sort of low-rent “Le Sacre du Printemps,” by Igor Stravinsky. Low-rent, hell. This would have had to come from e-Bay, or, were they around in the '70s, it was that bad. I can't remember how the damn thing ended. It just sort of stopped, as if the “composer,” who was also the trombone player lost interest in the whole enterprise and called it a day.

To the riotous applause of 3 people, 2 of whom were the trombonist's parents, I packed up Wolf, beat feet and got the Hell out of there. The piece was like this: 20 minutes of me playing staccato, and the trombone was farting and here are the Snake people coming at us from the audience. I didn't even want my name in the program. Come to think of it, I don't think there was a program, thank God. So, I was safely anonymous.

So, yeah, I love contemporary music, but good stuff, and none of that was it. Give me some “Bohemian Rhapsody” or “Dust in the Wind” or Pink Floyd's “The Wall” or Styx's “Domo Arigato,” or Alan Parson's Project, “Psychobabble Rap” or “Eye in The Sky” all of which I've played. Along with Mahler, Smokey Robinson and all the rest. But, I am eclectic; I cut my teeth on Richard Strauss, Beethoven, Brahms, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky and Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky. Throw in some Rimsky-Korsakov and Ipolitov-Ivanov to keep it interesting. As long as it's good.

Next up: The Young Person's Guide to Opera
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