If you’ve ever heard Miles Davis play, this needs no explanation. If you haven’t ever heard his music, whether you were lucky enough to catch it live or, like me, have only known it through recordings, it’s time you listened. Get a recording, turn it on, and turn off the lights or just close your eyes. And listen. Because.
I didn’t plan it, but in an abstracted moment, something happened to me. I was noodling around with some bold geometric abstractions with a sweeping organic curve, and hey-presto, there arose another kind of imagery, organically if you will, from the illustrations I was making. Their loose, zingy energy immediately made me think of the Jazz Age, all youthful impatience and catchy rhythms—of skinny collegians with megaphones, top hats piled up in the cloakroom at a speakeasy, and slick-haired tenors piping from scratchy gramophones to lure heedless girls with pin-curled bobs out onto the dance floor. Pay no mind, as you read, to the nonsensical text and the slippery grammar—after all, the sort of brash youth I’m picturing would’ve been exhorting their mates with that madcap urgency that preceded the crash of ’29, probably with a cigarette holder wedged in the teeth, and possibly fueled by a G&T or two. If you can let go of your suspenders just long enough, jump on in and do the Charleston along with the rest of ’em.
Just A Little Jazz-ma-Tazz
When you feel yer feet a-tappin’ and your hands just get a-clappin’
Somethin’ grand’s about to happen:
Just a little jazz-ma-tazz—
If the week was long an’ weary and your eyes are gettin’ bleary,
Time to let it go, ma dearie,
With a little jazz-ma-tazz—
Take a sip o’ somethin’ chilly, knock yer elbows willy-nilly
And don’t worry if it’s silly,
‘Cause it’s only jazz-ma-tazz—
There’ll be time enough tomorrow for ol’ tiredness an’ sorrow;
If you’re empty you can borrow
Joy from jumpin’ jazz-ma-tazz—
So get up an’ quit yer waitin’ and yer heavy hesitatin’
And begin the celebratin’
With a little jazz-ma-tazz—
Get yer sleepy feet a-tappin’ and your hands awake an’ clappin’—
Somethin’ grand’s about to happen:
Time was when I had a record player, a car radio, and a portable radio that all got cranked up pretty loudly. I’m sure my parents and co-workers and friends might have thought I’d gone deaf from listening to my favorite stuff at top volume, and possibly, mad from thinking of doing such a thing with even the most subtle and silky classical music. I think perhaps I did deafen myself a little, but that more likely was [ahem] situational deafness, the kind that causes young persons to lose the ability to hear and understand their parents, co-workers and friends, never mind their bosses. Even at my most ridiculous, I don’t think I managed to blast my records and radio devices as loudly as many of my peers did theirs.
Here I am, antique as I’ve grown, and very glad indeed that after all of that I can still hear the subtle and silky pianissimos of great singers and players, and yet I still do love to get my socks knocked off from time to time. What can be more exciting and energizing than a loud yet magically tuneful phrase belted out by a skillful symphony chorale or fabulous gospel choir when the text demands such dynamics? I can sit in the back of the rehearsal hall and just plain hug myself for happiness when the whole group gets to that gorgeous blastissimo peak of the piece. I love to hear that pulsing, pounding joy when a pianist or organist puts the pedal to the proverbial and actual metal for the topmost moment of a blues riff, a prelude and fugue, a smashing concerto. If it peels back my scalp just a little, who am I to complain when the music is so potent! A few paltry hairs off my head are small sacrifice for the great pleasures of blessedly blasting music.As long as it’s good, well executed, and thrilling, loudness is not such a bad thing. It might even drown out some of the sadder sounds of the day if we let it. Children who have not yet learned the meaning of the phrase ‘indoor voice’ can exhaust us, but at times in their own boisterous ways they can simply fill us up with welling gladness by chirping to test the sound of their own voices in a large empty space, by squealing with amazement at beauties we’ve forgotten to appreciate, by shouting our names too loudly because we are all the way across the room and they love us so. How can we not love, too, the sounds of finely honed music in all of its patterns and rhythms and tones when they spin into vortices of loud celebration!
Having had my senses immersed in the bath of fall season-opener concerts of all sorts lately, to the literal tune of hundreds of voices and instruments in symphonies, marches, art songs, musical theater melodies, electronica, motets, chaconnes, folk songs, choral masses, lullabies and all sorts of other lovely music, I am reminded as always at this time of year that such an intense schedule of events, however fabulous and rich they are, can be exhausting. More importantly, though, I am reminded that it’s also invigorating, inspiring and often utterly thrilling.
It’s also the time of year when the European choral magazine for which I proofread and text-check translations goes back into full production for the year. The articles and news items are all full of reviews of the summer season’s festivals and conferences and the amazing machinery that underlies these productions, from choosing and ordering music scores through civic action, political efforts, fundraising, singer scholarships, educational programs for participants and audiences, performers’ uniform shipping, young composers’ symposia, etc, and right on down to whether ‘civilian’ supporters of the group are allowed to arrange the music stands or chairs onstage if the local symphony hall union members are on strike. At the heart of it all is such a profound passion for music that millions of people worldwide, including those from countries and cultures one might be surprised to find even having the time or energy amid their economic, social or yes, war-related battles to sing and to listen to singers. If there’s a genuinely possible force for world peace, my friends, it may well be in music.
More personally, it’s music that is a central force for my own happiness, for a large number of reasons. Every one of those listed above comes into my own life and being regularly. But as you know, I am partnered for said life with a musician, and so the whole topic comes that much more sharply into focus. Music has been a glue for us two from the very beginning of ‘us’. Ask our mutual dear friend, a fellow musician, if I were single and might therefore be ‘available’? Check. Collaborate over a large-scale music performance and its visual presentation as a way to get to know each other a bit, hovering around each other during rehearsals and preparation? Check. Go on a first date to a Mark Morris ‘Dido and Aeneas‘ dance performance [yes, truly spectacular, by the way] for which my suitor had prepared the singers? Check!
What followed is, was and ever shall be musicocentric. Our honeymoon (more about that in a future post) was built, in fact, around my fiance’s conducting gig–a gig including, naturally, our aforementioned Dual BFF as accompanist–at a choral festival in Veszprém, Hungary, arranged under the auspices of the parent organization that spawned the magazine for which I still do editorial duties, if you can follow that sprawling, meandering melody line. One might say that it all began with music and went racing straight downhill from there. Or, if one feels as I do, that music has brought uncountable joys into my life from earliest memory to the present, and will sustain me until the end. In any case, one of the clear high points of musical pleasure has been attending the myriad concerts, events, conferences, performances, and festivals that bring musicians and music lovers together all over the world. A huge number of our favorite people are those whom we’ve met in and through all of this music-related stuff. We have deeply loved ‘family’ literally around the world whom we’ve met and with whom we’ve bonded through musical acquaintance.
If you haven’t done so yet, or not recently enough, may I suggest that you ‘get thee to’ the nearest conference, symposium or festival involving music as soon as you’re able. If, like me, you aren’t an active participant, know that every artist needs his or her cheerleaders and fans and supporters, and that your mutual love of the art will mean more than that you stood onstage during the work or the bows. Yes, even non-musicians can and should pitch in–even those with no sense of pitch can fold programs, stuff envelopes, recruit audience members and donors and board members and political supporters, can drive the shuttle that carries the singers and their accompanists from venue to venue at the festival, and can buy tickets and bask in the glorious sounds from town square to church nave to school ‘cafetorium’ to symphony hall and shout a resounding Bravissimi! to all and sundry.
Beyond that, though, the immersion of being in a place where a huge number of people, participants and supporters and happy observers alike, have come together from a wide range of territory for an extended period of days solely for love of music–that is a wholly different and magical experience everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy at least once. So I commend them to you, the small-scale community events offered by your local affiliated high schools and the international events hosted by long-lived organizations in exotic places and every variation on the theme you can find. I promise you will leave with a song in your heart and memories to last you to when all of your other memories have faded to dust and perhaps beyond. If music be the food of love, play on! For though in this line opening his play ‘Twelfth Night‘ Shakespeare exposed the Duke of Orsino’s conviction that being surfeited with love (in this instance, via its musical surrogate) would cure him of his hunger for it, I think that quite the opposite is true: if they are excellent, the more we experience them and are filled with them, the more we crave both love and music.
Food of that sort for thought: visit first the websites and then the events offered by your local choirs, bands, orchestras, theaters, and performance companies. My own favorites are hosted by professional organizations of music educators, conductors and performers simply because those are the ones I’ve naturally had the privilege to attend, as consort to my musical prince charming, and these all offer performances by top artists that are open to the public, sometimes even with free admission. Explore them! The organization that ‘sponsored’, or inspired and was the jumping-off point for, our honeymoon with its Singing Week in Veszprém–with its half-dozen ateliers conducted by musicians from Europe and North America and singers and whole choirs from all over as well–was what is now called the European Choral Association-Europa Cantat and it hosts a wide variety of such choral events throughout each year, with a focal youth choir festival occurring triennially in places like Passau, Leicestershire, Barcelona, Utrecht, Torino (2012), and Pécs, Hungary (a locale to be repeated in 2015).
Pop, folk, jazz, rock, blues, punk, bluegrass, Early Music, all flavors and kinds of music and individual organizations from the Oldtime Fiddlers [I once got to run the stage lighting for their competition in Washington state–fabulous fiddling, huge fun and even some fantastic yodeling!] to the Verona Opera [I can say from my one experience there that genuine opera under the stars is something not to be missed, even if it’s still 40°C when the singing ends in the middle of the night]: there is something for practically any musical taste out there, and many of them that I enjoy immensely are included among these. My personal pet organizations among the professional gang also include many others: IFCM (International Federation for Choral Music), ACDA (American Choral Directors Association), ACCC (Association of Canadian Choral Communities), TMEA (Texas Music Educators Association), Chorus America, the Boston (odd-numbered years in June), Berkeley (even-numbered years in June), and Vancouver (annually in August) Early Music festivals, and ever so much more.
My husband’s parents are longtime travelers and music lovers. In addition to being their son’s chief cheerleaders and supporters in his musical career from the beginning, they have always enjoyed listening to all sorts of other music, particularly jazz, and in that, particularly big band and swing music. They love live music and have gone many times on road trips to various jazz festivals over the years, and Mom called this afternoon with an enthusiastic review of their just-completed trip down to the Newport Jazz Festival. They don’t do any of this by halves: it’s a serious pack up the car and leave home expedition for these two, in this case a drive from east of Seattle where they live on south down the Washington corridor to Astoria (just over the Oregon border) to meet a couple of good friends at a restaurant before they trek their last couple of hours down the coast to Newport, Oregon where they stay for the festival. They attend a number of concerts and events every time, and this time opted for the additional festival closing candlelight dinner with its own live music. And of course, being Mom and Dad, they also took a couple of side trips to see an old friend (possibly younger than they are) who doesn’t get around as much, and to go a bit farther down the coast for an extra stay in a seashore place they love. And the centerpiece of the trip is, on these expeditions, certainly still the music–they take such contagious joy in the variety of performers and styles and pieces and concerts they hear each time and, I think, are fueled by them with a bit of a new lease on life each time too. Music does do that to us, as I might have mentioned once or twice in these posts . . .
I think of all the lives that have been changed by music–and the music-makers who have changed the lives of us listeners who get to experience it–and am astounded yet again by the potency of this communal experience. What would it be like to [shudder!] have a world with no composers, no violinists, no Dave Grusin, no African drummers, no klezmer bands, no Ray Charles, no Elly Ameling, no Chinese opera, no Eric Clapton, no mariachi, no Baroque oboists, no ZZ Top, no reggae, ska or zydeco music, no Ella Fitzgerald, no oud or sitar, no Jussi Björling? An unimaginably dark place, that world, if you ask me!I’m always immensely pleased to hear Mom and Dad have had another marvelous time out exploring and savoring the countryside. Of course there’s the simple delight in knowing they’re happy. But besides that, through these adventures of theirs they keep up with an enormous cadre of family and friends all over the country, take interest in a mind-boggling range of cultural and historical sites and sights along the way, admire the breathtaking breadth of the American landscape and its ever-changing character, meet and adopt fascinating people everywhere they go, dine at whatever local favorite watering-hole captures their imaginations, and come home to tell the tale and renew our interests in such things–either over the phone or, if we’re lucky enough to all be in the same part of the country at the same time, over dinner.
So much of this started in part as a response to their love of music and the pull it has to bring them across this sprawling land. I think of the composers, music theoreticians, and other artists and philosophers worldwide and over the years who have posited a cosmic musical scale, heard music in the ambient overtones of the atmosphere in which we exist, and built art and ideas around that in ways the speak to the inherent musicality of our existence. It’s entirely possible to conceive of the existence of something that very literally attunes us to one another and to the universe in which we exist, that urges us irresistibly to live in harmony somehow.
Whether there is some quantifiable and empirical way of knowing and understanding this, I as a non-musician and madly un-scientific person can’t tell you fully. What I do know is that there is something so inherently compelling in music that almost all of us are drawn to its power in one form or another. And that there is plenty of good reason for us to attempt harmonious living of whatever kind we can, and if there is no other way to achieve such things I think that in music might very well lie the key to doing so.