Sunday, September 21, 2008
Whadda you know?! Yer just a piahnist."
Winter 1994 in Boston. I'm sitting in a classroom at the New England Conservatory of Music. I've taken an elective called Microtonal Singing with the legendary Joe Maneri, a wonderful improvisor, as well as an incredibly fascinating person. Joe Maneri, a generously sized man, brings several sandwiches into the class room which he eats, one by one, throughout the course of the class. The classes always go as follows: Joe takes a bite of his sandwich, and sings a tone, his voice wavering with microtonal inflections influenced by the consistency of whatever sandwich filling he's grappling with at that moment. We sing after him. He then sings the tone a microinterval higher or lower, which we then try to emulate. Inevitably after an hour of these exercises, a singer crashes his forehead on his desk and moans « I can't take it anymore ».
I loved this class. Joe would often intersperse stories into the singing exercises, like when he played at a nursing home for a man who was doubled over and couldn't sit up straight anymore. Joe lay on the floor and played into the man's face, looking up into his eyes. Afterwards, a nurse came over to Joe and said that she wanted to make sure he knew that the man he had played for had played with Benny Goodman's Orchestra, and how touched the man was, that Joe Maneri had played « just for him ». One day Joe got off on a tangent about the music of Milton Babbitt, a composer I've never quite been able to warm to. We got into an argument about the disputed merits of Babbitt's music, and then came an outburst in Brooklynese- "Whadda you know?! Yer just a piahnist. You just spend yer whole day practicing yer Rackmaaahninoff ". Feeling challenged, I opened up my satchel and dumped the contents on the floor, in order to prove that there weren't any Rachmaninoff scores in there, and that there was actually a lot of contemporary music that might inform my opinion about a composer such as Milton Babbitt. After this display, he calmly said with a smile « I like that, I like how you threw your books all over the floor and stuff. »
A long preamble to a larger topic... « Whadda you know?! Yer just a piahnist. » I just started this blog today. This is my second post. I've always wanted to be a political blogger, and I love reading the New York Times online. Is a concert pianist in any way qualified to offer any information of worth on a blog about politics? Isn't everyone talking about politics these days? The fact that too many of us know who the designer of Sarah Palin's glasses is might indicate that too many of us are too deep into the fringe elements of the 2008 US election.
I'm desperately hoping for Barack Obama. I've lived outside of the US since the fall of 2000 (with the exception of late 2001 to 2002), and watched US politics from the outside, at times fanatically, with a sinking feeling of not being able to do anything at all to change the course of things aside from sending in my absentee ballot, which I wasn't 100% certain would be counted anyway.
I need America to be healthy again. I caught the Obama bug via YouTube early this year, watching his 2004 Democratic convention speech, his speech about Race in America, and countless spots on David Lettermann and Jay Leno. My husband and I have had countless conversations about the multitude of his merits... « how graceful are his gesticulations with his hands ! » I say. « He would make an excellent cellist » he says. (On Facebook it does say that the Bach Cello Suites rank highly in his musical favorites). Or « How intelligent he is » he says. « It's just hard to believe that an American politician can get away with talking like that! » I say (time will tell). We stood in the 200,000-something crowd when Obama spoke in Berlin, not very close, but close enough to enjoy the atmosphere. I had to leave shortly after he began (the speech started later than expected) because I had a dress rehearsal across town, and I cursed my profession vehemently that would tear me from that golden summer evening listening to Barack present his vision of European-American cooperation and partnership. Do I need to clarify my reasons for hoping that Barack Obama wins ? In this divided world, I have the feeling that anyone who stumbles on this blog and reads it (perhaps through an errant google-search for Rackmaaahninoff) will probably know the reasons why I want to vote for Obama, and will probably share my convictions. Finding people who don’t vehemently wish for Obama to be president is getting harder and harder. It may be nearly 50% of the US population, but perhaps only .000003% of the world population (not a scientific figure). I recently spoke with a Berliner who said that if Obama doesn’t win the US election, he can always come to Berlin and be mayor here, or even chancellor ! He will always be welcome here.
I will not use this blog to contribute to the choir from Hell (singing Orff's Carmina Burana, and Ligeti's Requiem simultaneously (although I love the Ligeti!)) of talking head politicos that are flooding the net with dizzyingly abstruse commentary. This will be my first and last political blog entry, promised. I will not write more about this subject, because I will be much too busy in the coming weeks reading other people's blogs, as well as my beloved twice-weekly Maureen Dowd in the New York Times. This one's hillarious.
I would like to end this entry with a guide to music mentioned in the previous paragraphs.
Ligeti's Lux aeterna (not the Requiem, but close)
Rostropovich playing the Prelude of the G-major Bach Cello Suite
Rachmaninoff's 3rd Concerto (Rachmaninoff, pianist)
Lagniappe by Milton Babbitt, Robert Taub, pianist
and last but not least, the Joe Maneri Quartet at Barbes Brooklyn