Monday, March 31, 2008

March Madness

My second year of giving up following sports for Lent turned out to be even easier than the first, to the point that I don't really feel I gave up anything meaningful (except the donuts!). Missing out on all the post Super Bowl trauma turned out to be even more helpful psychologically than expected, but I also didn't remotely regret missing the first three days of NCAA's March Madness - I opened the paper (well, on Easter Sunday to find that Arkansas, my alma mater, would be playing UNC that afternoon, but I didn't feel particularly compelled to watch - just as well, since we got pounded. I also felt no particular gravitation towards this past weekend's games* - also just as well, because I was in the middle of my own March Madness.

Beginning Thursday, I spent 2 1/2 days as accompanist for the All-State chorus, which wasn't particularly taxing since all but one of the works they performed was a cappella. Still, it was a very busy rehearsal schedule and the performance was at none other than Symphony Hall. The sound of 250 voices on that stage was something else; it was a little sad only to play on one piece, but I swear even the rolling out of pitches for each selection was satisfying in that perfect acoustic. It was mostly fun to watch the students have such a fantastic experience at the concert (much credit for their experience should go to the inspiring conductor, Michele Holt) and, after all, it was their concert, not mine.

I hadn't experienced the All-State atmosphere since being the last-chair baritone in the Arkansas choir back in the '80s. The year before that, I'd actually been second chair cello in the all-state orchestra (which says a lot more about the quality of Arkansas cello-playing in those days than it does about me!), but I think chorus works better than orchestra in the "let's bring together a bunch of people really fast" department. How often does anyone get to sing in a group of that size? You could feel genuine emotion in what the kids were doing.

Anyway, all that would have been fine except I had two taxing recitals to accompany following the Mass hysteria, which put practice time at a premium. Saturday night featured four of Strauss's Brentano Lieder, which I'd never played, and Debussy's Quatre chansons de jeunesse, which I thought I knew better than I did. The Strauss songs are orchestrally dense, yet require a kind of subtlety and finesse that doesn't come easily with so many notes in play. Terrifying! I was practicing them right through the intermission, but they are really beautiful and were sung exquisitely. Sunday's violin program featured Beethoven Op. 30, No. 3, which is full of exposed passagework at top speed; Ives' second violin sonata, which is denser than Strauss, though more forgiving; and Tzigane, which felt like a stroll through the park after Beethoven and Ives.

It was all very stressful, but also richly rewarding - the kind of weekend that makes me so happy to be a musician. The Beethoven is full of spontaneity and humor, and I think that came across in spite of spontaneous finger happenings. I have other thoughts on that piece that I'll save for another post. The Ives, which I'd never played before, is really something. The barnburner second movement is a can't-miss crowd-pleaser; performing it feels like being shaken up in a kaleidoscope - which turns out to be a fun experience. The third and final movement, which transfigures Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing from meditation to pentecostal rapture, suffers only from being too short. Anyway, it's a work I'd love to play again, although the first movement is still something of an enigma to me.

So I am very tired and wish I'd had devoted more practice time to these works months ago. I spent very little time away from the piano from Thurs-Sunday. However, just to show how truly mad I am, I'll close with a ridiculous video I put together on Tuesday while working at my other keyboard. This is a promo for a faculty forum led by our technology committee. The back story is that during a meeting, after we'd come up with a pretentious title about "Shifting Technological Landscapes," someone starting singing a song I'd never heard. The rest of the committee members joined in, to my bafflement. Suffice it to say that I now know the song much better than I ever expected to. Here's why:

If, like me, you don't know your Carole King, perhaps this version will make more sense.

* The "out of sight, out of mind" (OOSOOM?) phenomenon is interesting, and perhaps stronger in me than in others. It may seem odd to my blog readership that I would ever have cared about basketball games, but when I'm in full sports intake mode, missing 10 seconds of these "big" games can feel like a travesty. Actually, I've had the OOSOOM experience with music as well. When I shifted my career focus to collaborative piano in my DMA years, I slowly starting convincing myself that I didn't really miss the solo piano rep - that duo sonatas and artsongs were much more satisfying. Then, in my second year, I taught a semester of music history. When we got to Beethoven and Op. 110 (which I had played) came up, I was blown away by how much I loved that music and how much I'd missed living with it.

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