Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Strings Of Thunder

The Trillium Quintet
We've got a sports team here called the Portland Thunder. It's a fake sport--arena football, which is sort of a cross between sumo and pinball--and it's a fake team name, too, no doubt generated on Madison Avenue. It rains in Portland, you see, so, uh, let's call them the Thunder. They don't realize that although it rains here, it hardly ever thunders. Couple times a year, tops.

But it thundered two weeks ago. It thundered just as my friend Pat's ensemble, the Trillium Quintet, launched into Dvorak's Piano Quintet #2, right in her very home. I have awesome friends. If you can manage it, you should always make friends with good musicians. And plumbers--plumbers are good, too.

Pat says the Dvorak has been her all-time favorite piece of music since she first heard it as a girl. My grand-nephew's favorite piece of all time is Itsy Bitsy Spider, and, now that he's pushing three, he can already sing it while accompanying himself on guitar. I wouldn't want to belittle his accomplishment, but Pat didn't have it as easy with her piece. In order to play her piece, a lot of things had to happen.

First, Dvorak (pronounced Davorzzhack) had to happen. He had to be born in 1841 in a country that couldn't even afford all the letters it needed for its alphabet. Then he had to grow up and write music so pretty it impressed his contemporary Brahms (pronounced Brahickitums). It wasn't easy to play. In fact it had to rest for a half century before enough sediment settled out of it that Pat could come along and get a clear view of the notes. Then, as the piano player in the group, she had to spend a year or so learning all of them.

First: Itsy Bitsy Spider. Then: Dvorak.
It's no big deal; I could learn the Dvorak 2nd piano quintet myself, if I spent ten years at it with no potty breaks. But then I probably couldn't pull it off in front of a room full of people.

Meanwhile Pat still had to find people as accomplished as she is, because even a good pianist can't play with a bouquet of stringed instruments at her neck. It's unwieldy. On Sunday we listened to the result of what I estimate to be a collective 190 years of practice all spun out in an hour of music. It doesn't ordinarily thunder here, so I suspect that what we heard was the crack of space and time opening up long enough to admit the soul of Dvorak into every hammer and bow.

It's either that, or there's some music so powerful it makes its own weather.

31 comments:

  1. I love "what we heard was the crack of space and time opening up long enough to admit the soul of Dvorak" - beautifully expressed! Dvorak is wonderful to listen to - fortunately he came from a place that had all the notes even if they didn't have all the letters of the alphabet. Of course, Itsy Bitsy Spider, played by the right 3-year old, is equally as beautiful.

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    1. I don't know about equally beautiful, but the enthusiasm level is right up there.

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  2. My wife just picked up the book - A Cup Of Comfort For Cat Lovers - and what to our surprise one of the stories is: Larry: Not Much of a Cat, but Oh, What a Gal, by Murr Brewster.

    the Ol'Buzzard

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    1. You've got to be kidding me. That was the very first piece I ever got published! How bizarre that you tripped over it. Hope you liked it!

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    2. Well, hot damn! I googled the title and look what popped up: http://f3.tiera.ru/1/genesis/570-574/570000/1824d6abb6851622b21a605cfc76e4aa. Read it of course and cried at the end. Your first published piece was a beautiful tribute to your "speckled pajama" buddy, Murr.

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    3. Wow! Would you look at that! You can download the whole dang book. I just reread my piece, myself--it had been a few years--and cried, too. Then again, she was a hell of a cat.

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  3. I give full credit to the viola player. Others would place blame, but I prefer to give credit.

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    1. Because that's the kind of sunny soul you are, Kat.

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  4. It has always amazed me that everyone gets the same notes to work with but the output can be so different. Think of all the genres and all the pieces ever written. And there's very little duplication (except on purpose).

    Beautiful tribute to your friends' labours.

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    1. For some reason, you reminded me that I once observed that two people were really good at making terrific music around a melody of one repeated note: Beethoven (7th symphony, 2nd movement) and Prince (Raspberry Beret).

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  5. I never got much farther than Chopsticks on the piano, but I sure like it when I hear someone play using all their fingers.

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    1. I do too. Fingers especially. I do remember there was something in the Chopsticks repertoire that involved entire fists. A big hit in the 5-6 year-old set.

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  6. Among the other accolades I have thrown your way, you can now add the 'good friend' and 'expert appreciator' medals. But you will need to stay very, very still or the clanking of your medals will impinge on the concert.

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    1. Aw thanks! Nothing clangs on me for long. I have much sound-deadening equipment on my very person.

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  7. I definitely believe there is music so powerful it makes its own weather.

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    1. Yup. Something else is changing the climate, though.

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  8. Oh wow!! Lovely and your words made the magnificence come alive.

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    1. My words! You should hear the actual instruments.

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  9. Oh my - so glad to know that I pronounced Brahms the wrong way all my life long!

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    1. Count on it. I'm still trying to learn how the various states are pronounced. In my own country.

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  10. Damn you! Now I have to you-tube Dvorak and listen to it.

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    1. I was just going to say that, darn. But I do too!

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    2. Let us know what you both think.

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  11. It's not the type of music I prefer to listen to, but I'm impressed that people can play like that.
    I enjoy pianos and violins but honky tonk & rock and roll rather than classical.

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  12. This is a concert I'd have loved to hear and I don't generally enjoy music that Springsteen doesn't cover.

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    1. Springsteen did cover this. Sadly, the tapes were erased.

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  13. What a treat! Both the concert, and your review.

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    1. I don't know how I get so lucky, sometimes.

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