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REM to Robots

This has been a very busy Fall.  We finally unleashed Albert’s Window on the world, had our Tenri concert, as well as our first appearance on the Arts on the Corner series in Brooklyn.  Additionally, we finished recording music for an upcoming CD of compositions by Scott Brickman and are neck deep in edits for that.   Coupled with my running the NYC Marathon for the third time, marking term papers, getting final exams ready, attending student recitals and, oh yeah, practicing and playing some gigs, I just haven’t been able to write a blog.  So, I subbed it out.

I asked Anne Wigglesworh (or Dr. Anne, as we call her) if she would consider writing a blog and she generously has.   Please enjoy.

On becoming a groupie

In spite of having been somehow exposed to music all my life—Puccini and Chopin on the wind-up Victrola  at my grandmother’s; Philadelphia Orchestra at the Academy of Music; many choirs and school choruses; violin lessons; the Beach Boys and the Beatles and folk music and REM—I didn’t discover chamber music until my mid-sixties.

Chamber music astounded me by its permutations of sweetness and drama, the variety and tunefulness of the standard-practice repertoire, the varied emotions it revealed or evoked. Every voice could be heard both on its own and as part of the whole sound. I learned that, whereas a giant orchestra had trouble sounding small, that a quartet or trio could sound small and enormous. (Did you hear the Erlkönig encore at the Eight Strings & a Whistle Tenri concert last year?)  I gave up the Philharmonic, the ballet, the opera, and the movies and started going to chamber concerts all the time and in any venue.

The next thing I knew, I was studying the cello. Me and the cello is not the story I am telling here, though full disclosure prompts me to say that Matt is my cello teacher. Likewise, Ina and Suzanne have both coached ensembles I’ve played in at Summerkeys in Lubec, Maine, where I first met them all. Naturally, I wanted to attend the ensemble’s concerts, but I doubted I’d go for the actual music. I had no idea what to expect: Living composers?   What living composers? Are there any? Will I be able to get into the music at all?

At the first of their concerts I heard, they  played Hilary Tann’s “The Walls of Morlais Castle” and I was amazed by the sound, the intricacy of the piece, and its approachability.  It was, surprisingly, beautiful.  The ensemble sounded like an orchestra, like a small ensemble, like individuals. I had to discard my preconceptions about how they were “supposed” to sound because I hadn’t heard some of those sounds before. Neither had anyone else, in many cases. The vibe at their concerts was welcoming and engaging—the musicians got up and talked about the music they played, how they’d come across it, why they’d commissioned it. Sometimes the composers appeared and said a few (or many) words about the piece. And the ensemble members were such stars. My mind opened. After a couple of performances, I was a fan for sure. I go to all their concerts. I follow them around like a groupie: Sheepshead Bay, Manhattan, Presque Isle, Machias, Bay Ridge. I hear the Big Concert programs before the Big Performances, and find them as familiar as, um, Mozart. Nearly.

I didn’t, and still don’t, always get the new pieces when I hear them. Sometimes I get distracted by my foot going to sleep, or some bit in the music —“why did the guy make them pizz 87 identical notes?” “why does this sound like a series of crashes and booms?” “Why this affected-sounding title?” “Which twelve tones are they playing now and what does it mean?”—but it’s a cornucopia of sound at every concert. I’ve become impatient for the end of the standard practice piece they always include, because I want to hear what comes next. When the first notes play, I have no idea what is going to follow. How will the other instruments joining? Where will the music is go?  It’s sure to be engaging and always beautifully played (even the crashes and booms).

Concerts are, of course, ephemeral. But there’s a recourse for those of us who want to hear pieces again, because we loved them, or because we want to understand or relive what was happening, as the performance goes by so fast. Eight Strings & a Whistle has just released a CD, Albert’s Window. Hearing on the CD the music previously experienced live in the concert space expands my enjoyment and helps me see all that action that was going past me while my foot was asleep. It clarifies the structure of pieces that didn’t seem to make total sense at first. In the first piece on the CD, Martin Rokeach’s “Going Up?”, I love the way the flute sets the pace for the more leisurely wave motion of the rest of the piece.  I can better hear the copying machine at Ed Cionek’s Staples when I hear “Bad Robots” at home, where I can listen without the distractions of the concert hall.

So why go to concerts, then, if I can draw so much enjoyment and learn so much from the CD? “That’s pretty easy,” you might say, “of course you go to your teachers’ concerts.” Even so, there are plenty of other reasons to hear them in the concert hall. The warmth of engaging directly with the musicians is missing from the CD, as are the intimate short talks before the new pieces and the remarks of the often-present composers. Listening at home, I miss the excitement of hearing music written for the musicians, that we are hearing often for the first time. Who wouldn’t find that exciting?

I’m a little past groupie age, but I think that’s what I’ve become; thank you, Eight Strings & a Whistle!

Anne at Benefit

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