Back from band camp for grownups

While at band camp, we heard a fabulously intense performance of a piece which must be witnessed rather than listened to on the radio or on a CD while you’re doing something else.  It was Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. You couldn’t ask for a better audience — 150+ raptly attentive amateur musicians with all cell phones off and no program notes.  The piece takes an hour to play and is full of long silences.  In some parts just one instrument plays while the other players sit stock still staring ahead, so the piece really is part theater.

You can always tell when a string player or a pianist starts to play as something moves and your mind expects a sound.  No so with the many long silences of the clarinet solo.  Parts begin so softly that you can’t even be sure the clarinet is playing, as there is no motion to clue you in.  Then, suddenly you realize you’ve been hearing a sound for a while.   The piece ends with a violinist ascending slowly into the tonal stratosphere while producing a prolonged decrescendo.  She was in tears at the end.

The players (correctly) decided on no descriptive program notes (which were read aloud at the beginning) as they didn’t want to break up the intensity with rustling paper (or the spoken word).  Probably it’s better to hear the piece not knowing the background, but there’s a Wiki page for it which is pretty good if you already know its provenance.

Pianists don’t have to count.  When we get stuck we just stop and then start over.  Even with chamber music we have the score so we always know what the other players should be doing, so we can pretty much fake what we can’t play and keep things going.  Our only problems are the incessant page turns, sometimes with all the other instruments cutting out leaving us alone playing with both hands, turning the page and trying not to miss a beat.  All this was true until I got to play a piece with bassoon, clarinet, oboe, violin and cello by Martinu —, which had only the piano part, and long 9 and 10 measure rests which I was supposed to count.  I thought it would be a total disaster, but the coach conducted it, and shouted out numbers when I was supposed to play. I bought him a beer later that week.  An interesting piece with a tango, and a Charleston in it.

Participants at the camp decided that there would be no talk of politics, just music, and the world did manage to spin on its axis for a week without our help.

I spent 300 miles or so of the 1,100 mile drive back on backroads through the verdant midwest countryside.  I made it a point to pace off a mile or so every now and then in a particularly beautiful stretch of country and then get out and walk it.  Typical of the midwest, each time I did, someone would stop and ask if I needed help.

The many miles of the country I went through on the way back look very good.  The stores and  restaurants and malls were full, the campgrounds crowded, and help wanted signs were everywhere. Much better than the previous trips of the past 5 years.

So then I get back to Massachusetts and the alternate universe of the New York Times.  When the Times talks about the longest bull market in history, they note in the same breath that it is only for rich people, ignoring the fact that all pension plans, IRAs and 401k’s have been beneficiaries.  Also on the front page was a story about a payoff to a porn star, something of minimal consequence to the daily lives of those outside the bubble.

Paul Krugman, Nobel Laureate in economics, appears on the opinion page, despite having declared election night the stock market would never recover, and a few years ago informing us that we were at peak oil production.  At least no articles by Larry Summers (smartest guy in the room and former president of Harvard) about secular stagnation and the impossibility of 3% economic growth.

Linus Pauling was one of the great chemists of the 20th Century — electronegativity, the nature of the chemical bond, the alpha helix etc. etc.  Yet when he said vitamin C could cure colds and cancer, he was proved wrong and his pronouncements on the subject roundly ignored.  No so with political and economic pundits.

The disconnect between the bicoastal mainstream media and the center of the country is profound.  The November elections should be fascinating.  Help stamp our minority employment — vote Democratic.

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  • Tom  On August 27, 2018 at 1:22 pm

    > they note in the same breath that it is only for rich people, ignoring the fact that all pension plans, IRAs and 401k’s have been beneficiaries.

    Half of US households age 55 and up have no IRAs or 401ks: That’s not to say that the rising stock markets are not indirectly benefiting them, but fewer Americans than you think directly benefit from the stock market.

    • luysii  On August 27, 2018 at 10:31 pm


      Pension plans for police and fire and state employees were in deep trouble a year or two ago, mostly in large states like NY, NJ and Illinois. These people are not the 1%. I found it impossible to find out how much of the market is/was owned by pension funds. The booming market and the optimism it engenders are one component behind the low unemployment rate. It is particularly heartening that rates are at a historical low for minorities (but they could still be lower).

      While the NYT headline isn’t fake news, it is symptomatic of their bias.

  • Harold  On August 28, 2018 at 11:34 pm

    You might also enjoy “A Short Film for the End of Time,” which uses the last two movements from Messiaen’s piece.
    Part 1:
    Part 2:
    You are of course entitled to your own interpretation of the work, but I quite like the way this short film depicts things.

  • Melchizedek  On September 1, 2018 at 2:36 am

    Remember that stock — OncoNova (ONTX) and their putative RAS targeting agent rigosertib? Turns out that’s not the mechanism of action, after all:

  • Melchizedek  On September 1, 2018 at 2:44 am

    I must say, it brings me endless joy that a Christian gentlemen of intelligence, refinement, sanity and culture (still) exists. Lord knows it’s a rarity these days, esp among the diaspora of the Ancient Eight. By the bye, I’m jealous of your implied sight reading abilities. How did you get so proficient?! I just can’t seem to do it. After years of practice, I still must plod ever so slowly, ever so deliberately and repetitively through my manuscripts — be they hymns or sonatas or easy two-part inventions.

    • luysii  On September 1, 2018 at 6:43 am

      The only way to learn to sight read is to do a lot of it. Haydn wrote 60+ piano sonatas, and Clementi wrote tons. Just get them and go through them. The latter Haydn’s are not easy technically, but the chords and changes between them were in the process of setting the standard, so they should be recognizable and easier to read.

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