Thursday, March 04, 2010

Musical Signs

I am not one for spiritual signs. But if I were, they would have to do with music.

I should explain about "The Theme." When I was in High School, I spent my summers at a large arts camp in the Midwest. Even though I never got a big role in any of the Shakespeare productions, or won the concerto competition, I loved it there. And at the end of every musical performance, the performers had to play the camp's theme. And the rule was no clapping. You were supposed to walk out humming it. And the camp's theme happens to be a beautiful little motif from Howard Hanson's Symphony No. 2 ("The Romantic). It is like a sigh. When there is a vocal performance, the singers sing it in harmony, to the syllable of "lu" (Lu lu lu lu lu lu lu, etc) . And when little children perform it, it is always followed by "Sssshhhhhhhh" as they tell one another not to clap.

Even though The Theme is famous at my arts camp, and Howard Hanson's Symphony No. 2 well known, I have only heard The Theme on the radio twice.

The first time I was 17 and heading to one of my two top choice colleges for an interview and campus visit. At the time I didn't think I would get in, and the place seemed out of my league. Of course that made me want to go there even more. Anyway, as we drove up to campus in my grandmother's old toyota, suddenly The Theme came on to the radio. It was stunning. Right as we were pulling into the parking lot, there it was. We all sat in the car until it was finished. When I closed the car door and walked up into the sunshine, I knew it that no matter what happened, I would be okay. Of course I got in, though I ended up going to my other top choice, which was bigger and artsier, but that is a different story.

The second time I heard The Theme was the day before I was to depart for New York this January. I was feeling all sorts of stressed out about my move, wondering if I would be able to finish my book in New York, feeling sad about leaving a few good friends, feeling sick and congested and anxious about the future. I think I was driving to the tailors to pick up a shirt for a late season job interview (reader, I got the campus visit. Just not the job). I was on the exit ramp from 40 business, turning onto Knollwood St. to get to Stratford Road, and there was the theme. It was calming and peaceful and yet I found myself in tears. I could say that it triggered a memory of youth and innocence and happier times, but that wouldn't be true: my experiences at summer camp were just as emotionally complex as my experiences are now. All I know is that it was the right time for me to hear The Theme again. And that it brought me some sense of closure and peace of mind. Of course I remembered the other time I had heard it, and was hopeful.

The second musical sign came a few weeks ago. A dear friend (and an exboyfriend) was visiting for the first time from the UK and we made plans to hear a chamber music concert in Manhattan. We saw the Takacs Quartet at Town Hall on a Sunday afternoon. We didn't know what they would be playing, only that we hoped it would be late Beethoven since that is what they are known for. Lo and behold, the last piece on the program was Beethoven's Quartet Op. 132, with the incredibly gorgeous and ethereal third movement called Heiliger Dankgesang, "The Invalid's Prayer of Thanksgiving."

This was something we used to listen to together in Oxford. In fact, the first time I heard this piece was on my friend's stereo in his tiny rooms on Banbury Road. Hearing and seeing it live far transcended any experience of Beethoven quartets I have ever had. By last strain, I was in tears and the violist had to pause to wipe her eyes before starting the last movement. It amazed me that she could demonstrate such control over her playing and yet cry all the way through it, because it was so beautiful. It was good to share this music, at this time in my life, with a good friend. I felt like I was the invalid recovering from an illness. I have so much to be thankful for.


Fiona said...

Here's a music recommendation if you're free this weekend:
My friend wrote it!
I hope the book writing is going well

Viator said...

Lovely to be reminded to revisit Heiliger Dankgesang, and lovely to see you writing again.

Lose that infection, and pet the cat.

Pamphilia said...

Thanks, Fiona for that wonderful recommendation! That looks like a great show, and I just might go because I'll be in Manhattan tomorrow anyway. Is your friend the composer or the librettist? Or are they one and the same?

Lovely to see you here, Viator!

Fiona said...

I believe he did the score and the libretto. Let me know what it's like if you do go - I was terribly sorry to miss it (although I hear they are going to revive it next year).