Tag Archives: overthinking

I Hate Bruckner, Part I

I hate Anton Bruckner.

For the last two years, whenever I’ve had any spare time, I’ve been drifting through Grout’s History of Western Music and taking notes at the end of each chapter. I then listen to Youtube videos of the mentioned works and follow along with scores on IMSLP. Even though Grout succeeded in sucking nearly every human element out of his narrative, I’ve uncovered a lot of great pieces this way and put them into historical context. I’m a nerd and I’ve enjoyed the project. Always.

But this week…

Bruckner.

Bruckner. For some reason, I hate this guy.

I don’t remember when I first heard his music. But I do remember the impression it left: what the hell?

It’s entirely possible I read about him before I heard any of his music. He was an insecure country bumpkin. His heroes were Wagner, Beethoven, tremolo, this rhythmic pattern, and Christ. He came to a Beethoven exhumation without permission and cradled the skull. And he was obsessed with teenage girls, even when he was old enough to be the girls’ grandfather, going so far as to keep a list of who he found physically desirable. I can deal with one or two creepy traits in an artist…because let’s face it, most of the great composers were creeps in one way or another…but Bruckner. He just takes the creepiness to a whole new level. For some reason literally nothing endears him to me. He seems like the great composer version of the lonely old guy who hangs around gas stations, mumbling things to himself and asking female clerks easily answerable questions. You know he’s probably harmless – maybe he’s even nice – but you have no desire to get any closer to find out.

I listened through the eighth symphony the other day while reading through the IMSLP score. I was twitching throughout the entire thing. The music repelled me – repelled me in a way no other music ever had. And I couldn’t explain why, which made me even twitchier. I GUESS MAYBE BECAUSE EVERYTHING FELT AS IF IT WAS IN CAPITAL LETTERS! EVERYTHING WAS LIFE OR DEATH OR BRASS OR TREMOLO FOR SEVENTY-FIVE MINUTES STRAIGHT! AND JUST WHEN I THOUGHT IT WAS ALMOST OVER I LOOKED AT THE CLOCK AND SAW THERE WAS STILL AN HOUR LEFT TO GO OH MY GOD SOMEONE GET ME OUT OF HERE!

I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Fauré is my favorite composer, and the two couldn’t be more different. Bruckner is sun, Fauré is moon. Fauré is the wistful urban sophisticate who sums up delicate, ephemeral emotions in emotionally ambiguous nocturnes. Bruckner is the one who apparently can’t say anything worthwhile without a hundred-piece brass section blowing away for over an hour.

A totally scientific comparison of what goes through my mind when I listen to Fauré versus what goes through my mind when I listen to Bruckner

But I’ve been thinking about it, and realizing I’m not giving Bruckner a fair shake. Since I learned his biography before I had a chance to really dig into his music, I know I was biased against it from the start. Should what a composer did in his life influence what we think of his work? I don’t know that it should – so why does it? Personal life aside, why is his work so repellent to me? (Because I’m pretty sure I’d still hate it even if I thought he was a super amazing guy…) What exactly about his work is repellent to me? Orchestration? Harmony? Tempo? Lack of contrast? Everything? How can one person cry at one passage’s strength and beauty while I start cackling at its absurdity? Will I someday hear a Bruckner interpretation that I enjoy? How much of my hatred is the fault of conductors and performers? How much of my hatred is my fault? What exactly causes certain people to love certain styles of music, and others to loathe others? Could I ever – gasp – love Bruckner, if I invested the time and energy and resisted the ever-present urge to make fun of him?

Stop making me think, Bruckner! It was so much easier when I could just point and laugh at you.

So. This might be masochistic but I’m putting myself through the wringer again, re-listening to Bruckner 8 and live-blogging it, trying to answer some of those questions. I may even – and this is blasphemy – cut out the parts I don’t like, thereby adding my own wrinkle to the Bruckner Problem. I’m perversely curious as to what such a symphony would sound like. If in the future I use this project as evidence that I knew nothing at the age of twenty-two, so be it.

Do you love Bruckner? Why? Please convince me I’m a mean sixth-grade girl bullying a naive nerd, because there’s a part of me that wants to love Bruckner. Really. Honestly.

Do you hate Bruckner? Why? Help me understand this strange reaction I’ve never had before. Because, in case you didn’t hear yet, I hate Bruckner.

Do you have no opinion about him? That seems to me to be the most shocking position of all. How can an hour of this possibly evoke a “meh”?

Next time…the live-blog.

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Jumping Off A Cliff

A couple weeks ago I got an email from a string-playing friend. There was a second violin emergency in her orchestra. Violinist needed. Stat. Please. Help. Beethoven 7 – third piano concerto – here are the rehearsal times – here’s what you’ll be paid – will you do it? Can you do it?

Please?

My first instinct was no. No, I can’t do it. When I agree to play a concert, I like to be prepared to the max, to have my parts half-memorized, to know who I need to listen to when…to know everything I possibly can, and then to guilt myself for not knowing more. This job, however, would consist of me getting a symphony and a concerto I’d never played into run-through shape for the first rehearsal in a few days. It would be my first chance to make a positive or negative impression on the members of a semi-professional orchestra I’ve watched since my teens, which I’ve toyed with joining for years, in some hypothetical far-flung future where I’ll be much better than I ever am. So far I’d spent the majority of 2012 alternating between lying on the couch sick with the flu and playing slow scales in alto clef. I can’t imagine a worse preparation.

Can you do it?, she asked.

Can you do it?, I asked.

***

When I was 14 and went to my first orchestra rehearsal, I had no idea what to expect, so I sought advice from an older violinist friend. She said, “When you don’t know what’s going on, fake it.” I faked it the entire rehearsal. But gradually, with work, I stopped having to fake. A few semesters later, I was in the first chair of the second violins, and the conductor shook my hand at the final performance.

When I was accepted into the summer camp I knew I wouldn’t be accepted into, I was struck with a heady mix of terror and excitement. I was the least advanced, worst-trained player there; graduate students and competition winners abounded. One of the faculty members there was a fantastic player and person who had played second violin in my favorite recording of the Bach double concerto. During one of our last concerts, she played in our chamber orchestra, and I was her stand-partner in Brandenburg 3.

When I was asked by a professional musician if I’d like to try some duets sometime, I blanched. It felt like a waste of his time, like a gesture of sympathy, but I couldn’t bear to say no. Nonetheless when we got together I stalled. And stalled some more.

“I’m scared,” I finally said. For some reason, no reason, no reason at all, I was scared.

“You don’t need to be scared,” he said. “It’s just playing.”

He was right.

***

There have been times when I fell on my face. I’ve bombed auditions. I’ve lost orchestra seats. I’ve mis-read a scale…that was one octave…in C-major…in front of an important teacher…numerous times. Once when I was recording my recital for summer camp, I wasn’t told until a few minutes before I set up the mic that the pianist was actually a trombonist and only played simple Suzuki accompaniments on the side…and I’d brought her a piano transcription of a Wieniawski concerto. So there have been disasters.

But the thing is…now that I think about it, I don’t remember the disasters nearly as clearly as I remember the exultation of the unexpected successes.

***

One semester my youth orchestra took on three movements of Beethoven 5. It was the biggest musical project I’d been a part of up until that point. At the concert, before we began, the conductor asked us, “Before this concert, how many of you had played a Beethoven symphony?”

A few kids who had been lucky (and let’s face it, wealthy) enough to go to summer camp raised their hands.

He smiled. “Now how many of you have played a Beethoven symphony?”

We all raised our hands.

Is it strange that I don’t really remember anything about how the performance went? But I do remember finishing it and being backstage, waiting for a ride home. The heavy door to outside was open. Kids were leaving and shouting. Everyone was giddy. I sat in front of a bank of lockers and tried very hard not to cry. All that work, and the moment in the hot spotlight, the exultation, all come to this…sitting backstage, the music turned in, the folder empty, everything over. Not knowing when it would happen again. If it would happen again. If it could happen again.

***

Can you do it?

***

After deliberating, I hit reply.

The cursor blinked.

“Yes,” I typed. “I’ll do it,” and I clicked send.

Sometimes I guess you just have to jump off the cliff, and have faith you’ll land on your feet, fiddle in hand.

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Hey Diddle Diddle, the Flu and the Fiddle

This week I’ve had the flu.

Flus and fibromyalgia don’t mix. Consequently, I tend to hermetically seal myself from society as much as possible during the winter months, because I catch everything. Things have gotten better since the B and C and D supplements, but nevertheless germs still find me incredibly sexy. So here I am after a hazy week of coughing and dripping. If prior flus are any indication, I probably have another week or so of battle left. Appointments were postponed, rehearsals canceled. As the days slip past, indecipherable from one another, I fall further and further behind. I’ve been posting way too much on Facebook and nursing an insidious self-loathing.

Before I got the flu, I’d been doing really well in the practice department. Like two-hours-a-day well. Lots of Kreutzer, lots of second position, lots of Ševčík, lots of Schradieck, lots of alto clef. I was actually really proud of myself, and high-strung perfectionist that I am, I have to do a lot to be really proud of myself. But then I went to visit friends for a couple days – and I didn’t bring the fiddle along – then I got sick the day after my return – and then I didn’t want to risk draining various facial fluids onto my violin, so… (Yes, I did say various facial fluids. Forgot to mention I also have a case of recurring pinkeye.) It was only yesterday that I finally picked the violin and viola up again, and then only for a half hour. And I had to lay down afterward because the excitement of Schradieck made my fever spike. (Sign you’re an orch dork: Schradieck makes your fever spike.)

So today I’m lying on the couch, eyes closed, thinking. I’ve been doing way too much of this lately, and chasing my thoughts in circles. But I’m wondering… Maybe the best measure of a devoted musician is not only how consistently they practice, but also how consistently they jump back onto the wagon once they’ve slipped off. In other words, how unfazed they are by circumstances that conspire to keep them away from the instrument. I think I’m going to move forward on this assumption. It’s not fair to hate myself for something I have no control over. Our society encourages us to think that there’s always a cure out there somewhere for everything if we just look hard enough. Quick fixes, the media tells us, abound, just as long as you get off your lazy ass to look for them. Chronic illness and I have been roommates for twenty-two years now, and I still fall victim to this ridiculous mindset; whenever one of my friends isn’t feeling well, my first impulse is to give them advice and ideas to try to cure themselves. Have you been to the doctor? Have you taken this pill? Are you eating these foods? But you know what? Sometimes there isn’t a cure. Sometimes you’re just sick. Sometimes you just have to endure waiting it out, and sometimes you just can’t do anything about it. In short, sometimes life sucks.

This isn’t a particularly inspiring moral – actually, it’s kind of terrifying – but…whatever. It’s the truth.

Plus, the sickness hasn’t been all bad. Thanks to my altered state of mind, I was able to complete a short story I’d been in a rut about for months. I’ll have to wait until I feel better to know for sure, but…I think I might be proud of it. (I know I’ve gotten somewhere with it, though, because I’ve now moved from worrying about how to finish it to worrying about how the people I so obviously have used for inspiration will receive it, if they ever stumble upon a fictionalized version of themselves in print…) I’ve cleaned out my desktop and a bunch of spam in my inbox, so I can now successfully delude myself into thinking I’m organized. My Tumblr has a long queue full of gorgeous pictures and audio. I’ve been thinking some thoughts that I’d been pushing down before; lately I’ve been too busy to acknowledge them, let alone process them. It remains to be seen whether I’ve over-thought everything. Maybe I have. (I probably have.)

But I’m happy to think that by the time I can decide, I’ll be feeling better. It might take a while, but eventually I’ll be feeling better.

And back to playing the violin.

***

(Oh, and I also heard that a little band named Bonny Bear headed by a pedophile accountant won something called “Best New Artist” at some awards show or something…? Congratulations to Justin Vernon and his band Bon Iver. I’m proud to share your hometown.)

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