Category Archives: classical musicians

The Sweet Nature.

 

Some people are born to it.

There are all kinds of traits which, science is now disclosing, are expressed rather automatically because, well, they appear as genes along the strands of our DNA helix. We are so proud, we humans; we’d like to think that we never intended to be the person we actually are.

But, in large part, we get dealt a hand and then the game plays itself out.

Or, does it?

My mother was one of four daughters. Her father’s name was Henry Thomas Sweet. He said his parents were from Cornwall, on the English coastline. Ancestry.com lists:

“This Anglo-Saxon last name has three origin theories. First, it is a baptismal surname meaning “the son of Sweet”…. Second, it derived from the nickname “the sweet”, a good, pleasant, or agreeable person, from the Middle English word swete. The old English personal (first) names Sweta and Swete also derive from this word and may by the source of the surname. Third, as asserted by William Arthur in his book An Etymological Dictionary of Family and Christian Names, the name refers to a Swede, a person from Sweden or who was native to that country. Fourth, it can be an Anglicized version of the German/Jewish surname Suess ….. The given names Suet and Suot were documented in the Domesday Book of 1086 AD, which was a survey of England and Wales ordered by William the Conqueror. Fifth, the book English Surnames by Mark Antony Lower claims it’s a nickname for a person “who has either a vinegar face or a foxy complexion”.

Hah.

One wonders if “agreeable and pleasant” married “a vinegar face or foxy complexion” to form the genetic expression handed down to me by my mother’s father.

“Sweetness”.

Sort of a vague reference to guileless, I guess. Gentleness comes to mind, in tandem, along with pleasant countenance. Ain’t no bitch face in the sweet one.

I can say that “The Sweet Girls”, as they became known – Dora Mae; Lydia Elisabeth “Betty”; Frances Magdalene, and Martha Louise, if ever they bore common “sweetness” would have largely been due to the nature of their mother, Mae. Rather, each had an immediate feistiness, manifest more readily by the first, third, and fourth born. Mum’s was demonstrated on her own turf, where she ruled the roost with a formidable tone, but hidden in public behind a radiant grin and a gullibility born of her Aquarian dreams.

So, what’s in a name? Any number of ultimate aspects, all of them inherited.

Mary M. “Peggy” Zeppenfeld, however, was truly sweet. She was a flute player, in the Erie Chamber Orchestra and Erie Philharmonic, and a music teacher. Her students adored her. Her family adored her. Her colleagues did, too. She was “kind”. She was “devoted” to her students, and to music education, an “extraordinary teacher”, generous of spirit. Her maiden name was Munro, Irish to Scotland to fight for William Wallace. Robert Munro served Robert The Bruce; Alice Munro would descend to write sterling short stories, her characters never socially important but always both starkly recognizable and memorable.

Peggy Munro was entirely without ego. Preferring to observe from a distance, watch she did; I can remember more than once looking up, from my seat at the front of the orchestra we shared, to see her gaze directed at me. Peggy was keenly aware; she likely picked up signals from body language that others missed entirely. Perhaps she was just alarmed by any number of reactions which I so irrepressibly demonstrated, but I often wondered if Peggy was the only musician in the room who perceived my needs. Whenever I felt frustrated, or dismissed, or ignored, I could feel Peggy’s eyes on me.

Peggy’s career in the world of professional performance wasn’t so brief – 25 uncelebrated years. Like me, she came to it all by default, receiving an appointment at a time when someone with her qualifications seemed right. And, just as quietly, when the players at the card game increased in power and might, she lay down her hand and bowed out.

This past week, Peggy died. She was only 55 years old, nobody with the power or might to prudently diagnose the disease which took her life having stepped up to save it. And so, another sweet one escaped the earth, to leave behind all those whose hearts hurt because they were so touched.

And, these were innumerable. So many young, eager students. So many colleagues. So many family and friends. And, even one such as I, from the distance between her eyes and mine.

I will miss you, too, Peggy.

Perhaps some are born to live briefly. All are born to die.

It’s the nature of life.

Thank God for those who are born to bring the sweet.

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Mary M. “Peggy” Zeppenfeld

January 1963 – January 2019

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© 1/19/19   Ruth Ann Scanzillo.  All rights those of the author, who can be sour, and whose name appears above this line. Thank you for respecting this tribute.

The Prolific.

 

Beethoven was a loner.

Reports are his hair was often dirty. He’d wear a long top coat, pencils in the pockets, and pace the streets, muttering under his likely foul, acidic breath. His personality was neither warm nor appealing. To use contemporary vernacular, he was not well liked. Had there been a club, he would not have been invited.

Upstairs, where it all happened, he’d pore over his scores, for hours on end. The man was a driven perfectionist; his original manuscripts show so many scribbled erasures so as to have damaged the paper upon which his markings were made.

The totality of his compositions, while many, were not what one would call evidence of a prolific; rather, they were each in their own way masterpieces. They were masterpieces because, whether Beethoven himself realized it or not, he was changing the sound of music for ages to come.

And, in fact, there is hardly a civilized person who cannot place the 9 Beethoven symphonies among the pearls of creative treasure for all of history.

Bach preceded Beethoven, by a stretch.

His output was enormous.

Each Sunday, there was a new Chorale for the church. Bach wrote 600 of these. And, within the mainstream of cultured society, although they are among the most beautiful of musical creations he isn’t even known for them; most cite his volumes of two and three part inventions for keyboard instruments, his partitas, his chaconnes, his toccattas and fugues.

Two singular composers, both creative geniuses.

Is one of higher value than the other?

In matters of taste, two constituencies may form. Under Beethoven, those who prefer to be moved by chordal harmonies and driving rhythm; under Bach, those affected by the intricate complexity of voicing and counterpoint.

But, each contributed not by the collected volume of individual works, but by sheer artistic impact. Regardless the quantity, the power of their affect lay in the quality.

Let’s not ask of our artists that they fulfill our time based expectations. Let us cast aside judgment against the frequency of their contributions. Art needs neither justification, nor critique upon its merit. The next masterpiece may already be in progress. All we have to do is wait, and prepare our hearts.

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© 10/18/18    Ruth Ann Scanzillo.  Thank you for respecting original material.

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A Certain Regret.

 

Six feet two, at least, and all leg, polio hadn’t stopped him. Steel crutches swung the lower limbs, but the rest of the man carried on with the kind of aplomb that filled any room. Louie was the professor of cello at Fredonia State University, and beloved.

The year he finally died (“Why am I still here??”), his daughter presented his truest epitaph. Readying to leave the wake, and in the midst of a warm hug, Sarah said to me: “Dad didn’t live in the Land of Regret!”

Regret. The kind of sorry which affords no take backs. Louie either did it, or he didn’t, but when it was over he never looked over his shoulder.

Not so his perpetually fledgling student.

I suppose guilt is a factor. One cannot feel regret unless one entertains guilt. The Should Haves, in their illicit bed with the Could Haves. Seduced by the If Onlies.

“If only I’d done x, I could have had x. I should have done x; if I had, I could have had… well…x.”

About six months ago, something near, dear, and precious to me was destroyed. For nearly 32 years, I had been a member of the cello section in the Erie Chamber Orchestra and, for the back half of those, its principal cellist. This ensemble was unique. It’s founder, Bruce Morton Wright, had established the mission to bring classical orchestral music to the entire community, free of charge. And, that’s exactly what he did.

This monthly convocation of musicians was my social life. Four nights and one afternoon, every three weeks, preparing a concert program and then performing the music at St. Patrick’s Church, or the Mary Seat of Wisdom Chapel, for an audience of hundreds populated by retired professors, social misfits, loners, the extremely bright and the feeble and, unlike the monied who attend just to be seen, all of them genuine music lovers.

When this organization was cast into the trash bin by the local university which had subsidized it, my world was shattered. The value I had placed upon my role leading that cello section couldn’t be quantified; it had become my professional identity.

And, so, I became the loudest voice of protest. No; we would not go quietly. No; we would not be obliterated.

Others saw an opportunity.

Privately, a group was formed. Those of us from ECO who had been members of longest standing were to step back, and just wait. Wonderful things, we were promised, would happen.

We waited. All summer.

Plenty of time, to think and reflect. Gradually, without warning and not seeking one, I had an epiphany.

Taking a tally of the orchestral repertoire, I discovered that, over those 32 years I’d performed, in random order: all the Beethoven symphonies; all the Tschaikovsky; all the Mozart, and Haydn; all the Brahms. Most of the Dvorak, all Schubert, Schumann, and Mendelssohn; the Sibelius, Prokoffief, Shostakovich; All the Mahler! And, the Bruchner, the Saint-Saens, the Berlioz. Plus, Strauss’s Eine Heldenleiben, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring; Ravel, Respighi, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons; Gershwin, Copland, Korngold (as pianist); the operas of Puccini, Verdi, Mozart, Strauss; Tschaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” ballet; and, every requiem, oratorio, overture, and orchestral accompaniment to virtually every piano, string, brass, woodwind and percussion concerto on the books.

The realization was sudden: I could accept whatever the new orchestra had in store…..

Or, walk away.

But, why make the choice? Why not just stay, and play?

Because, in the world of fine art music – already proven too vast for one lifetime – there was so much music I had never played. Like, the solo and chamber repertoire, for cello and piano. These were my instruments, and their music had never been dependent upon an orchestra to be realized. For every symphony, composed by any and all of those already performed, there were several corresponding works for solo, duo, trio or quartet. A piano accompanist for decades (Creston; Brahms; Ibert; Hartley; Hindemith; Mozart; Beethoven, Shostakovich, et al) , I had never even covered the sonata repertoire; a musical freak, beyond R. Strauss and some Boccherini I had also never performed the solo repertoire for cello. One could spend a decade on Bach, or Chopin, alone!

Yes. Suddenly, an orchestra seemed confining. Always led by a conductor, a musical director, all programming dictated. Rehearsals, scheduled by those in charge of its calendar. I’d longed to wake up each day with music I alone had chosen to play; but, instead, there was always, it seemed, the next folder filled with material to be conquered. The cello part, so much of it non-melodic; sometimes, as many as 65 pages in one concert (one Mahler symphony’s cello part is over 35 pages!)  Endless notes, uncompensated private hours, all requiring collaboration to make musically complete. If I returned to all that, I might reach my final breaths never having touched the rest of the music!

Last Sunday, Yo-Yo Ma presented in their entirety the six suites for Unaccompanied Cello by Bach, on the stage at Blossom. He had likely been honing each movement of all these for the better part of his lifetime. There he was, alone on that massive stage, dwarfed by its majestic teakwood shell. And, there had to have been between ten and fifteen thousand people, nearly a half mile wide, in his audience.

Had Mr. Ma not chosen to submit to these masterworks, he might have endured a certain regret. I, however, am certain of this: he likely never missed the relentless docket of orchestral folders. Not for a minute.

I can just hear Louie’s voice. I can see his bright smile. He’d be shaking his head, with a chuckle. “Rootie”, he’d say, with so much love. “You can do whatever the hell you want.”

And, so I shall. With absolutely no regret.

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©  8/15/18    Ruth Ann Scanzillo        All rights those of the author, whose story it is and whose name appears above this line. Thank you for listening. Stay tuned.

littlebarefeetblog.com