Tag Archives: live music

Original Sin.

 

[final draft].

Everybody secretly yearns to be the next “original.” Nobody wants to remind anyone of somebody else they know. In spite of the billions upon billions of us and, though likely manifest more strongly in some than in others, we each carry within us the desire to break the mold.

Among the vast and nearly endless array of musical masterworks created for orchestra from across virtually every country in Europe (and, more recently, the rest of the world), many have enjoyed a wide audience for decades, crossing the generations. From Beethoven’s symphonies through the Russian masters to Americans like Copland and Gershwin, these comprise a virtual museum for the listening ear – the “classics.” And, each is a singular original.

Others are lesser known.
In the hands of mere mortals, just such unfamiliar pieces are nonetheless a real challenge to pull off; in short, they’ve garnered less air time because they represent, in the hands of all but the best, a greater risk to the reputation of the musicians.

A certain serenade fits that bill.

Miklos Rozsa, best known as composer of film scores for such epics as “Ben Hur” and “The Thief of Baghdad”, wasn’t only servant to the cinematic medium; he also composed legitimate, stand alone orchestral pieces. One of his most sensuous he called “Hungarian Serenade” because, well, he was Hungarian.

Like most Hungarians and probably few Serenades, the piece is both passionate and flamboyantly effusive, yet irresistibly persuasive; it bespeaks at once the soul of a man who yearns, whose feelings are deep, and of a nation’s people wearing their hearts on its sleeve.

Now, this Hungarian composer loved the cello. He loved it so much that he featured the instrument prominently in the music he wrote. His  Serenade has five movements, but the second is devoted almost exclusively to the cello’s voice.

And, no shrinking violet, Rozsa gives the cello one royal entrance: an octave shift, right out of the gate.

From the day of my own emergence, and many years before I knew what a cello was, I was destined – if my father had anything to say about it – to be one of a kind. He would raise me on the sound of his bari-tenor, crooning the hymns and gaslight love songs of his generation. A singular talent, himself, he would continually remind me that I was a “born artist.” Eventually, I became one – first, through visual media, and then, via the musical profession. And, I did so boldly, from the deep conviction of my father’s endowment.

But, my mother was raised on fear. Her father was an English street preacher. He regularly beat his eldest daughter. And, he took his family, every Sunday morning, to the small, exclusive, sectarian Fundamentalist meeting hall of the Plymouth Brethren, where they could be reminded  – all day long, and again on Tuesday and Friday night  – of their inheritance: total, and original, sin.

It would take the whole of life thus far for me to realize how un-reconcilable such branding would be; conceived to be a creative, to express the ineffable, yet saturated by a sense of sinfulness. Instead of finding an otherwise inevitable place among the “free spirits”,  self-loathing became my middle name.

This past Saturday, as section leader among the cellists of the Erie Chamber Orchestra, and the ” Hungarian Serenade” having been an included feature, I was called upon to present Rozsa’s cello solo in all its magnificence. I meditated; I set my inner narrative on the positive affirmations of my musical lineage; I prepared, diligently, the entire body of that singular voice; I took my beta blocker. I was, by all accounts, ready to meet the task.

But, this time, the devil would be in one, pesky mathematical detail: statistical probability.

Delicately balancing delusional grandeur and innate fatalism, I had faced that formidable octave each time with the measured mix of physical distribution of weight, point of arrival, and trajectory. Between practice at home, and the three opportunities our orchestral budget would allow with my colleagues, I had managed to nail that shift at every rehearsal. And, I mean, down to the precisely required vibrational frequency.

Come the concert, and its moment of truth, however, one inner battle with cognitive dissonance could not be surmounted by either mental conditioning or earnest commitment to the music; statistically, my odds for missing that octave had steadily increased!

Like all good Hungarians, I heaved a melodramatic sigh, smiled at my section mates, gave my conductor a sure nod, and went for it.

There was much to celebrate at the close of that performance. Our featured violinist, Michael Ludwig, stepping in at the last minute to cover the most difficult concerto in the repertoire, was an absolutely flawless and mesmerizing sensation. Our ensemble had never been tighter. Each family of the orchestra was more than worthy of thunderous acknowledgement. And, I would immerse myself in the joyful relief of having expressed my creative soul more fully than ever before.

Yet, if I truly bore the aforementioned stain, the devil would have his jollies. He would indulge them in that microtone living just beneath the point of arrival of the octave B, and it would not matter one iota if anybody else admitted to the hearing.

Original sin is so engraved in the psyche that, even when one proves to oneself a capacity for the truly amazing, one can spend a lifetime yearning to give oneself its permission. In the meantime, opting to be carried by the exultant triumph of the human spirit, seeking the rewards of the total spectrum of artistic experience, can rival even the exacting order of the universe. We may all be self-generating expressions of the same, original DNA, after all. Original sin, be damned.

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© Ruth Ann Scanzillo  11/23/15  All rights those of the author; sharing permitted only by written request.  Thank you!

littlebarefeetblog.com

 

 

“Apres Un Reve”

“Apres Un Reve”, by Gabriel Faure      Ruth Ann Scanzillo, ‘cellist; Mary Duncan, pianist;

YOU HAVE TO CLICK ON THE TITLE, IN ORDER FOR THE LINK TO APPEAR. Thanks!!

Recorded by Keiko Kashio at ART OF PRACTICING INSTITUTE 2015, Alexander Music Center, Edinboro University, Edinboro, PA

July 31, 2015

Brilliant.

Brilliant – n. Very bright. Glittering. Striking, distinctive. Distinguished by unusual mental keenness.

British :  very good :  excellent
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My big brother was the genius.

So said all the definitive tests, administered on or about 1959.

He scored in the range that set him apart, statistically speaking, from the bottom 99.8 %, in mathematical conceptualizing, computation, and application; language identification and application; spacial relations; and, whatever else deemed worthy of exaltation by our society at the time. I can’t remember. I wasn’t there. I was teething.

Somebody told him his exact test score, in fact, a teacher at the high school. In front of everybody else in the class, it was all kinds of drama. “Scanzillo!  With an IQ of blahblah, you should be ……”

And, eventually, he did.

Do.

What was expected, of an IQ.

Of blahblah.

It was quite the affair.

He raised hamsters in the basement, and sold them, and set up a hand made sign out front to advertize them, rigging an alarm with string and a buzzer to prevent the sign from being stolen. Playing piano and trombone, he led a big band which he’d organized that rehearsed in the basement, next to the hamsters. Then, he went to college, for pre-med, and raised guinea pigs by the dozens, dissecting them in a make shift lab ( in the basement ) using mum’s baking pans and canning jars. He drove all the way to Seattle and took to the hills, selling dictionaries door to door to pay for college. After college, he taught high school chemistry, and then worked in a paper mill developing paper coatings out of dyes and other chemicals. He taught himself how to build whole houses, constructing every home he and his wife ever shared. Then, he went to Cleveland, and finished his PhD in chemistry, and became the local diagnostic lab director. With his second wife and children, he moved all across the country, directing labs, serving in court as expert witness, building and selling homes, and becoming a nationally recognized consultant. He led a highly regarded life.

Last week, he retired.

I inherited the basement. By default, it became my bedroom/in house apartment, after mum’s Uncle Ewart, for whom the space had been filled and decorated, chose to reject it on the basis of rising damp. Cluttered with acquired objects, my clothing, drawings and, mostly, my own personal chaos, after graduating from college myself I would sleep down there, all day, for weeks, immobilized by anonymity and a sense of pre-destined defeat.

In America, we are really good at celebrating ambition. We reward acquisition and accomplishment. We revere, and fear, those who have established power to limit our options.

And, we are also hasty to ascribe qualitative labels to those who excel, according to their predicted likelihood. We call them “brilliant”. And, the results of their efforts we call “phenomenal”, as if we are continually surprised that a human can do anything at all.

Except that there are seven billion of us, strong. Swarming. Churning. Heaving, and careening around the planet. And, these brilliant phenomenals hover over our heads, like pressure systems teasing the barometer, testing the mettle of all humanity, setting the bar and then swiping it away just as we extend our reach.

Is it any wonder, then, that popular culture is born. And, then marketed. And promoted. And, celebrated.

A weird sort of backlash, to appease the masses? A grande comfort zone for the mediocre?

Whole tribes, doing what is popular. Until a majority of humans in America no longer care about producing anything without duplication, let alone effort. An entire people, out of touch with their own capacity for birthing beauty or truth.

This past week, I had a life changing experience. I learned to meditate. Actually, the sectarian brethren had  exposed me to such practice from shortly after birth, but never as focused or directed activity. From childhood, I’d only known that meditation was reserved for thoughts of Christ carrying his cross and then hanging from it.

But, this meditation put me in touch with all that I saw within me – thoughts, feelings, attitudes, perceptions….propensities.

And, this led to the inevitable confrontation. With self.

Who was I, really, and of what was I made? What was the full range of my capacities, and how did I regard my potential role in the scheme of life?

And, I was not alone. Seated around me were several, mostly women, from all parts of north America and beyond. And, among us, we shared one thing: a love for music.

Some of us were already regarded by others as “accomplished musicians.” Others of us were awaiting such recognition, or not seeking any. But, we all shared this: we were all about to become wholly ignited by our own, natural illumination.

By the time we closed our week together, most of us were born anew. There was no altar call, no postlude, no public declaration of intent. Our birth took place in the most profound silence, because the shells holding us in were so thin and unimportant that they merely fell away as we emerged.

The light, however, was all encompassing. No angels; no demons. No hamsters, or dictionaries. No highest scores, or notions of superiority. Just humans, with hearts, baring and then carrying souls, and presenting spirits ready to burst forth with singular and magnificent brilliance.

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*This piece dedicated to Madeline Bruser, “The Art of Practicing”, and inspired by our Mary Duncan.

© Ruth Ann Scanzillo   8/2/15   All rights reserved.  Sharing permitted, upon request, and with kind and appropriate reference to the author. Thank you.

littlebarefeetblog.com