Late Tuesday night I laid eyes on my new bassoon for the first time. Many of you probably had no idea I was in the market, or even considering a new instrument, but I have been since around October. Growing up in a very humble household has taught me to watch what I buy, and to consider (and reconsider) every large purchase. With that being said, I was never given that $20,000 hunk of wood all young bassoonists hope for, because the price was far more than the understood worth to me and my family. Through hard work, saving, and patience, I've finally bought this (my second) bassoon, and it's got me thinking about the worth of things in this world. Although price and worth are closely related when buying things of quality often times, it's not always the thing to go by, or what's always true.
When I told my 7th grade band director I wanted to play the bassoon (who knows why I would say something like that) I was handed a plastic thing that would probably sell for $100 in any pawn shop. It slowly became something I loved, of course, but I didn't love it any more than anything else initially, so in that regard its worth matched its price. Through high school I moved up to a wooden Miraphone (not a bad horn, actually) and that instrument led me to my true love of music. In college (University of Memphis) I played a loaner for a few years, until I put enough of my pennies together and bought one of my own. I still remember how excited I was when the UPS man drove up and said "You been waitin' to jam, huh?". Clearly UPS delivery people know what's in every box they deliver - better not ship anything you don't want people to know about! Anyway, that Fox model 220 (named Todd, after the old English word for Fox) got me through the latter years of my undergrad, into USC, and even through a pretty good performance of "The Rite of Spring". Having this instrument was worth so much to me, that I thought it was the last thing I'd have to buy as far as instruments...
...and then there was Judy, my teacher here at USC. Don't get me wrong - I'm glad she pushed me into upgrading, but I wasn't happy about it at first. It was after that performance of "The Rite of Spring" when she thought it was a good time for me to switch to the school's 10,000 series Heckel. It was great to learn and to play an instrument whose value was very high, but I felt no personal attachment, so despite the price, it's worth to me was low. Desires to have my own instrument again grew, so I began shopping around. I understand that most bassoonists think that Heckel is THE bassoon, but what can I say, I like buying American. After months of searching (and saving) I found a buyer for my student model 220 and bought the professional model 201 I have now. I've named it Rudo, which is an African name meaning love. My love of God, music, and Andy drive me, so I thought it was an appropriate name. The MSRP on this horn is pretty high, but I most fortunately got a pretty good deal. It plays great; I think this bassoon is "the one".
I'll be living a little less extravagantly for a little while, but it was worth it, and that's what matters. What I'm driving at is just that: sometimes in life we have to understand the price vs. worth relationship of things and make sure it's balanced. Maybe you feel bad for getting those $500 pair of jeans, but if it's worth it to you, go for it! On the other hand, the macaroni painting a son brings home for his mother is priceless. So on your next big (or small) purchase, examine your P v. W and see what you think. Who knows - I may decide that I need to upgrade and spend even more money on a bassoon, but that cheap, plastic Bundy I started on in 7th grade is what started it all for me, so as far as I'm concerned that instrument has more worth than anything I could ever buy in the future.
Listening to: Material Girl - Madonna
I wish the world were more focused on chamber music. Before the days of radios, televisions, and the internet, more people were musically inclined, because they had to create something for themselves to listen to. Today, we just have to youtube our favorite song and jam out for hours. There's nothing wrong with that, but there are just so many stories that can be told around a good woodwind quintet. Right now I'm in a group at USC that I adore, and we're working towards a gig next month, with the big piece on the program being Hindemith's woodwind quintet. I've performed this work before with the GoDiva quintet (shout outs to Megan, Kofi, Kyle, and Phillip) but I'm a good enough musician at this point to focus on what's between the staves, so to speak. Many of you know that I create crazy stories in my head to help me play a piece of music, so I thought I'd share my "Kleine Kammermusik" tale. Listen to the piece (if you're not familiar) and see if this makes any sense to you.
Most woodwind quintets (the music, not always [but sometimes] the players) feature the instruments in pretty specific and differing ways, while working towards a common musical goal. In my story there are 5 individuals coming up with a scheme to kill the king of their mystical, post-apocalyptic society. The flute represents the acting leader, but the clarinet is really the brains behind the job. The oboe is the eldest, and therefore gives approval for everything done. The bassoon is the wisest (naturally) but older, so not as nimble as the rest. The horn represents the person with brute force and power.
The piece opens up with the clarinet introducing his distaste of the king to his four friends, and his ideas about how they should deal with him. Everyone is involved in this, except for the flute, who needs some further convincing. The oboe re-affirms the clarinets statement, and the flute is finally on board. The oboe takes over to explain logistics, and the flute sets specific plans in motion. Since the clarinet is the true leader, he has a conversation with the flute, passing ideas back and forth until he finally wins, having the last word. The bassoon has a small solo after the clarinet finishes, and this is his discovery of a great detail that will help with the scheme; he shrills in excitement. At this point everything is official, the bassoon confirms it all with his second interjection, and the movement ends with the clarinet nodding his head in approval.
The second movement is a weird waltz, and this is the party the group throws inviting the unknowing victim. On the outside it seems like a very proper affair, but an evil undertow exists throughout the movement as the quintet dances with each other. The fun is interrupted by the tired old bassoon, who fakes fatigue to get everyone out of the house. He's tired of the company. As soon as everyone is gone, they kick the music back up, rubbing their hands and laughing at what is to come.
In the third movement we see the softer, more intimate side of the group. It's a casual Sunday morning, and everything is light, until the flute, clarinet, and horn decide to bring up the topic of what's happening tomorrow.The oboe plays a very menacing solo, which represents her innermost thoughts of distaste toward the king. The bassoon joins, showing evil greed himself. The flute comes back in to remind everyone that they should relax and enjoy the quiet day, but the horn brings it back up soon enough. The soft ending shows every one's complete satisfaction with their plans.
The fourth movement, musical, is compiled of tutti sections interrupted by quick cadenzas from each of the instruments. This is the group individually displaying their weapon of choice before they go off into battle.
The final movement is a collection of running, ducking, dodging, getting past guards, and so on. Some of it involves solo fake stories and bribes from the flute, clarinet, and oboe. As the end of the movement approaches, it grows from a soft opening of the royal chamber door to a loud boisterous fight. There's havoc in the room where the king is resting, and after the dust settles 5 people are standing over the unconscious man. The last three chords are the group members looking at each other in satisfaction - "It. Is. Done."
...where do I come up with this nonsense???
Listening to: Kleine Kammermusik
I'm finally back in southern California and I'm happy to be here. Toward the end of my winter break I began to dread coming back to California. Being around the people I know and love is something that I think I took for granted, and being able to relax with these people was a gift in itself. The flight was long and bumpy, and all of the Chopin in the world couldn't have helped me sleep. Once I left the airport and drove down my palm tree-lined street, though, I remembered why I loved it here. Such a big move brings on so many challenges, and often times home-sickness, but going back for a visit was very interesting - almost like a dream.
As Andy drove me from the airport back to our house, I felt mixed feelings of never having left and having been gone for a very long time. Everything was very familiar, of course, but slight differences in shops and road construction seemed a little odd. When one dreams, I think, many things seem familiar, only with slight differences. My mother taught me years ago that an easy way to know if you're dreaming is to look at yourself in a mirror - it will never be you (or look very much like you). Since looking in a mirror is something we all do daily, I have to rely on others' opinions of the way I'd changed over the past few months. Apparently I've lost weight, and become a little more "chic" in my dress (I was twice mistaken for a woman - maybe I've become too L.A. for M I think that can tie in with my mother's idea about self-perception in a dream.
Christmas morning was spent with the Smithers family, as usual, including the traditional truck stop breakfast and gifts from Santa (they exchange personal gifts on Christmas Eve - Santa gets credit for everything opened on Christmas morning). As we were leaving the truck stop it began to snow - something fairly rare in the Memphis area! Nothing really accumulated, but I think it counts as the white Christmas we all dream of, or at least what the popular holiday song is referring to.
Toward the end of my trip a few friends and I decided to go to dinner and a movie. I learned growing up that you should eat black-eyed peas, cabbage, and pork on New Year's Day, and what better place to do that than the Dixie Cafe! We went to the one in Bartlett, because there is a cheap theater near by. The movie we chose to see was "Inception", which discussed dream cognition and knowledge. I won't give any spoilers (just in case anyone who hasn't seen it is still interested), but I enjoyed it very much.
The friends that I hung out with that evening often use the word "trill" to refer to crazy, outlandish, bold, or simply difficult things and situations. For example - a very difficult piece of music would be "trill", or if I dedicated an entire blog post to someone I hated and revealed every dirty little secret about their lives to the public, that would be "trill". Anyway, back in Memphis I heard for the first time a recording of a violin sonata nicknamed "The Devil's Trill Sonata"; it sounded pretty "trill" to me. This work, written by Giuseppe Tartini around 1713, came from a dream he had about the devil playing his violin. Apparently Tartini woke up from this dream and wrote down as much as he could remember of this "trill" sonata the devil played in his dream. When I dream about music, I can rarely remember how any of it sounds after I wake up, so I tip my hat to Tartini. You should look up this piece and listen to a little of it.
As I sit here at work I can only wish that my "dreamy" vacation could have lasted a little longer, but I'm ready to get to work this semester and getting that much closer to finishing this degree. If you're bored by violin sonatas (it's ok, I am too sometimes), youtube a pop song about dreams instead. As much as I love Beyonce's "Sweet Dreams", I think my favorite would still have to be Mariah Carey's "Dream Lover".
Listening to: "Dream Lover" by Mariah Carey