• 1 •
I’ve been playing a church gig, which makes me think about my childhood, and I’ve been playing for students at UNM, which makes me think about my undergraduate piano teacher. At the beginning of each semester he would handwrite a page of repertoire ideas, and I would go to the library some cold night and listen, and pick a few things to learn over the next few months. Lots of Bach, Chopin, and Liszt. Beethoven’s opus 90. Dallapiccola’s Quaderno Musicale. Webern’s Variations. And Ned Rorem’s Second Piano Sonata (1950). I don’t know why he gave this piece to me—maybe because he’d heard me play Gershwin in my audition?—but it struck me deep. He gave me one of his copies of the score. I still have it, his characteristic handwriting across the pages: “Swim—don’t dive.” “Glittery.” “Singing—color.” “Flexibility.” I’d give a lot to have the opportunity to play it for him again. Here is what I see only now, and will never be able to thank him for: he had faith in me, when he had little reason to.
But then, isn’t that what faith is all about? Faith isn’t about reason. Rather, it’s precisely about the absence of evidence. It’s a gift we can give each other. It’s a choice. And coming from a respected teacher, it can make the difference of a lifetime.
• 2 •
Philip Glass - String Quartet no. 5 (1991)
Much is made, with Glass, about ideas. How often he repeats them, and for how long. In this piece, yes, the individual ideas strike me as fresh and bright. But look, more so, at the way he crosses from one to the next. Look at the seams. The transitions. The moments of crossing over. Like each idea is a plank in a rope bridge, high above the waterfall.
When I heard Glass speak at UT, we’d all prepared and submitted questions in advance. He took only two of them, and talked for over an hour. One friend said he thought that was perfect: after all, we’d gone there to hear Glass talk, and talk he had, voluminously. So was it generous of him, or wasn’t it? I thought about the question when I read his memoir a couple years ago, and I still ask it when I listen to his music. Sometimes I suspect he likes the talking itself more than he likes making his point. But this piece, it’s generous.
Half-Baked Proposition: there is a stereotypically Western paradigm (of individuality), and a stereotypically Eastern one (of conformity, collectivism). One dominates our country’s mythos and its ethos, and was important for the twentieth century. The other might be more important for the twenty-first. Glass’s music stands at the crossroads.
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