Word 86 (Shadows)
The changing of the season is a gate. I often feel a vague sensation of expansion around the solstices and equinoxes—sometimes heady and enlivening, sometimes vertiginous and scary. Sometimes, a sort of time travel is possible.
On October 6 I am playing in public for the first time Ned Rorem’s second piano sonata, a piece I started learning as a freshman sixteen years ago this fall. The same day, my alma mater Illinois Wesleyan University presents a recital in honor of my late teacher, Larry Campbell, who for reasons now forever unknown told me to go listen to the Rorem Sonata one day. Rorem turns 96 next month. He still lives in New York. I went to the library and found the Julius Katchen recording and listened to the piece. It was the first, but not the last, moment in one of those library listening rooms when I felt I’d just been handed the key to the secret garden.
For my senior composition recital I wrote a string quartet that quoted the Rorem Sonata. Taking after the Ives Concord, I wrote a clarinet solo in the last movement, and hid the player in the catwalks above the audience. Sometimes when I practice the Rorem I notice that someone hidden is listening, just out of view above the stage, on the edge of my periphery. Sometimes I catch those shadows as I play. When I look over in their direction they flee, of course. So I’ve learned to just keep playing.
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