Monday, February 22, 2010

The Power of Music

No matter at what time I go to bed on Saturday evening, 6 am on Sunday morning is always too early. It’s not normal, it’s off schedule, and it happens every Sunday. Few members of Musica Viva live in the neighborhood of the church, some travel farther than I do. The thought is a meager consolation at 6 am on Sunday morning, though. Except for the soloists, these are not paid positions, and the choir members are not necessarily members of the church. 

You do what you have to do, and by the time the bus has passed Newark Airport and the New York Skyline appears in the distance, my spirits begin to lift. Enthusiasm picks up as I walk up 8th Avenue, cross Central Park on my way to the East Side, and get a glimpse at the latest in trendy dog clothes when passing the dog run.   

By the time I get to church I’m no longer tired, and by the time we start to sing, I’ve forgotten that I ever had a problem getting up. Even though I’m usually cranky when the alarm clock goes off, it’s become a routine over time - a welcome and, in the end, a much loved habit, just like practicing piano. The secret is to get over the first bump, after that, you will be fine.

A concert is coming up two weeks from now, and I was not thrilled about the extra rehearsal after the two services, which made it impossible to get to Raj Bhimani’s recital in Westchester by 2 pm. But we lost a rehearsal to the snowstorm, and we still get tangled up in the meandering lines of the Renaissance Music that is on the program. You really have to know what you’re doing in order to shape those lines independently, and that’s what this music is all about . After a while the music draws you in, you forget you ever had any other plans, and time disappears.  

Since I couldn’t make it to Westchester, I made a dash for the Manhattan School of Music once we got out of church, where another friend of mine was participating in a Chopin Marathon. It was one of the events happening these days in order to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Chopin’s birthday. 
The Uptown 1 was making express stops, which meant I had to take the bus. That is about twice as fast as walking and it meant I was going to be late! 

I was lucky, though. The speaker was just announcing Joseph Smith’s performance when I walked into the concert hall. Relieved, I dropped into a seat, soon enchanted by Joseph’s beautiful, sensitive playing of a Nocturne by John Field and a Nocturne by Chopin, with the original embellishments. I had never heard them before, and Joe made them sound like a true improvisation in the moment. 

The Nocturnes were the beginning of 4 hours of magic - Mazurkas, Polonaises, Ballades, Scherzos, Etudes, Preludes, the Fantasia, both Sonatas. Every part of the program was played by a different pianist, which gave the concert a great variety of personalities and styles of playing. I particularly liked Mirian Conti’s imaginative interpretation of the Mazurkas, and Josu de Salaun’s b-minor Sonata was breathtaking. The program ended with the Berceuse.  When Raymond Wong, the pianist, entered the stage, I noticed his bandaged hands. He had injured them in a bad fall, the speaker told the audience later, but he wouldn’t give up the performance. You simply do what you have to do, and despite his injuries he conjured magic out of the piano.  

So, here’s to Music, helping us over the bumps of life, and to Frederic Chopin one of the greatest composers for the piano, on the 200th anniversary of his birthday.    


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