Jouissanceful Goose Bumps

There are many things I love about growing a beard / facial hair.
1) It looks damn good;
2) I look even older (sophisticated and sexy) than I already do and am mistaken for a grad student (since they’re all sophisticated and sexy #lol), even in my own classes (awkward);
3) My face has a built-in blanket for the cold, terrible winter months; and,
4) Face goosebumps are the best goosebumps.
However, these face goosebumps (not facial goosebumps because that sounds too weird) only happen in rare, beautiful occasions. “Rare” in that I don’t get myself to concerts that often and even then, only classical music gives me full body goosebumps where I feel like I have stopped living and am inhabiting transcendence itself. Aka that means nothing but I feel everything.
Last night I was able to attend the UM Symphony Band’s first seasonal concert at the majestic Hill Auditorium. Every time I step into Hill I forget that I pass it daily as I sprint, late, to class; I forget how I hate how big society is (although I do love cities . . .); I forget that I live 3 minutes down the road and that I can touch most ceilings with my hand if not head. Going to this venue is going-out in its finest sense–I dress up, cleanse my mind, and the seat I choose becomes my reason for living for 2-4 hours. I don’t have to worry about my thesis, I don’t have to think about my paper due tomorrow (now today), I don’t have to cope with dramatic boys, I don’t have to do a lot of things. The only thing I have and want to do is to sit and listen, absorb and reflect, and be in a state of becoming-child (#Deleuze).
Hill Auditorium is itself distracting when inside it. It’s so big. Every time I choose my seat I stare all around myself and I think that I need to update my glasses prescription. I think about how the space that I can’t discern is going to be filled with music and its mind-blowing. It’s overwhelming. It makes me . . . get goosebumps on my face. (First case, amazing buildings and space.)
Then I remember that this concert is free. (Second case, I love free things–face goosebumps follow realization.)
Every (other) song the band performs is great. It’s rare that I listen to new (classical-ish) music and fall in love. There was so much love, however. And then, of course, they decide to play the Bernstein post-intermission and I feel as if I will simultaneously pee myself, vomit, and pass out all until the beginning notes of this masterpiece are played. Since I’ve heard this piece before live (and have studied the score . . .) I know which parts are difficult and every time the trumpets don’t frack a note my heart starts to soar higher. Every time everyone is syncopated at the same time I feel myself letting out an “AHHHHHH” and I fall deeper into my seat as if the earth is opening up just to save me from this moment of pure joy.
I never want it to end and for me it never will. This concert is everything I wanted. It acts as an escape from some parts of life and lets me relax and involve myself in music. Being in music is all I really ever want. And on these select nights, my dreams do come true.
[To think that my face goosebumps could be also called face goosepimples. I cannot.]

Authorial Intent and ‘The Gershwin Initiative’

If you haven’t heard of it, The Gershwin Initiative is a new collaboration between the Gershwin family (most famously known for George and Ira) and the University of Michigan.  Specifically, U of M has already received the Gershwin Steinway piano, which was made in 1933, purchased in 1934, and played for decades by one of America’s most musically contributive families.

The Gershwin Piano (UM School of Music)
The Gershwin Piano (UM School of Music)

Piano gifts aside, a more critical reason for the collaboration is the creation of a critical edition of the Gershwin songbook.  U of M has been granted full scholarly access to the works, including early versions and supplementary notes to all the pieces.

This may not seem like much to the average music listener, but to put it in comparison, it would be like receiving access to all of Shakespeare’s diaries and sticky-notes (if they had sticky notes in the 17th century) with his comments and thought process laid out in one collection.

It is kind of a big deal.

As an English major and self-proclaimed bibliophile who reads copyright information and dedications before delving into its contents, I am frequently made aware of the editorial contributions of many people even with books written by one author.  And once a book has gone to print, there is also the fact that new editions arise within years (and sometimes months or even weeks).  Decisions are made and contents can be drastically altered.

But I don’t often think this way towards music.  Music is such a prescribed art form, with its rhythmic and timing constraints.  Classical or orchestrated music in particular, always sounds so rigidly controlled.  The musicians have no free reign to alter the music if the conductor does not alter his commands.  And the fact that there can be such varied interpretations of this kind of music befuddles a music neophyte like myself.

Needless to say, I cannot wait to attend one of the accompanying Gershwin events in the coming months.  There is no denying the Gershwin influence on American opera, orchestra, and jazz.  I’ve never heard a Gershwin piece that didn’t make me want to return to a classier, swankier time. In fact, my first Ann Arbor Symphony performance viewing included ‘Cuban Overture’ which stayed in my head for weeks afterwards.   Here’s to musical compilation and collaboration!

Make Music + Food, Not War

I recently had the privilege of attending a concert by the Silk Road Ensemble

which is comprised of over 60 musicians from 24 different countries.  On Saturday night at Hill Auditorium, I heard Yo-Yo Ma, Cristina Pato, and thirteen other members give a whirlwind performance that took my breath away.

Using such varied instruments such as the cello, the gaita (a sort of Spanish bagpipe), the piano, tabla, and the human voice, they cooked up a multicultural mix of musical sounds and styles.

Every musician was very skilled as they effortlessly glided through different continental styles and modes.   I couldn’t help but smile myself when I saw the happy, satisfied looks on their faces as they played each piece.  One of the musicians commented on how the group arranges traditional orchestral pieces to suit the different instruments that find their way into the ensemble. He said it was like taking a classic recipe and improvising.

The wonderful collaboration reminded me of a dinner I had attended, where me and some of my Christian friends enjoyed some delicious Middle Eastern food with the Muslim students association.  The dinner was a peaceful and enjoyable way that different cultures could connect.

In general, it made me think that there would be a lot less political conflict, if world leaders sat down and ate together and played music together more often.  Who can honestly say they don’t like good music and good food, especially when mixed together?

Below: Yo-Yo Ma: the artistic director of the Silk Road Ensemble, and the man who inspired me to take up the cello in fifth grade and especially to master the Bach Suites.

The Man, The Myth, The Legend
The Man, The Myth, The Legend

The Power of Sound

After reading an interesting article from the BBC on listening vs. hearing, I thought about the supremacy of sound over the power of sight.  In the article, the scientists brought up an amazing point.  It was that we give such a power to visuals, even though when we sleep, our eyes take a break beneath the fleshy shutter of our eyelids.  Meanwhile our ears remain in tune to any iminent sounds of danger of the voices of our loved ones.

And in terms of memory and recall, there is a reason why many romantic couples have ‘a special song’ that immediately sends them to a different place and time, where they vividly remember times past.  There is also a  reason why the two dissonant chords of the Jaws theme produce the a frightening image of a shark, whereas a mere picture of a shark produces an nonplussed exclamation of, “Cool, a shark,”

And when you think about it, sound is so much more subtle and nuanced than vision.  In real life, trees and flowers, cannot crescendo or decrescendo.  They cannot get louder.  You can move closer to a daffodil, but it cannot impose itself on you.

As a writer, to get myself into a certain mood, I will often set my Pandora station according to what mood I would like to evoke.  When writing urban fiction, I find tango fusion to be an excellent, sultry and stealthy set of vibes to get me going.  When writing about Byzantine icons, I find Greek motets to be the right compositions for the job.  And when I’m writing literary theory essays, I find simple solo piano pieces to be the right pace and timbre to get my own fingers steadily going on my keyboard.  Music definitely helps me write.  As it keeps going, I keep going.

But I could never put up a slideshow of images to watch while typing.  Although I love perusing Pinterest for travel inspiration or just to gawk at beautifully composed photographs taken by other travelers, I cannot simultaneously view pictures and write.  Although I draw inspiration from great images, my adoration and inspiration of images must be separate in time from my inspiration in writing.

I guess there is just something so disjointed about images.  Something stuck in time.  Something that stops the second you look away.  But music continues.  It commands your attention and curbs your thoughts to its emotional beck and call.  It builds scenes in your mind that don’t stop, but go on until the final decrescendo.

This post may have arisen because I am currently studying for Art History exams, and my gouge my eyes out if I have to stare at yet another Medieval or Romanesque cathedral tympanum….