I’m not a musician. Wish I were, but the truth is that particular talent eludes me. However, I do love music, all kinds of music: classical and country, rock and jazz, folk and church and norteño. While I may not be able to play the notes, I can appreciate the complexity of a composition, the talent required to create and arrange. I attend philharmonic concerts, when time and finances permit. This past year I’ve gone to hear Emmy Lou Harris and Rodney Crowell and Madelyn Peyroux and Boz Scaggs and the Eagles. But I never choose chamber music as a preferred musical experience. At least, I didn’t…until Charleston’s Spoleto Festival.
My first attempt to become a musician began with, you guessed it, the flutophone. When I was in grade school, an elementary education required one to learn notes and the scale and to play this plastic wind instrument that resembles a clarinet. The nuns demanded daily practice. My fingers, inexperienced and inept, struggled until I mastered the damn thing. In retrospect, I probably drove the entire family (I come from a large one) half insane with my stumblings. After months of preparation, our teacher judged us proficient. Donning our school uniforms and a short cape bearing our school colors, I and my classmates rode buses to a large auditorium where all the fifth graders in the entire Youngstown area played a concert for parents. Oh, the humanity! as Newman would say.
In seventh grade, my father handed me his old saxophone and announced that I would be taking lessons. Learning to exhale enough air to power the instrument strained my abilities. The effort occupied several months, and once again I subjected the family to painful aural stimulation. My lungs quiver remembering it. Then the dentist said I needed braces and my saxophone days came to an end. No swinging jazz band for me.
Since my husband brought a piano to our marriage, I dabbled with playing. But the children were small and soon I returned to teaching. The time just wasn’t right. After the kids grew up, I bought a guitar and took lessons, intending to play for my students and fulfill a long-held fantasy of making music. But that experiment, too, fell by the way when I returned to graduate school. My bright and soaring desire to master an instrument dashed itself to pieces on the rocks of my crazy life. And my non-talent. Sigh. I drowned my disappointment in the albums of my favorite musicians. Then, an amazing thing happened. I discovered Spoleto.
For twenty-one days every May and the first week in June, Charleston, South Carolina, transforms itself into an arts haven, presenting dance, theater, art and music in many venues throughout the city. The chamber music concerts take place at the Dock Theater. Tickets to the concerts are affordable, the presentations are only an hour or so and the presenters demonstrate the most amazing level of personality and technical skill. Inclined to take advantage of as much art as possible and striving to be kind to the budget, the first year we attended the Festival, we chose to attend one of these presentations. Oh, glory!
The chamber concerts introduce attendees like me to new music, explain in detail the compositions and the composers, and entertain the audience. This past year we elected to attend two different chamber programs, and we weren’t disappointed. I fell in love with Mozart’s “Sonata in G Major,” not only for the music, but also for the explanation given by the director as he explained the three parts of the sonata in a moving and passionate address.The piece begins, the maestro explained, on a lighter, happier note but turns a little melancholy before ascending again into cheer. At least, that’s what I understood him to say. To be honest, I was swept away by the work itself, finding reflections of my own life in the composition. Music that reveals the heart…oh, my!
The discovery of beauty is, as Kahlil Gibran suggests, the reason we live. Art speaks to that anticipation, that moment of joy when we find meaning in the medium. To encounter this anew by opening myself up to a new form magnifies the experience. Which is how I came to appreciate, embrace and applaud chamber music and musicians. Bravo!