Goodbye, M. With much love and affection.

quartet for the end of time

I was watching the last installment of the PBS series “The War” when they came to a segment about the liberation of the death camps across Europe.  The music chosen for this was Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time.

How appropriate – this music which largely ignores the concept of human time, and goes for the inexpressible language of Eternity.

I’ve been hearing the cello/piano movement in my head – “Louange à l’Éternité de Jésus” (Praise to the eternity of Jesus) today.

So ecstatically slow (a metronome marking of 44 to the sixteenth note) that time seems to stop.  Like for those poor souls consigned to the camps, like those of us waiting for news of a desperately ill friend, colleague, loved one, daughter, sister, aunt.

Time is in suspension – we almost dare not draw a breath, for that would move time forward – we will our hearts to stop, for time to really stop.

So the inevitable will be rendered moot.

It is times like this that remind me why personkind invented religion.  We need a way to make the infinite, inevitable, instinctual, ineffable somehow manageable.

Pax tibi in vitam aeternam

east meets west

Every now and then I stumble upon some insight that really throws me. These gems, big and small, rough or brilliantly polished, turn my conceptions of the world upside down, make me think of things anew, and get me to question what I know of myself and my view of the world.

Today I was trolling the now premium-content-free New York Times website, when I took a look in the small box that shows the “most viewed” “most emailed” “most blogged” and “most searched” articles and terms of the day. I clicked on the blogged tab and saw a link for an article about this YouTube guitar phenomenon – a Korean guitarist known as FunTwo. In the article (by NYTimes TV columnist Virginia Heffernan) there is an exchange about how Asians and Europeans (and by extension, Americans) differ in their respective approaches to music and music-making. The explanation by FunTwo really threw me for a loop – not in that it was unexpected, but that it seemed so “right”.

Here’s an excerpt:

Jeong-Hyun Lim says that, in his experience, Korean and Chinese kids like difficult, neoclassical music–which he identifies as “soloing” music–because they don’t like to listen to music. They like to play it. They don’t enjoy concerts. They prefer private effort, discipline and production.

He seemed to think this was a cultural shortcoming, although surely it could be seen as a great strength.

Producers of music outnumber consumers of music in Asia, he believes, so producers turn into soloists, working alone in their rooms, perfecting their technique for nothing but the pleasure of getting it right.

Europeans and Americans, he said, with intense admiration and some bewilderment, love to listen to music. Consumers of music outnumber producers in Europe and America, so they have clubs and concert halls and bars and seats to fill. There’s a lot of space on the stages, just ready to be filled with any kind of happy clamor–band music, bar music, three-chord cacophony, Green Day, whatever.

There has been, at least in my experience as a musician, both as a professional and as a student, a perception that there are some subtly different dynamics at work between Asian and Western musicians. It has always been a touchy subject, because there have been a lot of harmful stereotypes and slurs against Asian musicians. This is ridiculous, since anything you can say about an Asian musician you can equally say about a non-Asian musician. I’ve performed with and heard concerts by Chinese, Korean, and Japanese classical musicians that were some of the most thrilling experiences of my life, musically and personally, and by the same token also heard concerts by or played concerts with American, European and Russian musicians that took up time from my life that I’ll never get back, much to my chagrin.

Enough lame pseudo-analysis – go enjoy some cool guitar playing!

Coincidently – just noticed that David Stabler wrote about this article, too – read it here.