RRMC Early Music Workshop - Part Three: The Basis of Style
Our first night at camp there was an impromptu lecture on the origins of and definition of the Baroque by a professor of music at Cornell and early music Violinist. There also was wine with dinner so needless to say, I was on the edge of my seat. As he described the visual aesthetic of the time period and the Art Historical coining of the term "Baroque" I was thrilled to be back in the classroom and to be talking about something which I actually knew, and as he ad-libbed a line about how the Figured Bass would form the "Bass -is" of the style I was so un-ironicly raptured that I think I smiled for the rest of the hour. Whenever I felt self conscious about my foolish grin I would hide it inside my wine glass only to come back out even more giddy than I was before, I didn't want anyone to think that I was making a joke or drifting off because the truth is that I really was enjoying myself immensely. Around the third time I returned from a visit behind my glass I decided that these musicians and I needed to be friends, a point made all the more possible at the end of the evening when the lecturer stepped off the stage and unsheathed from his bag a bottle of Fireball Whiskey, a favorite of mine, and handed it to my wife and I.
He had just finished a performance on the Viola d' Amore, an instrument that at more times in history than not was virtually extinct. Played at the shoulder with up to 16 or 26 strings, this viola seemed a bit cumbersome and extremely difficult to tune owing to the fact that half the strings entered the fingerboard ran through a tunnel and came out the other end backwards. It's hard to say why the Viola d'amore never took off but with savants and mad composers. But the tone was beautiful and the playing masterful. He played a piece that had just recently been discovered sandwiched between the pages of some book, it had no composer or origin, and it was certainly a shame that it hadn't been more widely circulated until now, but also must be terribly exciting for a viola d'amore player to add one more thing to the repertoire. It was the story of the name that won me over even more so being that a number of sympathetic strings that vibrate in sympathy with the notes played on the seven or so bowed strings tell the story of the unity of love as spanning great emotional distances.
My wife and I took the Fireball to the lodge to await the others to finish a bit of book keeping and all the other students shuffled off to bed, leaving us alone, so, we decided to get started. In the kitchen we found a few glasses and in a cupboard we found a 100 card Memory game made up of Wild Birds of Colorado, none of which seemed to be exclusive to Colorado, but we played, my wife cheated, and I won. Just as we finished the game the lecturer made it to the lodge a bit red faced and staggering I could tell he made it to what wine I had left behind at the dining hall, but still he lunged for the whiskey once he found his poured cup awaiting him.
We sat around the fire passing the bottle around and discussed the lecture, he said that he was unprepared and terrified, I told him how much I loved the "basis" joke and he drank even more. Sensing he didn't want to relive the lesson and not having understood enough of it to keep the conversation going anyway, we changed the topic to the mountain, and he shared a story about climbing to the peak Up to this point I hadn't even consider that a possibility but it turned out that he had made it to the peak twice and once made it almost to the peak but fell backwards off a rather daring final stretch and slid head first down the side into a huge bank of snow! and this the same year that another music coach had made it to the peak with a full size cello strapped to his back just to get a picture of himself playing at the Peak. This was a action that we were repeatedly told was completely foolish and unsafe and dangerous, and I believed it coming from someone who had in fact fallen backwards off of that same 14,000 foot mountain. This intrigued me enough to try to picture myself climbing a mountain, something I never thought of doing before that moment, so asked for more information on what kind of climb was at hand. His repose to this was what sounded more like a detailed description of an episode of American Gladiators than it did a fun day out in the wild. The trail consisted of obstacles with names like "boulder field" "Key hole" "the narrows" and the exciting "sawtooth alley"
He spoke passionately about Sawtooth Alley which turned out to be the obstacle that bested him the last time he attempted the climb and I thought about the lecture that he gave earlier that night, about how I sat there listening and feeling worthless thinking that I never could or did learn anything in life with the passion that this dude did. That I learned several instruments but I would never claim to really know how to play any, and how I knew broad terms and ideas about art, but not at all how it really works. Never could I find something I was so devoted to that I could spend the time and energy really needed to become a master of that thing, or a doctor in this instanceI had always looked and questioned but never was bothered to attempt to go the full distance, never gave the extra time, perhaps I was afraid of the hard work or afraid of failure. Sitting there I realized in an instant that I was almost 28 years old and I had never even fallen backwards off of a mountain.