Over the weekend I attended a piano concert performed by the same artist –Fred Kronacher–who played a Bach concert a few months back. I attend these concerts with my friend Nina (rhymes with Dinah), and her husband, Bill. I blogged about that concert (http://www.elenalouiserichmond.com/2010/10/digressions-from-an-afternoon-with-bach/), taking a rather supercilious tone, compared with what I have to say about the Chopin and Liszt concert on Sunday afternoon.
I’ll start by saying that it was absolutely glorious piano music. These two composers knew how to utilize every partial of the piano with grace and charm. Hearing Liszt’s “Au bord d’une source” was like sitting in the middle of a cold mountain stream on a hot day. I could feel as well as hear the ripples of water. With Chopin’s Nocturne in D-flat, with any Chopin if it comes to that, I can understand why George Sand liked to lie on the floor under the piano.
Then I ruined my own experience of Valse Oublieé (Forgotten Waltz) because I thought Fred had reversed the order of the program and was playing Gnomenreigen (Dancing gnomes). The beginning of Valse Oublieé sounded like gnomes running around. So I leaned over to Nina and ruined her experience of it, too, by fussing about whether or not he was playing the waltz or the gnomes. Or had I daydreamed all the way through Valse Oublieé which would be ironic, and missed it altogether.
So I was not behaving like a very sophisticated concert goer. I wonder why that was.
Sometimes I listen on purpose like a musician: “Hmmm, he’s modulated and there’s a sequence, here comes the cadence.” If I have played the piece myself, I can visualize how the fingers are moving through certain passages and how I can’t imagine getting through that bit so smoothly. Sometimes I think, “Oh, that’s how that goes!” With some inside melodies, my reaction is “Geez, where did that note come from? How is he getting that?”
But here’s a dirty little secret: my mind wanders. A lot.
My mind even wanders when I am the one performing. In the middle of singing a Schubert song, I might have this thought: “I’ll need to get milk on the way home, then I have to do laundry, my god, how long have I been thinking about this?” All this can thread through my mind in less than four counts so it’s not like getting lost in a foreign city, but it is alarming when I’ve got an audience that has come to hear me sing, not wool-gather.
Anyway after the piano concert, I compared notes with my companions about the wanders our minds took: it boiled down to work and sex.
It got me thinking about minds and how I don’t know what goes on in other people’s minds but how often I assume that I do. Especially in regards to feelings. Someone has a physiological response to life, expresses it in words and I say, “I understand completely” or “I know exactly how you feel,” when in fact, I have no way of knowing exactly how anything feels to anyone but me and even I am hazy about my own feelings much of the time.
Most people report that they find music evocative, but what it evokes is difficult to verbalize. Trying to explain its magic is like trying to encapsulate spirituality or sex in words. So after a concert, you hear people saying banal things like, “You know I thought the tempo dragged a bit during the relative minor sequence in the 2nd movement” or “Those two composers knew how to utilize every partial of the piano with grace and charm.”
You rarely hear anyone say, “I was imagining myself in Australia having sex on a beach with two didgeridoo players,” or “I was thinking if he doesn’t call that contractor tomorrow morning, I am going to rip out bathroom sink myself” or “I just know she’s not at the library, she’s out getting another piercing.”
While I am in this confessional mode, I’ll attempt to redeem myself by saying my mind usually doesn’t wander during a Bach concert. But I almost always fall asleep in the 3rd act of an opera.