Monday, February 28, 2011

Faust I

My life is really taken up with Faust right now - I mean Goethe's of course, if one can say that Goethe's Faust is Goethe's, and not say everyone, but...

There's a lot to say, and I suspect I will say more here, but I just wanted to share some of my favourite moments - after all, a scholarly paper is no place for that, so why not a blog entry.

Am I crazy to think that Gretchen is just unbelievably likeable? I mean, is it just because I'm a man, or is her combination of simple honesty with a kind of humanity in the understanding of her own failings what makes her so compelling?

Nowhere else do we get this than in the scene from Part I entitled Am Brunnen. It's Gretchen and another girl gossiping about a yet another girl who finds herself pregnant out of wedlock, and the horrible social consequences of the pregnancy - the scene comes right after Gretchen's own affair with Faust.

The other girl leaves, and Gretchen says:

Wie konnt' ich sonst so tapfer schmälen,
Wenn tät ein armes Mägdlein fehlen!
wie konnt' ich über andrer Sünden
Nicht Worte g'nug der Zunge finden!
Wie schien mir's schwarz, und schwärzt's noch gar,
Mir's immer doch nicht schwarz g'nug war,
Und segnet' mich und tat so groß,
Und bin nu selbst der Sünde bloß!
Doch - alles was dazu mich trieb,
Gott! war so gut! ach war so lieb!

I think it's the "doch" that really gets me here...if only we were all so capable of this kind of introspection...

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Karate Lessons

Like most six year old boys, my son loves to play fight. As I've discussed before (perhaps too often), he loves Star Wars, and, as he has rather cogently noted, "Star Wars is all about fighting" (this wasn't a good thing for him, by the way). But it occurred to myself and his mom that his interest in the Jedi Code and his interest in punching might lead to an interest in martial arts.

When the idea of taking some kind of martial art came up, he was initially very excited to do it. However, for whatever reason, we never got around to signing him up for anything until this past January, and when he went, he refused to do it. And I don't mean refused, he really kind of lost it.

As someone who did karate as a kid, I was genuinely perplexed - his fear was that people would punch him, even though he knew that the entire point of learning a martial art isn't to fight, but to learn how not to fight. Some of the instructors could certainly be intimidating, but you quickly learned that their demeanour wasn't based on aggression but on discipline.

But all he could see was the downside of the situation, and I can't help but think about why - by his own interests, this should be something he wants to do, but in practice...not so much.

Is there a point to this? Kind of - I think it shows how much of a role time plays in introducing these kinds of disciplines to someone, especially children - if he had started when he was 4, it would have probably been OK, but he has enough self-awareness now to see what's going on in there and see nothing but danger.

And maybe he will take it up in a few years. I think something a lot of us do, with kids, and with ourselves, is take life's interests as somehow permanently pre-formed, and perhaps what a 6 year old can't do, an 8 year old would be very much into.

Our lives are dynamic and not static, and maybe the one thing I learned in dragging a screaming child to karate lessons that he never actually set foot in is that there is always hope, there is always a chance that next time, he would set foot into the class, and that would be all the more wonderful thing to see because it was a struggle for him.

In a world where so many people live unhappily in their comfortable lives, the struggle to learn karate, or another language, reminds us that it is life's challenges, and not the latest handbag, that make people who they are, for better or for worse.

That being said, do I intend to drag my son to karate until he finally goes? Well, that's another story...I think instead I'll give it some time, and try again in a year.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Ego Flos Campi


There is a personal irony in the fact that this work, by Clemens non Papa, is something I listen to nearly every day, in a recording by Stile Antico - the sound is so warm and beautiful, and they take it so slowly, revealing a density to the work that eludes the faster performances.

But that's not ironic, is it? Wait, it will come. But I needed to get the beauty of the performance out of the way. At some point, I had decided that I would make this a motet for my wedding, by which I mean of course, some hypothetical wedding, and not one that is actually happening, although I must admit that one rarely thinks about wedding plans unless there was someone with whom they could imagine (or dare I say, fantasize) walking down that aisle, and taking their soft, delicate hand into yours and slipping a ring onto her finger as, oh, something like this unfolds in the background.

Having been married, and having had a choir sing at my first wedding, I was reluctant to do this again. But then I heard this piece, and I decided I would be OK with a choir, singing this work, very slowly, perhaps not as part of a service, but as a musical gift to my then-future-past wife.

Do you know where the words for this piece come from? The Song of Songs, the Bible's liminal space. This piece is like a soundtrack to a wedding that will never happen, or at least, I won't be there. But I can really only talk about this because I'm OK with it - my silence, and you know this, is more often a sign of pain than of joy. And you can rest assured that, as of right now, M, I have never been happier. Honestly.

Oh right, the irony. The words "Ego Flos Campi" means something like I am the flower of the field. Heidenröslein.

I can see your face now - The work that sings of the wedding that will never be recites the very moment when the possibility of that wedding died, auf der Heiden.

It puts a smile on one's face, doesn't it? How did I not know this until today?

Life constantly amazes!

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

On Conducting

At some point in my life, I wanted to be a conductor.

For myself, one of the more difficult things about wanting to be a conductor was enduring the constant question of what a conductor actually did on stage. I was always kind of lousy describing it, because it's really one of those things that you have to experience, either as a performer or as a conductor, to understand.

At this stage, I would probably say that the role of the conductor is to negotiate some kind of coherent performance between the musicians before them. However, there's a great article in The Morning News right now that does a much better job than I, in part because instead of describing it, the author actually stands in front of an orchestra and conducts it. Moreover, he's an amateur, with the blessings that this status can bestow, like an open mind.

It's a wonderful read, in part because the author, unlike many of the people who asked me that question back in the day, is prepared to consider the possibility that the conductor actually does something. That's a refreshing change!

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Snow Day

In defence of my fellow Torontonians, who, this morning, seemed to have completely overreacted to today's snow storm, I would encourage people to take a look and see what this storm did in the US - we appeared to have gotten lucky!