On words, music, and serendipity, too.

First of all, Happy Thanksgiving to All!

It’s been awhile since I posted actual words here. The past five “posts” have been videos of me playing, something I plan to continue, since music is better expressed through playing than writing or talking.

But words are nice, too. Especially the word serendipity. But before I tell you why, let me give a bit of background.

One of the most paradoxical things about music is that it can be learned and practiced without words. Yet at the same time describing the experience of music is more necessary than ever these days, since music, classical music especially, can be experienced on so many levels, and often listeners don’t know what to look for beyond a pleasant enjoyment of a piece. Not that that isn’t enough!

When I say music can benefit from descriptions with words, I do not necessarily mean intellectual descriptions, though discussions of structure, harmony and melody certainly benefit any listener.

Repeated listening to a great piece, say a Mozart piano concerto, can bring new levels of “goosebumpness”, as melodies, harmonies, rhythms and structure reveal themselves. I often don’t know WHY a particular place in a piece of music sends me to heaven, but I surely know that it does.

I have always experienced heavy-duty goosebumpness while listening to or performing music. I used to become so excited during a performance that I could hardly play for want of exclaiming with joy.

I’ve mellowed with age, but I still feel my whole body tingle with ripples of electricity when performing a juicy passage.

During my first year of undergraduate studies at Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, I somehow (serendipitously?) stumbled onto several recordings of somewhat obscure music of Rachmaninoff (his Isle of the Dead) and Shostakovich (his cello concerto).

I latched onto the ultra-sensual romantic harmonies of Rachmaninoff, along with the acerbic and excruciating expressionist music of Shostakovitch. Each resonated with me in some way.

My roommate at the time, who was a composition major, exclaimed playfully “How can you get into such far-out music when you’ve barely touched the great standards such as the symphonies of Beethoven.” Perhaps I felt less intimidated while listening to those composers over Beethoven, and I could experience the music directly without wondering “how” to experience it.

That’s how it begins. Then, with luck and goosebumps, the interest deepens.

You hear a piece, perhaps one recommended by a friend, or perhaps a new piece on a program along with something you already know. It speaks to you. And then, perhaps, you begin to seek more like it, or begin to question “why” is speaks to you.

The Columbus Symphony recently played a concert which included Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances and Shostakovitch 5th symphony, so you can imagine the volcanic emotions (and the goosebump equivalents) I was feeling!

Speaking of music, and music speaking to me, I love words, too. Words may not give me goosebumps, but they tickle some part of my brain.

Words often pop into my head, unbidden, even words I don’t know the definition of. Perspicacious is one such words. (Defined as “having a ready insight into and understanding of things”) Supercilious is another. (Literally, to “raise an eyebrow”, and means to act superior to another)

Another great word is serendipity.

Although I have always known the definiton serendipity, it’s meaning and sound appeal to me. (I also love the movie of that title.) Serendipity, beyond being a fun word to say, describes lucky accidents. And lucky accidents shape our lives more than we can ever imagine.

Bear with me; I do have a point to all this.

Over the past few years I’ve been collecting a list of contacts for composers, mostly through Twitter. The list now has around 140 composers. The plan is to contact them all when the Twitter Symphony project begins.

Two of those composers are Karl Henning and Arne Running. They are both men, both play clarinet, and both are composers. I have acquired clarinet pieces from both.

And both have (to my very imaginative ear) somewhat similar names. ANYWAY, a few months back, while intending to contact Mr. Running, whom I had met for lunch in Philadelphia, I accidentally contacted Mr Henning to ask if he’s ever in the Columbus area and to contact me if so. Mr. Henning responded that he would be in Columbus this week.

Long story short, I realized my mistake by the time Mr. Henning and I had set up a coffee date a few days ago. Nonetheless, the event turned out to be more serendipitous than I could have imagined!!

Karl Henning and I had a memorable conversation on topics such as his decision to maintain his “day job” as a systems analylist while pursuing composing. His Alma Mater is the College of Wooster, where I taught clarinet for a semester, and which highlights the list of great small colleges in Ohio. We discussed the composition process, the plight of new music in the face of the “top 40″ syndrome plaguing the programs of all orchestras.

Beyond finding many interesting subjects to share, two other serendipitous events happened in the coffee shop where we met (Global Gallery).

A woman in her 70s overhead us chatting about the Marlboro Music Festival, which I often attend, and introduced herself and exclaimed her passion for classical music. She also knew one of the original funders of the Marlboro Festival. (I gave her my card, but alas, did not get her name, or the name of the woman she spoke of.)

The other lucky event involved a chance encounter with Christian Howes, a well known jazz violinist who has also played with the Columbus Symphony. I have been meaning to contact him to congratulate him on a fantastic collaborative album with Nashville jazz/fiddle violinist Billy Contreras, called Jazz Fiddle Revolutionhttp://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/article.php?id=24123.

Beyond the album, Chris Howes has also started a subscription website where he offers instructional videos on playing jazz violin. This is EXACTLY the kind of thing I hope to do in the near future with my own website!! I look forward to exploring his site more, and to learning from his experience in setting it up and getting it going.

Chris and Billy have also released a new album, titled Jazz Fiddle Evolution. (You can buy it HERE on Christian’s site) For a taste of the great chemistry between these two very different but talented violinists, check out this video:

So, what started out as a confusion between two composers names ended up a truly serendipitous event, with several new and exciting connections.

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!