"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Monday, October 25, 2010

Bach to Bugs

Let's begin this blog post by acknowledging two things about me:

1. When it comes to music, I am an eclectic person. I can't think of any musical genre that hasn't produced at least one song I like.

2. I was raised on a strict diet of country twang, and learned about classical music from the Looney Tunes.

So, when I go to a classical concert, there is a little of the Looney in me. I mean no disrespect. I'm just, in my son's words, "really weird."**

Last Sunday, Marcus sang with the Cal State Long Beach University Choir at the Los Angeles Bach Festival. It was held at the First Congregational Church of L.A. They presented Bach's St. John Passion as their finale for a week-long event, which apparently included a laser show on Friday night to accompany his famous Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.

Wish I'd been there for that – it had to be pretty cool.

The St. John Passion was, well, passionate. The music is beautiful, although long. There were sixty-eight individual pieces, for both chorus and soloists. Sixty-eight pieces… in German. We had a script to follow along, with the English translation on the side (the elderly men in front of me still got lost). Dale and I managed to sit on the correct side of the aisle and could see Marcus in the balcony. It was golden.

Like I said, the music was beautiful, but long. This allowed my mind to wander… my weird mind. The first thing I noticed was the TV monitor next to the organ. Since the organist faced away from the conductor, they had a monitor for her, so she could be conducted along with the orchestra.

Ever played with funhouse mirrors? As you move in and out, your features get distorted, larger and smaller, right? Unfortunately, that's the way the camera was portraying the conductor. He was not a large man, dapper in his tuxedo with tails, a blinding-white shirt, tie and cummerbund. But every time he raised his arms and directed the choir and orchestra, the camera enlarged his white shirt, like a balloon, expanding on the monitor.

Expand. Contract. Expand. Contract. I couldn't take my eyes off the screen. I was trying not to laugh. Elmer Fudd came to mind. I started smiling. At this point, I wanted to point out the Fudd-istic event to my hubby, but I didn't dare. As opposed to the last four years of enduring noisy audiences at high school concerts, this audience was silent as the grave, if you'll allow me a cliché.

So I sat and smiled and read along with the program and started laughing again when the gorgeous bass, as Jesus, sang, "Put up thy sword in thy sheath", which in German is, "Stecke dein Schwert in die Scheide."

C'mon, tell me you're not thinking of Blazing Saddles, or at least giggling from the alliteration.

At intermission, the two old men behind me had a few things to say. They did not understand why the CSULB choir was singing, probably because they didn't read the program notes that explained the conductor, Jonathan Talberg, is also the director of choral, vocal and opera studies at the Bob Cole Conservatory of Music at CSULB. They also didn't care for the man sitting in the row ahead of me who had an earring. But the most intriguing conversation they had was this:

Old Man 1: "I met the conductor in the men's room. He seems very nice."

Old Man 2: "He looks like he's (*unintelligible word*)."

Old Man 1: "Well, most people in music are (*unintelligible word*)."

What was the word? What are most people in music? Short? Classy? Episcopal? I didn't turn around and ask, although I wanted to. I may eavesdrop, but I don't intrude. It's called manners, people.

At the end of the two-and-a-half hour concert, I was mostly impressed that the soloists had learned such intricate melodies, especially the Evangelist, who had the largest role. We didn't get to speak to Marcus before we left, but I texted him. "Good job!" I said, "Catchy tune. LOL."

See? I can listen to classical music and enjoy it. I just can't keep the funny out.

** Marcus recently informed me that he and his dorm-mate are, "eerily similar. We like the same anime, music, and we both have really weird moms."

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