So I was pleased when I did my first, miniscule amount of musical work this week, just for the feeling of exercising long dormant muscles. I haven't been playing guitar at all, but in the last week I suddenly found myself listening quite a bit to that body of work I composed after the Nashville sessions. It's much more consistently rock, in contrast to the huge style spread that characterizes Life and Other Impossibilities. In an idle hour on Tuesday, I did a bit of remixing of the demo I recorded of "This Romance," tweaking the levels in a section that's bothered me for a long time. This was the first song I wrote upon arrival at Marquette, which gives the lie to my "rock" characterization of this body of work, as this song is – inexplicably – an island song, which is a type of music I don't even listen to. But it's fun, I'll give it that.
And that took me into starting a full-out demo of "Made in the U.S.A.," a classic rock tune that I wrote as a sort of tribute to the "biker chick" fantasy I was seeing in the female students all around me when Milwaukee was celebrating the 100th anniversary of Harley Davidson a few years back, and I watched an amazing amount of the female student population pull out leather outfits to hang with the biker crowd, and imagine that – at least somewhere deep down – each and every one of them was the sort of badass woman you find in songs of this sort. I was seeing the way women reacted when classic rock tunes of this sort played, as though they were privately thinking to themselves, "Yeah, that's me..." and so I wanted to write a song that sort of tapped into that fantasy. It's another fun one, although I cannot for the life of me imagine how a generation of rockers sang lyrics like this with a straight face.
So I took the acoustic guitar demo I had recorded of that song way back when and started playing a bit with programming the drum track I've lately been hearing in my head over that guitar part. But I recorded the acoustic demo without a metronome, so that would have to be redone as well. But even though it was a pretty insignificant amount of work I completed, and most of that very temporary and likely to be thrown out as the project would continue, it was still the first truly creative thing I had done with music in over a year. And it was so pleasurable to just feel music come out of me again. Theological or even pedagogical creativity are still creative exercises, but in relation to music, theological creativity is definitely located on a greater spectrum spread than are the proverbial apples and oranges, so this felt wonderfully fresh to me.
This minor exercise was then followed by an evening of classical music last night after I was done with teaching. Mari had been given a pair of tickets to a concert by the Prazak String Quartet that was being held next door on the Tulane University campus. I don't think I had gone to a string quartet performance since my undergraduate, when I humiliated myself by falling asleep during a performance by the Vermeer Quartet (although I did have the excuse of having had about three hours of sleep the night before. But still.). I was tired after teaching four classes throughout the day, but I met Mari as planned and we went over to La Divina Gelateria on campus, where I passed on the panini and just had soup for a quick dinner, while helping Mari brainstorm for her still-gestating Fall 2010 Yamauchi Lecture in Religion, “All in the Family? Jewish and Christian Encounters,” which is happening this coming Monday. Conversation oscillated between that and her processing the passing of her grandmother back in Hungary after two years' serious illness, which she had just found out about.
There was something therapeutic, then, or at least apropos, as she admitted afterward, when we discovered that the programme for this premiere Central European quartet was a series of Central European composers. Normally, I don't care too much for "20th Century" classical music, being too much a folk and rock musician or music fan to enjoy music that doesn't have the hook of clear melody. But the dissonances and 20th Century aspects of the first piece somehow reached out and grabbed me, putting a huge smile on my face through much of the performance. It's been a long time since my NIU days, and so Mari has been around a lot more classical music in recent years than I have been, and she told me stories of the frequent concerts she attended while in Jerusalem in particular, but she was well impressed with the Quartet, too, and increasingly appreciative of their selections as the programme progressed. So we heard:
Leos Janáček: Quartet No. 2 ("Intimate Letters")This last piece was the only piece with which I was slightly familiar, having bought a copy of it by the Alban Berg Quartet some years ago as the second selection on a CD I had picked up for Dvorak's "American" quartet, which I'd heard on the radio driving to Thanksgiving in Milwaukee, I think, one year when I was still teaching high school in South Bend, and which I'd found really compelling. The Smetana piece went over especially well, and the loud, long and enthusiastic applause brought out the Quartet for an encore of the last movement of Dvorak's Quartet No. 10 in E-Flat, Op. 51, which I'd never heard any of before, I think, and which has a folk-dance zest that made for a perfect chaser to end the evening.
Erwin Schulhoff: Five Pieces for String Quartet
Bedrich Smetana: Quartet No. 1 in E-minor ("From My Life")