End of Day 5 at Kent County Youth Orchestra.
Good news- Wasp sting is in retreat!!!!!!!!
Other good news- Band sounds good!!
Last night was Curry Night. If you haven’t seen it, you cannot imagine what happens in a quite village curry house when 70 musicians between 18 and 21 descend on the place a 9PM looking for lager and tikka masala. I missed it last year, but it was quite a spectacle. The definite high point was the whole orchestra singing “Happy Birthday” over and over again (in four-part harmony, no less), in vain hopes that the owners would give them a free cake. Alas, they were dealing with seasoned pros, and no cake appeared.
In addition to being a long and difficult program, this is one of the more emotionally draining I’ve worked on in a long time, and I’ve been pretty wiped out after each rehearsal, especially as the week has gotten busier for me. Geoff and I really built this program to be musically rewarding, playable, somewhat unified musically (hence all Eastern European composers), and accessible to the audience. However, a unifying theme has emerged, which does tie the concert together in particularly tragic terms.
Martinu’s Memorial to Lidice is, as I’ve mentioned before, a meditation on the destruction of the Czech village of Lidice by Nazi soldiers. Eight-eight children were murdered. Coming after the Martinu, Dvorak’s Noonday Witch becomes much more harrowing than it might normally be. It is basically a macabre fairy tale- a little boy misbehaves one morning, so his father warns him of the tale of the noon day witch. Apparently, she comes for naughty children and murders them at noon, stealing their souls.
Thinking that the child will now behave, Dad sets off for work, leaving Mom and child behind. Of course, the witch does appear, and torments mother and son, demanding that the mother turn over the boy to her. The music vividly depicts her grotesque dance and the desperate and defiant screams of the mother. Finally the witch vanishes and the mother collapses, clutching her son to her for safety.
Father hears the noon bell toll, and merrily makes his way home for lunch, arriving to find mother asleep with the child in her arms. He wakes her gently, then they both realize, to their horror, that she has suffocated the boy in her arms. As they collapse in anguish, the witch reappears to mock them. It’s Dvorak at his most modern and visionary, and, heard after the Martinu, the fairy tale seems all too horrifying.
Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony is a true, classical symphony- wonderfully abstract to it’s very core. While Dvorak tells us a very literal story, and Martinu commemorates an actual event, Rachmaninov, in this piece, lets us make our own association. My own association, and that of many of my friends, changed forever last year, and I’ll always think of the slow movement as dealing with loss and with consolation. After thinking about it all summer, I decided to tell the students about that association today; not because I want them to see the piece in this light, but because this very tragic story gets to the heart of what music really is for and about. I’m still not sure it’s right to tell it here, but maybe tomorrow.
c. 2006 Kenneth Woods