Friday, January 15, 2010

Alone with the Beauty?

I suspect that one of the major downsides in following that "Monk-Amram" path of finding the beauty in a performance of music and disregarding "the rest of it" is that the trip down that path can be a lonely one.  Not only does it tend to involve going against the grain that everyone else has established (as in the source anecdote of Monk finding beauty in country music records);  but also, simply because it is a matter of search, it can be a time-consuming and difficult process that involves more than a spontaneous reaction to "how the spirit moves you."  I came to appreciate the loneliness of going against the grain this morning as other reviews of Tuesday evening's performance of Franz Schubert's Die Schöne Müllerin (D. 795) by baritone Nathan Gunn, accompanied by his wife Julie, have begun to surface.  All those "elements that rankled me" that I deliberately chose to disregard seem to have been selected for focal attention in both the San Francisco Chronicle and San Francisco Classical Voice!

Now, in all fairness, it is not an easy matter to disregard spontaneous reactions, particularly when those reactions follow normative practices.  I suspect that such an ability to go against the spontaneous was what made Thelonious Monk as brilliant a composer as he was, but on the other hand there is the risk that departing from the beaten path can lead you off a cliff.  There is also the question of whether one wishes to commit to taking a more time-consuming approach if one feels that there are better things that can be done with that time.  Ultimately, the only lesson to be learned from this diversity of approaches is that both serious listening and the task of describing the resulting experience involve hard work that rewards only those willing to commit to doing that work.  Furthermore, the reward may be nothing more than the personal satisfaction at having understood an order in a situation that others have dismissed as confusion.

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