Monday, February 15, 2010

the hero moves a thousand leagues in the wrong direction

Spring is upon us: (apologies to SJH for the photo), and after taking more than a few offs on the black ice over the last couple of months trying to keep my pod at bay, (plus after that wussing out with riding with a bunch; just going solo about midday when there's a chance the ice might have melted) it's as if someone has just suddenly thrown a switch....crocuses, daffs and the Guzzi is back on the road. Up till a week and a half ago, I couldn't even get it down the driveway rubber side down. Now it's back...

Anyway, After recently helping to set up a masterclass with some excellent players, (which went really, really well, and I learned a lot from the other guys involved) we later all had a quiet private grizzle over crap coffee as the dust settled. And it suddenly struck me how we (and I mean old gits such as me) are dangerously close to being wildly (repeat that word a few times) out of touch in terms of our expectations of what constitutes a young player. Not the wild as Snyder defines it, either. The conversation revolved around issues of core repertoire, 'young guys today', run before they walk, and so on.

But, of course, a moment's reflection would reveal that calls to master the bebop language allied with the 'Great American Songbook' are even more out-of-sync in terms of time then the original 'Dixieland' revivalists were in the 1950's. After all, they were only 30-so years past their sell-by date; if we think of bebop, we're more than 60. Twice that distance, and we're still kvetching. It had only been 20 years for the New Orleans guys since the 'territory band' sounds coming out of Kansas City had begun to undermine the prevalent two-beat sound for dancers with a more flowing (but less obvious for punters) democratized four-beat feel, which in turn begot bebop.

Scary. So we must constantly look very hard at how the canon is changing over time, and how that changes for our practice. And I have to admit I was feeling more and more uncomfortable with the drift of the conversation, that of established players trying to preserve the thing in aspic. Sharks move forward, or slowly suffocate while sinking in lazy circles into the ink-blue sunless, crushing depths. So goes bebop.

And these guys talking were the ones who were very hip and a bit dangerous in their time - touring everywhere, the best gigs and festivals; but now we're sitting here sounding like the clarinetists who used to mercilessly ride me because I didn't know 'Nagasaki' when I was first coming up. (and those two dancing in that previous video are nothing on these two, the Nicholas Brothers) Always, in whatever era, and somewhat necessary of course, you would think, to keep these young folks in their place.

But the title of this essay comes from Zeami's 13th century book of Noh techniques, this being one of two main types of plays, the other dealing with the supernatural. Things feel vaguely (and for no good reason) as if I have spent the last few years marching furiously, if not in exactly the wrong direction, perhaps in need of the guidance of the sages to find a another path up the iron mountains and silver cliffs which stretch out in the distance...

I just saw John Adams conduct the LSO doing his recent orchestral adaptation Dr.Atomic, plus some Britten and Sibelius, which was inspiring. I've been diligently bashing away at the Holy Goof, plus starting to think about setting some of the John Clare pieces for the festival this summer.

I really must get back into studying some of his scores, so I've just been going through Nixon in China - an excuse for a lecture.