Time and Again

In one of those small-world coincidences with which the new music world seems rife, the Box’s very own Frank J. Oteri happened to be in my new home city of London last week with an opening in his datebook. He generously agreed to meet up with me for a pint at a local establishment that dates back to the 19th century—a former “gin palace” close to University College London dripping with elaborate woodwork, etched glass, and tile mosaics, suggested by Frank. It was my first time venturing into the “city” proper, and I can’t imagine a better introduction to old-school pub charm.

If you’re a NewMusicBox regular, you’re probably familiar with Frank’s worldview, his “Zen-like appreciation for everything,” and his particular affection for the old, weird, and history-encrusted. He explained his attraction to old bars as a desire to tap into the metaphysical stream of good communal vibes that flows through such places—a diachronic audience wave, so to speak, that connects him to the patrons of the past and future. I thought this image was really beautiful—it recognizes the numinousness of the crowd, the potency of shared social experience.

It might be the same kind of feeling that we encounter at concerts, if we’re lucky. I wonder sometimes how I’d perceive a performance if I were the only listener in the house: Maybe it would be just the same but with tangier high frequencies, or maybe it would differ enormously. I think I’d certainly lose the feeling of being “part of something,” of involvement in a sort of voluntary mass hypnotism. In that light, it’s good to be reminded of the necessity of music as a thing we do together, especially since composing music is something many of us do in utter solitude.

5 thoughts on “Time and Again

  1. Sarble The Eye

    couldn’t one say that when composing one is always accompanied by shades of prior composers? no one actually composes from first principles, even when they think they do.

    such a view jives with Frank’s interest in the ‘old and the wierd,’ viewing this sensitivity to the past as simply a generalized form of his compositional activity (or his composing practice as a focused and cultivated aspect of this general sensitivity).

    the next question is, logically, do any ov us compose anything at all; maybe we just invite long absent friends in for a cup of tea, and the conversation that results is called (by some) a piece.

    Reply
  2. William Osborne

    I’m not the “Zen-like appreciation for everything” type. I’ve also spent the last 28 years residing in a region of Europe where that philosophy might be hard pressed. I lived in Munich for 13 years, which was the birth city of the Third Reich, and Hitler’s self-declared “spiritual home.” The Nazi Party took root in Munich and spread from there across Germany. The first major concentration camp, Dachau was built in a Munich suburb. My wife was first trombone in the Munich Philharmonic, which was known as the “Orchestra of the Fascist Movement.” Some of you might know that some of our experiences in Munich were extremely unpleasant – to say the least.

    Ironically, Munich also has one of the richest musical histories of Europe. One might argue that only Vienna and Leipzig outshine its glories – perhaps along with Paris. Mozart, Wagner, Strauss, Pfitzner, and Mahler all had close associations with the city, just to name a few. In fact, Mozart was born in Augsburg which is about 40 minutes from Munich. The list could go on and on.

    What strikes me about Europe to this day is how present even the distant past still is. This is nowhere truer than for Italy, where I lived for my first year in Europe. One still clearly senses remnants of the Roman world, and perhaps even remote elements of the Roman approach to life. And cities like Florence, Sienna, Assisi, Naples and Venice are literally living museums. And better yet, there is not such a dark past to taint the beauty of the memories. The Zen approach works pretty well there.

    The town near where I live in Germany, Rottweil, is 2000 years old. It was a Roman colony and the remains of the old Roman bath are still there. And old Roman road passes near my house. A few miles away there is also a mass grave of people who were literally and purposely worked to death in a stone quarry during the Third Reich. And only about a mile away is a memorial to the many Russian POWs who were worked to death in the Mauser rifle factory.

    All the same, I am still working on ways to distill the remarkable historical beauty that surrounds me. Even the Germans themselves would rather forget a lot of history. There is also probably a big difference between being a tourist and a long-term resident in Europe. When you’re going to split in a week, or even after an academic year, you can afford to overlook a lot.

    William Osborne

    Reply
  3. philmusic

    I remember having a lovely dinner in mid-town Manhattan restaurant some years back. The thing was it was mostly a lunch place so it was huge fancy and completely EMPTY.

    Actually, it was a little odd to be the only customers in the place. Set up empty tables everywhere.

    Like dancers in step but with no music.

    Phil Fried

    Reply
  4. colin holter

    Sarble, that’s quite a poetic idea – and it calls into question whether being “musically alone” or “in musical company” are as one-dimensional as the words we use for them imply. It can be energizing to think that somebody, even somebody long-dead, has our compositional back; on the other hand, maybe it can be equally helpful to pretend to be an island from time to time. If I were prone to sweeping generalizations, I might posit that American composers prefer to believe that they can really be alone, whereas European composers would rather entertain the idea that their forebears are around in spirit. Good thing I’m not prone to sweeping generalizations!

    Actually, it was a little odd to be the only customers in the place. Set up empty tables everywhere.

    Phil, are you sure you weren’t watching My Dinner With Andre?

    Reply
  5. greyfeeld

    well, sort of
    Haydn reportedly said that he put on good clothes when he sat down to compose, because one should be well dressed when communing with one’s god.

    Funny that we should be bringing up restaurants and music: one of the reasons I’ve been hesitant about notation software is that I *love* writing out parts in restaurants. (Apparently Copland had friends over when he was home doing this, so he wouldn’t be overbored.) People either a) ignore me and think I’m too busy to overhear them in the restaurant, which makes me privy to their privacy; or b) they start conversations with me about music; it’s not much in the way of bringing classical music into the community … but it’s something. –Robert Bonotto

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