Only in San Francisco?
[Ed. Note: Stephen Culbertson sent us this story of meeting a fellow new music fan when he wasn't expecting it, reminding us of how often and in how many ways music threads all our lives together. Has something like this ever happened to you? Please share your experiences with us in the comments.—MS]
Last Friday afternoon, Janet (wife), Matt (son), and I get into a cab at the Fairmont Hotel. I’m in the front seat next to the driver. “Good afternoon, where to?” asks the American (!) cabbie. “Perry’s Embarcadero,” I reply. We’re on our way to have dinner with an old colleague before going to the San Francisco Giants game later in the evening. As we settle in, I notice the traffic isn’t bad, and that the driver has the classical music station on the radio. Well, this is San Francisco, I think to myself.
After a minute or so, Janet asks, “Steve, what is that on the radio?” She knows I like to play “name that tune”!
“Why, that’s the first movement of George Wakefield Chadwick’s Symphonic Sketches for Orchestra. Early 20th Century American composer.” I say as matter-of-factly as possible.
“Oh. I like it.”
The cabbie interjects, “So that’s Chadwick’s orchestra piece. He wrote five string quartets, you know.”
“I didn’t know that,” I reply (astounded! I’m only familiar with his orchestral works and songs).
“Yeah, he wrote five; I’ve played all of them.” My look must have given away my surprise. He went on. “I’m a violinist and I love to play string quartets. In fact, I have over 700 string quartets at home and my friends and I get together and play them. Sometimes we sound pretty good. Chadwick’s a good composer. Based in Boston, but he has a SF [or it might have been Oregon; at this point I was too stunned to remember to take notes] connection. I think he studied in Europe with Reinecke. We’ve played all his quartets, too. You might say it’s something of an obsession. Once I find a new composer, I have to get all the quartets they wrote. Right now I’m looking for Dancla quartets.”
“Didn’t he write a violin method or something?” was about all I could manage at this point.
“Don’t know about a method, but he wrote some progressive studies that violinists play. And he wrote 12 quartets. I’ve only been able to get one so far. But Eastman has 2 of them, and there’s a library in Vienna that has a few more.” Then he rattled off a few more libraries that have manuscripts or early editions where he might be able to get the 11 he needs for his collection. Then he rattled off a few more contemporaries of Dancla who wrote string quartets that he has parts to and has played with his friends.
He asked me if I was a musician. “Yes, I’m a conductor” I replied.
The cab driver commented, “I really don’t like playing in orchestras. Somebody’s always telling you what to do. UPBOW here, DOWNBOW there. I don’t like having a boss. That’s why I’m a cab driver.”
“Well, there’s an orchestra in New York that would be just for you. It’s made up of players that don’t like playing with a conductor.”
“Do they tell you when you have to play upbow and downbow? You know in the 19th Century the players could bow however they wanted. I could play in an orchestra like that.”
I said, “Well, I think they do have a concertmaster or a committee that might decide some of those things.” Then I mentioned I am also a music publisher. “I publish a series called CD Sheet Music and we’ve done some collections of quartets. Our last one was all the quartets of Tchaikovsky, Glazunov, and Dvorak. Not very obscure by your standards, I guess.”
“Oh yeah, I contacted you guys to see if you had any of the Dancla quartets. But you didn’t. Too bad.”
The Chadwick is over, and now the radio is playing one of those late 19th Century salon pieces that I know, but can’t quite remember the title. I’m hoping Janet doesn’t ask me what it is. The conversation turns to more mundane matters, like prices in San Francisco compared to New Jersey, and we learn that our cabbie has a place in Sausalito that only cost him about $400,000. We also learn that his mother-in-law was an opera singer who knew Edwin Kalmus. They used to get a lot of string quartets for free. He then mentioned a few reprint publishers I’ve never heard of (after more than thirty years in the business) that are good sources (but none of them have Dancla).
We’re approaching our destination. Janet asks, “Do you have a card or something?”
“Nah.” he says. “I just do it for fun.”
We stop. I look around for a name, can’t find one. I pay the fare and get out. “Enjoy the game. Go Giants,” he says.
I turn to Matt. “Now that’s something that would never happen in New York.”
Stephen Culbertson has been an advocate of American music as conductor, performer, publisher and educator for over 35 years. He is the co-founder and President of Subito Music Corp., one of the country’s most active concert music publishers, a developer of CD Sheet Music™, and has conducted over 40 orchestras, opera productions, and ballet companies in the USA and Europe.