Ever since the DSO went on tour to New York a couple of weeks ago, I've had Ives on the brain. Despite some of the inherit challenges involved with playing his music, I'm glad to say that I know a little bit more about this American composer that sometimes goes overlooked. (Plus, being in New York again was really crazy but a lot of fun - I made it back to Detroit with all my fingers!) I was first exposed to Ives as an undergrad in a Music History since 1800 class through a short song called "The Cage". Here are the lyrics to this song:
A leopard went around his cage
from one side back to the other side;
he stopped only when the keeper came around with meat;
A boy who had been there three hours
began to wonder, “Is life anything like that?”
I've been very fortunate to be able to do a fair amount of traveling in my career so far, experiencing different parts of our country and world from the perspective of not just a visitor, but someone who claimed those places as a home away from home. It's started to bother me that this may not always be the case, and I'll be like that animal trapped in a cage. Even if this cage is tenure in a great orchestra (which I'd be very grateful for, of course) it's scary for me to think that my roots will be firmly grounded in one place, instead of loosely connected to several.
On the other hand, maybe this IS a cage I'm trapped in. My money is fine right now, but whether it's a gig in this place or an audition in that place my travels definitely run parallel to getting more of it. Those little pieces of meat here and there keep me afloat, and I run towards them just like that leopard. It's like I can't decide which is scarier - pacing a cage with great benefits and fame in the same city for the rest of my life or pacing a cage with travel, fun, and the uncertainty of where the next check is coming from. I'm sure the cage is just a state of mind, but both outcomes represent what I look forward to and what I fear. Are you in a cage right now? Maybe we need to try to kill the keeper and steal his keys so that we can escape...
Don't forget that today is the anniversary of Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring"! Have you picked out the virgin you want to sacrifice tonight?
This week the DSO's main work is "The Planets" by Holst, and I've had a great time with this piece. In undergrad we did a few of the movements in Wind Ensemble, but this was my first time doing the "real" thing from back to front. I must say, being a part of the really loud brass in Mars and Jupiter, the soft woodwinds in Venus and Saturn, and the sweetness of the strings in Mercury and Neptune is a lot of fun and very inspiring, but my favorite movement is definitely Uranus.
In preparation for the rehearsals and concerts I listened to several recordings of "The Planets" to get an idea of what I could connect the music to in my mind, and it's interesting how Holst's interpretation of each planet in our solar system resonates and has meaning here on earth. With each movement being subtitled, a connection between each planet and one's own life can easily be made, whether you're feeling Jupiter's jollity or even Saturn's old age. Uranus is subtitled "the Magician", and it sounds exactly like that to me. It opens with agitated brass and percussion, and quickly moves into a bassoon soli that spreads through the woodwinds and strings until it seems to lose control. The feelings of joy and happiness are constantly traded with power and fear throughout the movement, and that specifically takes me back to a time in my own life when I toyed with that concept.
Growing up I had a vivid imagination, and one of my favorite things to pretend to be was a witch. I was taught in my household that witchcraft and wizardry were evil, but as a child I didn't really care - my fascination over ruled what my parents were telling me. The thought of using magic for fun and entertainment was always at the forefront of my mind when playing outside until kids decided to push me or make fun of me. At that point I'd go to a dark place within myself and imagine what would happen if I could turn them into toads or statues, sometimes even worse.
This mix of good and bad in my head when pretending to have magical powers slowly went away as a got older of course, but Uranus takes me back to that place. Maybe Holst wrote this piece in reference to things extraterrestrial while at the same time considering the feelings, stories, and memories inside of each of us. Maybe I have a spiritual connection to some planets over others. Maybe I just like saying the word "Uranus". One thing is for certain though - I grew out of witchcraft and traded it for bitchcraft, which is probably just as bad.
Listen to our live broadcast of this piece, as well as pieces by Ligeti and Chopin at dso.org/live and see if you gravitate more toward one planet in particular.