The arts are in danger. As musicians and teachers, we say this from year to year, sometimes expecting that there will even by change through the simple awareness of this danger, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Recently in Memphis there was a rumor that all string music programs would be cut this year, leaving hundreds of young violinists, violists, cellists, and bassists out in the cold and without their passion. Luckily, this was only a rumor, but in many places around the country, this is reality. As artists, we encourage non-artists to support the arts, and that’s a good thing to do. I think, though, that artists sometimes have to take on the role of supporting the arts as well, just to show that it is still alive. With those things in mind (as well as the growing disdain for the city of Memphis by a large percentage of its inhabitants), I decided to put on a recital before my return to Los Angeles. It’s important for me to provide an artistic outlet for music lovers, as well as expose people to the bassoon and different genres of classical music for the first time, and that’s what I hope to do with “Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, and Something Blue”.
I always thought that it would be a cool idea to theme a recital after this age-old wedding tradition, but with next summer’s wedding, I figured this was the perfect opportunity. It’s also a great time for something like this simply because of the strides we’re making as a country towards marriage equality. Choosing works that fit into these categories was a little harder than I had anticipated, but with the help of some colleagues it all came together.
“Something Old” is going to be Vivaldi’s Concerto for Bassoon in e minor. This was an easy pick for me, because not only is this piece “old” in the span of classical music, but also in the span of my life with the bassoon. When I was assigned the bassoon in 7th grade band, I desperately searched for examples of what this thing was supposed to sound like, because I had no idea. Many bassoonists would probably say that the Mozart Concerto was their first listening experience as far as bassoon repertoire goes, but for me it was the Vivaldi. This composer wrote hundreds of concertos, many of which being for the young girls of an orphanage to perform. There have been many performances of this piece since its premiere in the 1700s, but it is beginning to become a work more difficult to hear in a live performance. Despite its waning popularity, I’ll always think back to how amazed I was as a 7th grader to hear a recording of this work.
Choosing “Something New” was sort of a challenge, because the word “new” is only relative when it comes to music. Choosing something written last night, or 100 years ago would both warrant a spot in this category. With the help of violist, Nadya Potemkina, I was presented a piece that we could perform together by a composer names Michal Spisak. This Polish composer lived in Europe during the early 20th century and modeled his music after new compositional techniques, such as transparent polyphonies and use of specific instrumental colors. This is probably one of the more difficult pieces I’ve had to work on, simply because of its non-traditional sound. New “classical” music is often rejected my listeners because it’s not always easy on the ear, but I think this is a good way of showing how far music has come since the days of Vivaldi, and other composers of and before his time.
Picking “Something Borrowed” sounds easy enough – finding apiece that you like not originally written for bassoon. The difficulty I didn’t foresee, however, was being able to PLAY the piece not written for bassoon. One of the biggest differences with double reeds is that our instruments require a different type of air support – for every breath we take in, we have to take one out, as opposed to being able to use all of the air we take in. Another issue is the physical mechanism of the bassoon. Bassoon writing, in my opinion, isn’t as “virtuosic” as say, flute or clarinet writing, because playing the bassoon requires more physically (the only other instrument requiring all 10 fingers independently is the piano). My pianist in Los Angeles suggested Schubert’s Arppegione Sonata, and with some practice I learned to love this work. Written in the early 1800s, this sonata is old enough to be pleasing to the ear, yet “new” enough to provide a great challenge for the performer. I also think that this was a great choice, because anyone playing this piece these days is “borrowing” – the arppegione didn’t survive much past the 19th century (most performances of the piece can be heard on cello). Favored by many, Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata has given me new insight on what it means to play “borrowed” music.
The bassoon is not by any means a jazz instrument, so finding “Something Blue” that wasn’t actually also “Something Borrowed” left me with no ideas whatsoever. In May I played a jazz gig, and the composer of this woodwind trio was Ray Pizzi. Upon more research about this bassoonist, I found that he composes solo jazz works for bassoon – I’d found my jackpot. “Ode for a Toad” caught me eye, so I’ll do my best to do something I wasn’t trained for and don’t do very often – swing!
I’m very happy that this has put itself together, and I have to thank Nadya Potemkina, Tony Silva, the Vivaldi Ensemble, and the Beethoven Club of Memphis for helping me along the way. I urge other area musicians to show the Mid-South that there is music and culture in Memphis, and that no matter what happens with schools, politics, or whatever, the arts need to be supported. It all starts with us.
On Monday we took it a little easier than the days prior. I decided to do a little more shopping near the apartment, because I love buying clothes that fit well! It was also good to practice more Japanese on my own. Once Kelly woke up we went to a part of the city called Mizonokuchi, which was home to many shops, arcades, and restaurants. It’s interesting that in japan, video arcades attract both the young and old. As we walked through trying to win trinkets from the machines, we saw an old man doing the same thing – he was a little better at it than we were. Another interesting thing I learned from this are was that CD stores often time rent, instead of sell. We found a specific CD for a friend, but of course, we couldn’t rent it, and had to leave it behind.
For lunch we went to a rotating sushi restaurant. The sushi chef and his assistant do all of their work in the middle of a conveyor belt where you can grab a plate of sushi, or order a roll based on the pictured sushi on the conveyor belt. Each plate was about ¥163 (around $2), so you could eat what you wanted at a reasonable price. Being off the beaten path, my dark skin got some attention, and a man sitting next to me poured for me tea, grabbed me some ginger and wasabi, and even ordered for me his favorite sushi! Once I began to eat, the sushi chef said to me “おはしをすかうのわじょうずです“ (You use chopsticks well). Maybe this hospitality came because I was the first black person they’d seen in a while, or had ever seen for that matter, but I think it was due to the Japanese people being a friendlier, purer people.
After lunch, Kelly showed us the schools she works at, followed by souvenir shopping for all of our friends. The biggest thing I noticed in the shops we went into to buy fans, teacups, and other knick-knacks, was that the kimono is a clothing choice for many people on a regular day. We think of them as more of a costume or formal wear item, but many of the Japanese wear them on the regular – I was sure to buy one for myself.
Dinner was at Saizeria, which reminded me of a Japanese Shoney’s. I ate something called doriya, which was like an upper quality hamburger helper, with rice replacing the noodles.
My legs were basically dead at this point, but it was all worth it.