mm320: Soothing the savage, etc.

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MUDGE’s Musings

Sunday, actually got off of my lazy — uh, seat, and made the effort to attend a cultural event: a concert in town of our community orchestra.

Over the course of 10 months 11 days of daily posting, yr (justifiably) humble svt has been circumspect about his identity, as well as specific locality.

If one was paying attention, one might find some references in this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere© to north-eastern Illinois, and especially Chicago, the source of the energy driving this 3rd largest U.S.metropolitan area.

Well, my suburban town is hereby outed.

Evanston, Illinois, where I’ve lived for lo these 50 years (!), is a pretty good place to reside. Home of Northwestern University (No. 14 in U.S. News Top National Universities listing currently — actually, NU was here first; John Evans was one of its founders for whom the village that grew up around it was later named). Quiet upscale, old-money streets. A busy city center, that they’re discussing enhancing with a 49-storey condominium. A few somewhat less than upscale neighborhoods. Public transit providing affordable access both to Chicago and within town. An African-American community six or seven generations old. A beautiful lakefront (one of those Great Lakes, actually, that New Mexico governor Bill Richardson was casting covetous eyes upon [Bill, Bill, that can’t have helped your presidential aspirations!]), some of which is still accessible to the public, and none of which is industrial or commercial. Schools and cultural institutions that its residents are usually proud of. A most unusual combination: a bedroom suburb that’s also a destination all out of proportion to its size.

Evanston deserves a post or six of its own; not tonight, though.

Tonight it’s culture.

The Evanston Symphony Orchestra is probably not quite your typical community music group. For one, the community it draws on is sizable for a suburb (70,000+ residents); for another, the community it draws on has some cultural grounding (aforesaid university, and old money).

One gets to my advanced age, and one doesn’t get out that much, even to a movie (that’s if they were making any for codgers). So it’s an achievement if one bestirs oneself to venture out on a brisk, but dry, winter’s day to take in some musical artifacts of Western civilization.

Actually, even at a much more vigorous time of life, getting to concerts was already expensive (the platinum variety, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra downtown, of which my parents were lifelong subscribers, was always a] downtown; and b] outside my financial comfort zone) and thus never a habit.

The Evanston Symphony in those years was really not a viable alternative to the expensive spread downtown, and was never competition. It’s a group of amateurs, after all, playing three, maybe four concerts per year. And in those earlier years, they were earnest, but not effectively directed.

So, when the lovely Mrs. MUDGE presented me with a pair of tickets, given to her gratis by a coworker 2nd violinist with the group, I was, remembering the ragged old days, unimpressed. What tipped it in was that the program promised a choral component, indeed, involving an amateur choral group that I, many, many years ago, sang (nominal term) with.

Actually, and the reason this post is written at all, I had quite an enjoyable time.

For the past several years the Evanston Symphony Orchestra has been directed by Lawrence Eckerling. Looking at his photograph in the program, and then his bio there, tweaked my memory.

Larry Eckerling and his Orchestra is a wedding band in the area, so said the program (not quite so crassly), and we actually attended a very upscale wedding last summer for whom his group provided your typical, if somewhat more polished, wedding band experience.

For our concert, however, Larry transformed to conductor Lawrence (different tuxedo), and he did one fine job conducting his talented amateurs in an ambitious program. There was a theme, even. 19th-20th Century music of France.

The “Second L’Arlésienne Suite” by Georges Bizet began the program, and the orchestra played very surprisingly well. I’m not a professional musician, nor even an amateur music critic, so the nomenclature is unavailable. But, one could appreciate the obviously well prepared solo and ensemble work.

The Internet being what it is, I can even illustrate; this is a commercial concert, featuring one of the giants of music, Herbert von Karajan conducting one of the giants of orchestral organizations, the Berlin Philharmonic, and not the local group of which I am writing, but it will give you the flavor of what we heard. This is the first movement, Pastorale, of the suite. [All of the musical examples that are intended to accompany this post were random selections from and are meant to be illustrative, not reflective, of the actual concert of which I write.]

Well done, ESO!

Next up, the “Songs of the Auvergne” by the lesser known Joseph Canteloube. The soloist was a delightful young soprano, Michelle Areyzaga, who was quite the musical actress, and for whom the symphony worked hard, and well, to showcase. Not a masterwork, but a masterful, yet playful, performance.

Dukas’ Sorcerer’s Apprentice was the final piece before intermission.

I don’t believe that any listener of a certain age (remembers Nixon?) won’t instantaneously relate this music to the breakthrough Disney cartoon, Fantasia. So, you can’t hear this music without thinking of Mickey Mouse, and wayward brooms.

I couldn’t. But the Symphony performed it with the requisite lightness.

Intermission. Time for the second part of the story.

A lifetime ago, reading the town’s weekly newspaper, caught an audition notice for an organization of which I’d never heard, even though I had lived in town by then nearly 20 years, the North Shore Choral Society. But it wasn’t the group that caught my attention, it was the music on offer: Mozart’s “Requiem.” Sublime music, and I’d never ever thought to even think about performing it. So I thought, and girded my pride and auditioned.

In those years, my resemblance to Pavarotti was visual, only (mainly due to beard, and the way I tended to fill horizontal space). Certainly not vocally.

But, they were short of tenors (perpetually, turns out) and I was in.

Now, the “Requiem” is not at all from my own religious tradition. But, it’s some of the most sublime music ever written, Mozart’s last (indeed, it needed finishing after his death by a lesser hand) and I got a chance to listen, and sing a little, from the inside as it were. It was not on the program yesterday, but you could listen a little anyway.

Anyway, that began my on-again, off-mostly relationship with the North Shore Choral Society, an organization of amateur musicians performing two or three times per year, mostly in churches, the classical choral repertory.

Even served as the group’s president for a year or two a very long time ago, but that was because I was a much better janitor (i.e., logistics — who will show up to assemble those risers?) than tenor — at the time I called myself the janitenor. They tolerated the lack of musical skill to get those risers assembled, bless them.

But that was many long years ago. Their repertory had always been churchly; my tolerance for performing religious music that wasn’t of my religion waned. I’ll never forget actually being embarrassed at having my parents (from whom after all I learned to love classical music) in the audience for the Society’s performance of Bach’s “St. John Passion,” as anti-Semitic a gorgeous piece of music as exists in the mainstream.

So, I hadn’t sung, nor heard them, even, for well over 20 years, until yesterday.

They were featured for the 2nd portion of yesterday’s concert, performing Poulenc’s “Gloria” with the orchestra. This is a work I once sang with the group. Here’s how it begins.

Now, of the four French composers in the concert, Poulenc is the only whose idiom was music of the 20th Century. Canteloube died in 1957, but wrote in the style of 100 years earlier. Dukas died in 1935; “Apprentice” is very much a 19th Century work.

Francis Poulenc, born in 1899, was of his century, and wrote accordingly.

And, performing his music of 1959 presents challenges to amateur musicians. Lawrence Eckerling is a professional musician; Dr. Donald Chen, long-time (and soon to retire) director of the North Shore Choral Society teaches conducting and choral music at a local university for his day job. They’re the pros. The amateurs are the plucky volunteer members of the Evanston Symphony and the North Shore Choral Society, and for them, and, let’s face it, their audience, the music of true 20th century composers presents issues. We’ve touched on this before in this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere©, most recently here.

I hope you played the sample above, It’s really distinctive, sonorous, but, a bit challenging in rhythm and harmony to those brought up on the lovely, even if technically demanding, music of the 18th and 19th centuries, classical music’s golden age.

All that said, the orchestra, and MUDGE’s old stomping ground, the North Shore Choral Society, did an enthusiastic, well meaning job with this demanding score. I absolutely don’t remember anything more of that time, almost 30 years ago, that I sang that piece with them, but this performance I’m absolutely sure was better, if only because I was safely tucked away in the audience.

But, altogether, the concert was a wonderful way to warm up a too-cold winter afternoon. My wife’s friend Nancy did a great job with the 2nd violins, and we are certainly grateful for the free tickets.

But, that’s not why I spent so long writing this post tonight.

The economy is frightening, and we don’t have any notion of how much worse it’s likely to get. My boss’s boss announced her retirement today, claiming not that she’s been displaced by the organizational chess games her management is playing with all of us, but that the resultant stress is impairing her health. That bodes well for the refugees she’s leaving behind, doesn’t it?

Mrs. MUDGE’s shoulder requires regular cortisone injections; MUDGElet No. 1 in far off California is fighting a dreadful, if not life-threatening disease, and my damned Achilles tendon still has me clomping around in a blasted boot.

All in all, my breast has been pretty savage of late.

But after a couple of hours yesterday, in a gorgeous comfortable concert hall on Northwestern’s campus, it was quite soothed, really.

It’s it for now. Thanks,


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One Response to mm320: Soothing the savage, etc.

  1. […] Chicago area, as faithful reader might recall, is yr (justifiably) humble svt’s lifelong home, although my residence since age 10 is in one […]

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