This summer is pretty quiet, especially in comparison to last year’s Fairly Busy one. There are a number of projects on my plate, which I tell people I’m working on, but actually the majority of my time has actually been occupied by Homemaking. I moved in to my first real apartment a few weeks ago, and there are all these things I never even thought about needing, like dishtowels.
I had my first experience playing in a pit orchestra recently, for a show the Martha Graham Dance Company put on here in New Haven. As such, I have still never seen the Martha Graham Dance Company perform, only heard their (remarkably loud) footfalls overhead. The Times had some nice things to say about our playing, which from my perspective could’ve politely been called “scrappy”.
The best thing about the gig by far, though, was that we got to play Copland’s original ballet score of Appalachian Spring. There’s a certain point in the score, right around where the Simple Gifts melody comes in, where you realize the music is starting to sound unfamiliar, and before you know it, you’re in completely uncharted territory. I told my friend Cameron that it was like discovering a secret room in the house you’ve lived in your whole life. What’s especially interesting to me is seeing the choices Copland made about what to keep and what to throw out in the orchestral suite; mostly, it’s just a superfluous bar here and there, except for one really huge section that splits the Shaker variations right down the middle. This “bastard section” is musically the strangest and most problematic. Plot-wise, I am told it accompanies a sort of athletic fire-and-brimstone dance by the preacher character, and the subsequent religious awakening of the bride. Sound-wise, it’s much more like the Copland of Piano Sonata and Piano Variations— both of which I think are about as close to perfect as any pieces I know— but it sounds starkly different from the rest of the ballet score, somehow lacking the wide-eyed quality, much more cynical. I think the cuts to the concert version of Appalachian Spring make it a sweeter, easier piece without the internal tension that this missing section adds. I wonder if Copland felt that he was sacrificing an integral part of the piece, or instead paring it down to its essential elements.
Speaking of paring things down, I just bought a book by/about the fantastic industrial designer Naoto Fukasawa. It’s a pity his work isn’t more readily available in the US, because it is some of the most beautiful, thoughtful, and thought-provoking art I have ever seen (I wonder if anyone else could manage to elevate the design of, say, a humidifier to “art” status). What really inspires me about Fukasawa’s work is how each element that makes up a whole is true to itself and the whole, creating an object with such a sense of inevitability that you can’t imagine it being any different. Things like taste and aesthetics just fall by the wayside; you might as well ask if a tree or a cloud has taste. This is something I also sense in Copland’s piano music. You don’t hear or feel the work that went into shaving off each extraneous note or millimeter of plastic, you just know that there are the right number of notes, exactly the right dimensions.