Monday, October 20, 2008

Bando Goes to the Dorkestra

I kind of can't believe my facebook status update from yesterday...

Reem is actually torn as to whether to go to the symphony or watch the Packers game. I never thought this would happen..

It's true. I was torn, for about a second. Thankfully, I came to my senses and went to the symphony. About three years ago, I realized that you can buy tickets with a student discount (keep your ID!) and sit in the back section where all the other slackers sit for only $15! Everybody up there puts their feet up on the seats and throws their jackets around and has a good time. If anybody was going to maybe sneak some booze in there, they'd be sitting in this section. The people up there actually relax...it's really nice. So it's something I've enjoyed doing, with others or on my own, for the last few years. Today was special because the orchestra was performing The Planets by Gustav Holst. While perhaps looked upon as a bit overrated and contrived by some music critics, it holds a special place in my classical music loving heart...

I've always thought of The Planets as kind of a big "Fuck You" to classical music. Or at least to its rigid confines. It's divided into seven movements (one named for each of the planets, excluding Earth and Pluto), which is way more than the usual three, four, or (rarely) five. The individual movements do not follow any of the traditional forms that classical composers used back in the day. And he was writing about astrology, for chrissake. It wasn't about war, and it wasn't about nationalism, and it wasn't about Napoleon. It was about astrology. Take that, classical music!

Another hilarious thing to me about The Planets is that Holst, in his composing, used every single orchestral instrument he could get his hands on. Usually it's strings (violins, violas, cellos, basses), woodwinds (clarinets, oboes, flutes, bassoons), brass (trumpets, trombones, horns - French or English, tuba) and percussion. But this isn't enough for Holst, apparently. He had to have more! The usual isn't enough! I can just imagine him writing the list...

I'll need all the usual instruments, plus a euphonium, celeste, organ, two timpani players, two harpists, and how about we make a guy climb that ten-foot ladder and hit those big pipes with a hammer so they sound like a clock chiming? Why does he have to be on a ladder? Because the two pipes are about eight and nine feet tall, respectively. He's wearing a black suit and nice shoes? He's fine - just tell him to climb on up and hit that shit.

Yeah. I can totally imagine him saying that. But you know what? It works. Those pipes were haunting and perfect.

The Planets is an incredible work of music. I think it really appeals to a wide variety of listeners...some classical music is kind of hard to "get," but The Planets...people get it. For the first three summers I lived in Madison, I was a camp counselor at nerd/indoor kid/art camp. I was the music teacher, duh, and that's where I met Tara! Every year (I have to assume that it got old at some point) I would do a project with the kids. I'd put on "Mars, the Bringer of War," and tell them that the title was "Mars, the Bringer of Something," and that they would have to figure out what the something was. We'd listen to the piece, which is louder than most rock music I know, full of insane drums and brass. I'd invite the kids to write words or draw pictures on the board of what they were hearing. I remember even the six year olds writing things like "marching," "red," "anger," "sad," "fighting," and even "war." At the end of the song, we'd vote on what we thought best fit in the title. Nine times out of ten, the kids would get it right on the first try. I think there was only one time when they got it correct on their second guess. I did the same for "Venus, the Bringer of Peace" and "Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity," and the same thing happened. Well, instead of "jollity," they'd vote on "happiness," which is basically the same thing, right? Kids are smart!

"Jupiter" has always been my favorite of the entire work. I nearly laughed out loud when reading the liner notes in the symphony program yesterday (although I got all teary-eyed a few seconds later when the music turns into this growing, swelling build thats almost too beautiful):

Holst described Jupiter as "...one of those jolly fat people who enjoy life."

What a jackass! But still, so brilliant. Here is a video I attempted to take of the main theme in Jupiter, i.e. the jolly-fat-enjoying-life kind of theme...listen and see how jolly it is:



Also, one night, about 8 or 9 years ago, I was out with the cousins. We'd been celebrating, I'm sure, which always results in feeling a bit happier than usual, a bit spacier than usual, a bit...oh, I don't know...more wasted that usual? We went back to somebody's house and Laith put on a video of a drum corps performing sections from The Planets. It blew my mind...it was the first time I'd ever really watched a drum corps perform. And by the way, according to Laith, watching the movie Drumline with Nick Cannon does not count. Period. "It's so fake!" he'll say. "The judges would never allow this kind of excessive flashiness! This is nonsense!" Anyhow, drum corps is kind of like a tightened up marching band. Everybody wears a uniform, they play lots of instruments, and march in formation. In addition to that though, the drum corps form shapes and wavy lines across the football field upon which they march. Fascinating...

Check out this video of The Cavaliers doing the finale of The Planets, specifically "Jupiter." The dancing lads with their gold hoops and rifles are something else:



If you have time, and I strongly suggest that you find it, watch the whole thing. They do Mars, Venus, Mercury (I think), and Jupiter:



This shit is insane to me! If you're not impressed yet, take another look. See all those little moving things? Those are people! People playing difficult orchestral works on complicated musical instruments. Oh, also, they're running around in extremely even lines, forming shapes and letters, and trying not to run into each other. And they sound effing good.

So that was that. I went to the symphony. And when I got home, I watched a little bit of the Packers game, and then I remembered that I mostly only care about football if I'm watching it with a big group of people who care about it. And maybe there's booze, or I'm at a bar. Football versus the symphony? How was that even an issue?

Please go find yourself a copy of The Planets, and then have Genia or Gwen read your chart. It will totally rule. Just like Mars rules Aries. Or something...

8 comments:

Sara Ashes said...

GREAT geeking out, sis!

stacywacy said...

DAY-UM! That shit is tite! I was a flag girl in marching band in high school. Don't tell anyone though 'cause I'll be really embarrassed. We weren't that good, but I can still do a mean rifle toss.

Sarah said...

i loved "drumline" just for the record. and you've inspired me to find and dust off my old copy of the planets...i'm sure i have it somewhere. i miss going to dorkestra and choir concerts with you...we would totally be the "relaxed" kids in the back giggling and causing mischief.

awomanslogos said...

okay you officially seriously rule.

listen to this, though. for my 30th birthday, i got to go see natalie merchant perform for the first time in like years with the boston pops. but BEFORE she came on, they played part of the planets with this huge projection of nasa images of the, y'know, planets. they played jupiter, and i didn't know they were gonna do any of this, and i wept like the little match girl. on top of that there was brownie sundays and spiked coffee.

ho man. it ruled. i love the planets. kids, too. they're cool.

Reem Tara said...

Natalie Merchant! You and Sarah L. should talk about that one.

Tara said...

This just sends me into millions of memories of camp! All the kids laying on the ground with their eyes closed listening to Plants. Drawing music. How even though you did this every year the kids didn't seem to catch on. I still kind of can't believe we worked together.

Madam said...

Hey, I love Drumline too, but that is a completely separate style from actual drumcorps stuff. I totally geek out for them; I've got several friends who come to town every summer because there are always big DCI shows at Camp Randall. They may be having the championships here next summer; it's always every couple years. Seriously, go check out the show next time; it's super fun.

For the record (the very nerdy record), the Cavvies are one of only two all-male corps(es?) left, the other being the Madison Scouts. As you can see, they are indeed fricken TIGHT. My favorite moves are the ones where they have very tight squares running in and out of each other. That is harrrrd.

As a cellist, I was always jealous of people who played stuff doable in a marching band :(

Valerie said...

um um..... i love the drum boys squiggly line movie thing!!!!!!! how did they find that many gays?!?!?!!? wow amazing work fellas!!!!