It was the end of a long day of concerts, rehearsals, and clinics.
I was very tired and part of me said that I’d seen and experienced
enough for one day. It would have been just fine to simply go back
to the hotel and call it a day. Recalling other times when I’d
made a similar decision, only to have my colleagues rave about what
I’d missed, I decided there had to be a reason why the convention
organizers had place the University of Texas Wind Ensemble in the
prime slot at the end of the first full day. So I mustered the energy
to climb to my favorite location in the upper balcony of the Lila
Cockrell theatre in San Antonio, Texas.
------ Looking at the program, I recognized
the first three pieces. Routine enough, I’d heard them all
before; it wasn’t too late to call it a night. But reading
the name of the composer of the piece that would end the program
made me realize I was in the right place.
------ David Maslanka had instantly
become one of my favorite composers a few years prior at this same
convention. At that time, my alma mater presented the premiere performance
of one of his pieces, “In Memoriam,” dedicated to the
memory of my former conductor’s wife who’d lost her
battle with cancer. Having known her well, I was inspired and impressed
by the way Maslanka had managed to capture her spirit. He had used
her favorite hymn as the theme, but the way he treated it was extraordinary.
I was present when he congratulated the ensemble on their performance
and was touched by the way he spoke to them. It was obvious to me
then that this man wrote much more than music.
------ I did not arrive at the concert
early enough to read the quite lengthy program notes that Maslanka
had written to describe the inspiration behind his “Symphony
No. 4.” Later this would prove to be fortuitous.
------ Very early in the piece it was
clear that he had chosen a hymn tune once again. The Doxology, “Old
One-Hundredth,” was woven throughout the piece. It also became
very clear that there could be no all-inclusive central idea behind
the piece. It shifted between moods and styles like no other piece
I’d ever heard. Time after time the piece would build to a
climax so magnificent that it surely marked the end, only to come
down again, beginning anew. At one point I recall becoming completely
overtaken by the music as chills raced up and down my legs and back.
I remember feeling the joy expressed in the music and thinking that
it reminded me of those times in my life when I have been so overcome
with joy that I wanted to shout and leap, only to discover that
there was no volume loud enough or no height high enough to adequately
express myself. The music seemed to be experiencing the same difficulty
– what a glorious and joyous difficulty.
------ As I was leaving the auditorium
I saw a few of my colleagues in the lobby. The first commented,
“Man! That piece just wouldn’t end!” It was in
no way meant as a complaint. The next said, “I kept thinking,
man this is a long piece… MAN, this is a LONG PIECE!!!….
MAN!!! THIS IS A LONG PIECE!!!!!” He had experienced the same
thing I had. The more the piece refused to end, the more I wanted
it not to. The louder the shouts for joy, the louder I wanted to
shout. With each climax getting greater and greater, I couldn’t
begin to imagine any possible way it could end.
------ I don’t recall exactly
when I read the program notes, but I was absolutely amazed at the
similarities between his inspiration and the many images I had throughout.
The main influences on the piece were vastly different. The hymn
made it easy to see that praising the creator was an influence,
but what was one to make of the juxtaposition of the others? They
ranged from the atrocities of war, to the grandeur of the Dakota
wildlife and wilderness near his home; from the carefree feelings
of happiness, to the life and death of Abe Lincoln. But the part
of the program notes that made me feel truly alive and on fire was
reading his description of the very feeling I had in listening for
the first time that night. In words almost verbatim to my thoughts,
he described that the music tries to recreate that feeling when
the joy is so great that you can’t find the means to express
it no matter how loud you shout.
------ Almost a year later, on a whim,
I took a great risk with my high school band. Only days before our
marching contest, I decided not to rehearse, but instead to take
a chance and play the recording of the performance. I didn’t
tell them what they were about to hear or why. All I did was give
them a few guidelines. They were instructed to have a seat on the
floor with a paper and pencil. They were not to interact with anyone
else in the room in any way. They could only communicate with the
paper and the music. They were free to write or draw anything they
wanted or nothing at all, and that no one needed to ever see what
------ After the recording finished,
I allowed them to share their impressions, if and when they desired.
I was completely inspired by the level of enthusiasm in their responses
and amazed by the uncanny correlation their reactions had to Maslanka’s
notes. It was almost supernatural. Reading the papers that many
of the students volunteered to relinquish revealed even more synchronicity
between composer’s source and young listeners’ impressions.
------ I remember debating in my graduate
school Esthetics class that music is the least objectified of the
arts. One philosopher called it “The objectification of the
will.” I have always known music to be a language beyond words,
but that was never more obvious than in my experience with this
magical creation. As I search for a final sentence worthy to solidify
this point, I am reminded of the joy that shouts for an adequate
means of expression and find myself wanting… Wanting!…
and shouting… SHOUTING!!!
© 2004 The Trill House