Reader Poll: Electronic Debussy versus Original–Syrinx, Sunken Cathedral, & Snowflakes are Dancing

See poll at bottom to vote.

Today I’d like to present three pieces by Debussy that I heard for the first time after moving into the French House, at Indiana University, in 1975. The inhabitants of the French house included several language majors, a number of musicians, some journalism students, and a number of other interesting characters of various ethnic, sexual, national and racial groups. Our two story dorm shared a common area with the Spanish House, who for the most part seemed more interested in Latin culture than, us francophiles. However, I enjoyed the mix of people, being exposed for the first time in my life to such diversity. This is where I learned the value not just of simple demographic mix, but rather the value of including different perspectives, ideas, experiences into the dialogue of human interaction. It made for a rich environment.

Music in the 1970 ranged all over the place from the psychedelia of the Grateful Dead, the Disco of Donna Summers, the satiric almost Weil and Brecht-like political and social satire of Frank Zappa to the burgeoning nihilism of Punk Rock. There was also a lot of cross pollination and breaking down of genre-barriers. Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, John McLaughlin and Weather Report were fusing Jazz and Rock and Funk and World Music. Rock bands like Kansas and Yes were considered classically inspired since they used violins and had classically trained musicians (Rick Wakemen, for example.) With the advent of cheaper and cheaper synthesizers, even Classical Music was pushing the envelope with artists like Tomita doing covers of Debussy. Tomita, a Japanese went almost even further than Walter/Wendy Carlos (of Switched on Bach), not only doing note for note covers of Debussy, but also creating soundscapes with these new instruments.

Tomita came out with an album entitled, Snowflakes are Dancing, in 1974 that contained Sunken Cathedral, Claire de Lune and Dancing Snowflakes. I wanted to do a side by side comparison of the original version with Tomita’s version and ask you which you preferred.

For some reason I had it in my mind that Tomita also did a cover of the piece for flute entitled Syrinx, but I cannot find it online.

After listening to the original and the Tomita Cover of these pieces, please answer a poll question on which you prefer. Thanks.

Sunken Cathedral (original)

Sunken Cathedral (Tomita)

Snowflakes are Dancing (original)

Snowflakes are Dancing (Tomita)

Here’s the original Syrinx. If someone can find an electronic version of it, please let me know.


Heres’s the poll:

Johann Sebastian Bach: Concerto Number 1 in A Minor, BWV 1041 for violin

I first heard this piece in 1976 during the start of my senior year at Indiana University where I was studying French literature (see below).  Unlike E Major concerto I wrote about the other day, the minor scale gives the piece a sad undertone, which reminds me a bit of Vivaldi’s “Winter.”  Since Bach studied Vivaldi, that makes sense.

Bach Biography

Buy CDs or download MP3s of Bach’s Violin Concertos

My Garret

The fall of 1976 saw me returning to Indiana University for the first semester of my senior year. I moved into a small basement room of an apartment building that my girlfriend, Linda, had found during the summer. You couldn’t beat the price:  free. This was great as it allowed me to keep most of the money I had saved working in the factory that summer to pay for a semester abroad I was planning for January of 1977 in Paris.  The hitch was that I had to serve as the janitor for the middle section of the building. That required me to sweep the stairwell every day and mop it and the floors in the laundry room about once a week.

It seemed like a sweet deal, but I soon learned it had many drawback. First there was the room–it was literally a converted storage closet, about five feet wide and 10 feet long. On one wall was a set of shelves that served as dresser, bookshelf, and larder. On the other was a mirror and a small ledge where I could put my stereo. The desk sat at the end of the room under a small window through which I could catch a glimpse of the sky. It lack space for a bed, so every night I would put down the mattress that remained propped up against the wall.

The worst thing about the room was the noise. Heating pipes ran through it and hung several inches from the ceiling. When the heat came on, they started to creak and had the soothing effect of a tap dripping. To the left of my cubby hole sat the communal washers and dryers. The residents came at all hours of the night to do their laundry. Often I was awakened at 2:00 AM by the pounding of a pair of gym shoes clunking around in the drum of the dryer. I tried to readjust my schedule and slip back home during the day to sleep, but there was a day care center across the street from my little window and in the afternoons my room was filled with the whoops and cries of kids playing on the swings and monkey bars.

And finally there was the family that lived right above my room. The apartment complex was one of the choicest places off campus to live. It had been build in the 30s out of dark red brick, it had huge picture windows and the floors were made of lovely, golden oak. The family above me had a young child whom they let roller skate on these floors!

Oh the place wasn’t without it’s charm. My “kitchen” sat behind a steel door, down a flight of concrete stairs an and beside a great gas furnace in the boiler room. It consisted of a little gas stove, an old Formica and chrome table with two chairs, and a small cupboard. From time to time, the drains would back up and the floor of the boiler room would be covered with about an inch of raw sewage. I also had to cross through the boiler room and travel up another flight of stairs to get to bathroom. This was a ramshackle little space created in the corner of a storage room and had wobbly walls, a shower stall, as sink and a toilet. The commode sat, I soon realized, under the bedroom of a very active couple. The one highlight of my day was going for my post-prandial evacuation in the evening and listening to their grunts, groans, moans and shouts.

This apartment building stood on the West side of campus, whereas the French House was located on the East edge. The West side was closer to the old downtown part of Bloomington, and thus, had a few more interesting local hang-outs. Some of these began to form the basis of a new set of interests, which have become core to my being. Down the hill from my apartment, for example, sat a vegetarian restaurant called The Tao. It was run by an ashram led by a swami who drove a Porsche. The ashram ran a bakery and was attracting more and more disaffected, and dumb, kids of affluent families. It was a good place to hang out Sunday mornings having a Danish, drinking a cup of good coffee (before the days of Starbucks) and doing the Times crossword puzzle. Down the block, a Korean graduate student named Moon started a little oriental grocery store, which opened up the possibilities of a whole new cuisine to me. A few block down the road sat a co-op, where I used to work a few hours a week and load up on whole grains and my favorite herb, dried peppermint, which I would brew up as my morning tea. A few blocks further, sat two great used bookstores, one new and another used record store, and a Greek restaurant. Finally, in a little corner set of shops called Dunkirk Square sat a little coffee shop called “Two Bit Rush,” which was one the first espresso bar in town. (It got its namee because you could get a demitasse of espresso for 25 cents–two bits).  Even after I moved out of my hovel, for the next 3 years I pretty much spent all of my free time between these shops and they became the focus of my social and cultural life.

One piece of music that dates from this time, is today’s violin concerto in A minor, BWV 1041, by J.S. Bach.

Just the thing to accompany a meal of falafel and rice, while sitting in the garret, to drown out the sounds of the gurgling pipes.

Johann Sebastian Bach: Partita Number 3 in E Major, BWV 1001

This piece dates from 1720 and is found in a collection of three sonatas and partitas that Bach composed for solo violin. Supposedly these pieces contain some of the most difficult passages ever written.

I have only heard one recording of them, which I originally checked out of my college dorm’s library in 1975–one by Nathan Milstein. His recording has been labeled by some as patrician and elegant, but he makes them sound so gosh-darned easy. I find them so pure and full of a kind of rationalist light and clarity that I’ve never wanted to hear another recording of them.

The Partita Number 3 in E Major is actually my favorite, though I have already written about the “Chaconne” above and in another entry, which comes from the Partita Number 2 in D Minor. Partitas were solo works composed along the lines of a suite, which contains several movements based on dance forms. Partita Number 3 starts out with a wonderfully upbeat prelude, which Bach recycled from his own “Simphonia” to Cantata Number 29. The second movement is a very soulful and moving meditation, called “Loure.” A gavotte and rondo comprise the third movement, which lifts the spirit again. The last four movements, two menuets, a bourree, and a jig, for the most part continue in the same upbeat vein, though with a reserved dignity.

I discovered this piece through some patrician prigs who lived in my dorm. Here’s how it happened. At the end of the fall semester of 1975, I put in for a room transfer within the French House, the dorm where I lived. My end room, located next to the entrance and stairwell was just too noisy. My request was granted and in January, I moved into a much quieter room a few doors down from the lounge.

Another student moved in to the room next to me. On his door, he had posted a little hand-written name tag. It said: Tim W-S*. After getting settled, I went over to greet him. He was a tall, thin guy, with close cropped hair and a large forehead. He told me he was a composition major in the school of music. So, jokingly, I asked him if he was related to a famous composer with the same last name as his. “As a matter of fact, I am.” When I asked how he had gotten interested in composition, he told me that his father had written music for television. When I asked what pieces, he said “The theme from The Flintstones.” I used to religiously watch that program every Friday night as a kid, and can still sing the words to it.

Tim had a bit of an aristocratic air to him, and didn’t seem interested in mixing with the others at the French House. I used to see him almost every time the phone rang, however. Our rooms were connected by a very small phone box and we shared the phone. When the phone rang, one of us would get it. If it were for the other, we’d knock on the inside of the door on the opposite side and pass the phone through the hole to the other.

After a month or two, Tim started dating a girl, who eventually moved into his room. They had a few annoying habits, which the phone box played a part in, and which sometimes made me long for my old room. First, the girlfriend used to love a piece by Bach, which I have already written about, his Chaconne. She used to put on an album, which I think was a guitar transcription by Segovia, and play it incessantly. Sometimes she would leave her side of the phone box open and the little channel would amplify the music as is passed into my room.

Their second annoying habit was, well, downright gross. Almost every night, they ordered in pizza from Dominos. On the first night, the aroma that drifted through the phone box was pleasant. They might have even offered me a slice. Over the weeks, however, the aroma coming through the box started to change. It clearly communicated the fact that they rarely cleaned their room. It had the rank pong of old, moldering pizza cartons and unwashed laundry. I used to dread when the phone rang, for when the door popped open, the stench that blew through would almost make me retch.

My memory of how this was resolved is a bit vague. I think Tim and his girlfriend eventually moved out. On the other side of them lived our French resident assistant, Jean-Marc. One day he told me that his room had an infestation of cockroaches. When the couple had moved, maybe the vermin had migrated to JM’s room in search of food. Fortunately, the cement wall between their room and mine acted as a barrier. Ah, the fond memories of those college days.

Still, they had impeccable taste in music and another piece that I do remember welcoming when it wafted through the phone box, was today’s piece, Bach’s Partita Number 3 in E Major for Unaccompanied Violin.

Once I had been bitten by Milstein’s recording, I had a bit of a dilemma. You could only find them on a three-disk set issued by Deutsche Grammophon. At 10 bucks a disk in 1975 for a DG recording, that put the set right out of my price range. About nine years later, however, I stumbled across a little record store in Lafayette, Louisiana that had given up on trying to sell classical records. To clean out their stock, they were selling off all classical LPs at over 50% off. And there, in the Bach bin, was the set of Milstein, which I snapped up. I pulled it out in the 1990s to listen to it and noticed a number of pops. Shortly thereafter, I found a set on cassettes at a garage sales for about 10 cents a tape. For a while, I had a clean set, and could enjoy them again. But since then, cassette tapes gave rise to CDs, which in turn gave way to online mp3s, and I keep getting tired of having to pay again and again to listen to something I paid for once already.

I tried looking Up Tim on the Internet today with Google. There’s no trace of anyone by that name. Worse, when I looked up who actually wrote the theme song for “The Flinstones” it was the music director for Hanna-Barbera, a one Hoyt Curtin. Wikipedia says he only had one son, whose name was not Tim. So not only was Tim a pig, he was a liar as well.

Hoyt Curtin Biography

Bud the CDs or download MP3s of Bach: Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin

Giuseppe Verdi: Rigoletto

In 1975, my first long-term girlfriend, Lacy, and I had a fairly comfortable relationship. We shared very similar tastes in art, literature and music, and this fact made us pretty compatible. That is why we stayed together for around two years. At the beginning at least we just liked hanging out with each other.

The artsy campy crowd in my dorm that I hung out with seemed to approve of our relationship. At least we were still included in invitations to parties, excursions to our local favorite bar, “Bear’s Place,” and outings to symphony and opera performances.

Indiana University, as I have mentioned before, has a huge music school. To give you an idea of how big, in 1975 they had five full student orchestras, ranging from so-so to superb. The school also mounted a full opera season of works not only from the standard repertoire, but also modern works as well. And they didn’t just focus on Baroque to Early Modern. They had a serious Jazz studies program with its own orchestra, an early music ensemble, an electronic music studio, and they premiered a number of works by contemporary composers.

Once Lacy, who played the upright bass, came back from class very angry. Her orchestra had been rehearsing a work by some modern composer. She said they all turned the page in one section and the composer’s instructions were something like “improvise.” “That’s cheating!” she yelled.  “That’s not composing.”

So Lacy and I probably went out to see a concert at least once a week. The people in the French House read the daily listing of concerts and student recitals in the student newspaper, and we also went out en masse. Once we all organized an outing to go see the school’s production of Wagner’s “Parsifal.” The school announced that they would break up the five-hour performance with a two-hour intermission and start a bit early. That way, people could watch the first half of the opera, go to dinner, and come back for the conclusion. Our group decided to go to a posh restaurant in Bloomington called Sully’s Oaken Bucket and regale ourselves with a fine meal.

The sets for the opera had been done by a German professor in the school of music or theater. His claim to fame was having done the set for some opera at the Met in New York. He had tried a German Expressionist approach and had used virtually no props, creating an inward-looking mood by using only blue lighting.

What a bore! Someone had once told me that what made Wagner so great was that he had merged music with drama and–as director of his own opera house in Bayreuth–he had created a perfect multi-media event. Well for this production they had stripped it down to just three elements–voice, orchestra, and lighting. Part of the charm of opera, for me at least, is the pomp and theatricality and pageantry of it all. Even if one part, say the acting, is bad, you still have the singing, the costumes, the sets, and the music to stimulate you. This production of Parsifal was almost abstract and you were held captive by the hours and hours of sung dramatic text without any melody.

By the time intermission came, we bolted for the door and headed for our restaurant. This was the first time I eaten in a fancy restaurant as an adult with a group of my peers, and I must confess to being a little put off by the prices. Being the child of parents who’d lived through the Great Depression, I was used to always pinching pennies, looking for bargains, scrounging at garage sales and rarely splurging on something so extravagant and ephemeral as a fancy meal. I did manage to find a dish which fell in my price range–a shrimp curry, I believe–which wasn’t spectacular but did the job. I enjoyed the company however, the conversation and maybe even a glass of wine. Oddly enough we didn’t hurry back to the opera and ended up arriving about ½ hour late for the second part. The meal and the hour both conspired against me and I have to confess to falling asleep.

Fortunately, the school that year also produced Verdi’s Rigoletto and they went all out on the sets and costumes. One scene took place in the Duke’s palace and they had constructed a huge raised dance floor with a grand staircase leading up to it that was painted to look like marble with gold leaf. I think that one of the guys in my dorm, who was majoring in dance or theatre, auditioned and got a part as one of the dancer during the ballroom scene. The singing was superb and the orchestra on top form that night and it met all my criteria for a great production.

Verdi received a commission early in his career to write an opera for the Fenice theatre in Venice. He had been influenced by tragedies like Hamlet and King Lear but eventually settled on Victor Hugo’s play, Le Roi S’Amuse. Verdi and his librettist had to rework the story several times in order to get past the censors who did not take kindly to the portrayal of kings as scoundrels or suffer things like curses on stage, which might inflame the clergy. They changed the king to a Duke but left him a cad. The court jester is one Rigoletto, who though he plays the buffoon, sees the debauchery of the Duke and his court.  Because he is deformed, he justifies his own intriguing to pit the different male characters against one another. He has a beautiful daughter named Gilda, whom he keeps sequestered far away from the influence of the Duke.

This opera has several famous arias. In “Questa o Quella” the Duke sings about his amorous adventures and how one girl is just as good as another. Later, he sings the famous, “La Donna e Mobile” in which he describes all women as fickle and only good for one thing. Eventually it turns out that the Duke has managed to seduce Rigoletto’s daughter.  Rigoletto plots revenge. By a strange twist of fate, the thugs Rigoletto sends to murder the Duke accidentally kill his daughter instead, and deliver the body to him in a sack. He opens the bag to find his dying daughter and realize the curse that he has brought on himself.

Verdi wrote this opera in something like 40 days at the age of 37. Though over 150 years old, the base motivations for power and conquest still seem as applicable to our modern world as it was to Verdi’s.  These days, I think the modern malaise is is the desire to make excuses for dropping one’s own morals in the face of those in power who do so.  Nice guys finish last also has become a mantra in my home country.  Maybe so, but once you compromise your morals, it’s over.

<a href=”″>Buy CD or MP3s of Verdi – Rigoletto / Sutherland, Pavarotti, Milnes, LSO, Bonynge</a><img src=”; width=”1″ height=”1″ border=”0″ alt=”” style=”border:none !important; margin:0px !important;” />


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: “Der Holle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen” from Die Zauberflote

We folks who lived in the French House at Indiana University in 1975 were addicted to foreign films. Indiana University had a very good film studies program, and you could buy passes to the films that were shown for the various courses. One semester they taught Italian neo-realism and featured Felinni, Pasolini, Antonioni, De Sica and Rosselini. Another semester, the Germans were covered by Murnau, Stronheim, Wenders, and Herzog. This was just around the time that Structuralism was starting to gain ground in academic circles, and in one course they deconstructed the films of the Americans John Ford, Nicholas Ray, and Sammy Fuller. By far the most important international filmmaker of the time, however, was Igmar Bergman, and showings of his films were always packed.

I had seen Bergman’s Cries and Whispers with some high school pals the year before and its strong emotions and lush sensuality juxtaposed with images of death affected me deeply. Bergman’s films were all like that.  Sometimes his symbolism was so palpable–like when Death appears in The Seventh Seal and plays chess with the Knight–that you kind of felt bludgeoned by it. Though I wouldn’t call Bergman a happy camper, when you’re an adolescent and caught up in existential angst, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, so we all lapped his films up in the French House.

So imagine our surprise when we found out that Bergman had filmed Mozart’s opera, Die Zauberflote. We wondered what kind of dark spin he would put on this otherwise upbeat and engaging opera. Bergman seemed to play it straight. He starts out showing a group of people listening to the overture in a small theatre. When cast appears, he makes them appear quaint, with kind of Peter Pan costumes and almost tacky props. Little by little though, he lets the magic take over and the production becomes more and more fantastic and artful. Maybe that was the Bergman’s goal: to destroy Brecht’s notion that the audience should never give itself over completely to a play and remember that it is not reality. Despite all attempts to prevent oneself from willingly suspending disbelief, the whole purpose of art is to do just that. That is to connect at a more visceral than intellectual level and change a person’s reality for a time being in order to perceive a different reality (maybe that of the Other).

This opera got a lot of play in the French House. Cynthia (about whom I wrote with regards to a piece by Purcell), the resident diva, listened to it quite a bit and the aria entitled “Der Holle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen” (Hell’s vengeance seethes in my heart) became one of her favorites. I have never asked a soprano, but to me it seems the most demanding aria ever written.

The Queen of the Night sings this aria and in it, she tells her daughter to murder the Queen’s enemy, Sarastro. The soprano must sing at a break neck speed, and also express the passion of hate. For Mozart, who penned some of the most beautifully sweet music, this aria expresses a depth of emotion sometimes absent in his work. But he cannot resist making it one of the most beautiful arias ever written as well. At the most passionate part, the soprano slips up to an incredibly high range and vocalizes a tune that almost sounds like a bird, it is so high and rapid. Later she trills and runs glissandi up and down in the most fluid of ways. The effect sends chills down one’s spine.

We all became smitten with the aria at the French House. After a while, it became almost a joke. Most everyone, men and women, tried singing along with it at one time or other. Years later as a father, I bought a CD of the opera and played it for my daughters. The youngest, Simone, age 7 at the time, walked around for a few days singing the Queen of the Nigh aria. To me that kind of sums up the Magic of Die Zauberflote.

Download MP3s or buy CD of Mozart’s <i> Die Zauberflöte</i> from Amazon

Franz Schubert: Das Wandern

During my residency in the French House at Indiana University in 1975, I first heard today’s song by Schubert. It is called “Das Wandern,” which means “The Wanderer.    It’s a bubbly song for tenor and piano. Like Schubert’s Trout Quintet, it is full of a cute little rhythm representing a brook. The song comes from an entire song cycle that Schubert wrote in praise of the bucolic country life.  It’s called Die Schöne Müllerin–the beautiful miller’s daughter, or wife. (Hmm.  Wonder if this was a “farmer’s daughter” joke scenario.)  The joyous expression that goes into this song reminds you of light and sun and a walk on a sunny day in the woods. And that in turn reminds me of my sunny days in the French House.

The room I first occupied at the French House had a reputation. The semester before, a guy named Jacques Strange (not his real name) had lived there. He had a reputation, too. The first few weeks people would say, “So you moved into Jacques Strange’s room.” Or else, people would just stop buy and ask “what happened to Jacques?”

One of these was a girl named Dorothy Xristos (not her real name). She lived in the Spanish House, which occupied the other wing of our two-story dorm. Dorothy embodied the term “spunky.” She spoke fluent Spanish, she was articulate and well-read in English literature, and she espoused the feminist ideology popular around the time. That sat pretty well with me because I was kind of a gay straight guy:  not macho and a lover of the arts.

Dorothy was not afraid to speak her mind, and when she did, it was usually to say something intelligent or funny, which I liked best of all.

One day, Dorothy came knocking at my door asking after Jacques. We had a nice conversation in which she told me a bit about him. He had been a French major, gone abroad for a year, liked to smoke dope, and had kept an aquarium with an Oscar in it named “Oscar.”
“He also had a cat, named ‘Abortion.’”
“Abortion?” I asked.
“Yes,” Dorothy said. “I found him back behind the dorm and brought him to Jacques because he liked animals.”

I instantly fell in love with Dorothy, but being shy, didn’t try to put the moves on her.

We did manage to become kind of friends, that first semester, she always greeting and smiling at me whenever we saw each other. Another time, I watched her get into an argument with a guy over a woman’s role in society. She debated him skillfully reducing every point he made to its biased or illogical premise. Later that year, she and I and that guy sat in his room smoking dope and talking about literature.

At one point, she was telling a story, when the guy stopped her and said: “Do you realize that as you’re talking, Kurt is using hand gestures that illustrate your story?”

I hadn’t even noticed, but I had been doing just that. Kinda cosmic, eh?

I eventually did meet Jacques Strange. A former resident of the French House, a girl named Michael Grante, (I guess her parents had always wanted a boy) lived off campus and was throwing a party.

This was going to be a big event, and my best friend, Thom Klem, told me I was invited.

“Jacques Strange is going to be there,” he said. When I asked what Strange was like, Thom told me that he had dropped out of school. It turned out that Strange’s father was a journeyman insulator, and managed to get him into an apprentice program.

“Why did he do that?” I asked.

“The money,” Klem said. “He makes about twelve dollars an hour.”

That was an astronomical amount in 1975.

“What a waste,” Klem said.

They had grown up together in South Bend and gone to the same Catholic high school. They had been close friends there in a clique of very smart people. Two of their group had gone to Yale, another to Harvard.

“He blew his mind out on Hashish in France, and he just partied all the time when he came back. He had shared a room with David F*, and they hated each other. Then he moved into your room before leaving.”

Klem still had a certain regard for Strange. He thought of Jacques as what the French called an “aventurier” an adventurer, someone who loved to try new, exciting and sometimes dangerous things. Klem told me that he and a friend had once had a discussion about Strange’s character in which they compared Jacques to the ancient Greek hero, Alcibiades. Alcibiades was an adventurer who was more Athenian than the Athenians, and when he fell out of favor, became more Spartan than the Spartans.

The day of the party, Strange arrived. He had a tall, muscular frame and strawberry blond hair. His face was perfectly round, and he wore the stubble of a wispy beard that softened a pock-marked face. He smoked Marlboro’s and spoke in a seductively slow way which was half hippie, half southern drawl. Cool and full of life. I liked him immediately.

We all went over to Michael Grante’s house during the afternoon and helped her get ready for the party. Strange announced he was going to make a shrimp quiche, but he had to go out buy the ingredients. He needed eggs, shrimp, butter, and cream. Somehow I ended up going shopping with him. He had a hot red Fiat sedan that had a great stereo in it. He popped in a copy of David Bowie’s “Young Americans,” and we drove off. After being around the hermetic, esthete French House, Jacques was a breath of fresh air.

Many people in the Department of French and Italian came, who didn’t live at the French House. Strange’ quiche turned out perfectly. He was quite comfortable at the party and many people came up expressing pleasure and surprise at seeing him. They all asked how he was doing and showed even more surprised to hear he had left school.

The group who hung around Mark Z***’s room for the most part ignored him. I never got the whole story about why he fell out of their favor. Jacques wasn’t gay, but in all the years I knew him, (and he and I eventually became very good friends), I never heard him say a disparaging word about gays. So homophobia seems out of the question. Who knows? Maybe he got tired of the hot-house atmosphere of our dorm.

Whatever the reason for his departure, I’m glad I met him.

Schubert Biography

Download MP3 Or Buy CD of Schubert:Die Schöne Mullerin

Frederic Chopin, the Scherzo in B Minor, Opus 31

The French House, where I lived in my sophomore year of college in 1975, whose real name was Aydelotte Hall, was a long, low narrow cinderblock structure with two wings joined by a common lounge. Each wing had about twelve rooms on each of its two floors. The men lived on the ground floor; the women upstairs.

The rooms were long and narrow and divided by a wooden closet/bookshelf/closet divider which ran the length of the room  My first room abutted the boiler room and was nice and cozy for the most part. Unfortunately, the wooden divider between my room and the next did little to muffle sounds.

Brian, the guy next door had, like me, transferred from the same party dorm that I lived in the previous semester.  He was an affable soul–a self-taught polyglot–and so I thought he would be great to have next door. Unfortunately he was also a party animal. One night he stayed up until about two A.M. smoking dope and listening to Frank Zappa. To get back at him, the next morning around nine in the morning, I turned on Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at full volume and went off to eat breakfast. About a week later, I saw him hoicking boxes out of his room. I asked what he was doing, and he said he was moving back to our old dorm. When I expressed regrets, he mumbled something about the dorm being a boring place. But for me, it will always remain a paradise.

The charm, as I mentioned in an earlier post, lay in the number of really interesting people there. The day I moved in, I was greeted at the door by a tall, gangly kid with a mass of curly black hair rising skyward from his head. Even more striking, however, was that he wore a ski jacket and both his arms were swathed in plaster casts. “I’m Bennett!” he exclaimed. “And I live right here.” He indicated an open door, the large end room. I stuck my head in the door to have look and was horrified by the site. It was an absolute pig sty, with dirty underwear and clothes strewn about the floor.  Every inch of desk and shelf space sprouted a riot of paper, music scores, and half-eaten pots of yogurt. “It’s a bit of a mess, I’m afraid,” he said, but I haven’t been able to clean since I got these,” he said holding up his mantis-like appendages.

“Did you break them?” I asked.

“Oh, no,” he said. “Tendonitis.”

“What’s that,” I asked.

“It’s an inflammation of the tendons.”

“How did you get it?” I asked.

“I practiced too much.” He then told me he had come to I.U. to major in piano, but now, with his problem he was thinking of becoming a conductor. “How much did you practice?” I asked. “Oh, about 8 hours a day.”

Bennett was a year younger than me, and though a slob and an eccentric, he loved music, especially piano music, and we used to tell each other about pieces we liked or had discovered. Like me, he was a big fan of Horowitz, and he loved Chopin as well. One of Bennett’s favorite pieces was today’s work by Chopin, the Scherzo in B Minor, Opus 31. This piece has a certain demonic feel. It starts out with a low series of notes, almost drummed out like a call to attention. After that, there is a small explosion of intensity as Chopin states the theme. He returns back to the device used in the opening several times, changing the theme a little bit after each. Chopin then launches into a beautiful little waltz that sounds so sweet, lyrical and seductive. But he never stays with anything for too long. Later he changes to a grand, gushing romantic passage full of fire. Eventually he returns to the opening device a few more times, before restating the lush passage again and then rushes into an abrupt ending.

Bennett will reappear in my descriptions of the French House. He was there because like all musicians, he had an ear for languages as well and spoke French with a flourish. But what I liked best about him, apart from his love of music, was his ability to articulate his neuroses. Now I am as neurotic as the next person, but Bennett had the ability to articulate (or maybe it was just the inability to censor) every obsessive thought that came into his head. He was always ranting about something, a piece of music, a girl, his messy room, some book or score he was studying. It was great. In a funny kind of way, it made me feel less of an oddball than it was my wont to consider myself. Here was a peer who was at least as obsessive about things as I, if not more.

Chopin Biography

Buy MP3 or buy CD of Chopin’s Scherzo in B Minor, Opus 31

%d bloggers like this: