I should probably create a whole separate blog to catalog reactions to my practicing of Berg's Chamber Concerto. The elderly lady living down the hall from me, though often friendly, merely scowls these days when we meet by the elevator; she sullenly awaits more euphonious days. I am offending her, personally. But another young fellow's mixed reaction was quite enjoyable. I closed and locked my door, and found him standing there, and he said "you're the guy playing the piano all the time right?"
There was no denying it. I was caught red-handed. Only seconds ago I was retrograde-inversioning away (quit your quibbling, it's close enough to a real word). I nodded.
It's funny how some people feel the need to reassure you, without knowing you, that you are actually capable at your craft. As a musician, I suppose, you are by definition "handicapped," provisional. He said, channeling Ward Cleaver, "You know it's pretty good. Good work." (Pregnant pause) "There's some pretty strange stuff you're playing though, pretty disjointed..."
I beamed at him. "Yes, isn't it wild?"
He slowly asked, "Ummm. What is it?"
My best, enthusiastic, used-car-salesman smile: "It's Alban Berg." (No recognition) "One of those German Expressionists." (Vague glimmer)
My enthusiasm caught him by surprise. He assumed (perhaps?) I was playing it out of obligation. My smile, the sense of delight in Berg I was trying to communicate to him, changed the expression on his face, from assurance to concern; he suddenly looked like the court psychiatrist in Law & Order assessing the competence of a mass murderer. Our downward elevator ride thus passed in uneasy silence, with several sidelong glances. To exacerbate the situation, I started humming one of the piece's many disturbed waltz-tunes (I find myself wondering: can other dances be doomed? Or only waltzes?). I smiled at him again, especially wide, as he exited the elevator and (is this my imagination?) ran for the exit: 91st Street, escape.
And today, in Logan, Utah, I was practicing wildly in a very nice member of the faculty's studio (and I had just finished proudly scrawling "Arnold Schoenberg" over a particular phrase); but his students were gathering outside for their impending studio class. At some point, they decided enough was enough, and a firm knock was heard. And in flounced perhaps seven girls, mostly blonde, smiling, and apologetic to interrupt me, but they had to have studio class. "It sounds good, though," one said, as if I might think they were giving me the hook. They looked at me sympathetically. I smiled again, a complicated smile this time, and packed my things. The same one piped up, "that thing you were practicing, that's really ... interesting." The others nodded, oddly. "What is it?" I rattled it off, "The Berg Chamber Concerto, for Piano Violin and Winds." As so often happens, they were bored with the answer, perhaps a bit annoyed by its exactitude. I'm not sure what I should have said instead, how I should have played it. As it was, they looked confused, their eyes variously averted around the small studio, and I made my exit... No no I wanted to tell them, this is one amazing piece. But the door shut behind me and I had to walk back in the Utah sunshine singing doomed dances to myself.