Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Frank Music, Vol. 2

I was deliciously tempted to go down to Frank and pick up some more musty music to add to my piano room piles. But it was a busy day, and there was only ONE thing I even sort of needed ... so I decided to risk a call to see if they had it. I took a deep, calming breath and dialed.

"Hello, Frank Music," Heidi said.
"Hi, I need... I would like ... to find the transcription of Beethoven 4 ... Beethoven's 4th Piano Concerto for String Quintet."

I stammeringly strode right into the request, skipping small talk, not wasting her time. I decided not to identify myself; after my last posting on Frank I didn't know how it would play out.

"For what?"
"An arrangement of Beethoven's 4th Concerto for Piano and String Quintet."
"Wow." [Strange pause] "Do you know who publishes it?" she asked...

Generally, I like to think that Heidi is on top of this information, being the one who contacts the publishers, etc.

"No [sigh] I don't" ... a shade sheepish.
"I've never heard of it."
"Well, it exists. It's a newish discovery." [A gambit on my part: the irrefutable fact.]
"Well I don't know of it."
"I thought you knew everything." [Gambit #2: flattery.]
"Well people think that but they're wrong."
"Should I find out who publishes it?" I said, incredulously.

This was really a mistake. Somehow I thought Heidi would fall for the irony, would see the absurdity of my trying to horn in on her area of expertise, and she would immediately try to find out herself where this arrangement existed, and how I could get hold of it. I was so very, very wrong. A long pause occurred. Did she say something under her breath?

"Obviously you know about this, and you need to educate me."
I was stunned and didn't know how to respond: "Hardly..."
"No really, I need to be educated." [nanosecond pause] "And I have to go." [click]

And thus the conversation ended. Needless to say, I was simply too afraid to go down to Frank, and the Krenek etudes or Gottschalk compilations I might have bought on a whim are sitting in their buckets, waiting for the next time. Speaking of next time, I probably won't call ahead. I'll just go down to the store, perhaps in disguise? That which does not kill us only makes us stronger?

Friday, June 23, 2006

Fairy Tales

Detroit was perturbed with rain. After a strange distended lunchtime concert, I awoke from a short nap, in a non-state-of-mind, to find a darkish sky over a still, mirroring lake. I couldn't resist, and padded to the shore in my flipflops. I unhooked the bicycle boat, slid it out into the quiet water. Mansions slipped by on land, blinking their large windows at me, while I listened to the boat creak and felt the paddles pull against the water; my legs seemed to go through their motions, pedaling obediently and absently. The boat was built for two and the second set of pedals rotated also, pushed by my invisible twin. On this dark day it seemed like a strange penance, a trip with a silent Virgil in a suburban Purgatory. ("Here are those who park in two spots at once at the strip mall, beware their fate!" & etc.) Spiderwebs hung all over the boat, but no spiders. And this suspended, grayly beautiful time went on for a while, until I reached an arbitrary, unknown goal; I had forced myself to do nothing and to feel uncomfortable with that nothingness for a little while.

I turned the boat around in some lilypads and, as I turned, events interjected: it began to rain. Little dark spots appeared on my shorts and on my T-shirt. The lake was a million splashes; its surface went from glossy to matte. I pedaled faster, now conscious of effort; thunder rumbled; lightning might present a problem, such as death. The rain came harder and very soon I was totally, utterly drenched, my hair hanging everywhere, down over my eyes, and my shirt like a towel, clinging; everything was clinging with water. What a delicious excess! Rainstorms give me the urge to run outside wildly and get soaked--anarchically, pointlessly--and to laugh at or with the rain; a few times I have run with the urge, and ended up laughing wryly at myself. I would step out into the rain, and feel no surging careless joy, just an incremental soaking which resembled a forced smile. You cannot be wild on command. Here, nature and circumstance were wild; one half of my brain seemed to embrace this wetness below, around and above, loved the unsheltered abandon; while the other half seemed to be processing a sense of alarm. I kept going back and forth from worry to pleasure and docked the boat with some relief. Once on land, I was able suddenly to notice that it smelled wonderful, the shore in the rain; the rain freeing the smell of the forest; at that point worry fled and I felt showered by Nature and well-pleased, like an otter surfacing. A piano-playing otter, hampered in useless human clothes.

I climbed back up the path to the lovely house, in a lovely Thoreau-ish mood, and right there, on the penultimate step, sat a frog. It sat calmly in my way, and I didn't want to disturb it. I felt rather amphibious myself at the moment, and perhaps in that moment of kinship it had something important to tell me. (It's not easy being green?) I am not given to omens, but I swear (!) the frog stared me down for a moment, and then loped off into some ferns. It wanted to slow my ascent for some reason. As i slid open the screen door, my mind formed the question What Did The Frog Mean? And as I turned the spigot for hot water in the shower, my brain seemed to supply from nowhere: "The frog wants you to play more Schubert."

(I'll leave you a moment now if you want to mark the day that Think Denk crossed into the certifiably insane.)

The beautiful, bittersweet waltz from the end of the Scherzo of the D major Sonata (all naysayers of that piece are forthwith condemned to Suburban Purgatory) came into my head, and I imagined the frog among the ferns, waltzing in circles to those strains in the rain. It was a pleasant image for my steamy shower and I emerged delighted. Dried and dressed, I went to a wonderful piano recital in the evening and subsequently stopped off for a beer and a burger at Dick O'Dow's, where I had spent previously some quality time with Eighth Blackbird. Previousness: sought but not found. Now only frat boys, loud televisions, and sad emptiness sat at the tables where our arguments over Schumann had beerily been perpetrated, and I drove home subdued by food and drink, facing somewhat towards the past as if it were the future. The Burger King sign along Telegraph Road shone bleak and lonely. I squeezed the car in its cul de sac, and ascended the few steps to the front door of my host home, pensively.

There, again, on the penultimate step, sat a frog. An even bigger frog than before, a real green gargantuan, staring and perched as if to hop, but obstinately not hopping. It sat on muscular haunches, a glistening Sphinx.

Coincidence? Now, of course, it occurred to me that frogs come out in wet weather, but always on penultimate steps? There was a difference between the frog-at-dusk, dark green against a slate step, and this night-frog, brilliantly lit by front porch beams, its droplets glistening against dull brick. But perhaps the message was the same, or more of the same, an intensification of the afternoon's. A dire warning or the emblem of an incipient prince? Was it happy to see me? I was abundantly keen to interpret it, and advanced cautiously. It stood its slimy ground. I reached out my cell phone to snap pictures, and it did not wince, blink, or shift.

I stood right next to it. I could have scooped it up. But still, it trusted me and sat. Only when my patience and wonder were exhausted, and I went on to the final step: then it hopped off, casually. It moved on only when it realized I had.

I stood on the other side of the closed door, in the dark foyer, listening to the gutter drip, wondering what the frog had become, to what Prince or Castle or Idea it transformed in the rainy night.

The next night, in possession of a cold Cosmo, and sitting at a long reflective bar of brushed metal, I tried to reckon with the Two Frog Phenomenon. I had a cute little black notebook and a pen. "Frog," I wrote, at the top of an empty page, and then again (but ever so slightly more hesitantly) on the next line, "frog--". I knew that by the end of the Cosmo my perceptions were no longer to be trusted; it was a race against time. Nonetheless, progress was not swift. "Time to stop and smell the frogs," I penned, a silly grin coming on... "A frog a day keeps the Hanon away," I tried again, and realized my serious quest was disintegrating. Proust has wonderful long passages about how we lose the most important insights of our lives due to such frivolity...

A further obstacle: a man sat next to me at the bar, chatted me up, averred I had a "great soul," and left. My frog musings were demoted to scraps between these verbal exchanges, and it is very distracting to be called a great soul in a crowded New York City restaurant, on the basis of a superficial shouted conversation. Looking over the notebook the next day, I noticed I had removed half a page to write my Great-Souled website address down for the effusive man, and had, in a very selective show of efficiency or parsimony, not been willing to waste the remaining half page... frog thoughts were scrawled up the tiny remaining peninsula of paper like desperate cries (ribbits) for help.

In hindsight, a few phrases from the notebook jumped out. The frog seemed to call up the idea of something I wanted: it was a magnet, or symbol, for some unfulfilled desire. It also seemed to be simultaneously a thing and event: a reminder, in some way, within the whirl of concerts and festivals and receptions and rehearsals and post-concert-dinners, that something had happened or was happening. Something. The penultimate step was the temporary stoppage of time, converting flow into event. It was a coincidence written on my life like graffiti carved on a tree, saying "JD loves X" with X, the typical noncommittal variable, somewhat up for debate. Why did Schubert and that piece come to mind?

... it came to me later. I remember this afternoon as one of my happiest to date, an afternoon I played an all-Schubert recital in Bloomington, Indiana, in Auer Hall, as sunlight came in through the high windows of the hall, and gradually dimmed as the recital went on, and we all stood outside afterwards in the late afternoon, spring breeze: friends in Schubert's wake. I felt that I had played reasonably well and I was talking with dear friends who seemed happy for me too, proud of me for having played that way, for having grown, and simply happy for the music which they had heard. There is a G major Trio in the Scherzo which I had always found somewhat elusive, and that day I remember it didn't seem elusive at all but totally overwhelmingly beautiful, and very much like the light that was coming in the hall and like my own happiness that spring had finally arrived... The frog for totally random reasons seemed to suggest, or want to remind me of, that electric connection between the self's experience and music-making. Which is, perhaps, the unprofessional side of the professional pianist. I wanted to play that Schubert piece again to find again (always again) that which is personal and lovable about music making: more than the hammering and honing of certain perfections, the intimate conversation with myself. That which opens up doors to happiest and saddest spots, which destroys the sense of already-experienced, which destroys the horrible saying "been-there-done-that," and replaces it with the present tense, even when it conjures up the past.

After that recital (we are still in the flashback, sorry!), I took a moment--paused penultimately before the party, so to speak--and asked myself what I really wanted to do at that moment to savor the Schubertian afterglow. I found myself at Soma, a beloved wacky counterculture-ish Bloomington coffeeshop, and in front of Soma, as if conjured, leaning against a broomstick, was a super cute member of the staff for whom I had long nurtured a painful, silent crush. This person stood, looking off dreamily into the purple sunset, bathed in the same (but darker) light which had just bathed the hall. The moment was ripe for me to introduce myself. Destiny called. I put it on temporary hold, went inside and ordered a triple espresso and a brownie. When I came out again to the porch, somewhat more jittery, it was empty; the next day this barista was gone forever, shipped off to California for some sort of rehab. Sigh.

And, at the piano, if I just pause for a moment and imagine the phrase without moving, without attacking the piano, without demanding sound, I get a desire for the phrase which sound can never match: the idea of touching the keys, invisible imagined contours of notes heard in the abstract, which the piano could never teach you... the inaudible things hidden behind the sounds, at the penultimate step of meaning where the frog is sitting calmly telling you to stop and then move on.

Friday, June 16, 2006

So There

As I ascend in age, various of my peers seem to be considered for Directorships of various Entities, and I am always happy for them. To date, however, I don't seem to have been invited to Direct anything, and while I suppose that should in a sense be a cause for celebration, I can't help feeling a bit left out. So, I have decided to launch a preemptive strike.

New York, NY, June 16--

We are pleased to announce the Inaugural Season of Pillow 2006-2007, a Festival taking place around Jeremy Denk's pillow on 91st Street in New York, created and founded by Artistic Director Jeremy Denk. "Taking place" is meant here in two senses: geographical and spiritual. As it is not always physically possible to be in the environs of the pillow in question, or any pillow, some events will simply take pillow inspiration from afar, as a source and nexus of artistic impulse.

When asked what the pillow will actually do, Director Denk replied "I'm not totally sure." But, he quickly added, "let's view this uncertainty as an inspiration, a fertile creative field, rather than a problem per se." So for the first season, Mr. Artistic Director Denk plans a series of (sleep-optional) Encounters between wonderful Guest Artists (TBA) of considerable neighborhood renown and the Pillow, where they can spend an amount of time with it, developing both it and their artistic possibilities. To fund these Encounters (to pay for snacks and beverages and other incidental activities that may become necessary during the Encounters, as well as pillow cleaning), a Grand Gala featuring Artistic Director Jeremy Denk is planned, on a rather loose schedule for the entire 2006-2007 season, on mornings when he is in New York City, at the 93rd and Broadway Starbucks, shortly after Mr. Artistic Director Denk awakens, and you may direct your contributions of any kind towards his awaiting Director's palm. Donors of $1 or more will receive their own Titled Pillow Encounter. We hope this anti-Gala will help people to turn the glamorous gala-convention on its head, to revisit the binary of rich/poor, to understand that being a Donor is not all Platinum Circles and valet parking, but that it can also be totally unglamorous and unrewarding.

On top of these exciting ventures, there will be a regular series of:

Drool Panel Discussions

These are intended to help the developing audience understand the nature of the interaction between Artist and Pillow, and to be able to eventually understand any art works that may hypothetically come to exist. The opinions of drool have probably never been so fully explored. "I spend a lot of time with my pillow," Artistic Director Denk explained, "and I want to share some of that joy with the rest of the world, to create a sense of community around the pillow's generous nature. So, it's not just a set of concerts, it's so much more, it's a total nestling experience."

Inquiries may be directed to Artistic Director Jeremy Denk. We are eagerly looking for corporate sponsors.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Mozart is the Bestest Westest Ever Composer

I was humming the second theme of the E-flat Piano Quartet when I pulled up at the little Plaza of My Needs. Starbucks, bagel shop, and dry cleaners were all in a row. Business before happiness, I told myself, though the lust for the brown liquid was strong; fight the urge, just a moment; I groaned; it was 10:02 AM and I knew I was close to missing the Dry Cleaner Magic Window: ever-changeable, mercurial, heartless. The Gods could strike me down, if I dawdled. A rather comatose boy of 18 stood behind the counter and referred all questions to a mysterious Polish woman in the back; she emerged finally, moved by my enigma; no, they could not dry clean the same day; no, they couldn't press, either; and look you have spots on your white jacket, you need a cleaning anyway! This was intended to shame. But the concert's Absolute Existence she had to concede; all her sophistry could not move my philosophical stone. Tonight at 7:30 a white jacket would be worn by me, no matter what, whether wrinkled spotted or striped, and my left hand would play E-flat major octaves, and spots anyway meant nothing to me, the artiste wandering through the landscaped lawns of the burbs like a coffee-starved polar bear in Bermuda.

(The coffee was necessary, I realized, as I composed the polar bear simile. A baby's screaming on a distant plush chair was enough to disturb my equanimity.)

Polish Dry Cleaning Goddess was unhelpful, when asked for other same-day service: "Look around," she riddled. Cunning Northern Sphinx! I looked; cars passed; the usual in and out of the delineated spots; the shunting digestive system of the strip mall. But across the road, the promise of the Orient: a Chinese Cleaners, with the alluring "SAME DAY CLEANING" stencilled on the window, like a fulfilled fortune cookie. But the hour was drawing late, 10:12, and I had no leg to stand on; I could only beg, plead, depend on mercurial mercy, on the kindness of strangers. Timidly the traveler entered, but the woman saw my crumpled white and black package and in it read some message that knocked her off her chair. She waggled her body in astonishment (I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP.) "NO, no, no we don't do that!" she said as if I had asked her to participate in some unspeakable act. "We can't clean that today." I had a snarkish attack, pointing at the window; "I guess it was the Same Day Cleaning sign that confused me," I said, and then, sending my sarcasm back at me, she became full-on hostile. "You done missed out on that," she said, "You know you're too late, don't you give me that." And I knew, I was so wrong, so very very wrong. But Mozart is so beautiful! This talisman had no effect.

Happy ending: shortly thereafter I gave thanks to a woman in a blue jumpsuit who took my white crumpled thing with a smile and promised to press it by 4. I pocketed my receipt, my shield against contingency, and congratulated myself on another close brush with Reality. I began to hum Mozart and ordered a heaping Venti, awaiting other Dragons to slay.

Monday, June 12, 2006


Woke up groggy on a beautiful morning to find that Gyorgy Ligeti has passed away. On top of this sad news, I think it unfortunate that the AP headline reads, essentially, "Space Odyssey Composer Dies." We are no longer free creatures, my friends, we are all subjugates of the vast cinematic dictatorship, and only insofar as our activities pertain to movies (preferably Oscar-nominated ones) do they possess any true importance. Cinematism?

Just a couple posts ago I noted my amusement (somewhat repressed) at a (deliberately) absurd harmonica conclusion to the Lamento of the Ligeti Piano Concerto. I have more complicated feelings about the composer's work as a whole ... why must our feelings about composers go through phases, like relationships? Indulgent nostalgia: a boiling hot summer in Bloomington, Indiana, in the early 90s, with mornings and afternoons spent ascetically in an ice-cold, over-airconditioned practice cubicle on a totally unsatisfactory piano, trying to pound several of the Etudes into my memory banks. For everyone else, it was barbecues and lake outings, but NO, I had to learn my "Automne a Varsovie." (Self-pity meter off charts.) And just a year or so ago, I found myself pounding those same notes back into my head: just as beautiful, elusive, shifting and maddening. Man, at least this man, wishes to be machine briefly to execute more perfectly these things, these devised inexplicable contraptions, which then become challenging pleasures for man (how can machines take pleasure from them?). Is it catty to say that many (most) of the existing recordings seem to leave for the realm of machine and don't make it back, roundtrip, to human-land; that in their quest for perfection and execution they forget the humorous, joyous glint? I did not know him personally; from many accounts, he was not always humorous in person; but the music to me radiates the joy of the intellect combined with just enough (not too much) sensual pleasure, making a perfect cocktail, somewhat astringent, not an "umbrella drink" as so many compositions are these days. I'm still waiting for the recording which feels like a joyous, but mindful release. Let's not forget first impressions: the 20-year-old Jeremy thought they were "cool." True: the Etudes shimmer with coolness, both in the sense of restraint and The Hip. And then, they are also outrageous, over the top, demanding of the impossible, and engaging of the dance rhythm to the end of the mind's range, an orgy of rhythmic complication ... Oh I could go on and on. Rest in peace. The angels or demons, or whoever they are where he is now, had better be able to count.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Friday, June 09, 2006

Dispatches from New York

We were circling around an evolving Charleston dinner buffet, clinking glasses and sharing not very deep thoughts when a phone rang. Flutist T ran to the porch for the mysterious phone call, and when she returned she had Big News from the Big City. It was 8:53 PM, more or less.

Her friend, let us call him X, was swept up in a typical freelancer's night of stress, a slightly too close arrangement of concerts on either side of the Park. A 7:30 work by Tanya Leon on the East Side was to be followed by an 8 pm performance at Symphony Space (just a stone's throw from my humble home on 91st Street on the West Side). He is caught in a bit of traffic on the way to the West Side, and barely makes it on stage in time; he plays (somehow this part of the story is not so important); and then when the work is over, while he is bowing, perhaps in the rush of having succeeded to make both gigs (I am embroidering here), he gesticulates out to the audience for the composer to come forward. Ignoring some contrary input from his colleagues, and seeing no composer in evidence, he brings his hand to his foreheard to stare out into the audience searchingly. He gestures again; no composer!

He is somehow herded offstage, and only there (but, alas, too late) does he learn that in fact what he has been playing is a memorial concert celebrating her centennial birthday. The composer, being dead, had (how shall we put it?) little desire, or opportunity, or incentive, to come forward.

Gesticulating to a dead composer in the audience at a memorial concert is one of those gaffes you cannot recover from. For me the only option at this point would be to flee the hall, ignominiously, head bowed, disguised if possible. I imagine X slinking out a back door, and down 95th street to West End Ave (Broadway being too dangerous and public, you might come across an enraged relative at the entrance etc.) and grabbing a cab to some dark and dingy bar to escape the view of all humanity, and there spending some days and weeks before coming out again ... But that is just my solution. Feel free to suggest your own.

Thursday, June 08, 2006


Again I mourn an empty vessel. Sitting in Modica, a gelateria in Charleston, I am staring at the brown incrustations left on the sides of a tiny white cup, clinging traces of a consumed doppio espresso (hearing the racing of my heart and forbearing another) ... contemplating that absence, I call up the following lines from Eugenio Montale:

With a howl of loyalty
the spring storm shakes my ark,
oh my lost ones.

(tr. Edith Farnsworth)

You are introduced, the crowd is applauding, the theatre is dark, and you walk onstage, weaving towards the piano; you bow and before you know it you are seated and you are staring at this:

How can you thank a composer sufficiently for giving you something like this to play? It is not one of those delicate, evasive beginnings whose success depends on the pinpoint execution of a number of small details, in the heat of the initial moments. You begin with a few strums, as if trying out the keyboard, and before you know it you are mid-inspiration: in the throes without even trying. It is so generous, it seems to express love but in every possible direction, plurally, democratically, towards the piano, towards the listener, and even towards lowly me the performer. And you just let it fly. There is only one puzzling moment, at the end of the provided example: I have "gotten stuck" here so many times, wondering how to play this descending fourth, G to D; a pothole in the too-perfect road; at this moment, Mozart, instead of spinning out perfect, inevitable melody, seems to be "treading water," merely filling in the harmony with an unexpressive interval... Do I play the low D as if Mozart is reaching into the underlying harmony, into another voice? Or is it part of the main melody? Luckily, just at this odd, flagging moment, the left hand interjects another strum and this seems to wake up the right hand, which leaps into another (perhaps even more unbelievable) phrase: we are back on top, baby.

I believe this "odd flagging moment" to be an intentional flaw, the one thing to make the magic melody not work. Why would Mozart choose to fail, even for a moment? Because when the violin enters, playing the same melody, and it comes to the same juncture, it "corrects the problem":

Between the piano's G-D, and the violin's A-G, an enormous abyss. The piano's resolution was non-committal, structural, neutral, a girder at the end of the phrase, holding it (classically, at a distance) in place; while the violin's resolution is made of flesh, sound, sensuality; the sweetness of the violin's suspension somehow finally encapsulates, expresses, condenses the generous loving idea which the piano has set forth. In that one aha! moment, the violin shows the piano how it should have been done, and brings the ecstasies of the opening down to earth. But if the piano had played the violin's resolution earlier, at measure 4, the piece would have been prematurely complete; so the piano "had" to fail. The piano had to look for a second phrase to answer the questions of its first, but the violin makes it clear that the answer was already innate in the opening statement: that we need look no further. Rather than two paired question-answer phrases (the paradigm of classical rhetoric) we have a beautiful symmetrical setup where the initial question becomes the answer.

This resolution (over which I realize I am obsessing), in one of those beautiful paradoxes native to music, brings one motion to an end, and sets the piano on another motion: the aha! moment is the elision of the end of one endless arc, and the beginning of another: the intersection of paradises. Speaking of intersections, yesterday I was playing the "Kegelstatt" Trio, and the page turner and I were having a delightful time, like conspirators back there, because I was excessively drawing her attention to some delicious things that happen in the left hand of the piano in the last movement. You have your thematic moments, you know, when the bass has a kind of purposeful, defining motion ("boring" as such), and then you have these great moments where Mozart slips into a kind of vamp, where the bass just oscillates tonic-dominant or vice versa, and there are these simple little bassline ideas, snippets, making their smiling statements down there.... Mozart draws us into vamp hypnosis, letting us enjoy the wandering, and then--and then--just when are going under, just when the vamp nears vapidity, the theme reappears out of a twist of events, and the bass becomes happily disciplined again, does lovingly its dutiful thing, and those moments at the intersection--in which the theme, a mere thing, appears like revelation--are so wonderful you just want to kiss somebody or something. Unfortunately this is usually not appropriate onstage, and a musical moment is very hard to kiss, except by playing it just so. So it floats on by, the kissed or unkissed moment; you play it the best you can; oh my lost ones.

Thursday, June 01, 2006


A couple of my close friends know very well that I have A PROBLEM with hearing about people's dreams. A friend will call in the morning and start in on some dream they consider mind-blowing and I will be listening in agony and distress, pulling anxiously at my sense of friendship. "And then the pink elephant turned into my mother, and started talking through its nose about mortgages, and meanwhile the sidewalk was made of chocolate and I broke off a piece and ate it, and it turned out to be a piano key." My problem is partly a matter of timing; people are often inclined to tell me their dreams in the morning, just after they have had them, before they can vanish in the fog of day, and this happens to coincide with the dangerous period of the day when I am ramping myself up on coffee to forget the unpleasantness of awakening (no morning person here am I). There is always a jittery, irritable period somewhere in the middle of the coffee cup and the dreams often come over the phone to me around that same time, when my feet can barely keep still, much less my mind. There's no narrative focus! I want to scream at them, before tossing something out the window.

So it is with no small dose of trepidation and hypocrisy that I offer this morning's dream to you.

...the ultimate cliche of Denk dreams: the concert. I am on stage with Joshua Bell and we are beginning to play the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. Just as in Oberlin, nearly 20 years ago, I muff the chords just before the violin's entrance, and it seems the very same faculty members from 20 years ago are there, muttering amused, knowing disparagements. We are playing this piece (which we would of course never play in concert, never mind) and somewhere along the way, I feel a tug at my right arm, someone trying to show me how to play a series of chords better, with more arm weight ... more roundly. There he is on stage, interrupting the performance, a mystery man in a black trenchcoat (Death? Tchaikovsky?), offering trenchant remarks. I begin, while playing, to sense a general fracas. Someone tries to "take out" the mystery man, who evades the nameless tackle. Intermission is thereby called. Josh and I walk endlessly down a hallway to our waiting place. People are passing everywhere, talking to us, buying outfits (it seems our dressing room is also a mall), eating meals; there is no sense of a concert whatsoever. I keep begging people to start things up again, but they don't. Finally, inexplicably, we are walking back into the hall. But this time we are in the audience, and the stage is taken up with a giant television screen on which a football game is playing. In a detail which seems gruesomely true-to-life, people are suddenly much more enthused about the game then they were about the concert. Josh is watching very attentively; I poke his shoulder to remind him about the concert but he pays no attention. I begin to shudder. "Will this concert never end?" I realize with horror that this concert may never end, that it may continue for the rest of my life, and I am not at all in control.

And I woke up. Light was streaming through the steamy morning air of my apartment in Charleston. Reassuringly, I glanced at my DVDs of South Park on the bedside table, stacked atop poems of Eugenio Montale. Ah yes my life makes as little sense as always: this must be reality. I downed a glass of water, listening to echoing mental remnants of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. I tend to feel the intrusion of nonsense in dreams as a negative force, as a dangerous slippery slope, a dark destructive underside. But it seemed to me suddenly that dreams interpose a very tangible, useful nonsense, something like a surreal vitamin, into existence. Their deliberate undermining of the 1+1=2 school of life, to which we cling ... an antidote to logic's sadness and completion. The idea that concerts have definite time frames; that performers have a sacred realm onstage; that also the backstage area is a private, elevated zone; that there are spectators and performers, and they are totally separate entities: all of these "truisms" are questioned by the dream, beautifully, which replaces certainty in all these cases with a fuzzy interchange, a nexus of shifting meaning. At least that's what I think I thought. The very red curry before me on a white plate right in a delightfully cool dining room in Charleston, SC, is but the tip of an enormous strange iceberg, and as I gobble it down, I contemplate the surreality of existence with an uneasy delight.