Saturday, May 20, 2006

May 20, 2006--Saturday Story: "The Music Library"

The Music Library

It may come as a surprise to have found him spread out with the full score to Brahms’ Fourth Symphony in the Barnard College Music Library, considering that at his elementary school graduation, because he was tone deaf and thus would throw his classmates off key, Mrs. Peterson, during rehearsal and in front of the entire graduating class, in a voice that had the capacity to shatter egos as well as glass, admonished him to lip-synch the words to the Star-Spangled Banner and The Battle Hymn of the Republic. You might therefore be further surprised to find him poring over that hundred page score since when his brother was attempting to learn to play the violin, he insisted that he practice his scales in their shared clothes closet with the door shut tight, so, he said, as not to hear “the scratching.” Although, in truth, if Jasha Heifitz were practicing in that bedroom, to our musically-impaired hero, it too undoubtedly would have sounded like scraping.

So what was he doing there with those rock-hard Bakelite headphones crushing his protruding ears, looking for all the world like a code breaker, while in fact he was attempting to decipher the orchestrations as if he were Bruno Walters’ apprentice with the Chicago Symphony, whose version of the Brahms he was attempting to absorb and understand? He had already mastered the pronunciation of the maestro’s name. “Valter,” “Valter,” he had been muttering to himself. Certainly not Walter. Obviously not.

Now he was attempting to hear, not just listen to this great and tragic work in E Minor. He felt prepared to take on this challenge as he was sufficiently tutored by then to know that the Fourth Symphony stands or falls upon the flute solo in the last movement, allegro energico e passionato, where, in the words of one of his professors at Columbia College across the street, “It stands for all the pleading, hopeful, gentleness and innocence in the world.”

Though he had as yet no idea whatsoever what was meant by “E Minor” or allegro, for other reasons soon to be revealed, including why he was at the Barnard rather than the Columbia library, he was making some progress on the passionate part.

This time he was alone at the library, not as he usually was with his roommate, Jerry Taybor, from the musical family of the same name. His father, the scion, presided over Friday evening cultural sessions in the Taybor den, which our Brahms enthusiast occasionally joined, along with the three Taybor boys, all in a clutch at the banker pere’s feet close by the tomb-sized mahogany Capehart HiFi as Koussevitzky conducted Mozart’s 29th or Toscanini his version of The Pastoral. This was in truth an accomplished family--one brother played the piccolo and went on to assume the second piccolo chair in the Saint Louis Symphony under the esteemed Walter Susskind; the other the tuba, who was at that time had what he called a “night job” playing in the house orchestra of the Mark Hellinger Theater, under the direction of someone whose name he could not remember, where My Fair Lady was near the end of its run. This job, which though it had the advantage of keeping his days free to pick up occasional gigs recoding advertising jingles, had the concomitant potential disadvantage of relegating him to the status of official family disgrace, that is if Jerry hadn’t, in a remarkably restrained form of sibling rivalry, preempted that role by having chosen to become a pre-med, even though he was reputed to have the best of the Taybor ears.

One would think in such a family, it needs to be said, a Jewish family, a father would have been equally proud of a piccilost and a budding cardiologist much less an oldest son who schlepped around a tuba to make a living, but with the Taybors (ne Traybergs) that was not the case. And thus when they were gathered at the HiFi to listen to music, it was blood sport.

Knowing this, and to lower the expectations and pressure he placed on himself, transgressive Jerry Taybor, with his unique sense of humor, renamed himself and encouraged his classmates to call him Jerry “Tuba.” But for anyone else at Mr. Taybor’s feet those evenings, the pressure and expectations were intense as he fired off to the minion questions about Opus this and Opus that. This pressure was felt especially by Jerry’s tin-eared roommate because his musical education to that point was from the little he had acquired while listening to the Make Believe Ballroom on the radio, where each afternoon Martin Block played the latest songs to join the Hit Parade. Mona Lisa, right then, being at the top of the charts.

Jerry’s roommate, fellow freshman, and fellow pre-med was eager to join the Taybor brothers in the den’s intentional gloom, huddled on the Persian rug, surrounded by deeply carved hardwoods and tapestries because he was in the process of imaging a future life for himself similar to that of the Taybor’s, where he too would have a fieldstone house on an acre of land on Long island, on the North Shore of course, replete with an identical faux-Norman mead-hall den, and knew he needed also to acquire their manners and style and intimate culture, none of which were a part of the curriculum at Columbia.

Thus, he called upon Jerry to teach him the rules of that game and what, after all, was an Opus. He knew that meant, among many other things, that it was time to move on from Eddie Fisher to Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. One of Mr. Taybor’s favorites.

To be continued . . .


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