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The Best of This Week on my i-pod: Music to Die For

August 31st, 2008

Whenever I sit and write this feature, or anything else, there’s a style and voice I’m aiming for. I rarely seem to fully find it, but when I do, I like the results. Music to Die For from August two years ago is one of those times when I hit that voice exactly the way I like. Going over it again there are changes I might make, the kind of thing an editor would do for me. But I wouldn’t change the tone, the style or the voice one bit:

Sunday, August 06, 2006
This Week on my i-pod: Music to Die For

In case I haven’t mentioned it before, I play guitar: I know because it says so in my profile at the top left corner of this page (I play Guitar, mostly classical because that’s easy to do in the basement after the kids go to bed:)). Classical mostly, although lots of other styles as well. I didn’t start a classical player; in fact many people who know me would be surprised to hear me call myself a classical player. I have done the rock band thing, became quite a folk/children’s music picker when my daughter was young and I would sing to her every night, play slide poorly, and dabble in mandolin. But mostly I play classical, practice it every day in fact.

But that’s not what I want to talk about.

I have been thinking a lot about death this week. Specifically, my own. Not for the usual reasons that someone I know died, or they found something in my tests. It’s not even because of Fidel’s intestines that I have been pondering my mortality this week. A couple of years ago someone, in a drunken conversation around a kitchen table, asked what music I would want played at my funeral. I had no idea.

I consider myself a music aficionado, very specifically rock and roll. But what rock and roll really belongs at a funeral? Dust in the Wind? Please, I want people to weep knowingly, not gag. Stairway to Heaven? Yea, because my funeral should resemble a grade eight dance as much as humanly possible. See the problem? Even the serious rock and roll stuff just doesn’t cut it here. Nick Hornby, in his defense of Pop music “songbook” says he wants Van Morison’s Caravan. Problem is, it’s the live version, with an extended string section, where “the sax weaves gently in and out of the cute, witty, neochamber strings…” Anyway, it has a part where Morrison introduces the band and, “isn’t that too weird?” So rock and roll presents problems, unless your sense of humour is far more interesting than mine (Jamie’s Cryin’ or No Particular Place to Go sproing to mind here).

But Classical guitar! As I play (did I mention that?) I thought I should know a nice classical guitar piece or two that’s appropriate. But the more I thought about it, the less I came up with. Nothing I knew would fill the bill. So for the last few years I have been wondering, what song? And who would play it? Surely a live performance is in order, not a CD recording of, say Segovia, who’s already been dead 19 years, and I’m only 42 (OK, OK 43 -honest I forgot I had a birthday (again)), and how long will Segovia have been dead by the time my turn comes (more than 20 years, I hope).

Which brings me to another problem. I don’t belong to a church. I don’t have any great desire to give up my Sunday mornings, except when I attend a funeral. Any funeral I go to is in one of two places, a funeral home, in which case I always think, I want my funeral to be so much more. Warmer, gentler, a minister who has met me, dealt with me, understands why there’s a guy in the corner playing classical guitar. The second kind is in a church, in which case the deceased, having been a member, gets a proper send off. Real music, by musicians, A nice organ sending heavenly air breathing through it’s pipes, imploring the Lord to accept my poor sinning, carcass.

I want, however, the kind of church that are hard to find anymore. One with a large choir box, and a large, talented choir. A proper organ, with pipes rising up the wall, imploring God to Hear thy Music (can’t expect Him to accept my carcass with less), and a proper organist, playing the great music written in His name. No folk musicians need apply at my church, please. I could even contribute to the music once in a while, if I could just have the place when my funeral comes.

But that’s not what I want to talk about.

I won a book from a radio show, “Classical Guitar Alive.” It’s a real show, mostly on PBS stations, but I listen to it as MP3 downloads after the fact. The book is an autobiography of Classical Guitarist Christopher Parkening, called Grace Like A River. My review is here. The long in short is, as an extreme Christian, Parkening is as annoying as he is talented. And talented he is: the book came with a sampler CD, with Jesu Joy of Man Desiring; Albeniz’s Rumores de la Caleta; and the Adagio from Joaquín Rodrigo ‘s Concierto de Aranjuez.

I am playing at a friends wedding in October, and I have started working some music for it. Lots of basic stuff, Romance, another Romance by Nikita Koshkin (Classical composers tend to lack the Led Zeppelin knack for interesting titles), Jesu Joy of Man Desiring, and the Bach/Genoud Ave Maria (not the more typical Schubert, which translates to guitar awkwardly). As well, I found an interesting composition called Canco trista on the internet, which I’m working up, and a rather lousy Russian reduction of the Adagio from the Concierto de Aranjuez.

When the Parkening book came in, I threw on the CD and realized, the Adagio, while possibly the most stunningly beautiful for any instrument (go to your library and rent a CD with it on, trust me it is shivers up the spine beautiful, even when poorly done), it’s quite sad. There’s a reason they play Ob La Di Ob La Da on the organ before a wedding, cause weddings are happy occasions.

Legend has it the Rodrigo was writing the Concierto de Aranjuez while his wife was pregnant. The first and third sections where written, but the slower middle section was leaving him a touch befuddled. His wife lost the baby in childbirth (or miscarried it, or the baby died an infant, I’ve read different things on this) and, upon returning from the hospital wrote the adagio. It shows! If ever God chose to put his touch on a piece of music, ever the Divine intervened for the strict purpose of entertaining man, this was the moment. It is a haunting, mesmerizing piece of music.

So I thought, my funeral. That’s it, that’s the piece I want played at my funeral. But how? The logistics are a nightmare. It’s a guitar Concierto, for crying out loud. For those that don’t know, that means guitar with orchestra. This will never work in one of those tinny funeral homes, so you see; I really must find a proper church, with space for an orchestra.

Then who? There’s a reason only the best in the world play this concerto, it’s very difficult. And the one thing I don’t want (are you listening honey?) is a lame version of any music at my funeral. My God I’m dead, I deserve the music to be well done. Then there’s the problem of rehearsing an orchestra and guitarist in such a time frame. I expect my demise to be somewhat of a surprise. Let’s face it, unless you’re Hunter S. Thompson, you don’t plan your dying down to the day. Even if you have a protracted illness, the exact day isn’t a known variable. And I don’t really want to be kept on ice for two weeks while the musicians work up their parts up. So a live performance probably isn’t going to work.

But, does a CD really cut it? It will have to and, fortunately I have a number of performances of this piece on my MP3 player. John Williams, Julian Bream and Paco DeLucia come to mind, as well as Parkening’s. I have spent the week listening to them to decide, and frankly can’t. Williams is my favourite player, but his Adagio leaves me a touch cold, and lets face it, I’ll be cold enough. Parkening’s is nice, but not preferred. Bream does a lovely job of it and DeLucia’s while superbly performed, is a touch flamenco-y for me. So I guess I need to keep digging, to find the person who captured my death perfectly.

The truth is, I would really like to have the whole concerto performed, but it’s a good half an hour long. I suppose I could request no eulogy, just play the music. The Priest could say something about me, then announce the piece, much like a DJ would, and everybody could hear it. The exciting Allegro con spirito, followed by that lovely 13 minute Adagio. People would cry, I know they would. They would cry because it’s a sad piece, but also they would cry because it would prove, when it is most wanting proven, that God exists and I am with him. Of this I am sure, more than anything the Priest or my forlorn family could utter, That Adagio would say to all, he is with Him now. Finally the Allegro gentile, quicker and quirkier, somewhat like me. Something for people to dry their eyes to, before the Reverend DJ announces there will be “tea and cakes at such and such a place after the interment.”

But it’s probably not feasible, the priest might even not approve of being usurped in such a way. Probably best is having the lovely Adagio playing when people came in and took a seat. People could sit, marvel at the sheer beauty of the music, and know that they weren’t just at a funeral, but they where at a celebration of life, and that the life lived was touched by beauty, and knew a good piece of music when he heard it.

That’s it for best ofs, in fact that’s it for this feature. Starting next Sunday there will be a new feature, with new title and format, but an expanded repertoire of musical possibilities.

This Week on my I-Pod

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