The Direct Approach
Almost everyone loves Spring — the return of the crocus, the maple leaf, the robin and the swallow. Count me among the almost, for Spring also marks the return of the motorcycle. I hate motorcycles, especially the loud ones, which, as the joke goes, stop at every bar while their quiet cousins stop at every restaurant.
The issue came up recently, as my back-fence neighbor used a warm, sunny day to tune up his Harley, and reminded me diabolically of Sergei Grimm and the Dirt Bike.
Sergei Grimm lived near Cazenovia NY, close to the lake, at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac. He was a Russian immigrant — an engineer and urban-planner — and, at the end of his career, the head of Syracuse’s Housing Authority. At the time in question, he was also old, retired, and, although a generous soul who once lent his piano to a young music student, sometimes grouchy, regularly with reason.
At the entrance to Sergei’s cul-de-sac lived a family with a young son and his dirt bike. The dirt bike was fond of riding up and down the cul-de-sac, past Sergei’s house, where it did a persistent, slow double-pass as it turned noisily around.
On one otherwise mild summer day, after many laps of the cul-de-sac, the dirt bike coughed and collapsed … right in front of Sergei’s house. Rather than ask to be pushed home, the bike insisted on trying and trying and trying and trying again to restart.
Sergei was not pleased. He got an axe, opened the screen door, and marched toward the prostrate bike and the youth, who was trying desperately to resuscitate it. We don’t know if Sergei said anything. There was no need. The boy understood and fled, abandoning the bike to a lingering death, its bodily fluids ebbing slowly away.
(We also don’t know what, if anything, may have happened to Sergei as a consequence. His papers are archived at Syracuse University. Most of them deal with urban-planning and housing, though, at the bottom of the pile, there might be an old summons or a newspaper clipping.)
The Indirect Approach
Besides a tuned-up Harley and dreams of mayhem, this early Spring has also brought joyful new blooms. Within a single week, I’ve attended two soul-satisfying concerts, the first by the Choir of Concordia College, one of the best ever; the second by the Colorado Symphony Orchestra (CSO), likewise.
In the second half of the Choir’s concert, their Director, Rene Clausen, told of recently hearing a performance of America, the Beautiful, arranged by Colorado composer, Cecil Effinger. He and the Choir loved it and, at the last minute, added it to their concert repertoire.
Initially, I wasn’t inclined to lend this any significance beyond welcoming a lovely and moving piece. It was both those, and more, and, when it was done, the audience rose and cheered. No one had to say anything. We knew what it meant.
Only a few days later, the CSO presented Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A Minor, a beautiful piece played brilliantly by the orchestra and soloist Jeffrey Kahane, but not susceptible to any political interpretation.
The audience loved it (as they love Kahane, who was once Conductor of the CSO). They demanded and got an encore from Kahane that began, very quietly and unrecognizably, almost as if uncertain where to go, but slowly revealed itself as an introspective America, the Beautiful that subtly transposed into a minor key and finally, just as subtly, made its way back to its original, cautiously optimistic, major key.
Just as at the Concordia concert, the audience stood and cheered (well, as much as any refined classical audience can be said to cheer) and, just as before, no one had to say anything.
It may not be marching on the Pentagon or joining a Pink Pussy Hat rally, but music hath power to stir, as it hath to soothe, the savage breast. Think of Bob Dylan or Woody Guthrie, or, far away on the Russian/Finnish border, Sibelius.