Sunday, October 12, 2008

Smart-alecky musical snark

When I was in kindergarden I used to torture myself by imaging a melody, from something as simple as Happy Birthday to the overture to Candide by Leonard Bernstein, with nothing but tonic chords underneath it. Try it, you'll hate it. The next couple stories may amuse but not surprise all of my fellow musicians.

One day back in the '90's I attended the reading of a musical play with my friend Val. I don't remember the name of the play, but what I do recall is the music was crowded with ninth chords. When the playwright asked for comments after the show I told him there were way too many ninth chords in the music and it was distracting.

Stunned silence all around.

"Were there a lot of ninth chords?" the author asked the pianist. The pianist nodded.

More silence, broken about 30 seconds later.

"O-kay," said the author. "Anyone else have a problem with the ninth chords? No? Then let's move on."

One day I went to see a Klezmer band at some hole-in-the-wall on Lincoln Avenue. They played for about an hour and then asked the audience if they had any requests. "Yeah," I retorted rudely, "could you play something that isn't in D-minor?"

Now that I have joined a Klezmer band myself my perspective has changed. I related the above story to the band leader, an outstanding musician (this is a guy of whom you don't ask what instrument he plays, but what doesn't he play) and he was surprisingly understanding. "To most folks D-minor is just another key. To us, it's a living!" Yes, Dan had the last word on that one. Yea, D-minor!

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