Life is like a box of chocolates, but chamber music is like a box of doughnuts!
A friend was commenting to me today about the number of doughnut shops cropping up all around the city of Halifax, and I have to agree that I have all of a sudden noticed quite a few myself. In fact, I have to admit that I am absolutely thrilled! Yes, I really do love doughnuts. I think it has something to do with the mix of savoury and sweet. The chewy goodness of carbohydrates you can really sink your teeth into, the emotional highs (and lows) of frosting consumption and the visual delights like pink icing and sprinkles. Passing all of these heavenly doughnut establishments on my way to rehearsals got me thinking, “you know what?, sharing a box of doughnuts and playing classical chamber music seem to have a lot in common”. Perhaps the icing was just going to my head, or was I on to something?
I mean, for me, chamber music, or music played in smaller venues by approximately 8 musicians or less, is undeniably great. The most famous type of chamber music group is the string quartet, and boy, is it something. Two violins, one violist and a cellist play smoothly layered and blended high to low vibrations that are that melt-in-your-mouth sweet, but with fantastic emotional and intellectual substance to chew on. That is, of course, if you are listening to adept musicians interpreting the work of a great composer. No amount of icing will hide a rancid doughnut, will it?
So why is playing chamber music like a box of doughnuts? Well, both are something that is meant to be shared. Amongst friends and people who respect one another. They both invite social interaction and require a good dose of democracy. When you are sitting in the audience in the middle of a chamber music concert, you are (hopefully!) seeing the product of people who worked together to reach middle ground in their creative and instinctual ideas. The rehearsals leading to the performance likely took a good deal of initial individual ground work, collective brain storming, mutual understanding, tact, empathy and compromise. In the same way that you can write a word in and endless variety of script, so can you play a few notes in many, many different ways. And so it must be agreed upon how these notes, and subsequently phrases, will be presented. As for the doughnuts, just try and take more than your democratic share and see how well that goes over!
I don’t care if you are the creator or the benefactor, a box of doughnuts or a piece of music shared among colleagues and audiences means there is a conversation happening! Underneath the more superficial pleasures promised by that doughnut box, er, concert ticket, is an experience more substantial that we all need and crave- human connection. And yes, it’s true that there will be differing opinions, but it is all the more reason to commune over something that is universally acknowledged as awesome.
So the next time you are sitting at a chamber music concert, ask yourself, what is the conversation going on amongst the musicians and what are they saying to us, the audience? You may not be impressed and you might not agree, but that’s good too! Not all flavours good and not all are delicious to everyone. But one one thing is for certain, there is a deeply wonderful experience to be had just by understanding and sharing in the conversation. Obviously the great composers did, and still do, recognize the deliciousness and sheer power of chamber music. That’s why there are so many works written for this genre- I mean, I don’t see why Halifax doesn’t have as many chamber music venues as doughnut shops. Obviously, someone needs to open a shop that provides both- it’s a no-brainer! Anyone?
ps- Do you have a favourite piece of chamber music, favourite chamber music performers or are you interested in getting to know it more? I would love to know in the comments below!