It seems my most successful essays are the ones that have dealt more with specific aspects of our instrumental function rather than broader thoughts regarding the world of music. I hope I can write about both. I wrote an essay, Specters, about some of the interesting people; those who would follow the various orchestras that I had played in through the years, in our rehearsals and concerts.
Sadly, the stories of an old man who played in the Moscow Youth Orchestra when Tchaikovsky would bring by a new score by to hear the orchestration, or another old man in another part of the world had a big part of his life rewriting symphony scores with all the inaudible orchestration deleted, do not hold the same interest as rotary vs. piston valves or, "Is Bigger Better?" To me that's sad. In any case, I saw these specters again a few days ago.
My daughter Melody was visiting for the last two weeks and as a finale for the visit I arranged that we would spend three days in Kyoto at a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn. Ryokans are famous for being havens of rest and tranquility and this one in Kyoto was no exception; entering, one could feel one’s pulse slowing, a wonderful night’s sleep was guaranteed. That first night in the ryokan was one of the best nights sleep I've had in a long time.
Suddenly the fragrance of eucalyptus filled the air and the sunlight was fragmented as it shined through the high branches of the many trees. The old dirt road that was the driveway was just as it always had been. I was surprised not to be surprised being there, it seemed perfectly natural, nor was I surprised to be standing with the specters that I had been seeing at orchestra rehearsals and concerts for the last 48 years.
The two old men were there, the one from the Moscow Youth Orchestra and the deleter of orchestration; they stood next to each other looking similar and yet very different. The beautiful young girl dressed in white, holding the red rose stood a little apart from the old men and the elegant old woman dressed in high fashion of Europe in the 1920s stood far apart from the other three at the end of the driveway where it met the road. She was just as always, standing very properly and smiling at the strange group of people standing on the driveway. I had no idea who this old woman was, but she had the look of how I imagined Clara Schumann or Alma Mahler might appear. She was truly a specter.
"It's amazing to see you here," I addressed the two old men first. "I only got to talk to you once and shortly after that you both disappeared. I wanted to talk to both of you again but never got the chance. I knew you in Rochester and I knew you in Los Angeles, do you know each other?"
The man from the Moscow Youth Orchestra answered first. "We know each other now."
"I remember so well your story about Tchaikovsky conducting his Fifth Symphony to hear the orchestration; I wanted to hear more stories but never had the chance. Did other famous composers conduct your orchestra?"
"Oh yes, Rimsky-Korsakov used to come, sometimes we would play some of his works, but many times he would come and play some of the works of Mussorgsky. He was always editing and reorchestrating Mussorgsky's works. The last time he came we played Night on Bald Mountain.
Talking to both men, I said, "It's really strange that one of you had such personal experience with the orchestrations of some of the world’s great composers and the other spent a big part of your life deleting orchestration and rewriting scores of great composers without the inaudible orchestration. What ever became of that project?"
He answered, "I put all the work in the attic of my sister’s house in Rochester. I took the last stack of work there just a few weeks before I left your world."
"Do you know where the work is now?" I asked.
"It was a long time ago and all I can tell you is that it was the green house on Kansas St. in Rochester."
"How many people knew about the work you were doing?"
"I don't think anybody. My sister knew I was doing something with music, but she never understood what it was."
The other man interrupted, "When I was a young man in Moscow my big fascination was the orchestration, so I think you can understand how very strange it sounds to me that someone would spend a large part of their life simplifying the orchestration of the world’s masterworks. What started you on such an odd project?"
The deleter answered, "I was never a good musician. I played piano as a boy, but I have been a concert goer all my life. After hearing many of the great works many times it seemed just a natural thing to ask about the necessity of all this inaudible orchestration. I'm not even sure I believe in it but it was a study that I dedicated my life to."
"As a study I can see a little interest but I believe I can predict almost exactly what my conclusion would be if it were possible to hear your modified scores. When you see someone sleeping, how do you know whether he is sleeping or dead?
"You can see and hear them breathing"
"Yes, and that's what orchestration is, it's the life of the music, the breath of the music."
After a short pause, I thought to myself, "I would like to find that green house on Kansas St. in Rochester and spend a day listening to those scores, we would learn a lot."
As the two men continued their conversation on orchestration I turned my attention to the girl in white holding the red rose. "I know you, we knew each other in Los Angeles; I suddenly remember your name, your name is Phyllis, you worked in the administration of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. I remember that you were sweet and you were wise."
"I'm not really Phyllis, I only look like Phyllis, you chose that I would look like her."
"But who are you then?"
"You know me, you have seen me many times but I've looked very different every time I came to visit you."
"But who are you?"
"I'm really a teacher, you could call me a guide and you should just think of me as a friend"
"Have you come to teach me?"
"Not this time, this is just a visit to say hello and to talk."
"Somehow you make me feel special, but why have you come here and where are you when you are not here?"
She was laughing and clearly enjoying this conversation. "Ha-ha, I have many people I like to visit, they are all different and all interesting. Some are curious like you and some are very frightened, but they all can learn."
"What is it that you teach?"
Still amused, "I never know what I will teach or even if I will teach. A better question would be what do you want to learn?"
"There are only two questions I have right now. Who are the old man and woman who live in that house down these stairs? It seems I've known them for a long time. And what is that strange language they speak, I've never understood it and I couldn't learn it."
"They were just caretakers, they were the caretakers of that house and they were your caretakers. Many times, but not always, the caretakers speak a strange language and when that's the case, those who they are caring for develop extraordinary skills at communication."
"Can you tell me who the old woman is who is standing at the end of the driveway? I've seen her so many times all over the world, always listening and moving with symphony music. Who is she?"
"She is always around symphonic music but most of the time you can't see her, you are very lucky. We're going to go now, enjoy the rest of your vacation. Goodbye."
Before I could say goodbye the eucalyptus aroma blended into the wonderful smell of steam and cedar from the tub in the ryokan and the first sight was the small Japanese garden just out the sliding door. It was a wonderful night’s sleep. Kyoto and ryokans are very special.
Kyoto, Japan, January 19, 2006
Revised June 17, 2012, Tokyo