Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Reflections Of An Old Man

Beautiful Marquetry Card from Paul Miller

Years ago, when I was much younger, these thoughts came to me as I walked home from work:

A Strong Man
           Knows when to quit.

A Great Man
           Goes beyond what is possible.

A Wise Man
            Knows his limits.
                   Paces himself.
                       And realizes his full potential in the time he has been given.

As you start another year, I would like to leave you with this "Woodworker's Blessing:"

May your chisel rest sharp.
     May your saw stay straight.
          May your plane prove true.


May your feet rest on shavings
     All the days of your work.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Trash Treasures

About a month ago there was a New York Times article and video posted which showed the piano movers in New York picking up pianos and dropping them off at the land fill.  This video hit me hard.  It showed rosewood pianos with ebony and ivory keys, in good working condition, being crushed along with the garbage by a tractor.  There was no difference between the plastic sacks of crap and the carved rosewood legs of the piano as the tractor finished its work.

The story was that these pianos had no value.  They were being thrown out because no one wanted them.  The movers, who were professional piano movers, had been in business for almost a century in New York.  It was heart wrenching to watch their faces, as they pushed piano after piano off the end of the truck, where they landed with a crash on top of each other.

Beyond the fact that the materials used for these pianos, like rosewood and ivory, are listed on the endangered species list, and beyond the fact that these pianos represent centuries of skilled and dedicated craftsmanship, one can only despair the loss of pleasure these pianos provided for the performers and their audience.  I wonder what Beethoven would say if he were alive to see this.

I love music, both classic rock and classical.  Anything from Beethoven to Brahms or Hendrix to Floyd can provide me with the mental stimulation to work on creating something.  Some people don't seem to care much about music.  I cannot relate to that.  But, everyone has their passion, and mine is music.

When I saw a performer on the Ed Sullivan show play a violin, I decided to do the same.  I was about 12 years old then, and I was fortunate enough to have parents who could buy me an instrument and pay for lessons.  I joined the Civic Youth Orchestra and played in several orchestras over the years, growing up.  I was not the best violinist, but I was able to sit in the first chair of the second violin section, right under the nose of the conductor.  It was thrilling, how the conductor could pass out music, which we had never seen, then raise his baton and start the beat.  Out of nowhere came music!

When I was in college, I took some music classes, and the professor was a famous bass player, Bert Turetsky.  He listened to me play and said something which changed my life.  He said, "You are an average violinist.  I need a violist.  Your hands are too big for the violin.  Can you change?"  It never occurred to me to play the viola, even though I had spent years sitting in the section next to them.

I went back to my old violin teacher, Mr. Keeney, who had long since retired, and was nearly 90.  He agreed to help me and I started viola lessons.  In my senior year, Mr Turetsky selected me to play in the university quartet, and handed me a viola which was worth 6 figures to play.  We performed all year.  We spent hundreds of hours together practicing great music.  The final performance was Schubert's quintet in C major, which is one of the greatest pieces in the chamber music literature.  With repeats, it lasts 45 minutes, and you can loose yourself in the process.  As I walked off stage, at the end of the piece, Mr. Turetsky was there to take back possession of the viola.  As much as I was elated to have had the experience to play a great instrument for a year, I was crushed to have to give it up.

My wife, Kristen, plays her  cello every night.  I have two violins and a viola in the library, which I rarely play these days.  She also plays the piano which has been "rescued" from the threat of being thrown away.  We are fortunate to have the time and instruments and training to play when we want to.

That is why I needed to write this post today.  Last night, on the internet, I found a short video which made me cry and gave me hope.  Exactly the kind of emotional roller coaster that reminded me of that last performance of Schubert, over 40 years ago.  It was a teaser for a documentary which will be released sometime in the near future.

It shows a village which was built on trash, in South America.  The people in this village live by digging through the garbage, finding stuff and selling it.  Think about that for a moment, as you sip your coffee and read the paper each morning.  One day they found a broken violin in the garbage and decided to start making instruments out of the junk.  Now they have a music program, and the kids are all playing instruments which were made from the trash.

You can't believe how inspirational this is, if you love music or children or children playing music.  Take a couple minutes and watch this:

Land Fill Harmonic

Now imagine what kind of results our foreign policy would achieve, if we collected instruments that were not being used or thrown away and exported them to poor countries?  We are a rich country, and we need to share.  Send those pianos, violins, banjos, harmonicas, tubas, drums and old sheet music to the rest of the world.  Spread the music.

The landfill is no place for pianos.