Sehnsucht

I’m terrible at packing. Maybe you share the problem. But, seriously, for someone who spends much of her life traveling, you’d think I’d never owned a suitcase.

And it’s not just the packing. It’s the whole process of preparing to leave home. If I get to bed the night before a trip, it’s likely to be at 2 a.m. with a 5 a.m. alarm so I can finish the job.

Lists don’t help. I make lists. Starting earlier doesn’t help either. I start early, or at least early-ish. But the logistical problems remain, although the real struggle involves something else entirely.

On the surface, the first thorny issue involves choosing clothes. A relative who travels extensively in her job has shown me how easy it is. She lays out six or seven items, all color-coordinated. She adds two scarves, a belt, and two pairs of shoes, plus the shoes she wears on the plane. Her cosmetic bag stays packed. The exact right coat hangs in the closet. She grabs a book for the plane and she’s done.

Doesn’t that sound nice?

It sounds impossible. In fact, if that relative ever saw my staging area (a.k.a. living room) draped with wardrobe “possibilities,” she’d run shrieking from the house.

Then there’s the long list of tasks required before departing: running every speck of laundry through the wash so as to leave empty hampers, stocking up on paper towels and food for the family, driving to the pet store to buy the dog her kibble.

Oh, wait, let’s not leave out that classic midnight run to Walmart for non-essentials that seem so essential at the last minute.

Why can’t I do this better? Partly, I blame the weather. If you live in Texas, it’s almost always cooler at your destination. How do you envision sloshing through European puddles when the thermometer here reads 102?

Plus, I hate making choices. Do I need two black tops or three? Maybe I should take three white tops instead? Who knows what skirt I’ll want to wear in six days? I’ll just take it all. Oops, the suitcase just topped 20 kilos!

Finally, there’s the little stuff—from band-aids to dental floss. Such pesky things ought to be standing in readiness, considering how often I cross the Atlantic these days. But, somehow, the dental floss leaps to the upstairs bath; the band-aids flutter to the sun porch (could it be the work of grandchildren?). And everyone knows how mascara loves to roll under beds.

My husband looks at me in despair as I spin about. He streamlines his preparations to checking off a list of necessary papers and technology, getting a fair night’s sleep, and packing in fifteen minutes the morning of the departure. Uggh.

sehnsucht

Heinrich Vogeler, Sehnsucht

So, what is the problem? On the surface, it’s disorganization. But the actual reason is deeper. We moderns call it “separation anxiety.” But German poets of the 19th century had a better term: Sehnsucht, or longing.

Longing for the rivers and forests of their childhoods. Longing for mountain paths and the fragrance of wild flowers. Longing for the faces of long-lost relatives. They wrote poems and novels about it. Painters and composers joined in, and tuned Sehnsucht into a principle tenet of European Romanticism.

That’s all well and good. Maybe I should give a lecture on it (I have, actually). But, seriously, how can I be feel Sehnsucht if I haven’t left home yet?

Trust me, it’s possible. Travel, no matter how marvelous, is the antithesis of being home. For some people, that’s a reason to travel—a big part of travel’s allure. But for me, even the winding luxury buffets in our hotels on Smithsonian Journeys cannot compare with the beauty of sitting in my own breakfast nook, cradling a cup of tea and contemplating the back garden.

Home, whether the address one departs, or the images cherished in one’s memory, forms the cornerstone of the heart. It’s a perpetual point of reference. Even when problems beset our home, nothing, for me, is as comforting as my own rocking chair.

And this attachment to home grows stronger as the years go by, just as the poets said it would. “Get me outta here” was my battle cry as a teen. But today my theme is “Home, Sweet Home.” In fact, Hank and I have a framed rendition of that motto hanging on our wall, cross-stitched by a childhood friend for our wedding.

I look at this treasure each time I yank my suitcase out the door. My prayer is simple: May the trip fulfill the hopes and expectations of those in my groups; may I be of use to those I meet and address, and may God bring me safely home.

In a time where chaos and displacement affect so many people, that prayer grows even stronger. May you, too, be blessed by a dear sense of home, whether you travel often or not. May that sense of home nourish you daily, no matter what the rattle of the world around us. And, may you be far better at packing thanI am when you do go out into the world!

Friday Performance Pick – 145

Tárrega, Recuerdos de la Alhambra

Francisco Tárrega (1852-1909), considered the “father of the classical guitar,” is best known for his Recuerdos de la Alhambra (Memories of Alhambra) written in 1896. My travels in Spain have not taken me to Alhambra yet, but it appears to be a rather memorable place.

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Charles V Palace, Alhambra, Spain

Tárrega has not made it into the Western canon, but music from Spain at many points in its history tends to lie outside the mainstream classical repertoire. Of course, the significant influence of Moorish culture for 700 years put Spain on a different historical trajectory. The rhythms and dance forms of Spain provided composers in the rest of Western Europe with a rich source of exoticism. And so the most famous “Spanish” opera—Carmen—is French.

But Tárrega was thoroughly Spanish. His father, a flamenco guitarist, gave the young Francisco opportunities to receive a musical training. But despite the boy’s fascination with the guitar and the opportunity to study in Barcelona, he ran away at age 10 to play in restaurants. His father managed to bring him back, but at age 13 Francisco ran away again to join a band of gypsies. In 1874, after running away a third time, he entered the Madrid Conservatory. The elder Tárrega deserves some award for patience, or at least perseverance.

Francisco gained fame as both a composer and concert artist. In addition to his own compositions for guitar, he transcribed numerous piano works by other composers for the guitar.

In Classical Guitar Magazine, Rhayn Jooste says, “Recuerdos de la Alhambra is arguably the most iconic composition in the classical guitar’s solo repertoire—it’s a piece nearly every guitarist aspires to play. Alas, it can also be extremely frustrating to instigate, since plenty of practice is required before the aural illusion intrinsic to the music succeeds.” The aural illusion is the “tremolo technique” of repeated notes intended to give the melody the character of a sustained line. 

Golden Autumn

Spring inspires the poet, but autumn offers the painter his most glorious banquet! Or, so it seems to me.

golden-autumn

Levitan, Golden Autumn

Oh, I do love fall. They say that one’s birth-season becomes the dearest season. Born in late September, I think that may account for my feelings.

Still, what is more gorgeous than the deepening blue of the autumn sky? The ever crisper air, and the drama of green leaves bursting into a tapestry of crimson, gold, and orange?

For us in North Central Texas, fall arrived three nights ago. We went to bed in summer, but awoke to the magic of autumn, courtesy of a noisy thunderstorm that petrified our old Border Collie.

I’m not a visual person. I took little account of nature growing up, despite living in the opulent beauty of the Shenandoah Valley. But traveling to many parts of the world has taught me a lot. One of the best lessons came when I moved to Dallas after living in Germany. Early on, a colleague taught me to orient my gaze upwards towards the unfathomably dramatic Texas skies in order to find the wealth of beauty under my feet.

But back to art and to a painting by Russian master Isaac Levitan entitled Golden Autumn (Zolotaya osen’, 1895). The name Levitan may be new to many, but it’s practically a household name for Russians. I had learned, as a student, that the beguiling autumn landscapes by Levitan were widely treasured. But I wondered why.

Well, I found out. In the northern climes, nothing guarantees a long, temperate autumn. The warmth of summer might extend into September . . . or it might not (just ask Napoleon). Unwelcome chilly, even icy, days loom as soon as September 1st arrives. So whatever remains of true, sun-lit fall is treated as an ephemeral treasure, something to be grabbed and enjoyed. Or, in the hands of a master like Levitan, painted.

With photographic accuracy highly praised at the time and still admired today, Levitan infused his canvases with the golden blush of birch trees and swaying wheat. He dotted his fall forests with swatches of red and orange, illuminated by mottled blue skies and cushioned by green-brown forest beds. He painted voluminously, choosing also winter, spring, and summer subjects. But his autumn works? They hypnotize with their beauty.

Let me end with a story. During my first weeks of doctoral research at Leningrad Conservatory in 1981, I was . . . well, let’s just say, overwhelmed trying to figure things out. It was not a particularly happy time. Everything was at stake and nothing was working well or easily.

One gorgeously sunny afternoon in mid September, my assigned advisor, a quiet, elegant professor of musicology, came to find me in the library. She was just as puzzled about what to do with me as I was about how to proceed with my research.

She gently folded my notebooks, took me by the arm and said, in essence, “Let’s go.” I assumed she had something to tell me in her office, yet she had her jacket with her. She pulled my jacket off the hook. (It was easy to identify Western clothing in those days.) She ushered me past the guard-lady (dezhurnaya) at the entrance and out into the street. We began to walk up to the Neva River. She explained nothing. I asked nothing.

We walked a long time towards the Neva river. I could feel her relaxing. Suddenly we paused. Two people, her husband and university-aged daughter, appeared next to us. We began to walk as a foursome. I got the courage to ask her daughter “Where are we going?”

“Oh!” She seemed genuinely surprised I didn’t guess. “To the Summer Gardens, of course.” She smiled, “You know, this could be our very best day of fall. Look, it’s perfect!” It was. The trees had turned vivid colors, the air was fragrant, the sky royal blue. But she realized I still didn’t understand. “We won’t have this for long. This might be the last day. We want to enjoy every minute of it.”

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Revisiting the Summer Gardens

And we did. Along the way, they explained the history of the Romanov gardens and the layout of the Classical statuary. They taught me the Russian names of the trees, bushes, and flowers around us. They told fabulous anecdotes about the line of composers from Glinka to Prokofiev, all of whom walked in these gardens at every opportunity, particularly on such tender days of autumn.

They also reminded me that soon it would be getting dark before 5 pm, and then before 4 pm! I knew all of this in theory; but hearing their descriptions of the icy darkness of a northern winter changed my understanding. My sense of urgency to drink in this autumn beauty intensified.

Because of that walk, I was better able to enter into Levitan’s paintings. I began to grasp that artists see nature not as a stand of trees or a flowing river, but as a moment in time that explodes with mystery. A moment that must be captured to the best of the artist’s ability.

May you have such days where you live. May you fold up the books, grab the jackets, and step into the beauty of this season as you breathe in the gift of autumn.

Friday Performance Pick – 144

Puccini, O mio babbino caro

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Gianni Schicchi Original Costume (1918)

This week we venture into opera with a popular aria “O mio babbino caro” from Puccini’s one-act comedy Gianni Schicchi. If you don’t know the opera, you may still recognize the tune from television ads or movies.

We have had 143 performance picks up to now without any opera arias, and this can’t continue. If you think you’re not a fan of opera, it’s time to change your mind. It’s not hard. I have seen Professor Carol put quite a few audiences through her Opera Boot Camp, and resistance is futile.

For people who complain that they can’t understand the words, I’ll give you the short version. She sings, “Daddy, if can’t marry the man I love, I will throw myself off the Ponte Vecchio and into the Arno River.” You can find a more elegant translation here. Gianni Schicchi then proves what a devoted Dad he is by committing fraud to get the fortune required to make this happen.

The aria’s utility in selling yogurt and automobiles shouldn’t count against it. Puccini was a great melodist and his works have always found favor with general audiences.

When we created Professor Carol’s Discovering Music course a few years ago, we faced a real shortage of available examples from the opera repertoire. We included a few audio examples on the Listening Set, but opera companies were not in the habit of releasing photographs, much less video, for use in projects like ours.

Fortunately that’s changing. The most significant development came with the Metropolitan Opera’s HD simulcasts. And now it’s becoming easier to find high-quality videos of opera arias, many of them concert performances like this one.

Entrepreneurship in Music

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Dr. Fabiana Claure

Dr. Fabiana Claure will make a special musical presentation at our symposium “Teaching the Arts Classically” this coming Saturday, October 7. Fabiana now holds the position of Director of Career Development and Entrepreneurship in Music at the University of North Texas. What does all that mean?

It means exactly what Fabiana and her husband, William Villaverde, have done. Their careers as concert artists, entrepreneurs, and educators make a good story. We featured a video of William a few months ago on one of the Friday Performance Picks.

When I studied music in graduate school, little was said (much less taught) about professional development. We just hoped to land a lucky job or, for the performers among us, perhaps to win a competition. Fabiana takes a more productive approach. And, as her title suggests, she didn’t just walk into a job as director of entrepreneurship. She is spearheading the creation of the program.

William and Fabiana both grew up in Latin America—Fabiana in Bolivia and William in Cuba. So there were some hurdles. We became friends with them years ago when they were graduate students at Southern Methodist University. Now, after many years studying and working in Miami, they are back in the Dallas area.

You can expect some music during Fabiana’s presentation. I have even heard it rumored that Professor Carol might join her for a few four-hand selections.

As for the career paths, I should let them tell their own story.

Overcoming Obstacles to Art

obstacles

Recent conversations with a close friend have set my thoughts directly on this question: what obstacles keep people from appreciating the arts? The first bugaboo, of course, is the verb appreciate. To me, it’s an obstacle in and of itself. […] Read more.

Beauty in Tragedy

Those of you who attended our last conference on Teaching the Arts Classically already know Dr. Matthew Post. Matt heads up the Classical Education outreach efforts at the University of Dallas. So, if you are engaged in Classical Education or […] Read more.

Sym + posium

symposium

I’ve always liked the Greek preposition syn. Meaning “together” (altered to sym before certain consonants), these three letters struck me decades ago when I first realized that symphony meant “sounding together.” The next coolest application (for me) came with the […] Read more.