Thursday, May 14, 2009

Musik in the Ruhrgebiet

I'm reasonably pleased with my decision during the past year to subscribe to a national newspaper, but there's no denying that it has had its drawbacks. Because I've been reading Die Zeit each week, I haven't been reading the local paper for Essen (Die Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung). It means that I've been out of loop for some events in Essen, but I've tried to make up for it by paying closer attention to posters and fliers. When I'm out walking, I often snap a quick photo of advertisements like this one for a concert I attended last night:

The Yellow Jackets have a group of dedicated fans who have been following their music for thirty years, but I'm not one of them. I first heard of them back when I lived in Long Beach and they were playing somewhere in Los Angeles. They got some airplay on the campus station and I thought they were pretty good, but I didn't follow up on my interest. But the thing about live music is that it's almost always good. Even if it's something you would never otherwise listen to, there's something about being there that makes it worthwhile for me. A fan might say, "The boys were off their game last night. Bob Mintzer seemed tired from the flight, and they didn't play their best stuff." I, on the other hand, have no particular benchmark for last night's concert. Maybe they've played better in the past, but I'm comparing the performance to staying at home and preparing my Pausenbrot for the next day. As they say on the sitcoms, it's a no brainer.

In the past ten days we've taken in several concerts here and I'm wondering why we haven't been hearing live music more regularly during the year. I guess I know the answer: now it's relatively warm and staying light until about 9 p.m.. A few months ago, it was damp and cold and got dark a little after four. It was hard to get excited about leaving the house at all. My mantra now is, Today is the first day of the rest of your sabbatical. No regrets.

So I'm up for anything now, including a classical accordion performance by the students of Mie Miki, who's in charge of the Akkordeonabteilung of the Folkwang Music School here in the Ruhrgebiet. Miki has been called the Pablo Casals of the accordion and she performed a short piece along with her students. After hearing the concert I decided to get a recording of John Zorn's 1986 composition, Road Runner, which Frau Miki performed. I listened to it today, and probably for the last time. Live, it was electrifying. As a recording it doesn't do much for me. It's not bad music, it just strikes me as pointless. A little bit like watching a magician on TV.

Even the musique concrète concert we saw last week was different live. Admittedly, the sounds are all recorded and the "performers" just stand over a mixing board and move sliders. The spot lights were all directed to the speakers sitting on an empty stage. Still, the music is moving around you, and the concert hall setting forces you to pay attention. If the same music were playing on my Stereoanlager at home, I'd probably think it was a good time to balance my checkbook.

And on Saturday I experienced a performance by a group of not especially talented young musicians from Bulgaria. They were playing a mixture of Bulgarian folk music and pop standards from the U.S. on the street in downtown Essen and I had to stop and listen. In spite of the less than optimum performing venue, or maybe because of it, they were excellent. Passers by began dancing spontaneously and everyone was in a great mood. I don't know what these guys would sound like if I bought their CD and they didn't have one anyhow. The point is, is was sunny, it was Spring, it was Saturday and they were there. Unlike the Yellow Jackets drummer (Marcus Baylor; he's phenomenal) who has a full drum kit with seven or eight cymbals and the best technicians money can buy to set up the mikes, The Bulgarian band just had some weird middle-east tom-tom and a kid who looked about sixteen to hit it, but it was great. I hope they hang out in the Ruhrpott for a few weeks and I'll keep looking for fliers. With ten weeks still to go, I want to experience as much as I can before heading back to Logan.

1 comment:

Em said...

Live music and sauced listeners makes for a forgiving ear!