a nostalgia trip down nimrod lane
Most of my deep thinking gets done during one of two scenarios: while going for a run or while driving. Some might cringe at the thought of spending 1.5+ hours in the car several days a week, but I savor this time. I plan lessons, create mental grocery lists, go through the week's schedule, or get so caught up in the music on the radio and swept down such an intense nostalgia trip that before I know it, 37 miles are behind me and I am back in the city.
That was a part of my evening tonight. The Boston Symphony Orchestra live broadcast was playing as I left Wrentham, and the capstone of this weekend's program, Elgar's "Enigma Variations," was nearing it's halfway point. A movement later and one of my most beloved pieces of music began, the "Nimrod" variation. It is your typical "here is my heart on a platter" kind of music, and it is also so much more. The perfect example of a musician's attempt to play music like you would pull taffy, stretching it to the breaking point. It's hard to imagine this piece being disliked by too many people because of the incredibly beautiful writing that Elgar has given us. It is downright impossible for me to dislike it because of the emotional and mental journey I am taken on whenever I hear it.
"Nimrod" is one of the first pieces I played as a sophomore in my high school's Wind Ensemble. It was a coveted spot in a very select ensemble, and even just being there put me on Cloud Nine; getting to play repertoire like Enigma Variations and Carmina Burana , Hindemith Symphony in B-flat , and Lincolnshire Posy created experiences that give me chills to this very day. We did not play watered down arrangements. Wind band transcriptions of orchestral repertoire were just as challenging (if not harder, thanks to the pesky violin parts that always got handed to the technique-worthy woodwinds.) The learning process of the pieces was not taken lightly either. Oh, Mr. Staley. One of those teachers. The tough as nails, no holds barred, "I will not only make you a better musician but a better person as well" kind of teacher. Sometimes those lessons were learned the hard way, and sometimes they were learned simply by exposing us to seemingly impossible pieces and then pushing us to realize that we were every bit as capable of making those impossibles not only reachable, but beautiful and artistic as well. Rehearsal wasn't just learning music; it was a history lesson, a math exercise (oh, those rhythm tests!), a science experiment, and an English discourse. I can still remember the exact moment I learned the word penultimate in a rehearsal on Nimrod. If you listen to the piece, I'm sure you'll know exactly where the word refers to, whether you are a trained musician or not. That moment that leaves hanging on to the edge of your seat, torn between wallowing in the tension and the rawness, the please don't let this moment end, and craving resolution and a harmonic and physical sigh of relief, all at the same time.
The BSO played it fabulously tonight, and Charles Dutoit rarely disappoints with his interpretations, leaving nothing unsaid. The piece was everything I remember, and everything I had temporarily forgotten about as well. It is forever in a crevice of my brain though, and I foresee that hearing "Nimrod" will always have that effect in such a vivid way, as little else can do like music.