Recently, after a hard day at the Swiss Immigration Office in Aarau, I decided to reward myself by attending a free concert of November music at the Stadtkirche (built 1637-1639).
Little did I know that it was a student concert! When I walked in the building was abuzz with excited children, ages about 8 to 14. In the front was a flock of eight harps.
The program said the music would begin with three “pop” tunes played on organ – oh joy! – then music from the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. Well, that could be good. But it was not what I expected. The organ pieces were all in minor keys and nearly brought me to tears. I didn’t recognize a single tune.
The harps had a huge contingent of recorder players and they sounded very medieval playing Renaissance music. I had a vision of a woman in appropriate period attire walking across the top of the stage, like an apparition. That would have been way cool!
Then a little girl, about 10, played a solo trumpet piece from within the audience. That was to get us past the change of chairs and music stands as the next groups came up. I kind of lost track of what was going on next, since the skill level went down just a bit.
But they all played very, um, accurately. Remember my description the the musicians playing klezmer music in the church a week or so ago. Very accurate. Lacking in liveliness. The kids sounded the same way.
As the concert went on, the music became more modern. They played “In the Mood.” It was so bad I wanted to get up and leave. My only consolation was that being Swiss, I knew the program would end when they said it would – on time. Like the Swiss trains.
There were some other, more current hits, too, with vocalists doing a great job. There was a Michael Jackson number that was astoundingly good. NOT lacking in liveliness.
I think the person running lights was also a student. The lights were moved from front when performers were there, to the audience when chairs were changing. When the lighting specialist liked a piece he or she blinked the lights! Michael J got lots of blinks.
Here’s what I wondered. Did the Renaissance music sound like that when it was current 500 years ago? Or was it more lively and ragged? The program said there was a Vivaldi piece, but I didn’t recognize it. Same with a Pachelbel Canon – it must have been in D-minus, or B or E, because I barely recognized it.
Did the Zofinger students do so well with the current music because they knew how it was supposed to sound? That could explain why “In the Mood” was so bad. They just didn’t have the beat.
They didn’t have the music in their bones, any more that the klezmer music players in Aarau did. The students probably haven’t seen “The Glen Miller Story” or any of the dozens of other films made to boost American and British civilian morale.
One final note: stringed instruments sound MUCH better when plucked or strummed. It is harder to control and create a good sound with bows.