Weirdos Like Me

So it’s the first non-travel day of my week-long vacation. It’s a little overcast, but the temperature is mild and it’s a bustling Saturday in downtown San Francisco. Even at this early hour, I can hear the people and the cars and the mechanism of the city. And what am I doing? Sitting in my hotel room, half dressed, comparing recordings of the original piano version of the great “Concord” Sonata by Charles Ives, and Henry Brant’s remarkable orchestration of the piece (which I heard last night performed by the San Francisco Symphony in its American Mavericks series). Inspired by the concert, along with my listening I’m reading about the genesis of the Sonata, and taking notes for a blog entry which I hope will be appearing soon. Many people wouldn’t consider this very vacation-like behavior. But you know what? I’m actually enjoying myself. The “Concord” Sonata is by any measure one of the most important piano works of the twentieth century, perhaps of all time, dense and complicated and powerful and playful and very expressive. Getting to know it a little more intimately is really kind of a privilege. It also occurs to me that the American Mavericks series that was one of the motivations for this trip celebrates musicians who didn’t take the expected course, who in some cases suffered through years of obscurity and neglect in order to realize their unique vision. And in a city that also is known to some extent as a haven for unconventional people and behaviors – well, as I listen to the fourth movement of the Ives-Brant “Concord” Symphony and marvel at the way Ives and Brant evoke Thoreau’s own haven at Walden, what Ives once described as “the shadow of a thought … colored by the mist and haze over the pond,” I am actually fairly comfortable about the fact that there is room in the world for weirdos like me.

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