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Saturday, November 29, 2014

1642: What’s Next? From quartets to mp3 players

ralph trenary mug 100 1642: What’s Next? From quartets to mp3 playersBy Ralph Trenary
Berthoud Recorder

Last weekend found me at different events that led to thoughts about classical string quartets and modern mp3 music players.  This may seem like a strange combination, but hang with me for a few lines.

In my short life-span (a work still in progress) I’ve listened to my favorite girl-cousin and her friends playing 45s, to the avant-garde collection of a high school buddy with three different LP disc-washers, to 8-tracks, the first Walkman, cassettes and CDs. Now there are music players smaller than my business card.

Yet it took this week for me to recognize the debilitating condition that is the indecision surrounding the question of, “Oh, do I clap, or not?” The electronic delivery of music has become so invasive and common that only a seemingly small number of us remember that it is polite and appropriate to applaud when live musicians complete a song. I am confident of the conclusion that too much “plugged-in music” has disconnected people from the skills needed to put your hands together, either in rhythm or not.

Over the weekend I noticed the TOs (Trenary Off-spring) and one BFF (best friend forever) connected to their nearly microscopic music machines. Then I was pleasantly surprised to arrive at a party featuring a live, five-piece bluegrass band. Guess who had to start the applause when they finished the first song?

If you didn’t get the right answer, start over from the beginning. Really, I even counted to five before clapping. The grins from the band members were more than worth the effort.

As this live music phenomenon progressed, I noticed a unique and refreshing effect. At the end of each song and brief acknowledgment by applause for musical artistry, the noise level in the room briefly diminished.  The cacophony of voices dropped its volume in the silence between songs and, perhaps, from the mental concentration needed to coordinate both hands to simultaneous contact.

I even witnessed — wait for this — dancing. Nothing extravagant, but I recognized a few moves from the square-dancing we did in fifth and sixth grades. I even added some bass-drum imitating rhythmic foot-stomps. “Magical” quickly arose as my conclusion to the whole experience.

It was a refreshing experience that I have never noticed in venues specializing in “canned” music.  Typically, the noise in those places rises at an exponential level as the minutes tick on. Perhaps I should keep my carpenter’s ear-plugs in-pocket for those late-night excursions.

A few years back I was amused when the kids recited the “concert etiquette rap” before the elementary school performance. Then I was disappointed as it became clear that either some parents weren’t listening or were incapable of being civil and polite even when their own children were on-stage.

In past centuries many of today’s cherished melodies and themes were created for small musical groups, quartets, trios, piano and solo performer. One of the most memorable marriage receptions I ever attended featured a string quartet, live and in-person. What a classy and distinguished way to start a life together.

Take a look at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and find the groups who started out playing in garages and bars — sometimes even a single singer and a guitar. It’s a far different list than groups who were manufactured in Hollywood or Orlando. Then look around our community and find the local musical talent testing their skills on-stage, or in the corner of the coffee-shop. Maybe you’ll someday be saying, “Sure, they’re rich and famous now, but, I remember when…”


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