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Friday, September 13, 2013

Candide, indeed! by John von Daler


                 I used to be very good at sight reading when I played the violin. Perfect pitch and a sort of innate fearlessness combined with hundreds of Saturday afternoons playing Beethoven, Mozart, Franck, Grieg, Hayden and others prima vista had hardened me into a merciless reader of new music. This talent came in handy at recording and practice sessions.
                Once I played in a rock group. Started by friends from the Czech Republic the band played music that was half gypsy, half jazz and half rock and roll - and that's a lot of halves. The group was called - in Czech - "The Garden".
                Practice sessions took place the way they always do for rock bands: in a dark room somewhere in a half-way deserted building, dirty, with glaring lamps and the smell of rotting socks, old coffee, cigarettes and beer. We would lug our amplifiers up dark staircases and set them up in a circle facing each other. Then we would blast each other out while at the same time admonishing each other to hold it down so that we could hear. Many a good case of tinnitus got started those days.
                When our leader, a Czech with a great talent for this very genre, arrived with new compositions, we would play them through. I always had the easiest time of it, because my sightreading was so good. We'd play the piece through and nothing would ever function very well, except the violin. Everybody would promise to practice and then we would go home.
                At the next practice session the other, non-classical musicians would have practiced and learned their parts by heart. I, who had such an easy time of it, would play along as usual. Throughout the next sessions their playing would get more and more free and mine would, well, stagnate. Then I would have to do some heavy practicing to catch up. All that talent did not help much here.
                That Czech garden experience brought me back in more than one way to thinking about Candide, one of my favorite books: Cultivate your garden! Not bad advice for a rock band or anyone else for that matter.



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