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Friday, September 20, 2013

Resemblance and Diversity by John von Daler


                There is something so touching about parents and their offspring: the whole transference of visual traits, the security born of and built on resemblance.
                We did not notice it immediately when we entered the auditorium in Funchal. On the stage a large mandolin orchestra was tuning. At first glance they looked like many different small, southern European people with beautiful, light-brown skin and dark black wavy hair. We perused our programs to try to figure out what exactly we would be hearing. Mandolins, it turned out. Mandolins tuned like violins. Mandolins turned into violas. Mandolins as big as cellos. And a mandolin as huge as a bass fiddle.
                Not that we were mandolin fans. We had just seen a poster in Funchal announcing a concert in the afternoon, a rainy gray day where anything inside and out of our context would have done.
                But then reading the program we started to notice the scarcity of last names in the orchestra. They all had one of two or three surnames. As we looked back and forth from the program to the stage we began to understand that the whole orchestra started with two brothers, the conductor and the concertmaster, and seemed to be filled out in the ranks below them with children or cousins, in fact any family member but wives.
                The two small black-haired men with great mustaches weaved and bobbed through the ranks putting people in place, pointing at the sheet music, and tuning instruments for the smallest members of the orchestra. They announced the pieces, played the solos and formed the tempi and dynamics of their program. Every once in a while a small son or daughter would have a little solo and one or the other of the two brothers would beam appropriately.
                Mandolin music is fuzzy, shaky as a nervous octegenarian. The whole orchestra whisks fingers or plectors back and forth across the strings to make a shimmering, blurry, thick sound: a musical molasses, sweet and heavy.  You can get enough of it if you do not know the members of the orchestra. We, too, got a little tired of the sound after a two hour concert.
                Thinking back on it afterwards, the monotony of the sound disappeared and I started to remember how sweet they were in all their love for the music. So I wrote to them to hear if they would play a composition I had written in a gyspy-like style.
                They answered very positively, so I went immediately to our very nice music museum in Copenhagen and got them to help me figure out how to notate all the parts. Soon I had sent off a score and music for the whole orchestra.
                Some months later, after Christmas, I received a video tape made by a camera man who was fascinated with the limited possibility of zooming in and zooming out. We sat at our television and watched the little orchestra triumphantly play its Christmas concert, including my all too long piece, as sea-sickness launched by the zoom lurked in our stuffed bellies.
                Now, if you ever are in Funchal, you should know that you risk hearing a mandolin concert with a gypsy piece written by a composer from Oklahoma residing in Denmark. That's the kind of global warming that I like.






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