Farewell to Vexations, and the church of the inscrutable

Farewell to Vexations, and the church of the inscrutable

I am ready to say good bye to this experience of “Vexations”.
There will not be a linear narrative,but a limit of 20 minutes that I will sum up.
•Imagine an interview with me, and Erik Satie. This could be a transcript.
TH ” Mr Satie, why did you want people to play Vexations 840 times? ” ES ” Why did you even bother learning that? I thought I threw it out. I had no idea… what a waste of time!”
•In my youth, I was drawn to the concept of art as salvation, of bacchanalian extremism, all night jam sessions, while under some kind of alteration. Reading Hesse, Jack Kerouac ( i didn’t really like him) etc perhaps fueled this. But I was always SOO tired the next day. The world of rapture is fleeting…..! so fleeting,( as Nichiren says, ” life is a dream within a dream”)
• The Idea that extreme events will push one to new heights is appealing. other worldly. It also assumes that our ordinary life is not appealing, exciting, meaningful. I do not believe that.
•It was a difficult piece to play. Most of the misery was in the preparation. One of the players really nailed it.. got the feeling, and the notes right. Some of the other players I heard went more for the feeling. Or who knows? it is a fiendishly difficult piece. Playing it slowly is no easier, because it is probable that you will get lost.
• I solved the problem by simplifying it: mostly playing left hand part, then the right hand without the left hand ( it is implied, i thought) and occasionally i put them together.
• For kicks and grins i improvsed singing texts to the bass part. this alleviated tedium.
• I messed with the tempo, the pedals, making it slurry, staccato, louder than usual, soft, mushy. Occasionally, when my nerve was up, I played the whole thing. when I lost my nerve, I dropped out the left hand.
45 minutes into it, I had the overwhelming urge to play anything, anything BUT that…. I had used up all of my boredom tools. But there was nothing left to do but play it some more. I embraced the madness, and kept digging.
• I looked into the audience. I don’t think anyone was there. The irony of playing a performance for NO ONE was bizzare.. it also let me try to do both hands again.
• I have a” fright” reaction to playing classical style piano… in time. Jazz notation does not bother me: i figure out a lot of tunes by ear. It has been my fortune to play every week in public for the past four years, so my touch is improving. I read single lines fine, bass or treble clef. I improvise counterlines in my left hand when playing with an ensemble. But put two staffs in front of me, and I freeze. I feel the weight and judgement of the world telling me that I am wrong, that everything I know is wrong. It takes a long time for me to get these works under my fingers.
• I have really seen and felt the importance to play music for people: if there is one person in your space, and they feel something, I have succeeded. To play music that I don’t really believe in, for no one, is counter to my current beliefs.
• I was supposed to play until 5:25. At about 5:15, a security guard walked in. ” you know, everyone is gone; we’re closing up” ” You mean I don’t have to play this anymore?” I felt like I got an early release date. I had just played the bass figure, and was about to put the hands together, and somehow did not feel the point. I played the bass line one more time and skipped away from the stage, like a school boy on the first day of summer.
• took my items, caught the light rail home. slight rain. Could not sleep… my whole Sunday
was out of rhythm.
• Father’s day breakfast, and I was exhausted, beyond coffee help. While I did chant that day, it was not as much as I like. Daily daimoku, and being in THIS world is what I crave.
esoterics? I don’t need any help. Whatever grounding I can get is appreciated. Music for me must be a connection between people. I am done forever with ” Art for Art’s sake”.
• Finished a grant proposal, went grocery shopping. could not wait to get back to normality.
So the Church of the Inscrutable: I no longer desire membership. Daily life is just fine. My garden is producing, the peas are up! I still love most of Erik Satie;s work…. his piano works, his DADA ballets. I love harmonies that push the boundaries.
But it is quite possible that I will never play “Vexations” again.

1 Comment

  1. “The Idea that extreme events will push one to new heights is appealing. other worldly. It also assumes that our ordinary life is not appealing, exciting, meaningful. I do not believe that.”

    Good one Todd!


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