So this guy wanders into a church on a Sunday evening. He’s not religious — doesn’t even know much about the major faiths — but manages to enjoy the service. He listens to the rhythm of the preacher’s speech and scans the arches that run up to the chapel’s ceiling. When it’s over, he leaves, maybe no closer to self-actualization, but with a good feeling.
This guy is me. I wasn’t at a church service, but at a cello performance, in a place no less holy: Dwight Chapel. I didn’t quite wander in. I was, instead, invited by a suitemate who’s majoring in music. But otherwise the experience was the same. The ignorant appreciating the divine. Or trying to.
But I pitched this piece to WKND’s editors as a review of the show (rather than an indulgent column in which I ruminate on it), so I suppose I should at least give them, and you, some of the facts.
The concert was an informal affair. On Facebook, it went by “Sweet Cellists Play Cello Suites.” Benji Fleischacker ’17 and Henry Shapard ’20, the sweet cellists in question, performed two of the Bach suites (No. 4 in E-flat major and No. 2 in D minor, if that changes things), then dueted on a suite that had been pieced together by student composers.
(The New Music Collective sponsored the project. Full disclosure: New Music Collective treasurer Emil Ernstrom ’19, who receives “a heartfelt thank you” in the concert program, is my music major of a suitemate.)
Both musicians were, in a word, impressive. In more words: They were so impressive that I could not review them. Not because they didn’t make the occasional mistake — they did — but because, about four notes in, I realized that art of this caliber sits beyond the critical range of novices like me.
Like, sure, I’ve got a few Bach pieces in my classical playlist on Spotify. And yeah, I play them sometimes in the YDN building during production and in Commons during peak consumption periods. But refined, my taste is not. Case in point: The applause that followed the second of the concert’s suites was, by a conservative estimate, at least three times louder than that which followed the first. Why? I couldn’t tell you. Certainly the second suite was longer than the first, but both made me *feel* things, and both seemed well-performed technically. I ended up spending the rest of the concert trying to decipher whatever code the other audience members were picking up on.
From my seat, I had a good view of my fellow listeners in situ, at work. They were a well-mannered crowd. Most seemed the contemplative artist type: fashionable (we’re talking patterned scarves, horn-rimmed glasses, good hair), composed yet comfortable in posture, still of limb. The whole archetype. They did that thing people do where they nod along with the music, like they’re in conversation with the notes. I took some pictures for my suitemate during the performance, and while doing so I felt distinctly like someone in an art museum who passes by the Rothko gawkers on his way to the bathroom. That is, not like the ignorant appreciating the divine, but like the ignorant trying to.
And yet — I enjoyed the concert. I didn’t share the audience’s laughter that came during certain sections of the student suite, nor did I understand any part of the conversation I overheard between my suitemate and one of the cellists after the show. But for a few moments I fell into the rhythm of the music and the beauty of the place, and for those moments I didn’t think so hard about where or when I was. Maybe I didn’t “appreciate” the concert the way one “appreciates” fine wine or classical art, but what’s that about, anyway? Making exclusive the mystical? What for?
The afternoon before the performance, I spent a little time reading up on Bach and his legacy to prepare for the evening’s experience. (At this point I still planned to review the show, and thought I would need to actually know things.) In the course of my research, I found the following quote from early 20th-century composer Max Reger: “Bach is the beginning and end of all music.” That seems like bullshit to me — after leaving Dwight, I popped in my headphones to listen to some Rihanna on the walk home — but who knows? Maybe he had a point.
Contact Robbie Short at firstname.lastname@example.org .