Thursday, May 19, 2011

Dispatches from DC #10

19 May 2011

Hello there... Rodger French here.

Life in the "Capital of The Free World" (by it's own admission) has settled in to a not disagreeable routine. Since meaningful employment remains, shall we say, elusive, I spend my time shopping, cooking, and generally being A.J.'s wingman. And I also have the opportunity to put in the practice/study time it takes to become a better musician. This is an unexpected and most salutary gift.

In addition to working diligently on my virtually non-existent jazz piano chops, I'm playing regularly with my pal Sol Stein, a terrific concertina player. I have also fallen in with The Washington Balalaika Society Orchestra (WBSO), an avocational ensemble that performs all manner of Russian music. ( The Artistic Director is quite the formidable musician, having studied at the Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory in St. Petersburg.

In addition to conducting, she also arranges compositions for the group and, since she is married to an accomplished bayan player (the bayan being the Russian cousin of the accordion), the parts I am called upon to play are often very demanding. This is a good thing; at this point in my musical life, a hearty shot of intense focus and discipline is just what I need.

I have also agreed with Ruuskie Musikanti, a small-group offshoot of the WBSO, to sub for their accordionist when he is unavailable, which means yet more music to learn, albeit in a much more relaxed fashion. All the folks in the group are very nice and the performances enjoyable.

We performed yesterday for "Happenings at the Harman," a series of lunchtime programs sponsored by the Shakespeare Theatre Company. I felt a bit under-rehearsed on a couple of selections, but the audience was very nice and the gig went well. And then, as we finished and were preparing to pack up, a most extraordinary thing happened.

[Sidebar: Some accordion players play loudly and without much taste. Some succumb to the temptation to play "con formaggio molto," a little of which goes a long way. (I myself am not immune to the charms of the cheesy.) But having played the accordion since the age of six, I am painfully aware that the generally low regard in which the instrument has long been held in this country - an unreasonable prejudice that seems, thankfully, to be rapidly dissipating - is due in some part to annoyingly oblivious accordion players.]

[Quote: "There are more bad musicians than there is bad music." Issac Stern]

Anyway... after the gig, I was approached by an older gentleman speaking a language literally foreign to me - Russian, perhaps. Notwithstanding my ignorance, he was most insistent on making his point and once I ceased trying to "understand" what he was saying and started really paying attention and listening to his words as music, I understood clearly. (I feel a bit sheepish relaying this, but it was such a profound experience...)

Obviously moved, he conveyed to me his appreciation for my playing the accordion with feeling. And then he reached out and put his hand on my heart. It was a humbling moment. It was the highest accolade any musician could ever hope to receive.

It was what we live for.

[Quote: "When you perform, remember that some of your audience may be hearing this music for the first time, and some for the last." Robert Shaw]