(C) 2015 by Metta Anderson – All Rights Reserved
Quick Notes: The Geneva store is now located on the second floor of the Centro Comercial Atlantis, in Bogotá–L-209-2A. Jorge Rodríguez, the young man with whom I spoke, is now teaching in one of the District’s schools.
The following is about an experience I had in a store in the Atlantis Mall, here in Bogotá, in April 2015.
Went crazy for a while in a new store at Atlantis. Not horribly. Just tossed aside everything that bothersO/angers me and wrapped myself in music. . .
I was on my way to Samsung to pick up my phone ($15,000 pesos to tell me the display doesn’t work (I knew that) and $65,000 pesos to replace it; I said no to both; phone worked anyway). I got off TransMilenio at Héroes and walked to Atlantis specifically to use their ladies’ room. But saw Geneva Lab’s windows (went in Atlantis’s “back doors”) and four large framed photos of “rock legends” (Lennon, Janis Joplin, Hendrix and F. Mercury). All bad digital copies, I discovered. Up close, Freddie’s arm was a weird brocade pattern. Need I say more? (Yeah–someone really does not understand how to do a good scan and print of an ISO 400 b&w negative!!!)
Ostensibly, I went in to the store to look at the prints more closely.
Spiritually, I needed the music and my OSC book and stuff like that. Heavy-duty symphonic.
I was clear that I could not buy anything, but the sound system looked interesting (very 50s, but not exactly retro). There was no one coming, it was noonish and lunch crowds moved blindly past the red-painted showroom. (Cadmium red with black floor, white ceiling and white couch.)
The salesman, Jorge Rodríguez, was a really nice and helpful young man. Offered to demonstrate the large white slab (on metal legs) in a corner, glistening like new plastic. (In fact, the finish is actually 8 coats of natural lacquer, polished between each application; also comes in black.) This thing is connected to an iMac desk computer (21″ monitor) in a nearby corner. I said great, and requested Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 2.”
The whole demo turned into a class on classical music, taught by me, in Spanish. (I can hear friends laughing about this. Don’t blame them.)
But first–the first playback system was Youtube, which very clearly can not handle the sound requirements of a full symphony orchestra. Within a few bars, I said no, this is too compressed.
The young man instantly switched to iTunes and I was surprised at the difference. iTunes could reproduce all the sound and distribute it as it was recorded (and engineered), so we continued with that.
Jorge could not find the concerto, but did lock onto the waltz from Act II of Swan Lake and turned up the volume. Much much better.
We did more Tchaikovsky and then I requested Wagner. I wanted the overture to the Ring Cycle, but Jorge couldn’t find it in “Essential Wagner.” (The Ring Cycle is not essential but Meisterssingers is!?)
But since I have the OSC playing Meisterssingers on tape (okay, bootleg edition; mine), I just shut up and listened. And suddenly, I was conducting it, with small movements of my left hand.
Completely surprised myself.
From there to a long discourse on Elvis, the Supremes, Barry Gordy, Jerry Lee Lewis, changes in US society as reflected in pop music and so on. This also included what I listened to growing up–Bach at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church played on the immense pipe organ; the technical changes in sound reproduction (the Geneva system reverts BACK to old stereo–1 tweeter, 1 woofer in 1 cabinet); my father playing piano in the Music Room at 720* and realizing hehad grown up playing in a room designed especially for the pipe organ built into the western wall of his grandparents’ house; the piano and evening recitals also held there, given by professors from Michigan State’s College of Music; the acoustics of the junior high school; being in choirs; and having an aunt with pitch perfect hearing who played the organ as well.
And again, suddenly, I was breathless.
I grew up with music. It talks to me, feeds me, keeps me alive. The OSC book encompasses me, as a part of who I am and how I am formed and live and react.
But in the meantime–
The salesman at Geneva suggested I write a blog essay about changes in sound systems, the evolution of record players and recordings–from monophonic to mini-components and home theater and now, back to the original stereo with the Geneva system. I should do it as I have experienced them and how they reflected their social periods (socio-historical periods). Good idea. See Part II.
But other parts of the conversation at Geneva remain with me. For example–
Hitler liked Wagner because both were anti-Semitic, because Wagner’s storylines were nationalistic and because the music was and is uplifting.
But Hitler would never have seen or understood the social commentary latent in those same storylines, especially in the Ring Cycle (e.g., Siegried and Götterdämmerung). It’s pretty clear that Wagner wanted to keep women under fairly strict control (Brunnhilde, Isolde), so the question is, What was it about women that frightened Wagner? Hm. . .m. . .?
I mentioned to Jorge that King Ludwig II of Bavaria was a patron of Wagner’s, as well as a kind of “swan fan.” He had a passion for swans and was pretty much (pretty closely) certifiably crazy (but not dangerous).
Wagner, on the other hand, was an over-the-top composer recognized as a genius.
The question(s) become(s)–how much of Ludwig’s “way out there” ideas or theories or fantasies were incorporated into Wagner’s work (in music or plotlines)? How free-wheeling would have been these conversations as they walked around Ludwig’s private parklands? How and where did Wagner incorporate the ideas or how was he inspired by these conversations? And finally (old question)–what separates Wagner’s genius from Ludwig’s insanity? (Possible answer: Wagner kept control of his mind (able to exercise mental and emotional discipline and channel his energies into his work), while Ludwig could not, for various reasons. Also, the king was more or less straitjacketed by formal rites and expectations, while Wagner was not.)
Meanwhile–FF–the social impact of Elvis and other early rockers, as well as their musical impact, seem to remain difficult to explain or incorporate. Although Scott Joplin was a serious composer whose main body of work is still seen as pop, he should be included because ragtime was an early crossover from black audiences to white. Later on, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, as examples, were men with clear talent but little education. They were indeed charismatic and inventive–whorehouse and honky-tonk music mixed with gospel and revival theatrics was presented to contemporary and educated white audiences, who were young and eager to have something different from their parents’ tastes. At the same time, church-going was still the norm, which meant exposure on a large scale to dead composers (Bach et al) and live “concerts” such as gospel choirs on Sundays.
Barry Gordy’s genius with Tamla/Motown was more than finding talented singers and songwriters. He took the singers to Detroit’s best stores for up-to-date clothing and hair styles. Diana Ross and the Supremes and I went to Saks Fifth Avenue and Jacobson’s of Michigan. Even my mother could tell you in which department of which store Miss Ross got the dress she wore on The Ed Sullivan Show or American Bandstand. I probably had one like it in my closet (different sizes, though). This dropped racial barriers faster than anything else, at least in the North. The southern states were still having problems, 100 years after the Civil War.
All this from about an hour and a half of conversation with a stranger concerning music, which is clearly more important to me than I had realized. Thank you for your time and interest, Jorge Rodríguez!
And also thank you to César, for the inspiration. Please feel free to tell me where I made mistakes in this piece, okay?
*”720″–My great-grandparents built a mansion in 1905 in Lansing, Michigan, whose address was 720 South Washington Avenue. Their daughter–my grandmother–inherited it in 1950, after their deaths. My brother, sisters, cousins and I grew up calling it simply “720” (seven-twenty). It was torn down in 1963 by the State of Michigan to make room for an expressway, even though land for the expressway was available one block to the south.
(C) 2015 by Metta Anderson. All Rights Reserved.