Being a news junkie since boarding school days, I recently picked up the remote, pointed it at the screen, expecting to see one of the familiar CBC faces. To my surprise I found myself looking at a musical ensemble on Channel 11. My news hunger thwarted ,I was about to jump to the channel I wanted when something about the group held me for a moment, then for a few moments and then, there I was held fast by, well, what exactly is it that holds one fast to a brilliant Chamber Group. I realize ed when I checked that it was the brilliant Itzak Perlman group. They were playing Bach's Sonata in C Major.
What held me for those first few moments, and held me to the end, was something I had never realized before, at least not with such clarity. Put simply, I was made aware as never before of the cost of what I was listening to, the cost of beauty, the cost of really great art. The fleeting glimpse that had held and drawn me, particularly in which the group related to one another in the same set of actions or positions, was repeated many times. I saw the richness and intensity of body movements as each player sought for the deep heart of the music. Heads were suddenly bent and raised, facial expressions tensed and relaxed, jaw muscles rippled , elbows rose and fell. Each player became a hunter pursuing an elusive prey that was invisible to all but him or her. Sometimes when the camera drew back to take a wide shot of the group they seemed to be a single heaving and rippling life form engaged in bringing something to birth, experiencing in the process both the ecstasy and the costliness of being agents in the endless activity of Creation. I found myself recalling something I had saved from a poetry collection of Carl Dennis.
Art and life, I wouldn't want to confuse them .
But its hard to hear this quartet
Without comparing it to a conversation
Of the quiet kind , where no-one tries to outtalk
The other participants , where each is eager instead
To share in the task of moving the theme along
From the opening sentence to the final bar.
I love the movement where the cello is occupied
With repeating a single phrase while the others
Strike out on their own, three separate journeys
That seem to suggest each prefers, after all,
The pain and pleasure of playing solo. But no.
Each near the end swerves back to the path
Their friend has been plodding , and he receives them
As if he never once suspected their loyalty.
I have quoted two stanzas of the poem. The title is STRING QUARTET. The poet is Carl Dennis. The anthology is UNKNOWN FRIENDS.