Thursday, April 12, 2012

Morbid thoughts

A few weeks ago, slightly bored with the solo pieces I had to work on, I started playing through the Bach Cello Suites. Famous famous pieces, transcribed for every instrument, subject of a new book, and near the top of the charts in terms of recognizability  by the general public. The bassoon transcription is well known too, I think the standard is Arthur Weisberg's, but I'm reading one of the old engravings on IMSLP. The Praeludium to Suite #1 is very cello-istic, filled with down-slurs that work poorly on bassoon, and essentially no reasonable place to breathe. I'm not sure that I could ever bring it to a place to where I'd want to listen to it. Still, it's gorgeous, and a joy just to work on. I remember being struck by the thought that, if the universe were to be ending in five minutes, I'd want to spend my remaining time doing exactly that: practicing the prelude to Bach's first cello suite.

Looking back, it's a strange thought. Why exactly five minutes? If I'd had half an hour, would I have had to work too hard? And not just me dying: it's the entire universe being destroyed. Was, say, the destruction of the planet insufficiently melodramatic? Apparently. So, music for the end: Bach Cello Suites for the destruction of the Universe, Nearer my God to Thee for the sinking of a ship, and something else for the planet, Penderecki maybe. Or Messiaen. For a single, personal death, I'd pick sentimental: Bridge over Troubled Water, say, or Travellin Shoes.

Our time is finite. The husband of the concertmaster of my orchestra died this week. Not young, but not yet old, I guess I'm getting to the age where sixty-something is more of a peer than an elder. And I had a weensy scare myself: a funny bump appeared on a freckle, and the internet, purveyor of all knowledge, had nothing good to say about new bumps on freckles. The first hit showed a small unassuming dark bump next to the phrase "At this stage, it was destined to be fatal". Yeesh. That sentence, plus getting rejected as a blood donor because of it ("Let us know what the doctor says") got me in to see someone. The good news is that it's nothing interesting, but there are various kinds of nothing, and the jury is still out on which kind of nothing my bump is. To be a melanoma, you have to be dark, and my bump isn't. Still, I had a couple days of What if I had 30 days to live? fantasy going on.

It's an interesting exercise, no matter how unrealistic. It gives a chance to think about what matters, and what doesn't, in a very selfish sense. If I had 30 days to live, would I waste my precious time practicing? Actually, I would. My gut reaction would be to practice more. Not because the practice is building towards some long-term goal, evidently! But as an end in itself. What about making reeds? I was kind of surprised by my reaction to this one: I would. Both because I feel like I have unfinished projects in understanding how reeds work, and also because good reeds making the instrument respond more readily, sound better, and make better music. So yeah, I'd keep working on reeds. What about work? Actually, I'd keep doing this too. There's stuff I'd want to finish. I can kind of see a pattern forming, not sure where I'd find the time to do all of these things, but that too is a helpful insight. But blogging, obviously stop that? Well, hard to say. There are some half-formulated posts that I'd want to finish. Plus, the whole dying thing would give lots to write about, wouldn't want to miss out on that. So blogging might end up in the plus side too.

Is there stuff I'd do less of? Absolutely. I can think of a bunch of things that I'd simply stop worrying about, since after 30 days they'd be somebody else's problem. Anything in the bureaucratic paperwork category. Meetings, committees, reports. Money. Or things preparing for a long-term outcome. And people. There's people I'd spend more time with, and people I'd spend less. Kind of a silly exercise overall, but amusing.

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