Mack Williams: Ballet music — Old Concord Road
Today’s column is about the things I associate with the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky; but in using the title “Ballet Music — Old Concord Road,” I would be remiss if I didn’t first mention the late Sue Bernhardt, marvelous teacher of dance from her home-studio on that road. Along with the art of the dance, her students learned the arts of grace and poise throughout life.
And of course, it is a “given” that Sue and her family, residing in that section of the Old Concord Road, were members of Saint Paul’s Lutheran Church.
When a baby first looks up at its mother’s face, imprinting occurs. I think a certain “imprinting” occurs between our surroundings and us when we first learn of something, whether it be life’s lessons, literature or music — in this case, music.
I was recently watching the Kirov Ballet’s production of Tchaikovsky’s “Sleeping Beauty” on YouTube. When opening another window on the computer to check on the progress of Hurricane Matthew, Tchaikovsky’s ballet music still played while I looked at Weather.com’s satellite pictures. Hearing the music without seeing the dance, my mind returned to where I first heard Tchaikovsky’s ballet music performed: on the Old Concord Road, specifically, on my father’s floor model hi-fi record player in the living room of my boyhood home.
My first attendance of a ballet performance would be years off, in the auditorium of Appalachian State University’s Chapel Wilson Hall (still standing, last I heard).
One side of my father’s record was titled “Orchestral Excerpts from Sleeping Beauty.” At the risk of making that 33 1/3 classical disk sound like a “rockabilly 45,” its “flip side” was “Orchestral Excerpts from Swan Lake.”
It was the fall season of the year, so within my mind, the beautiful, melancholy, nostalgic “look” of fall became forever fused with Tchaikovsky’s beautiful ballet music.
If my first hearing of that record’s “spinning” ( 45s again) had been in spring, that season would probably be my mind’s association; but instead, my “mental registering” occurred during the season of sadly angled light and melancholily angled shadows.
It was about that time I was watching late night “monster movies” on TV’s Shock Theater. Both “Dracula”(1932) and “The Mummy”(1932) used “mysterious sounding” music from Swan Lake during their “overtures.” So at this point, a little bit of melancholy horror (old castles and old tombs) was added to the “Tschaikovsky-fall” section of my mind.
When I was a little older, during the “fall phenomena” of high school football , Tschaikovsky’s music was probably playing as a subliminal “undercurrent” in my mind (but not at halftime, when I played my sousaphone in East’s band).
My father (Bernard Williams) passed away on Nov. 5, 1966, when I was 15 years old, forever merging the following in my mind: Tchaikovsky, fall, melancholy, nostalgia, and death.
Later, home from Appalachian on break, and while my mother was at work, I “spun” that old Tschaikovsky record on my late father’s hi-fi and listened, reclining in a yard-chair recliner on the front porch, sipping wine. It was the fall of the year.
On another weekend, not home from Appalachian, on a Friday night without a date, I decided to go to the Plemmons Student Center and listen to Tschaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, the “Pathetique” in one of the “music listening rooms,” (surely gone now). I probably should have listened to more up-beat music, but prefer the “melancholy stuff,” and the Pathetique is Tschaikovsky’s most melancholy stuff! This was also in fall of the year.
But that isn’t as dangerous as what I sometimes did then: drinking wine while listening to Gustav Mahler and reading H.P. Lovecraft. (It’s a wonder I’m here today!)
Back to the present: the “YouTube Tchaikovsky” I was watching (mostly listening to) came to a close.
During that time, mental scenes of my “first association” with Tchaikovsky’s ballet music prevailed: my father’s old hi-fi, the music, and fall’s afternoon shadows cast from my front yard’s trees.
Extending that scene westward to the horizon takes in an across-the-road background dominated by W.A. Cline’s parked gravel-hauling truck.
If, through oversight or “something,” a gravel-hauling truck is ever parked on the stage of the Mariinsky Theater in Russia’s Saint Petersburg just prior to the opening-curtain of Swan Lake, I’m sure the corps de ballet will find some resourceful, ever-so-graceful way of working with it, perhaps even including it in the story.