A Thousand Blended Notes
Published June 3, 2022
A Thousand Blended Notes
While procrastinating through a bit of writer’s block just now, I mindlessly scrolled social media. Something I do more often than I’d like. As the great algorithm in the sky bombarded me with celebratory wedding anniversaries, tragic school shootings, silly cat videos, cataclysmic climate change, successful concerts of many colors, and the disparate commentary for and against these topics, I became sadder not happier. I also flashed on a favorite poem, “Lines Written in Early Spring” by William Wordsworth, written in 1798. It goes:
I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.
To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.
Through primrose tufts, in that green bower,
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;
And ’tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.
The birds around me hopped and played,
Their thoughts I cannot measure: —
But the least motion which they made
It seemed a thrill of pleasure.
The budding twigs spread out their fan,
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.
If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature’s holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?
This poem always grabs me. Today, instead of explicating its themes of universality, melancholy, nature, and humanity, there was for me a fermata over the first line: “I heard a thousand blended notes.” As a musician, arts administrator, board member, teacher, and writer; hearing, creating, and advocating for thousands of blended notes are what I spend a good bit of my life doing. Wordsworth’s aleatoric blended notes were made by chirping birds, blowing breezes, and babbling brooks. Mine are made by violins, string basses, pianos and the like, very intentionally and precisely blending together. On social media, the blended notes are too often strident, dissonant, incomplete, accusatory, and downright mean.
Have I not reason to lament?
I may have reason to lament, but I don’t have to. This is saying something coming from a defensive pessimist like myself. I’m not a “glass half empty” pessimist. I’m a “the glass is too close to the edge of the table, and no matter how much water is in it, you’re likely to knock it onto the floor with your elbow” pessimist. So, I choose to move the glass a safe difference from the edge and go on blending thousands of notes, which I hope will be for good in a world that seems to have more and more cacophony.
Last week I, and our community, had an oasis of beautifully blended notes, when the Reno Chamber Orchestra (RCO) presented the Nevada Chamber Music Festival (NCMF) Summerfest. I am fortunate to have been one of the musicians who performed, and also to have been the executive director of the organization at the festival’s birth in 2004. Since that beginning I have been a broken record (you know you’re getting old when your references might have to be explained to a younger generation) about the incredible experience and value this event provides our community.
The bass player aside, the musical ability of the NCMF musicians is just stunning. In addition to fantastic performances from local musicians Dmitri Atapine, Dustin Budish, Kelly Kuo, John Lenz, Peter Lenz, James Winn, and last-minute savior, violinist Martin Beaver, who stepped in on very short notice to fill-in for an ailing Ruth Lenz, for this festival iteration, artistic director Clive Greensmith invited two remarkable pre-formed ensembles: WindSync and the Alameda String Quartet. Both of these groups performed with their ensembles and in various combination with the other aforementioned musicians. This proved a winning and inspiring combination.
WindSync is a well-established and well-loved, internationally renowned woodwind quintet (flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn). After winning some major competitions and awards that launched the ensemble a decade ago, WindSync has built a remarkable career and following. Take a look and listen to their incredible, memorized take on Gustav Holst’s “Jupiter” from The Planets here. If you want to hear more, check out their recently dropped recording “All Worlds, All Times.”
One of the many reasons that having Clive Greensmith lead the Nevada Chamber Music Festival is such a coup is that he leads the chamber music program at the prestigious Colburn School in Los Angeles, and in that role, he identifies, nurtures, and has access to tomorrow’s superstars. Reno reaped the benefit of this reality when he invited the Alameda String Quartet to NCMF Summerfest. Greensmith knows something about string quartets, having been the cellist in the Tokyo Quartet from 1999-2013. So, when he invites a quartet, half of whom still haven’t graduated, to headline his festival, you know they are something special. And they are! Listen here to their performance at the Colburn School graduation ceremony two weeks ago. You’ll hear virtuoso and nuanced music making far beyond their years. As fate would have it, on the final day of the NCMF, they were featured in this LA Times article (which mentions our festival) discussing the important and too long forgotten repertoire by composers during the Holocaust.
The blended notes that resounded during the three days of the NCMF Summerfest provided audiences with uplifting, inspiring, introspective, and beautiful experiences that give us all reason to celebrate that this happens in our community. The only reason to lament would be if a person wasn’t there for the music.
Scott Faulkner is principal bassist of the Reno Chamber Orchestra and the Reno Phil. He is also director of the League of American Orchestras’ Essentials of Orchestra Management seminar as well as its Alumni Network.
More from Scott Faulkner
This PBS Reno series delves into the local arts scene, looking at the lasting impact the arts have in our communities and beyond.