Old folk at lunch

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Bach, Joe and Frederik



I am feeling in a somewhat reflective mood today. I usually am but today the mood is strong enough to motivate me to write some of it down. I think I might have a touch of the flu!

A couple of Sundays ago, Pam Priest, piano teacher to my son Joe, put on a concert given by her students. The standard of such concerts will be well-known to most parents who have ever attended one: Pretty awful. But one has to go to hear one's own progeny, whom one hopes will not be among the awful ones.

As it turned out there were some genuinely good performances. My son Joe did the full version of that old favourite Fuer Elise by Beethoven. Despite it being loved to death and hence done to death I always enjoy hearing it and Joe did a good job of it. It has a large expressive range and deserves not to be dismissed as a "beginner's" piece, as it usually is. Joe has been learning piano since age 4 (he is now 19) but he doesn't do music exams. He just plays for his own satisfaction.

Afterwards Joe and I were discussing what he was working on and he said something about learning one of the Bach Preludes from Das wohltempierte Klavier. I said that maybe he should try one of the fugues too but remarked that they were of course very complex and difficult. I further remarked that they were very good, nonetheless, at least in my opinion.

Joe replied. Yes. "They are wonderful". That might seem like a minor remark but "wonderful" is exactly the word I use to describe music that moves me deeply -- and Bach moves me most of all -- so that remark from Joe did my heart good. It told me: "There's my boy". It told me that in important ways we are emotionally alike. And in the end it is emotions that matter. Nobody is more devoted to rationality than I am but in the end rationality is the servant, not the master.

Now on to Frederik: Frederik is a tall, slim dignified Dutchman aged about 60 who runs a small cafe where I sometimes breakfast. I went there today for breakfast. He had a lot of customers and only himself to serve them all. His wife was busy in the kitchen cooking -- where she does a first-class job. But despite the throng of breakfasters and others, Frederik served them all with reasonable promptness. To do so he had to move like greased lightning and never stop for an instant. But he did so and did so with dignity and civility.

I could not help reflecting: "How Dutch". The Dutch tend to have enormous self-confidence but it is normally justified. It can border on arrogance and the Dutch are not universally liked because of that. I like the Dutch and respect Dutch attributes greatly, however, and a Dutchman once told me that I myself would make a good Dutchman so that may tell you something. I did, by the way, regard that remark as a considerable compliment.

Anyway, Frederik did a job requiring enormous speed, energy and efficiency -- and did it with panache. I could not help reflecting how hopeless an Aborigine would have been in the same circumstances. I know Aborignies well from long experience in various settings and, although there are things about them that I respect, speed and efficiency are definitely not among their typical attributes. I did once see an Aborigine woman moving fast and it was such a memorable experience that I am afraid I turned and stared just to make sure it really was an Aborigine I was seeing. She clearly had some white genes in her but that is not uncommon in Aborigines these days.

There are good and bad people in all racial groups and I always do my best to judge each person as an individual but anybody who says that all races are the same is talking through his/her anus.

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