recent kaddishim

I haven’t written about the daily Kaddishim since 16 November, when I attempted to do a Cajun accordionesque rendition, and my dog Kjersten sang along. Here’s what’s been happening, for those who have been listening:

18 November 2010: another tribute to New Orleans during Mira’s visit, this is my take on a hot jazz Kaddish.

19 November 2010: just a straightforward reading for Shabbes.

20 November 2010: my first reading on my Lawson six-valve descant horn; playing the stopped horn section was a little trickier than usual because I didn’t feel like going to the trouble of switching out my low F crook for the stopping crook, so I had to work out funky fingerings that got the stopped notes reasonably in tune on the Bb horn.

21 November 2010: trying another one on natural horn, starting a “Natural Horn Sundays” habit. As I wrote to Mira, “Somehow my natural horn playing is getting worse rather than better. Perhaps the pain of New Orleans’ dilapidation is represented here.”

22 November 2010: another in the “Memory Monday” series. This one went pretty well, but I made a left turn and had to find my way back.

23 November 2010: this was my first effective trip through from memory. It’s fascinating to me what changes in a performance when I play from memory. All that chunk of my brain that is normally busy with (largely unnecessary) visual signal processing is suddenly available for creativity (or self-defeatism, or other options). I had an epiphany about the stopped horn passage—for the first time, I had an idea why that passage is stopped, besides because it’s the de rigeur trick for modern horn solos. I heard it as an interruption of the kaddish—in the distance, Muslim call to prayer. I also figured out exactly where my memory becomes unreliable. It’s another passage that feels like a left turn to me. I’ll need to figure out why. Interesting how we don’t question what we see; we don’t even notice that it doesn’t make sense until we can’t see it.

24 November 2010: a Kaddish for my Alexander model 310 triple horn, which is for sale. The next day a gentleman came to try the horn, and he’s got it on trial for a little while. I wanted to get the horn out and lubed up, and I wanted to get myself familiar with it again, so that I’d be able to give him a decent demo. Naturally, I hope he’ll fall in love with it as I did several years ago. My hope is this Kaddish is my farewell to the horn. It has served me well, but the Lawsons are my true loves. A Kaddish for our brief but productive affair. Since I hadn’t practiced on it in almost a year, it sounds a little rough, but I hope I gave at least a glimpse of its pretty Alexander sound.

25 November 2010: another first in the project, a collaborative Kaddish. My friend David was among our crowd of friends and family around the Thanksgiving table, and after spotting the music on my stand, he started a little Klezmerish noodling on his accordion. I quickly queued up ProTools and we were off. Since David was reading a horn part in F as if it were in concert pitch (it would be a bit much to sightread and transpose and improvise all at once!), I knew I’d have to read the part up a perfect fourth on horn, and that would make it quite challenging, especially after hours of feasting and an embarrassment of vinous riches. So I grabbed my flügelhorn instead; on that horn, I’d only need to read it up a step. It did pose a few range challenges all the same, especially for the low written D. That note is quite playable on my four-valve Getzen Eterna 896 flügelhorn, but not with the fingering I tried to use! 1-2-4, Erin, 1-2-4! Oh, well. It was fun anyway. I loved David’s klezmer noodling, and I loved it that the first collaborative Kaddish came after a feast with friends and involved a favorite Jewish musician friend who’s been supportive of this project since the beginning.

26 November 2010: the second collaborative Kaddish. A Daddish.

My dad wanted to play one, too, before he and Mom headed back home. Dad’s an amateur horn player, and he’s loved this piece ever since he first heard me play it on my senior recital. Close followers of this project will know from his comments on my original post that he wants me to play it at his funeral, and give the eulogy. So, one of the things I want to try to figure out during this project is how I can be both mourner and performer, because performing while actively, vigorously mourning seems like a disaster waiting to happen, yet it’s what he says he wants. In this awful year in which too damned many good people and one truly excellent dog have died on me, this daily sharing of Kaddish with Mira and our virtual minyan is in fact about mourning, and other things; it is for both of us a new way of observing traditional a Jewish bereavement ritual.

Dad and I have had an uneasy relationship as horn colleagues, stemming from a basic difference in approach. I’m the perfectionist type; if I can’t do a thing well, I want nothing to do with it. Dad doesn’t have this disability; as he put it recently, if playing horn badly bothered him, he would have quit playing horn sixty years ago. He went on to say, about playing in a community orchestra back home in Butte, Montana, “You gotta remember, Erin—if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.” He’s right, of course.

Anyway, Dad got out his horn. I decided to try my hand at improvising a piano part, and I found it harder than I expected to un-transpose the horn music back to concert pitch and come up with something to play. I guess he wins this one—playing piano along with Dad on horn was worth doing, and I did it badly.

About erin

Erin Vang, PMP, BMus, MMus, is Owner and Principal Pragmatist of the consultancy Global Pragmatica LLC®, offering custom JMP scripting, localization program management, and facilitative leadership services. She is also an orchestral horn player who freelances in the San Francisco Bay Area and plays assorted brass for the celebrated dance bands Midnight Smørgåsbord and contraPtion. More about Erin…
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5 Responses to recent kaddishim

  1. pfvang says:

    Re the ‘Daddish’ Kaddish, Erin shouldn’t be so maudlin about the eventual prospect of playing Kaddish at my funeral. It won’t be anytime soon – or at least I don’t think it will, though of course lots of people also thought that, just before they found themselves the guest of honor at one).

    When my time comes, whenever that might be, it’ll be at the end of a long and happy life, so hopefully my funeral will be a fond farewell, but without all that maudlin weeping and wailing. After the service at the church I'[d suggest a glass of good wine or a mug of a good microbrew while you contemplate a hike into the mountains to scatter my ashes.

    • erin says:

      Yes, and I’ve said that I don’t want a funeral at all—I want my friends to get together, have a good time telling their tales of my ridiculous exploits, maybe do a little jamming around the big piano, and enjoy all the scotch. I know better than to rule out weeping and wailing, but I’d just as soon it mostly gets drowned out by laughter or is at least whisky-fueled.

      You have raised, despite all your best intentions, a complete sap. I cry at weddings of complete strangers—some mercenary musician I am. I cry at movies even when I’m pissed off about how none of the female characters have even a second dimension let alone three or four. I cried at your mother’s funeral, and I didn’t even like her; she was one scary gramma. I cried at great-grampa’s funeral, and I don’t know what we could possibly think is sad about living to be 102 years old and still enjoying your daily cigars.

      With our cheery funeral plans for ourselves, we forget, perhaps for a moment, that the funerals aren’t for us. They’re for the people we leave behind. You’ll be ready to kick off when you do, and so will I, but those we leave behind get stuck with interesting problems. Is Mom supposed to learn how to back up that huge trailer so she can still go camping without you? Open a bottle of wine for no occasion without you around to help her finish it? And what about me? Who’s going to fill my freezer with game? Who am I supposed to argue with?

      You also forget, perhaps, that the innocent little service at church you mention—that little ritual before the microbrew that is the smartest thing you’ve mentioned here—will feature a liturgy. Lutherans are good at these little ritualistic sequences of music and talking and standing and sitting, and what they do, besides remind you of all the other zillions of times you’ve done them and shock you with how very different it is this time, is involve your body in the experience of your mind and—for those of you who are acquainted with it—soul. If you were managing to hold it together intellectually (“ah, he was an old coot, time for him to go, really, Social Security running out, no telling how soon he’d have lost those last few marbles, he’d be glad it was a trout stream where he cracked his skull open”) up until then, good luck when that damned organ starts playing. When your sternum vibrates with the stirring tones of G-d’s own court-composer, and you know I mean Mr. Bach; or worse, when your ears cringe at the clumsy fumblings of the small-town piano teacher who’s doing his best to fumble through one of those horrid Jesus-in-the-garden-redeeming-me-personally hymns; there is no controlling the emotional response.

      Have you ever tried to play horn when crying? Have you?

      But perhaps you’ve given me the out I need: you say if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.

      That I can probably do. And you’ll do me a favor and explain to the nice pastor that my having some microbrew during the service is your express wish.

  2. Reb Deb says:

    Besides, funerals for people we care about, particularly our elders and *especially* our parents and grandparents, are — well, let me do the metaphor two ways. For the visual among us: superimposed on this funeral is your own. For the aural: Whispers of mortality. How can we not weep? We’re weeping for ourselves as well.

    Dad, Erin’s the kind of person who already knows this, whether she’s thinking about it or not.

    Plus in this perspective, time collapses (and there are arguments about whether it exists anyway, except as a device for biologicals like ourselves to keep from experiencing everything at once): So whether it is far away or near is irrelevant to her thinking about it, and therefore mostly irrelevant to her feelings about it; except that as she points out, being in the experience (and I would say, not only of Bach but of grief, including others’) means that in addition to all the intellectual and emotional mourning, one’s body jumps in and provides its own additional input.

    Erin, you should know, if you don’t already, that these thoughts and conversations and understandings have everything to do with why I became a rabbi. It’s not the whole picture but it is one of the earliest pieces, though I wouldn’t have known then where it would lead me.

  3. david says:

    Those darned brass musicians. NOW she tells me that I was playing an F-horn part in concert pitch. But I’m glad the low D was quite playable on your four-valve Getzen Eterna 896 flügelhorn. (I couldn’t possibly say that sentence and keep a straight face.)

    • erin says:

      I wouldn’t have dreamed of asking you to transpose, David! Isn’t it enough that you were sight-reading? Do accordionists ever transpose? We horn players transpose for breakfast—it’s not a big deal, except when a transposition puts us outside the comfortable tessitura of the instrument. My solution to that is to grab an instrument with a more hospitable tessitura.

      There will be a quiz on the particulars and model numbers of my instrument petting zoo at the end of the year.

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