Sunday, September 11, 2005

Rite of Spring

Last week, in San Francisco, I was hanging out at The Bar in the Castro. I got into a conversation with a guy whose name was Matt about classical music. Now, I am not a classical music buff. I mean, I know a lot of composers and a lot of styles, but that's just a relic of my Jeopardy/Academic Team days from high school. I don't really follow the scene or attend performances all that much. So I immediately felt at a little unease in this conversation compounded by the fact that I'm not a very good "small talker" in bar situations. I've always hated that about myself. I tend to clam up for some reason and can't think of anything to say.

I was racking my brain, trying to think of something interesting to say, when Matt asked me to name a piece of music that I really like. For some reason, the first piece I thought of was The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky. Matt gave me a surprised look. He said that he was surprised that someone with my limited classical music listening experience would name a modern piece like that. He expected me to name Bach or Beethoven or one of the more popular artists. Not to say that Stravisnky, particularly The Rite of Spring, isn't famous. It's one of the most famous symphonies ever composed. But I think most will agree that it's just not as "listening-friendly" as other pieces because of the seemingly dissonant, jarring and irregular sounds in the piece.

Matt asked me to think about why I chose that piece because he believed it reflected a lot about my personality. Well, that's a given, I thought. Everyone’s personal tastes echo elements of their personalities. So I didn’t take this too seriously. But this was probably the first semi-intellectual conversation that I’ve had in a while at a bar, and as I went back to my hotel that night, I did think about it.

I suppose the most popular use of The Rite of Spring is in Disney’s Fantasia. Supposedly when the symphony debuted, it caused riots in the Paris theater because the crowd was so discontented with the primitive raw sounds they were not accustomed to hearing. At first listen, it sounds discordant. The sounds are visceral, strong and contrasting. Not really what you expect to hear from a piece titled “The Rite of Spring.” It sounds like a swirl of different sounds and noises and you almost get the impression that Stravinksy stops when he finds a sound that he likes, but then leaves, giving fleeting glimpses of monstrous activities, instead of extended sequences.

When I thought about why I like this piece so much, I thought about the inaccessibility of it. The Rite of Spring keeps its listeners at a distance for two reasons. First, as I’ve said, it’s harsh-sounding. Secondly, it’s cerebral. I’m sure understanding this piece when it premiered took a bit of work. And that subtle intellect is almost a limitation for the piece, as it is for me sometimes. Now I’m not saying that I’m supremely intellectual or even smart. I’m really an idiot when it comes to a lot of things. But I do feel that I keep people at a distance. I suppose a large part of that is shyness. But sometimes I feel like the reason I can be so anti-social (note: I won’t go so as far as to say “single”) is that I can sometimes lack emotion or enthusiasm. I suppose my tastes and habits border on the ordinary. I like quiet nights out. I like playing sports. I like staying at home to watch tv. I like going to the gym and the grocery store. Even in the sports I play, I rarely play any sports that are in a team environment because I almost have a fear of relating and being accessible to my teammates.

At the same time, my interests and actions also used belie my age (I’m 28 now), similar to the forward-thinking of The Rite of Spring. My interests in clothes, for example, go beyond following the latest fashions and who’s wearing what. I like to explore brands and thoroughly research the history and legacy of brands. My passion for food indicates a pretty sophisticated and well-researched palate. As I entered my 20s, it was hard for me to find other people who shared the same interests. I often felt alone and not able to relate. I know a large part of this had to do with the fact that I didn’t come out that I was gay until I turned 25. Putting that aside, though, I felt and still do feel that it takes a lot to get to know me, mostly because I just may not be the warmest person or “funnest” person around at first.

Finally, I can also be very serious. At work or even social situations, I often zero in on getting stuff done and don’t partake in the joking around or more emotional situations that arise. This happened in college when I was a member of the Model UN club. I rarely attended the social events, but still rose rapidly through the ranks of the club and became well-known and respected because of that ability to focus on the work. When I worked at my old job, I managed a large number of people. But this time I used this intensity to my advantage and was able to separate myself from the drama that often took place, and I know people appreciated that. The Rite of Spring, I feel, can sound like that--intense, serious, and even despondent.

I think all of this can be traced to a self-fear of obsolescence. I’m terrified that I’ll be alone for the rest of my life and not feel "relevant." I don’t really feel that I’m weird or socially withdrawn. I go out once in a while and I have my circle of friends. At the same time, when I am in a situation where I’m meeting new people and not feeling totally confident, my mind sometimes almost races to think of something trendy or funny to say, like I almost have to justify why I’m there. As a consequence, I can come off as arrogant, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. I think anyone who knows me would learn that I have a strong personality that’s both familiar and unique; down to earth and quirky. Most people do, and if you make the effort, it’s usually worth it to find that out.

On a less personal note, and before this sounds like a Personal Ads profile, if you ever have the opportunity to see The Rite of Spring performed by a full orchestra, take it. The shivers that ripple out of the orchestra will blow you away.


Robin said...

If you like RoS I highly recommend Stravinksky's more obscure "Petrouchka" Suite. It is known for being almost impossible to play, but I saw it played firsthand by Evgeny Kissin, possibly the best pianist alive. It was breathtaking.

EM said...

terry cho cho, while it's true that you can be hard to get to know, it's worth taking the time to try. i know we tormented you endlessly giving you hugs in highschool when you weren't so keen on touch, but i hope you secretly liked it. you will definitely not spend the rest of your life alone. your "quirk" is what makes you endearing. it's up to the rest of us to have the patience for the shy phase to pass when we meet you (and maybe have the courage to push your boundaries a little till you come around). because once you're comfortable around people, you're a lot of fun. have no fear, some hunky young man will see it and fall madly in love.

teahouse said...

I too am impressed with your knowledge of Stravinsky. My community orchestra has played the Rite of Spring before.

Anonymous said...

I like this post. I don't think it's too sad at all.