08 February 2013

Remembering days long past

A neighbor writes of Peter Mennin:

I'm definitely not through with him, though. His music may click at some point.

Intellectually, I know there is such a thing as listeners not ‘getting’ this or that composer’s music. I have no trouble with the theory.

My own introduction to Mennin:

I was in, I forget just which: eighth grade? might even have been seventh grade, and I had not been playing clarinet all that long. I made it into the regional band! Yes, on balance, I think it may have been that very first time I was in a region band, which is to say, easily my best experience to that time of participating in a musical ensemble. The recording which was made of that event will not bear it out, but I sure felt as if I had suddenly ascended into the New York Philharmonic.

So in the first place, I was lapping up this experience of what it was like to play with a bunch of peers who knew their way around the instruments.

In addition to what I was by then accustomed to in young-symphonic-band fare (arrangements of the odd movement/number from the classics, arrangements of Broadway show tunes, &c.) in our folders for the region band were two or three pieces by recent (maybe even still living) composers who were not tinpansmiths. This is no snobbery, cannot be any snobbery, I am simply reporting that excitement and elation which I felt as I was rehearsing these pieces, both (again) the thrill of being in a group, most of whom could play better than I could, and the (perfectly novel for me, at the time) thrill of reading a piece of music whose language, while clearly related to much that I had been playing already, was just as clearly striking out into fresh paths of sonic expression.

So, one of the pieces in our folder that year was Mennin’s Canzona for symphonic band. I understand it, now, for a minor work. (Minor, but still a great little piece.) At the time, I both simply reveled in its being a cool piece to be a part of playing, and was jazzed that such a piece was written by a fellow whose lifetime and geography overlapped with mine.

The long and the short of this being: intellectually, I can understand that there are listeners who don’t twig Mennin. But it is entirely outside of my own experience. From the first that I knew of a composer of the name of Mennin, he was a damned fine sight of a composer in my book.

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