On September 13, 1997 I made my "professional" debut with a short article about the upcoming Fort Wayne Philharmonic concert in WhatzUp, a local free entertainment publication that had started not much earlier in the year. A fellow I somewhat knew during high school was writing for them and, knowing my odd sense of humor and love of classical music, suggested I contact the paper to write a "hip" monthly article to help interest their young target reader in classical music. As the Fort Wayne Philharmonic was an advertiser for the paper it was a no brainer for them to accept my poorly written first piece. I got better over the five years that I wrote this column, then I got worse, then better... Eventually I got bored writing about the same handful of composers and when the Philharmonic started repeating pieces I knew it was time to take my leave.
I don't know how effective I was at stirring up interest in the younger crowd for this type of music... the Philharmonic never offered me season passes or sent me a postcard thanking me. Heck, they wouldn't even give me advance notice of the pieces being performed during the upcoming season so I had a chance to start my research. But it was fun to write and helped provide a nice bit of extra income back in the days when and extra five bucks was hard to come by. Eventually I wrote a review of a classical CD and then another CD review and the next thing I knew I was writing hundreds of those things.
But I digress.
Here is my very first paid piece of writing. It's admittedly rough but still, I hope, enjoyable.
GONZO THE GREAT - Sept. 13, 1997
September 13 marks the opening night of the 1997-98 Fort Wayne Philharmonic season. One of the most highly attended events of the concert season, the philharmonic conductor, Maestro Tchivzhel (pronounced Cheev-zil) has appropriately chosen two very popular and accessible pieces, Scheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakov and Symphonic Dances by Rachmaninoff. Tchivzhel? Scheherazade? Rachmaninoff? If you've never taken the time to enjoy classical music, please don't be put off by the seemingly random jumbles of letters. The opening performance of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic is the perfect place to get started!
Scheherazade (Sah-hair-a-zahd) was written in 1888 by Rimsky-Korsakov who is also known for the piece "Flight of the Bumblebee", the music to which Gonzo the Great once ate a complete tire on The Muppet Show. But I digress. Scheherazade is considered Program Music, a piece that describes a story with music. In this case, the story is A Thousand and One Nights in which Scheherazade (and what a lovely name it is) has been married to the Sultan Schariar. The sultan had been bit by love once too often and had since vowed to put to death each of his wives after the first night. To put off her impending death, Scheherazade tells the sultan a different story each night until, 1001 nights later, the sultan decides to revoke his original death vow. This piece depicts the tales told by Scheherazade.
Opening with the theme of the sultan, a rough, almost angry melody, the music quickly changes to the seductive and exotic theme of Scheherazade. Both themes are repeated often during the piece to signify when a character is expressing themselves. By his own admission, Rimsky-Korsakov did not write the music to be explicitly descriptive but rather as "hints to direct... the hearer's fancy". Thus, he is encouraging the listener to sit back and let their mind drift where the music will take them, over the rough and ancient seas and back into the legend of the Arabian Nights.
The final piece on the program is Symphonic Dances by Rachmaninoff, a man who bears the distinction of being the only composer mentioned in the film "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory". Rachmaninoff (Rock-mon-in-auv) is known for writing lush, sentimental melodies. In fact, a theme from his Piano Concerto No. 2 was the basis for the 1976 love song "All By Myself". Not bad for a man who once wrote a song called "Were You Hiccuping"! Written in 1934, Symphonic Dances begins with the strings mischievously inviting the listener to come along for an imaginative frolic through "gypsy" folk tunes, changing rhythms, and beautiful, flowing melodies. Through all three invigorating movements, it is quite obvious that this piece is sheer fun, perfect for both those who are well steeped in classical music and for those who just want to get their feet wet.
** Unnecessary side-note: A few years later I discovered the author Donald Westlake, now deceased. One of my favorite books of his is Adios, Scheherazade, no relation to the piece by Rimsky-K.