A Sage Device
I was fourteen years old when I first played Gustaf Holst’s The Planets as a double bassist in the Seattle Youth Symphony. We were all excited to play a real masterpiece, and ended up playing pretty well. I didn’t know anything about Gustaf Holst, and Star Wars was over a decade in the future so it didn’t even sound familiar, but I loved the music and found it exhilarating. Little did I know that I would play it probably another 100+ times in my career.
There are a number of distinctive movements in the work, Mars and Jupiter being the most famous. Holst knew nothing about the planets themselves, they were just dots in the sky to him in 1915, but they were significant in Astrology which was his frame of reference for each planet’s character. (There seems to also be references to the Roman gods the planets were named after.) One of my favorites, partly because of the two exposed solos for the double bass section, is the movement about Saturn. He subtitles the movement, “The Bringer of Old Age.” It is a movement of mystery and beauty, and builds to major climax.
But Old Age is no longer a mystery to me. I’ve thought back upon that movement many times with amusement. I think about Richard Strauss composing Death and Transfiguration in his early 20’s and then quoting it rather ironically in his Four Last Songs which he wrote right before he died. Confronting one’s mortality certainly becomes a different subject from this viewpoint. I suppose you could find mystery in why we age at all, but the consequences of not aging would be dreadfully tragic. We age because of where we are going, and it makes perfect sense to me.
I have had a lot of fun with the titles of the tracks of this album, and there is a lot of really nice music here as well. Because of the cover, I’m tempted to say that the real bringer of old age is Photoshop, but in fact, time does an equally convincing job.
The Turning Point refers to that moment when you realize you are no longer young, or even young at heart. Passé. I decided once that aging isn’t so much a matter of not being able to function as it is a matter of slowly becoming obsolete. In Hindsight. Hindsight gives an older person perspective, lots of perspective. Golden Sunset. It would be nice, wouldn’t it.
Silver Lining. There are a surprising number of perks available for Seniors. I bought a $10 pass which gets me into any National Park for free for life! Since I live near the Grand Canyon, I’ve used it a few times. But I don’t think they are going to be losing a lot of money on the deal as time goes by! Tristan Is Older. I have a couple senior friends that have found romance in their later years. One even met his new wife online! Great passion often does not live to a ripe old age, and Tristan is a good example. The opera has actually developed a reputation of sorts as singers and even conductors have died during its performance! My Tristan is a bit more subdued, but a number of quotes show that the passion is still there. Wrinkles, In Time. My apologies to Madeleine L’Engle.
Fade To Blank. While performing with the Phoenix Symphony, I participated in a project involving Alzheimer’s patients. Alzheimer’s apparently attacks primarily the left side of the brain. Music, which affects the right side of the brain, can have remarkable effects on patients who otherwise seem quite advanced. It was very moving to see a patient all of a sudden light up at something we played. Music can trigger memories that are otherwise buried. One patient got up and asked another patient to dance, and I have never seen such a look of delight as that on the woman he asked!