Alistair MacLeod

Richard Goode once told me that his ideal day would consist of reading and practicing, interspersed. This was intimidating; I don’t imagine being able to sustain that “artfulness” (or artyness?), without healthy doses of the sensual, the silly, and the plain idiotic. Thus in between chromatic Bach fugues, I feel it is necessary to watch WB shows about tanned surfers and their difficult, complex 15-to-19-year-old life problems. While watching said shows, I tend to eat delicious spare ribs and house special fried rice from my nearby Vietnamese restaurant.

But the fact is, I have been reading, and really enjoying, this book of stories, Island, by Alistair MacLeod. And this passage sums up (though speaking about miners in Nova Scotia) some of the classical musician’s plight:

“… I would have liked to reach beyond the tape recorders and the faces of the uninvolved to something that might prove to be more substantial and enduring. Yet in the end it seemed we too were only singing to ourselves. Singing songs in an archaic language as we too became more archaic, and recognizing the nods of acknowledgement and shouted responses as coming only from our own friends and relatives. In many cases the same individuals from whom we had first learned our songs. Songs that are for the most part local and private and capable of losing almost all of their substance in translation…”

It is funny when you are most absorbed in your work (as I am now) and most convinced of its substance (as I am now), that the pessimistic flip side raises its voice convincingly as well.

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