I was midway through my coffee’s journey, when I required the public men’s room near the Delacorte. A man was drying his underwear under the handblowers. Where was my explaining, comforting Virgil? The fact that it was underwear and not some other more benign garment or cloth took a while to register, but once it did, I had an immediate compulsion, a tic of the mind. “Aren’t all our lives, in a sense, just a matter of drying our underwear under hand blowers?” … the situation was dire. When I got home I dialed Metaphors Anonymous.

But before that, I hit the Great Lawn. I was forcing myself to Take A Walk in The Park, to stretch my fluttering, caffeinated wings outside the majestically decayed confines of the Greystone Hotel. I believe Sunday afternoons possess some unusual time-properties; they feel spread, like plains of hours. Endless Kansas time, the road heading off in every direction through taskless sprawl and corn’s quiet rustle. In this sprawl and under the blue Central Park sky in the breeze my eyes seemed very sharp, like every leaf was there, every hexagon of the sidewalk. I thought: they’re hexagons! Oy, Sundays: something sad about the flatness of everything, the waiting for something to happen which will not, the family dinner, the slow onset of evening and the cleanup of the dishes with the sound of the TV from the other room spouting idiocy, and no one saying what they really mean. For some reason, because of one Sunday afternoon in 1989, I also always associate Sundays with egg rolls. I’m just saying.

That was two Sundays ago. Last Sunday, I was playing the Bach d minor Concerto again with the Houston Symphony and I was having a great time. Each performance, however, the slow movement was infused with a bit more sense of struggle, some wish…

I came to realize that every so often my mind darts again to the left hand, which is doing some part of the ritornello, the ground … its unrelenting presence and movement under my melody is a powerful thing. I’m playing and suddenly the percentage of my brain paying attention to my left hand spikes … Oh yes, you are still there, mover (Creator?) … still doing your thing (Fate?) and everything I am doing is governed by you (Narrator?) in some way or another. Whatever fragment of the ground I happen to notice is preternaturally eloquent, always brings some rush of meaning, some sharp edge, affects my ongoing vision of the melody (yes that’s how I mean to say it), like some editor or kindly English teacher who scoops up your confused thoughts and rephrases them into insight. Otherwise I would be a idiotic singer going on and on in my lyrical way, effusing, boring everyone to tears, lamenting like Woody Allen, ridiculous, overwrought; but instead, the ground keeps me in check, its pace keeps me honest (so I must say what I mean, and only this), stops my voice from crowding out my brain. But! If I thought ONLY of the ground the whole time, there would be tedium … I would notice the scaffolding, recurrences, the grid, my logic, or the rhythm, in a sense, “too much;” it would be like living in a parking lot, only for usage, for passing, marked off but empty …

The wavering of my attention, my inability to truly multitask, to hear everything at once, becomes part of the beauty-tragedy. I am just Jeremy; thanks, Bach, for reminding me; not perfectly able to hear the “whole piece” (what is the whole piece anyway? certainly not discoverable on the page or in my mind); but I am able to appreciate my little flashes of reminder, to enjoy my vision that wanders and is drawn back into place, a vision in parts of a brilliantly conceived totality. And each blur back and forth comes with a little heartbreak, a little scrape of the irreconcilable.

And then the last orchestral statement after I am done: on Friday I literally shivered onstage (Saturday and Sunday, perhaps, I was too jaded, did not find myself as movable?) … My melody has worked itself up into a last frenzy, a last arpeggiated struggle; and in its wake comes again the same: which means, perhaps, nothing at all. Perhaps this is just a formality; in musicological speak it is just the framing return of the ritornello which is I suppose Italian for that which returns: tautological, superfluous. Instead of my space which I filled with melody, with ornament, there is just the empty space, the blueprint: whatever was behind the scenes. The set is stripped away, the worklights are visible, bare bulbs, the actors, tired, are shouldering their gym bags and heading home to their apartments to watch TV with their lovers and fall asleep and resume “real life.” A statement slash non-statement, the seemingly impossible display of a vacant space, of that which is gone, of empty Sunday hours where your clarity of sight is a strange, disturbing consolation.

North Wind, come down,
Unloosen the hands that clutch the sandstone walls;
Scatter the books of hours on the attic floors.
Clear all away, cold wind, and then, let all
Be clearness of sight that has dominion over
The mind that does not know how to despair.

—Montale, tr. David Ferry

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  1. Anna
    Posted April 5, 2007 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    Great writing.
    It always amazes me what musicians think about when they are playing.
    Some of the things Robin has told me that are running through his brain as he’s up there on the stage, make me wonder how the notes ever come out in the right order!

  2. Valerie
    Posted April 6, 2007 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    Thanks so much for sharing your experience in such a fascinating way. I really related to what you were describing -playing Bach- and appreciated your sensitivity.

  3. Emily
    Posted April 6, 2007 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

    Jeremy said: “Aren’t all our lives, in a sense, just a matter of drying our underwear under hand blowers?”

    So, is that the literal version of airing one’s dirty laundry in public? Who knows, perhaps your bathroom companion just finished having a naughty encounter in the Ramble.

  4. Jen B.
    Posted April 7, 2007 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

    Tingles. That is all.

  5. hari
    Posted April 7, 2007 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

    a walk in central park on a great spring day can set lots of beautiful thoughts in motion.

    maybe the guy with the undies had to get them clean before his wife noticed them. i wonder what he looked like.

  6. Anonymous
    Posted April 8, 2007 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

    He looked like a hobo, besides nobody soils their underwear when they have extramarital sex, we take everything off before the fun starts.

  7. Anonymous
    Posted April 8, 2007 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    Same load of BS every post.Stop navel gazing and things might improve, although htere is no guarantee.The cofee, the existential neuroses, blah blah blah effing blah, oy vey!

  8. Jeremy Denk
    Posted April 8, 2007 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    Heh. I love it. Give me hell!

  9. Anonymous
    Posted April 9, 2007 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    Oh Jeremy, I already loved you to death since having the privilege of seeing you twice at your recital with JB in Germany (last August and now in February in Münster) and even more since getting to know about this blog and regularly reading it (I told you so at the signing afterwards). But your hilarious answer to this blah blah blah comment made my day. It was just the right thing to say. I adore you and your sense of humour, your ability to write,last but not least your piano playing. Thank you from a devoted admirer.

  10. Anonymous
    Posted April 9, 2007 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    There is no question we all love JD and his artistry is impeccable. But the constant adoration of the fans makes for boring blogging. Need to break through the sugar here, so there. Blah blah blah.
    Rude anonymus #1

  11. Anonymous
    Posted April 9, 2007 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    Besides, it turns me on to get a response from J, unlike you all’s posts, he he

  12. Anonymous
    Posted April 9, 2007 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    Oh, come on, RA1, why should “the constant adoration of the fans” make for boring blogging? After all, its Jeremy’s blogging, which is not boring at all, never mind the comments of “adoring fans” or rather “devoted admirers” like myself.

  13. samantha g.
    Posted April 9, 2007 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    Fan-fight! 😀

  14. Anonymous
    Posted April 9, 2007 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

    I always enjoy your musings, Jeremy. Is there any way you could write a column sharing your thoughts on the response, or lack of one, to Joshua Bell’s anonymous performance in D.C.? Thanks.

  15. Anonymous
    Posted April 9, 2007 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, Jeremy. What is your opinion on that experiment w/ Bell last January after your free concert in D.C.? If asked, can you do a stunt like that here in Penn Station or 42 St.? bring your elec. organ and play some Bach or Ludwig’s to unforgiving subway riders?

    What do you think went wrong in that scenario? Do you think the classical audience are slowly fading? or people are just too pre-occupied in their mind for the task of the day that they failed to appreciate beauty for a minute?

    We need your blog on this. Today it’s been the talk of the net.

  16. Galina
    Posted April 9, 2007 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

    oh yes, do enlighten us with your thoughts upon jb’s performance! i admit, i’ve been rather curious.

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