Partying for Sir Edward

Readers, you missed it. There’s never been a more uproarious assemblage of Elgar specialists than Sunday night, around 8, at Bard’s Spiegeltent.

I was in full end-of-summer celebration mode. I made my way expeditiously to the sangria counter—where little Elgar expertise was in evidence—but after two glasses, I still couldn’t get the Herbert Howells Piano Quartet out of my head. (It’s not that bad!) Additionally, memories of the reverent Dream of Gerontius in Gehryland were waging a pitched battle with the down-and-dirty Slavonic band playing in the mirrored tent: dialectical, diabolically different worldviews taunting each other across the lawn of my mind, while mother Nature relaxed into night, gazed calmly on. In the Elgar, death is the window onto harp-strewn, chordal heaven; but the Slavonic band, stuffed to the accordion’s gills with death, proposed no post-mortem.

I was alive. Neither musical answer seemed relevant to the question of now.

Even during the concert, Elgar’s vision of death did not sit absolutely well with me. I kept craving Mahler’s 9th Symphony, for example: something really despairing and not so comforting. Maybe it was the words? Death seemed awfully verbose. But then Mahler was not exactly concise.

What’s a party? You need some sentient beings looking for less sentience (a “sentience reprieve”); then there are inanimate requirements: beverages, snacks, tables, chairs, space to walk around, air to breathe. I wandered about the party for a bit like a camera; I was just there (essentially alone) to take snapshots. Tables scattered on the lawn, lights, clusters of people, each a bubble with its own modes of communication, each conversation part of some great tradition of party conversations, some well-worn path …

At some point I made the transition from seeing to feeling. I talked too freely, on subjects which were somewhat taboo. I tried, but I couldn’t quite read my own freedom on the faces of others. The True Party, perhaps, would be the breaking of every taboo, the yielding of every secret, the confession of every desire. After this hypothetical Ideal Party, in the grey light of the following morning, the only option would be drastic … some enveloping oblivion. A movie I have always loved is The Party, with Peter Sellers. It begins as a typical elite Hollywood gathering; everyone is having the usual chitchat; the roles are circumscribed; but Sellers is the renegade, the divine idiot who steps in and destroys virtually everything. This escalating destruction is the party’s success, of course; pleasure and destruction are related; a party planner is an oxymoron. The saddest thing in the world is the sour person at a party who glances at their watch and says “honey, isn’t it about time we go home?”

Elgar’s sense of death was very communal, oddly party-esque. As Gerontious is dying, he has a whole chorus of people to help him on, encourage him … The message is: we are all in this together. I like that. But Mahler, in good old number 9, with still a very large orchestra on stage, suggests the opposite: that we are all in it alone. Even (especially) in a crowd. A vast assemblage of musicians contrived to depict the ultimate savage solitude of the human condition. I like that too.

I found myself in a few unusual, unpredicted conversations. A man still in his tuxedo, with his tie untied poetically around his neck, seemed iconic, a relic of some party long ago. I consulted my brain: the Howells was still in there, sifting around; I sang a few diatonic tunes to myself, channeling my inner Brit. I ignored whatever music was playing. What was time?

There was a last dance. Just a few of us jumped around in the circle, exchanging glances here and there, exchanging coded meanings which we would later decipher, knowing we were the last ones, closing up shop. Each of us, I feel sure, was closing something different, something of our own, something for which this party was just a symbol. How profound! I laughed at myself constructing elaborate symbolic frameworks, enjoyed that too.

Then, by common consent, time was agreeably up. (The music ended.) We exited onto a quiet lawn. There were too few of us and there was too much night; we were dissolved in it. Occasional streetlights: paths curving off into the waiting campus: but mostly wonderful, friendly summer darkness. We’ve all seen this scene before, but don’t we love it, doesn’t it just send us to a wistful planet? The partiers dispersed, in twos threes fours, loudly or quietly: they dispersed into the night. Laughter echoed … nasal snippets of exclamations … in every direction diminuendo to nothing, thoughts expressed now far away, now part of the background hum of the world. In some dorm room somewhere someone was telling someone they loved them.

My own, undirected happiness took a walk into the night sky.

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  1. Posted August 22, 2007 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

    sounds like you know how to party 🙂

    and sellers seems to be good at playing characters who destroy things.

  2. Posted August 28, 2007 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    Reading your comments on Soho and here, the question leaps to mind. Do I have to give up Rock ‘n’ Roll before I know what “voice leading” is?

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