Living and Music: Arcadiana, O Albion and Friendship

I’ve mentioned a little in previous posts (Beethoven 127) how much I think music can teach us about how to improve as communities, people, etc. I wanted to write about a piece which is really teaching me. My quartet this semester is working on Thomas Ades’ Arcadiana and it has been an amazing piece to work on. Every movement is challenging and so compositionally creative while still inferencing the past in a clever and resonant way. The heart of this piece is the 6th movement, O Albion. You can listen to it here-

First of all, this movement really reminds me how amazing string quartet playing and orchestral playing can be. You can take 4 people, or 70+ people from all different walks of life who have all had different days who walk at different speeds and play different instruments and breathe and beat their hearts at different rates, expanses, directions and they can sit down at an agreed upon place and start and finish something together.

So the beginning of this movement, the four of us align our breaths, exhale, and play together on that exhale. To be alone a whole day and suddenly to share breath is an insane experience I overlook everyday. But immediately, one of us diverges. We keep diverging from each other, stepping out on our own and meeting again on the same notes. I wonder if this is how rivers and lakes would feel- independent and meeting and diverging. Always, the gesture is a response to the impetus of the very first. In a string quartet, you are always trying to find the sound of another and the right way to respond to another, especially in a piece like this. I wonder how my friendships and relationships would be different if I put the same effort and ways of searching into them. Whenever one person plays the collapsing gesture, another person rushes in to do the same, like the way waves slowly hit upon the same things. I can see this in choreography so easily- clean white room, sparse birch floor, 4 people standing, take a step at the same time. Because of some inner yearning, an accidental step, arms fling out, and slowly close in again. Another person, either unconscious or aware of the other, has the same inner yearning, does the same. The end of the movement finds the two violinists and the cello resolved on an Eb chord. The viola however, keeps doing the gesture slowly and instead of finally meeting us where we are, the 2nd violin unresolves and joins the violist in unknowing. This is also a beautiful example of friendship- to leave the comfortable place to be in solidarity with another. You may not both have found the Eb chord, but you have found each other, is that better? Worse? Who can say.

I guess all I have to say is that I’m inspired by this piece to search deeper in my friendships and not to overlook the importance of sitting down with people from different walks of life who have had different days, etc. (which is everyone) and really connecting with them. This movement reminds me with one simple gesture passed around by all four people that a lot of us, if not all, are made of and act out of the same fears, needs, and loves. Day to day, I overlook others’ fears/needs/loves in favor of viewpoints that support my fears, needs and loves.

I’d like to stop,

Ling Ling

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