Engineering and Mozart

September 15, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Is there a piece of music that immediately grabbed you the first time you heard it, that still takes you back every time you hear it, so much so that it feels like a significant part of your life? Right now I’m listening to Mozart’s Piano Sonata #5 in G, and I’ll never forget the first time I heard it performed. It was on the campus of New Jersey Institute of Technology, a university known more for its engineering than its music.

I was in the NJIT Honors Program in the late ’80s. We were required to attend a certain number of colloquia per semester. Before I got myself kicked out of the Honors Program, I was at one of these colloquia in the campus theater (where I later saw a fantastic performance of Godspell, the memory of which always gives me paws). The woman giving the colloquium spoke for some of it and played piano for some of it. I don’t remember anything she said. Not a word. She could have been talking about the technique of Mozart, or the history of the piano, or Fourier series, I have no idea. Apparently I was paying as much attention to her as I was in most of my freshman classes.

But when she played this piece, Mozart’s Piano Sonata #5 in G, I was entirely captivated. From the first few notes until the end, about 10 minutes later, time seemed to stop. Well, except that, if it did, I wouldn’t have be able to hear the music. No, it was like the rest of the world stopped. There was just her, the piano, and me. It was the first time a piece of classical music ever captured me that way. I had been similarly captivated by rock music before (Elton John’s “Ticking,” Nektar’s “King Of Twilight,” King Crimson’s “Starless,” etc.), but never by classical music. This was new and completely unexpected. I was in another headspace for the entire rest of the day.

Soon I was searching for Mozart Piano Sonatas at every record store I could find (this was the ’80s … remember record stores?) and with the help of my much more musically inclined friend, Edz, I found a CD in the CBS Masterworks series. Glenn Gould performed several of Mozart’s piano sonatas on this double CD set, including my new favorite, #5. It has been in my regular rotation ever since, now for over 20 years.

Dr. Richard Sher, you directed the Honors Program at the time, and you recruited me to it. If not for you, I would probably never have heard it. It is one of those pieces of music that has held my affection for years and years. It never gets old, and it always makes me happy. Thank you.

If you (anyone who’s reading this) were there and you remember this, or you remember who the colloquium speaker was, I’d love to hear it. It you have a piece of music (classical or not) that affects you similarly, I’d love to hear about that, too.

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  1. The only time I was aware of the rest of the audience was when we all applauded at the end of the first movement. Apparently we weren’t supposed to do that, as this moment of silence was not the end of the piece, but rather a pause between parts of the same piece. It is customary to hold applause until the very end, but we did not know this. But the way our speaker handled “correcting us” still impresses me to this day. She simply held up her open hand, gently signaling us to stop, while she remained intent on the piano, still “in the zone.” She held that demeanor after the second movement as well, so we held our applause. After the third and last movement, she smiled and bowed, signaling that applause was ok now. She then explained this custom to us in such a way that we didn’t feel admonished. She had grace.

    • OK. I was probably there, but I don’t remember it at all. Shows you what the impact of impact can be on ones long term memory. The only musical experience I can remember at NJIT that comes close was my epiphany at Laser Genesis that same year, but not nearly so much gravitas as yours. But I do remember walking back from the Laser show to the subway and being absolutely on a different planet.

      BTW, long time no contact. I simply MUST talk to you on the phone soon.


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