Friday, December 21, 2012

Sonic Genesis -- Christmas Music for Brass

When I was a boy, as far back as I can remember, my family would all get into our 1938 Plymouth every Sunday morning and go into the center part of Los Angeles to the very large church, which my parents attended. I didn’t like church much but I loved the music. Other than the boys choir, which I joined when I was seven years old, I spent most of my time avoiding the Sunday school classes and instead, exploring all the many secret passages, rooms and towers that were part of that huge church. Among those secret places, I soon discovered the organ pipe room.

I found this pipe room while exploring various hallways in the area behind the front of the sanctuary; I heard the powerful sound and followed it, it was coming from behind a thick dark wooden door. I didn’t hesitate opening it, going in, and my world changed forever!

It was a new world of beautiful, intense and tangible sounds, from the agile, sparkling, fast moving timbres of the smaller higher pipes to the thundering, ear tickling, massive beauty of the largest contrabass pipes. It was probably unhealthy and the ear damage possibilities were real, but I had no idea of such things at that time. Certainly, it was an extremely high decibel sound experience for the ears, it was also sound that could be felt in every fiber of my being. I went into that pipe almost every Saturday morning for a whole year, before and after choir rehearsal when the organist was practicing, until one sad day that magic door was locked. I was never able to enter again. I missed those wonderful weekly encounters with sound.

I also vividly remember it was at that same church where I heard live music for the first time. My mother and father told me on that crisp cold Christmas time Sunday morning that they had a surprise for me. I was sitting on my father’s shoulders in front of the church when the clarion sounds of a brass choir playing Christmas carols poured down on us from the church tower. I can remember so clearly between pieces, seeing the musicians with those shiny silver and gold instruments looking down from the tower to where we were standing; how I wanted to see, touch and try and play those instruments! A little more than a decade later that was to be the venue of my first paying job as a tubist. And even today, somewhere in some box stored someplace in the world I have a copy of those extraordinary arrangements. Maybe someday I will find them.

I wish there was some way I could find the words to formulate the question on an online poll: “What was your first live music experience, and did it open that magic door for you into the world of music and sound?” There must be many beautiful stories that would be fascinating to hear.

April 11, 2006. Tokyo, Japan

Revised December 21, 2012, Tokyo