Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony…SpartanNerd’s Music Review

          Nothing could taint the experience of finally seeing the Ninth Symphony performed live!  The Spartanburg Philharmonic absolutely nailed it…It may be the highest art Spartanburg has ever experienced, and this is an artsy place.  Worries about three of my students who didn’t arrive couldn’t scar it.  Neither the hazardous weather; neither the annoying synthetic buzz of the speakers in Twitchell Auditorium at Converse College: neither the horrible parking situation or record crowd audience.  No.  Beethoven’s music transcended it all.  This is a piece that I have purchased several times over the years, the first of which when I was sixteen years old and had my family scratching their heads.  A piece that I have taught about since my career began with glowing reverence.  A piece that I have never seen performed except in odd snips and pieces, and never with singers.
          The program started with the unconnected Modern piece, Charles Ives’ “The Unanswered Question,” which provided a point of variety and contrast, and set the stage for conductor Stefan Sanders’ remarks about the nature of life…the What, How, When, Why, and Where of life.  This piece has a pretty and controlled strings component, and “questioners” who played from the balcony, disconnected from the rest of the players, and playing with differing keys and tempos.  He explained that Beethoven strived to give us the answer that Charles Ives was also looking for with his greatest and final symphony.  He described the first movement as having an urgency, the second movement as a type of demonic dance, the third movement a tribute to love, and the fourth movement all about brotherly love.  I personally have always given deeper explanations of each movement…more technical ones.  But Mr. Sanders let his orchestra do the talking…
          As the first movement began, the straight sounds of open violin strings, the droning of the winds, the feeling of the orchestra being tuned, (a revolutionary idea in the great master’s day), the power of it all was too much for me.  My heart began to race and, yes, I began to cry.  How many times have I just sat and listened to recording of big-name orchestras?  How many rides from college back to Pacolet have I let this play?  (Yes.  Years ago.). I remember listening to this to go and pick up a pet rabbit with one of my sons, and I explained each movement and what was going on to him.  All of this crashed down on me at once.  To me the Spartanburg Philharmonic’s rendition was devastating, powerful, and unashamed to make statements in every way.  And the tempo that they played it in was perfect, not dragging at all.  And as annoying as that droning synthetic speaker sound in that room was, It was completely washed away by the raw strength of the orchestra.
          During the break between the first and second movements, you could hear a torrential downpour as a storm raged outside.  This was God smiling at us as we listened…the second movement evokes a tempest, and this heavy rain made a perfect backdrop.  As I listened, I noticed how perfectly balanced this orchestra is.  I have a few recordings that sometimes when I listen to, and feel like the recording or the players don’t sound as spot on as they could.  We had good seats for this concert…it’s true.  But the orchestra itself was pristine.  Never all night was there a single time that a horn was too loud, a section overpowering, or even a drum too tight.  I mention that I have never seen the Ninth Symphony performed live before, but I HAVE seen this movement performed a few times.  But the Spartanburg Philharmonic brought the greatest performance tonight.
          As there was another break before the third movement, something odd happened that I didn’t understand until later.  Four singers entered the stage and took a seat at the front.  For this event, the choir that was to sing the Chorale at the end was seated onstage for everyone to see.  But these four entered and took a seat up front, undoubtedly the soloists who would sing in the final movement.  And suddenly I had a slight panic.  There was to be no singing until the fourth movement?  Were they skipping the third movement? (Blasphemy!). No.  Nothing like that at all.  I felt my tension ease as the orchestra began to play the prettiest part of the the Ninth Symphony, the Pastoral movement.  I do enjoy the melody of this part…it reminds me of some of Beethoven’s other work.  But I will be the first to tell you as a teacher that this is also the least exciting part of the whole work.  After listening to the thing several times, you know the real treat is in the fourth movement, and sometimes it feels like some of the extended phrases and sections of the third movement are hoops Beethoven has you jump through to keep you anxious for the end.  The orchestra delivered this movement nicely, and then…
          So why did those singers come onstage so early?  Mr. Sanders had about a fifteen second break in between the third and fourth movement.  I don’t even think the players rested their instrument or turned pages.  He froze in place, as many times I have done in conducting different groups…and then, with more electricity than the raging storm outside, the fourth movement began, and I jumped to the edge of my seat!  And so the conversation began between the low strings and the rest of the orchestra, and it is like every single note is stamped on my soul.  I look over at the cellists and bassists at the right, and then back at the other players on the left, anticipating and reveling in it all.  Beethoven wrote this when he was COMPLETELY DEAF!  And the classic themes of the three movements before, Orchestra Tuning, Thunderstorm, and Pastoral are all shot down, and then the low players begin to play the hymn of the ages, the Ode to Joy, and the rest of the orchestra follows suit.  Then on cue.  My kinsmen, the singers, they all stand in one accord at the right moment…the same electric music that made me sit up in my chair had me moving again as they all sprang into action.  I was pleasantly surprised to hear that wonderful bass singer singing the classic German text as we hear the conversation yet again, with words.  And how did this great chorus sound?  I was worried about the balance.  But it was sparkling and as pure as the greatest recording I have ever listened to.  And did I mention that I was glad to hear them singing in German?  My wife, sitting beside me the whole time, elbowed me in the side during the Turkish March and asked me if I was alright, and I realized again that I was crying.  The quartet delivered part beautifully, and when It was time for the rest of the chorus to come in with those notes…the ones with the droning trumpet…the notes that let you know a cathartic moment is upon you, it was ecstatic.  And the coda section of the piece, (should we really call it that?). This terrific group made it the greatest “mad dash” of all time.  Literally, the second that it was over, the audience roared in applause and stood to its feet.  The clapping went on for…five minutes?  And then it kept going!  Of course there wouldn’t be an encore, not after all that.  But what a rush!
          Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was the closing performance of the 2018-2019 orchestra season for the Spartanburg Philharmonic.  I want more.  Our city needs more.  Please keep this happening Spartanburg!

SpartanNerd…Why I play this game?

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Why do I play “Magic: The Gathering?”

I began playing this game around four years ago.  I had been playing Pokemon cards with my children, as well as Shadow Era.  I got into Shadow Era because I wanted a card game that was more in-depth and on an adult level.  (I was playing Poker online as well, but not gambling.)  Around this time, I began frequenting comics stores, and noticing how popular Magic was.  I thought it a little crazy that some cards costed over thirty dollars, and said as much.  (Not to mention Jace, Mind Sculptor…who at the time was $100.)

I made the jump one day when I found some cards on sale at Target…a “Deck Builders Toolkit.”  And It was during “Innistraad” block at the time.  But I didn’t know that.

Since then, I have moved my children into the game, and one has left.  The other teeters on losing interest, as children do and should do have shifting  interests as they grow and develop.  But I don’t see myself quitting any time soon.

Today I went to “The Mighty Moo” festival in Cowpens, South Carolina.  Then ate lunch with my family at Taco Dog, in Spartanburg.  Then proceeded with the SpartanKid to a Modern MTG tournament at the Tangled Web in Spartanburg.  This tournament turned out to be really small…we left at 4:00…but I needed to play some more.  So I drove up to Grover, NC, and played at Stormcrow’s Clubhouse Modern event.

Today was the first time I ever played two Magic tournaments, at two different locations.  I am not counting a midnight pre-release and then a “next day” event.  No.  This was a double-header.  And an incredibly full Saturday.  Am I a man obsessed?

I have recently built a re-animator deck, using cards from “Graveborn,” which was my Father’s Day present.  I grew bored with losing using Amulet-Primeval Titan…a fun deck but SUPER HARD to play.  Only recently did I realize, sure some of it is me, the pilot of the deck.  But that deck has losing built in if conditions aren’t just right.

To be fair, I know it is going to be awhile before I enter another tournament.  And I am probably going to miss the Origin’s Pre-Release.  😦

I didn’t come out on top at either tournament.  But still, I had great fun.  And the reasons I had fun are the reasons I play magic:

  • Sitting across from someone for thirty minutes to an hour creates a social relationship that I don’t take lightly.  I learn some things about my opponent.  And they inevitably learn that I am a Christian, a father, a teacher, and a minister as well.  I have time to talk to them and show them that they really are important to me.
  • Magic is a creative outlet.  Side boarding in cards is an act of reacting creatively to situations that aren’t always that clear.  There are a lot of “what-if?” questions to ask.
  • The act of playing in a tournament, at least for me, is an expression of deck-building, which is the biggest creative outlet in MTG.  I don’t “net-deck” much.  In this case, I knew I had encountered a lot of Splinter-Twin at the Tangled Web, so I sided in a card NO-ONE saw coming.  There was a moment in the tournament at Stormcrow’s Clubhouse that summarizes one of the reasons I play Magic.  My opponent, “Turbo”, was playing Tarmo-Twin .  I lost to two Tarmogoyf’s early game in match one.  I sided in “Batwing Brume,” knowing this must be his strategy.  He proceeded to flash in his Deceiver Exarch, put the twin on him, and then begin manuafactoring tokens.  I was surprised that he didn’t just say… “This is a million times.  They all have haste.  They attack.”  I’ve heard that line many times.  Instead, he made twenty-one copies, and declared attack.  I played Batwing Brume, using white and black mana…he attempted to Dispel that.  But I was ready with a Pact of Negation.  BAM.  It was an intense moment, when we both had tons of land on the field, and were vying for the greatest card advantage.  This moment alone was just about worth the whole day of Magic for me.  After this match, Turbo would go on to beat me in another intense standoff.  In that match I bested three Tarmogoyfs!  It could have gone the other way and I could have won if I had had another Pact…(but the way card games work is, there is randomness that beats you sometimes.  I am OK with that!)
  • It is fairly cheap entertainment…I don’t pay for cable or satellite.  In their place I play cards.  I acquire cards.  I collect and organize cards.  I read their flavor text and background stories.  I read about card development from “the mothership” site.  I make casual decks.  I play online occasionally.  And as cheap entertainment goes…it is me using my brain in an analytical and creative way.  I was thinking, as much as I enjoy playing guitar, it is much easier to lug around a red bag with magic decks in it than it is to lug around a guitar, chords, effects, and an amplifier.  At least it is easier to carry.  And while both activities help me get my groove on in a creative way, Magic is a quiet and reflective activity.  A great way to cool down after a long day of work.

I play magic for these reasons.  But as a parent, I have reaped other benefits from teaching and playing the game.  Playing cards is a good way to talk about odds.  Building decks is a way of talking about strategy.  Keeping a curated collection is a way to model taking care of cards.

And playing is quality time spent with the children.

Why do you play Magic, the Gathering readers?  Please let me know.  I know you are out there.  My reviews of sealed products are what gets me the greatest internet traffic to this site.  Please comment in!