Monday, March 13, 2006

The meek shall inherit SQUAT

An entertaining and deeply interesting book I've been reading is 1421 by Gavin Menzies. It's about the fact that from AD 1421-1423, the Chinese circumnavigated the globe with a vast fleet of ships and planted colonies in several places, including North and South America. In reading this book, one thing really struck me: the commanders in charge of these fleets were given orders to "treat distant peoples with kindness". The officers and crews were either Buddists, Muslim or Confucianists. And certainly the peoples they encountered, from Austrailia to Africa to South America to the Northwest Coast of North America were of very different beliefs. And yet despite the overwhelming evidence of these extensive Chinese voyages and the colonies they started, there is precious little example of them being hostile or taking people, goods, food or land by force. And so in many ways, they assimilated into the native population, or at least lived in harmony. And thus have been forgotten.

No, it was the Portugese and Spanish, relying on the maps and charts created by the Chinese before them, who wreaked havoc upon the peoples in the lands they conquered. They took over the Indies spice trade that China had built over hundreds of years, and did so by force. They colonized North, Central and South America, by slaughtering thousands...

So despite Jesus's sentiments in his Beatitudes about "blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth", I must say that all evidence points to the contrary. Indeed, during my daily commute, it appears clearly that the more aggressive drivers get to their destination first. It appears that the more aggressive political leaders throughout the world are the ones who's policies are established. The more reasonable people may be concerned, and may even "organize" but they aren't willing to become ruthless enough to truly stop the agressors.

Hitler took advantage of this. Mussolini took advantage of this. Stalin took advantage of this. And we can look at our own history here in the US for countless examples of agressive, unreasonable people getting the land, the money, their names on statues, etc.

So I suppose it comes down to a choice: beat them or join them. Ironic how both of these choices involve becoming the agressor.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Tchaikovsky Bb String Quartet

For the past couple of months, my string quartet has been working on this piece. Our first violinist, Shane Snedigar, knew about it and gave us each a copy of the recording. However, he had been unable to find the parts. After an extensive web search, I was able to find it listed at Sheet Music Plus and ordered the parts. According to information that Shane had, it was a student work by Tchaikovsky. Listed on the part is "Opus Posthumous" so aparently it was not published until after his death.

As we've been working on it, the piece has really grown on me. In some ways, it is not as "mature" as his later works, and the main theme is not as amazing as his more famous themes from his more well-known quartets. However, it's endearing in its own right. And although it is not perhaps as technically demanding as his larger works, it is difficult enough to be challenging. Particularly the section with six sharps!

The form of the piece is interesting: it has a slow introduction, then the main body of the work is Allegro, then it has a slow conclusion echoing the first part. The whole thing is only about 12 minutes long.

We're preparing it to perform at the Albuquerque Philharmonic chamber music concert on May 21st. Seems like we still have a lot of time, but I think the difficult part of this piece is really bringing out the musical nuances. Now that we've gotten through most of the technical stuff, we can concentrate in this area. One nice thing about performing a little-known piece is that we have an opportunity to create our own interpretation without too many pre-conceived ideas from other recordings, etc. It's a fun process!