Today I'm thinking about these lines from John Berryman: "Fall is grievy, brisk. / Tears behind the eyes // almost fall. / Fall comes to us as a prize / to rouse us toward our fate." (From his Dream Song 385, which someone has put online here.)
I've been listening to Jon Appleton's The Russian Music this fall. The first disc, mostly: the piano concertos. They ripple and roll. They're a bit akin to Philip Glass (his Metamorphoses -- also well-suited to fall, if you ask me.) But this piano music is moodier. More Russian, I suppose. Though when I ran across the Berryman quote (above) in my commonplace book, it made me think of Appleton, too.
It occurred to me to share the first track with you, the one I've been loving so much, "Julia - I Con Fuoco," though YouTube failed me. I found a young Jon Appleton playing the synclavier, which is a very different thing entirely. I found Moscow Meat, a short film about Jon discovering Russian composers in Vermont. And this short interview with Jon, filmed about a year ago in his home in Vermont:
But he speaks there a great deal about electronic music, and while I have no problem with his electronic work, it's his analog work with which I have fallen in love.
Then I realized that you can hear that first track at the publisher's website. Go to Jon Appleton - The Russian Music -- click on the image of the cd cover, Jon holding a fur hat in front of a wintery wood, and you'll be whisked to another webpage where the first track will automatically play.
As I write these words the autumn sun is streaming through the windows. Our small white and peach cat is curled up on a flat surface in a sunbeam, her tiny ribcage rising and falling as she sleeps. But this music swirls around me like the ocean, like benevolent rain. In the Jewish liturgical year (and what is liturgy if not poetry, carefully-crafted for audible recitation?) we have just moved through the fulcrum of Shemini Atzeret, a festival (little-known outside of the Orthodox world) when we recite prayers for rain, when we beat willow fronds on the ground until their leaves fall like rain, and when we swap the one-line prayer for dew which we've been reciting all summer during our daily Amidah for a one-line prayer for rainfall.
Jewish tradition holds that it's improper to pray for something entirely impossible. So we don't pray for rain during what is, in the Middle East, the absolute dry season. Instead we pray for life-giving dew. But now that Shemini Atzeret has passed, we pray once again for God to send the rains. Today is bright and gold, but this piano music swirls like water.
I bought these cds on a whim just as we were entering into the emotionally and spiritually tempestuous season of Elul and the Days of Awe. Along with the hypnotic Hebrew chanting of my friend and colleague "the Kirtan rabbi," they've kept me on an even keel.
I don't suppose there are many of us alternating between Russian piano concerti and Reb Drew's call-and-response settings of the mourner's kaddish.The kirtan is probably more of an acquired taste -- ideal for those whose Jewishness has included forays into meditation, yoga, perhaps the occasional trance state. But there's something in both of these which feeds me. Each listening brings me something different. It's a bit like reading the Torah, I suppose, which my community has just recently begun again. "[E]ach year the words are the same / but something in us is different."
My maternal grandfather, of blessed memory, was Russian. I don't know whether he would have felt any connection with Jon Appleton's music -- nor, for that matter, Tom Waits' Russian Dance, which always tugs at my ancestral heart strings. Though for my part it's still too early in the year for that one. The Black Rider tells us itself which season it best suits ("No prayers for November to linger longer") -- whereas now we've barely entered into October. It's still too warm and bright for the Black Rider. As leaves slowly spin down from their previous arboreal homes, I'll stick with the cascading waterfalls of Appleton's piano.
Full disclosure: I discovered Jon's work because his cds are published by the same Montréal-based independent publishing house which brought out my first two book-length collections of poetry. But I'm pretty certain I would love this music even if we weren't part of the same stable.