Black Forest Curve Signs

I’m pretty sure, looking back on over sixty years, that Thoreau was thinking of me when he mused that some people“…hear a different drummer”.  I do not warm up to regimentation, shall we say.  It is, then, no wonder that I did not love being in the U.S. Army.  I was very lucky, in several ways during this part of my life.

I was in the Signal Corps, and worked in a CommCenter.  The walls were thick, the doors were extremely secure, and the droves of officers on my base were not even allowed into my workplace.  We were left alone, to do our jobs, without those nasty formations, kitchen duties, or even PE tests.

And, I was stationed in Germany; I tell people that I “fought the battle of Stuttgart”.  It was such a lucky place for me to land, and I was blessed to take full advantage of being in Europe.  I had plenty of time and opportunity to travel throughout West Germany; due to the number of high-ranking officers on my base, I was even required to live off-base.  I lived in a small German town, 14 kilometers inside the fabled Black Forest!  Thank you, U.S. Army!  I really mean it.

One of the eventualities of living that far off base, and working from 3:00 pm to 11:00 pm, was that I had to drive through the Black Forest late at night.  In the dark.  With very curvy roads.  My road, I discovered, had no center-line.  Neither did it have the solid, painted lines on the sides of the road, the ones that define the outline of the road, and the shoulders.  My worst discovery was that this road, as charming as it was in the daytime, had NO CURVE SIGNS.

I had never realized how much help curve signs were; they alert you, and let you know which direction you will be turning.  They mean the difference between driving on the road, and plowing through the ditch!  Ultimately, I had to create my own “curve signs”, mental landmarks that would alert me to particularly auspicious events along my chosen path.  It took awhile to develop my landmarks, and in the meantime, I had to drive very slowly.  Add a little fog to this scenario, and anyone would soon learn patience.

Years later, it occurred to me quite clearly, when practicing a Chopin Ballade, that all my technical problems derived from the lack of curve signs in the music.  What we most often see are notes.  But, notes don’t tell the whole story when we are playing a Chopin Ballade.  Chopin’s music can be quite physical, and unless the performer understands the physicality, they are lost, plowing through metaphorical, musical ditches.  I decided to develop my own curve signs for my Ballade.  I decided to practice patience.  When I broke tempo in a series of “tempo hiccups”, I forced myself to slow down.  I watched for curve signs.  I prevailed.

Building my own curve signs has become a regular part of my study with any new piece.  It’s exciting, because, music, more than any road in the Black Forest, can have surprising curves, dips, bumps, with virtually no warning.  With the proper respect, I can avoid most of the ditches.


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