Living as a graduate student in the New York City of the mid-to-late 1960's, I survived (and rather well I thought at the time) on twenty-five dollars a week. Food wasn't a problem, for there were as many hearty, bottom-line eateries then as there are pricey Northern Italian ristorantes now. Heady times indeed for a Jewish kid who'd been brought up on on boiled chicken processed through a deflavorizing machine.
The trick was finding the time to read all of modern literature, attend classes, teach my first classes, protest the war, fall madly in love every ten minutes, write the heroic gibberish I mistook for poems, while at the same time seeing at least five or six concerts a week. For a music lover, New York City was the pot at the end of the rainbow, and I was determined to take full advantage of the incredible luck that had landed me there in a dormitory room the size of a Edwardian bathtub.
Happily, there were many free concerts to keep me on the go. Before it moved downtown, the Julliard School was located on Morningside Heights, and there one could see the Julliard Quartet performing complete cycles of Bartok and Beethoven for the price of an hour's wait in line. On Sunday afternoons, for sixty cents, I could hear the likes of Igor Markevitch, Ernest Ansermet, Karl Bohm, and Jascha Horenstein conduct the American Symphony, the training orchestra Leopold Stokowski had formed as a hedge against his later years. For a mere two dollars, I could sit in the first two rows of Carnegie Hall and hear the legendary orchestras I'd long admired on records--the London Symphony, the Concertgebouw, and the Czech Philharmonic among them. Of course, from so close-up, all these orchestras tended to look alike: a sea of black shoes, hose, slacks, and dresses. Naive as I was, it took me by surprise that no two of these famous ensembles sounded even remotely alike.
As for opera, there was always standing room at the Met, but I much preferred the cheaper score desk seats up in the stratosphere that were meant for scholars more interested in following the score than watching the opera. But I soon found that if I braced my legs on the desk and leaned over the railing at a ninety-degree angle, I could see most of the stage, and in just that position I heard my first "Valkyrie" with Herbert Von Karajan conducting. What did it matter I walked with a limp for several days afterward when I had Siegmund's "Spring Song" running through my head on repeat play? And even when I was dead broke, I knew a seat in the lobby of Philharmonic Hall (as it was then called) where, thanks to the screwy acoustics, I could hear, distantly but very clearly, whatever Mahler Symphony Leonard Bernstein happened to be conducting in the hall above.
These days I live in South Bend, Indiana with my wonderful wife Robyn where
we've taken the role of the crazy people with the four dogs. Also I direct the writing program at Saint
Mary's College (not to be confused with that other institution of Catholic higher learning across the street). Though I see nothing like six concerts a week, I try to take full advantage of all the music South Bend has to offer. At Saint
Mary's, for example, we're fortunate to have a world-class pianist and choral director on our faculty, and
they have been responsible for many happy moments over the years. Across town, the (Alexander) Toradze Piano Studio has made Indiana University at South Bend its permanent home, and there one can see incendiary young pianists from the former Soviet Union turn a concert grand into so much kindling. On a good night, the South Bend Symphony can make a respectable, if not fine-sounding go at a late Romantic symphony. And every Spring, the Fischoff Competition rallies young chamber artists from all across the country. When all else fails, I crank up the volume on my stereo until my neighbors cry
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