Yes, there was Harold. But – as Laurie Sucher so evocatively notes – there was Harold’s extraordinary spawn, the kids he attracted and nourished, and the extra-curricular society they lived in beyond rehearsals.
For five years, every new year began at the stroke of midnight with the crashing dmin9 chord of Carmina Burana, with Joel Meltz at the piano, conducting, and playing two-handed the four-handed orchestral reduction, and Charlie van Tassel, all six-foot something of him singing the roasted swan in perfect falsetto. The turning of the year, the turning of the wheel, the Goliard poets invading the 20th century with songs of drunkenness and love in ecclesiastical Latin and middle-high German. What could be more Renaissance Chorus-y for these far-heirs of Josquin and Co.?
It ruined me for life. Throughout college, I never went to a party that didn’t involve sight-singing or play-throughs of this or that. “Party!” We’d each hit the 58th St. Music Library, and instead of wine, bring scores, parts and instruments, our contributions to these extraordinary potlucks. So who ever wanted to go to any other kind of party again? Not me. Where’s the music making? Hence, I don’t go to parties anymore.
And another series of events – equally extraordinary: Joel, as traditionally apolitical (perhaps beyond-political) as he was, conceived the astounding idea of protesting the Vietnam war with leaflets of Renaissance music. We handed out sheets of paper to innocent crowds. On one side, Dunstable's Quam pulchra est, et quam decora, carissima….; on the other, the face of a napalmed child. How beautiful it is! Dear one! My eyes still tear up at the thought. [Here's a sample]
This was, for me, one of those transcendent acts of art beyond words, beyond even understanding. Surely few who were handed the sheets could read or imagine the music or understand the Latin. And many of those who turned the sheet over would toss it upon seeing that ravaged, beautiful face. But the very existence of those two images, graphic and aural, ancient and contemporary, as two sides of the same plane… Unspeakable is unspeakable.
But speaking (now twice) of Joel Meltz, I just last month published a new novel stemming from his Fan Man notoriety and adversarial relationship with its author. The Annotated Nose dips into Joel’s Music & Art life for its high school sections, and some of you may recognize some of the comic incidents, though all are gussied up, and some simply imagined by a Bronx Science furriner. Rowena, too, makes a cameo appearance. It goes its merry, crazed way after that. I apologize for the price (not my decision, and lots of production in there), so order one for your library if it’s too much. Amazon is cheapest, and there is free shipping. You’ll have to click on “hardcover”, as they got the top listing wrong (there is at present no paperback), and getting it corrected is like trying to contact the Castle.