I wonder sometimes if classical music would have such a reputation for moral and cultural superiority among some conservatives if it hadn’t happened to have been the case that William F. Buckley loved Bach.
In any case, it was in part out of a traditionalistic desire to edify myself that I listened to the virtuosic violin-playing of Atlanta’s Bobby Yang, having no idea what sort of material to expect, knowing only that he’d been recommended by a wonderful couple I know, Nicole Beaver and Sandy Partowidjojo (who are getting married in Bali in two months, Bali being part of Indonesia and thus governed by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who was in the news this week for giving a speeh favoring peace and free-trade zones — thus, now the names of Yang, Beaver, Partowidjojo, and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will be forever linked in my mind, and I’m likely to smile a lot as a result).
Well, imagine my surprise when the first notes I heard from Bobby Yang’s violin were ones I’d just been debating via e-mail with my both-classically-and-rockishly-trained amateur musician and professional architect friend Dave Whitney: the opening of Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child of Mine” — Dave wonders whether its odd, beeping sound might have been more influenced by New Wave synth than, as I would guess, by Eddie Van Halen squeaky-little-guitar-noises.
Making very wise choices about when to adapt vocal parts as the violin’s bit and when to follow what was the guitar in the original, Yang’s next song was Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” (which may be the most recent song I’ve done in a non-home karaoke setting), and he does a beautiful “Space Oddity” and some awesome Led Zeppelin as well — finishing up, as it happens, with what Yang considered the toughest of all these numbers, the transcendent “Hot for Teacher” by the aforementioned Van Halen, Bach-like in its own way.
And thus the defining instrument of Western civilization, the violin, spans past and future, and rock’s beauty is again affirmed. May philosophy and politics come to see as much fertile mixing as artists naturally and non-tribalistically employ.
P.S. I heard Yang after seeing a free screening of 10,000 B.C., but the film did not fill me with hope that the best aspects of past and future can be productively blended. It just made me appreciate how much better Apocalypto had been.