Last Thursday I had the pleasure of attending the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra for the first time. Back home I had been attending the Boston Symphony for years and therefore I had certain expectations. The pieces that were performed at this symphony were a wonderful blend of familiar classical pieces and contemporary features unlike any I have ever heard before. The Orchestra first performed a piece by Beethoven called the Overture to The Creatures of Prometheus, followed by the contemporary piece Christopher Rouse’s Symphony No. 3, and then finally ending with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. The two pieces by Beethoven had several familiar tunes and were a pleasure to listen to, however the one that struck me the most was composer Christopher Rouse’s contemporary Symphony No. 3. When most people think of contemporary music, they think of present day songs that people in a crowd would know and be able to sing along to. However, after singing in my high school’s chamber choir for 4 years, I was already educated in what the actual meaning of the word contemporary in musical terms is. Contemporary refers to a style of music that contains many unmetered rhythms and dissonant notes, as opposed to classical which sounds harmoniously beautiful. Dissonance refers to notes that don’t necessarily sound good together when you first hear them, however when the composer shapes them in just the right way they’re meant to have the same affect on a trained-ear as a perfect harmony would. Christopher Rouse capitalized on those dissonance notes and artfully shaped them in ways that gave all listeners in the audience chills.
I found that Jack Schaeffer’s novel Shane and Christopher Rouse’s piece Symphony No. 3 had many similarities. Symphony No. 3 seemed to be telling a story within the notes that I found to fit quite naturally with the story of Shane himself. The piece started off with a bang, lots of clashing notes and what sounded like random chords being screamed out by each and every instrument in the orchestra. It most certainly wasn’t the most pleasant 40 seconds, until the piece took a turn towards a more peaceful glow. Dissonance still dominated the sequence, giving it a quite mysterious aura and moving the audience into a dream-like trance, almost like being in the eye of a storm. Within minutes, the piece was back to its thunder clapping, drum-pounding, and trumpet sounding clash that if anything awoke the audience from the dream-like state of the previous sequence. Once the tympanis and horns had settled, the string section took over once again to reassure the audience that the storm had passed. In comparison, Symphony No. 3 seemed to tell Shane’s tale almost as perfectly as the book did. A man with a trouble past, as represented by the first sequence in Symphony No. 3, looking to move on and start a new life enters a new town and casts a spell on all of the townspeople, in particular the Starret’s. As expressed in sequence number two, Shane has this mysterious ambiance that follows him and the Starret’s in particular find themselves attracted to Shane’s mystifying ways. The third sequence, the all-power clashing combination of chords, represents the final stand between Fletcher, Wilson and Shane at the saloon. The conflicting harmonies show the struggle that each group faces at the other’s expense, which in the end is settled out for the final time. The fourth sequence, the more heavenly sounding of them all yet still a little off in accordance with the piece’s dissonant theme, sets the scene for Shane’s mysterious departure from the town and the Starret homestead.
Christopher Rouse’s Symphony No. 3 and Jack Schaeffer’s Shane in my eyes seemed to coincide with each other in ways that I did not initially expect. I felt as though after reading through Shane, the symphony really seemed to capture all the main aspects of the story that was being told. Like in movies, the soundtrack itself doesn’t tell the story. It’s there to help the listener know what to feel as certain points of a story. I felt as though Symphony No. 3 was that soundtrack to Shane, which therefore made the piece that more enjoyable. I loved attending the Baltimore Symphony and will surely attend again in the near future.