Friday, June 15, 2007

Alan Shulman

When I was 20 my cellist friend and teacher Danny Morganstern took me to visit his friend Alan Shulman. I didn't know anything about Alan Shulman at the time except that he played in the NBC Symphony and that he had written a cello concerto for Leonard Rose. I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but then again, I was just along "for the ride."

This was back in the 1970s, a time when the adult world (of which I was not really a part yet) seemed to be divided between people who were "old school" and had lifestyles that were pretty much the same as they would have been during the 1940s or 1950s, and people who were "progressive" and "hip." Shulman was definitely "old school," as was his house, that had a sort of sun room that reminded me at the time of the sun room in the house where I took violin lessons ten years before. He played us a recording of Rose playing his concerto, and I was bewildered because so many of the composers I knew spent their time writing atonal music, and what I heard was strikingly expressive, and exceptionally beautiful and colorful. I found myself wishing that someday I might be allowed, if I ever had the chance to write music, that it could be something like his music.

Then he played us a recording that he said was the very best chamber music he had ever heard. It was a 1975 recording of Teresa Berganza and Felix Lavilla singing and playing Spanish songs. It was an enlightening experience to listen to this fantastic recording with someone who listened so deeply and with so much love for both the music and the music making. Danny tells me that we also talked about a lot of things, but all I can really remember is how much I liked this man and his music.

I went to the record store and bought the Berganza-Lavilla recording, and I listened to it daily for years, until I gave it to someone special (though I can't remember who) when I left the country.

When I started to get serious about writing music, I thought I'd write to Alan to tell him how much it meant for me to meet him twenty years or so earlier. I got his address from Danny, and then got a letter from his son Jay thanking me for the letter and telling me that his father had just had a stroke. Alan died shortly afterwards. Jay knew about the Berganza recording, and he made me a tape of it for me. I cherish the fact that it is a tape of Alan's copy of the recording.

I have been really fortunate to get to know Alan's music by working with Jay to make computer-engraved editions of some of his brilliantly-orchestrated pieces for orchestra, as well as through playing some of his music myself. His music has also been recorded, and continues to be performed, now that "old school" music is now "hip."

You can listen to some examples of Alan's music here.

Sometimes going along for the ride can really change your life.

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