Thursday, October 16, 2008

The six candles

Yesterday I lost a musician very dear to me, Harry Taub. I am starting to think I should get combat pay, doing my job! You get close to these wonderful old men twice your age and this is what happens.

On the other hand, what I keep reminding myself is, I would not want it any other way. I was thinking, well, if I didn't write about music for the paper, I would not have known Harry Taub --hence yesterday, when he died, I would not have been feeling as if I had been hit by that Monty Python 16-ton weight. I am honored to have known Harry and to have kicked around his house drinking coffee and talking about Yehudi Menuhin and Jascha Heifetz and Mischa Elman and other heroes of his. Harry was nice and let me talk about Leonard Pennario. Not at great length, but still.

When I was in California with Pennario the first call I got on my cell phone, out there on the other side of the world, was from Harry. I was so happy to talk to him. I told Pennario about it. Pennario was nice and let me talk about Taub. Not at great length, but still.

I told Leonard how Harry had been with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra for 51 years. Leonard could not believe that. "How is that possible?" he said. "That's amazing."

Harry was two months older than Leonard. 1924 was a good year.

There is one legacy Harry left me which is kind of peculiar now that I think about it, and this will bring me to -- you knew this was coming -- the supernatural story of the day. I wound up going to the Latin Mass because of him.

This is odd because Harry was Jewish and you would not think he would be the one to cause my life to do this great Catholic backflip. But what happened was, last fall, I went to St. Anthony's Church downtown for a concert because they were playing a piece Harry had written. The piece was "Migdal Hamalka (Castle on the Queen's Side)." Harry Taub was a great chess player.

Harry sat modestly with his wife, Suzanne, in one of the church's back pews. I got to sit in front of them. "Migdal Hamalka" was a beautiful piece -- I think I wrote in the paper that it seemed to float on the air, because it did. Unlike a lot of modern composers Harry loved melody. The audience loved the piece as much as I did, and they cheered and cheered. There is a moment I will always remember, turning around and enjoying seeing Harry basking in the applause. What a beautiful evening that was. I am so glad I was there for it.

Anyway. That was a Saturday night. I saw a sign at the church saying the Latin Mass was at 9 a.m. Sunday morning. And I thought, maybe I will give that a try. As I am sure I have kvetched before, the diocese was closing my church, St. Gerard's. I had to find somewhere else to go.

So the next morning, 9 a.m., there I was. Back at St. Anthony's.

Wow, was that first Latin Mass confusing! I didn't know when to sit or stand. I had a booklet I picked up at the door but I couldn't begin to follow the chants. They give you the actual medieval scores, with four staves and square-shaped notes. Great. Sing that!

There were clouds of incense, which I was not used to. A few things blew my mind. I loved that there was a prayer called the Secret Prayer. The priest says it silently. It is none of our business! Then there was this little ceremony I still look forward to every week because it is so odd. What happens is, one of the altar boys takes the incense burner, and he walks to the head of the center aisle. The congregation stands up.

The altar boy bows to the congregation. The congregation bows to the altar boy. Then the altar boy sends clouds of incense over the congregation. Then he bows again. And we bow again.

Then he retreats and we sit down.

Don't you love that? I could not get over that. It is like something out of Japan.

But here is what is supernatural. When you write about this stuff, it's easy to giggle about it, and I really do find myself smiling as I tell about the incense ceremony and the Secret Prayer. Trust me, though: When I remember my first Latin Mass, though, the biggest thing in my memory is how frightening it was.

Think of "The Exorcist." How scary that was, when you knew you were dealing with the powers of heaven versus the powers of evil. That is what the Latin Mass reminded me of. For the first time in my life, I knew something serious was going on up there, something that was no joke, that was channeling something bigger than we are. I actually stopped and thought about it. And it absolutely flattened me. They light six candles for a Latin High Mass. I kept looking at these candles. And afterwards, when the altar boys came out and put them out, I was still looking at them, with the smoke curling up from them, thinking about what had just happened there. I felt as if I couldn't move.

That was a few weeks before I met Pennario.

I am telling you, I have had quite a year.


Anonymous said...

It's so sad to lose Harry, but one memory makes time stand still and will not ever fade. His violin accompaniment to Ron Martin's "The Bird of Dawning", sung by Denise Blackmore (words from Hamlet, Act 1, scene 1) on Christmas Eve. Shalom, Harry, and thanks.

Some say that ever 'gainst the season comes,
Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long;
And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad;
The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, or witch hath power to charm,
So hallow'd and so gracious is that time.

Anonymous said...

Re the Latin Mass, I'm surprised to read that they had booklets and materials with the chant on them. As I recall it from my childhood, the mass was strictly a spectator event. Many old timers stayed in the back and said their rosarys or other prayers. When it changed in the middle 1960s, I used to hear complaints from them that they had to participate. I think that one of the functions of the communion rail was to bar the laity from the altar area. Didn't the rood screens in churches of the middle ages also serve that purpose?

Treestrings said...

Mr. Taub is the teacher that got me to where I am. I studied with him for about 6 years before going on to college. I would not be the violinist, musician, and conductor that I am today if it had not been for his effort and many times my tears for not being prepared for his incredible insight and time. There is a void that is in my heart but also a warmth as I remember him and honor him with my music.