April 10, 2005
In this issue…
** The Magic of Music
** Horse Slaughter Issues
** Help for Horseless Horsewoman
The Magic of Music
A disclaimer: Most of you signed up for this newsletter when it was The Horsemen's Voice newsletter. You expect to read about horses here, and maybe some of my word play silliness. Fair enough. But this is a topic that is on my mind today, and if I am thinking about it, I am narcissistic enough to think you would want to read about it, too. If not, skip to the next section.
I am fortunate to be a member of the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra Chorus. Getting to sing with 85 great singers on stage with 75 or more professional musicians in front of 2,000 fans is a treat I wish that everyone could share. It's wonderful to be engulfed with all of that sound where you not only hear it with your ears and process it with your mind, but you feel it in your bones and it reaches all the way into your soul. The shared experience of more than 160 of us working together to create a unified sound is nothing short of - and I can't really find a better word - magic.
There are times, like in this weekend's concerts, where the chorus does not sing all the time we are on stage. We get to just sit and hear the musicians play, just like the audience in the hall. However, we have a great advantage. Being on stage above and behind the orchestra may not always be the best place to hear a concert, but it is certainly the best place to watch. Don't get me wrong. The sound up there is better than any surround-sound theater, but sometimes the music is directed out away from us. The compensation is that we get to see the workings of an orchestra most people don't. The audience members on the ground floor of the hall are mostly looking up at the orchestra. They see the string sections at the front of the stage, but I bet they only hear the brass and woodwinds. The people in the balcony can look down on the orchestra, but they are so far away, it's hard to really see much detail. And it's really unfortunate that the audience only sees the back of the conductor. From our vantage point, the chorus gets to see the maestro's emotion, passion, concentration, and joy. His communication with the players is not just with a wave of the baton and a point of the finger for a cue, but also with his eyes and facial expressions.
There was one moment in the concert this weekend where I was marveling at the skill and speed of the string players. I looked that the piano reduction in our choral scores (the full orchestral score is reduced to music that a pianist can play to accompany our rehearsals), and it appears that at that moment the strings were playing eighth note triplets in 3/4 time in a pretty fast section. I looked for metronomic markings for that section, but couldn't find them, but if it was an allegro where 72 quarter notes are beat per minute (I think it might have been even faster), and they were playing 9 notes per bar, that works out to one note every .28 second! And there were dozens of players stringing together hundreds of these notes, all perfectly in time with each other, and all perfectly in tune.
My mind wandered from the actual music for a while, and began to marvel at all that has to be done correctly to get that glorious sound. The bow has to be placed at exactly the right pressure on the string and pulled at just the right speed and the fingers have to be placed at just the right spot on the neck of the instrument. The strings are at the exact tension to vibrate to create the notes the player wants. The wood of the instrument is designed to resonate in a way to amplify the vibrations and create the rich sound waves and accompanying overtones. The musician has had to practice the precise motions thousands of times to produce the notes so that there can be no conscious knowledge of all of the movements of muscle, tendon, and bone that have to happen at just the right moment. The musician is reading the notes on the score at the same time he is watching the conductor and hearing the notes and feeling the vibrations in the body. The amount of processing that the brain and body have to do in that twenty-eight one-hundredths of a second can not be matched with any computer.
But here are acres of string players all doing this all at once. What's even more wonderful is that the sound is not only produced by vibrating strings, but columns of air are being excited by brass players blowing through a mouthpiece or woodwinds vibrating a reed. The percussionists strike taut membranes or pieces of metal or wood to create their own sound waves. Each musician makes his own type of sound waves that join together in a unified sound that spreads out through the hall bouncing off the floors, ceiling, and walls to enter our ears. And somehow, those sounds reach into our souls and enrich us. If that ain't magic, I don't know what is.
For this weekend's concert, I sat on the second row of the chorus just behind the tuba and trombone players. I sometimes feel like a voyeur looking over these people's shoulders and reading the score of the music they are playing. And I am struck by how the magic is working on another level. In our choral scores, we usually see all of the singing parts, and we have an idea of what the orchestra will sound like by hearing the piano reduction. When we learn the pieces we sing, we have a pretty good idea of how our choral parts fit together and in the whole of the music. But the orchestra players only see their own line. Any instrument may have the aforementioned zillions of notes, or just one quarter note followed by 87 bars of rest. I try to imagine the tuba player practicing his part alone. Just that one line that doesn't seem to fit anything else. Does he know that while he will be holding whole notes that the violinists' fingers will be scurrying all over their instruments? Or that when he goes "bum-ba-bum" that there will be an answer in the woodwinds? All of the musicians practice hours by themselves on their own part, and they come together for a couple of rehearsals before performance, and by the time the concert comes around they are all playing together in - um - concert with each other. These seventy five instruments each playing their separate parts make wonderful music in a unified sound. It's that magic again.
There is one more thing that I find remarkable. It's that no one in the hall finds it remarkable. We all come to the concert, listeners and performers alike, with the assumption that all of the players and singers will hit the right notes at the right time and create gorgeous sounds. The mechanics, physics, and physiology that are required to make concert music are all so complex they are hard to comprehend. There are 160 hearts on that stage, each one pumping blood to billions of brain cells that in turn send millions of messages to thousands of body parts that pull the bows, pound the drums, and vibrate the vocal chords to create the sounds that are sent via vibrating air molecules to ear drums into brains that tell another 2,000 hearts to beat just a little faster.
But as marvelous as that is, nobody thinks about it on that level. We think about the themes, melodies, harmonies, and rhythms. We are thrilled with the loud and boisterous passages, and we ache with the quiet passages that float effortlessly from the instruments. We come together as performers and audience to share the moment of music, and we leave the hall enriched in ways that we really can't comprehend nor fully understand why. The fact that we can assume that the remarkable will happen, and then expect even more - and get it - is (need I say it?) magic.
Horse Slaughter Issues
Another disclaimer: After my tirade about the Super Bowl half time shows and the comparison of Janet Jackson to Paul McCartney, I had two people write me asking me to remove them from this list. I guess I offended them. Since we no longer have the magazine, I am feeling more liberated about what I can say. I don't have to worry about offending advertisers or paying subscribers. With that said, I am about to launch into something that may be unpopular with many of my readers. Sorry about that. I may offend everyone eventually and I'll only have six or seven subscribers left.
That being said, I take a deep breath and jump into it.
Over the last few weeks I have been receiving e-mails from people asking for support for a bill to ban horse slaughter in New Mexico. I do not support such a ban. (This bill did not pass in the state legislature, by the way.)
There should be an abattoir right next to each auction house where the meat buyers buy the horses that are destined for slaughter. Having the slaughter houses adjacent to the auctions would do two things for horses. First, they would not be subject to long, painful, inhumane truck rides before they take that last long walk up the ramp to what Temple Grandin calls "The Stairway to Heaven". Second, just maybe people would think twice about sending their problem horses to the auction house if they know that the next step is likely the killer's stun gun.
I think there are a lot of horse people who have never been to an auction. If you wander around the pens before an auction, you don't see a lot of broken down or old horses. Most of the horses that are sold at auction are healthy, but no one wants them. As a result, they get sold to the people who ship them off to be slaughtered. I bet there are a lot of people who sell their horses at auction either don't know or don't care that the horses are likely to end up on a dinner plate.
It's not that I enjoy the idea that horses are used for meat. But the problem is not with the slaughter houses nor the people who ship them there, nor the auctions that allow them to be sold there. The problem is that we make too many horses. The abattoirs are just disposing of the horses we don't want any more. They are filling a need in the market.
If you don't want to see horses go to slaughter, put your money where your mouth is. Do your part and go to the auction and buy a horse. There are 12 horses at our place right now that would have ended up as dinner in Europe had we not saved them. About 10 more have lived here in recent years and have gone on to other homes. Nancy helped about 100 horses find homes in three years as the PMU FoalQuest representative and saved them from slaughter. If you are worried about the Forest Service sending wild horses to slaughter, go buy one.
If you don't want to see horses go to slaughter, encourage your friends to stop making ordinary horses. Stop backyard breeders from having foals just because they like having babies around. Unless your mare is a national or world champion, don't breed her. Unless your stallion is a champion, geld him. There are plenty of wonderful horses already on the ground and we don't need any more. Instead of breeding a mare to "calm her down", get her some training. If you want a dressage horse, or reining horse, or whatever horse, don't hope you get what you want by breeding your mare. Get one that's already here. I know of a woman who has three ordinary stallions who keeps about 20 average mares pregnant all the time. She can't sell the babies for much. I think she just likes making horses. It's people like this that should be stopped. It's horses like this that end up in slaughter houses.
If you don't want to see horses go to slaughter, maybe we can reduce the supply so that each and every horse is wanted and valuable. Work so that the killer buyers can't afford to buy any horses at auction because the prices are so high. Now, wouldn't that be a twist?
Believe it or not, we are making progress. In 2004, there were about 65,000 horse slaughtered in the US. This sounds like a lot, but compare that to 343,000 in 1989. Let's reduce the supply of slaughter horses another 80% in the next fifteen years. Maybe when there are less than 10,000 horses available for slaughter, the abattoirs won't be able to stay in business. Let the French, Belgians, and Japanese raise their own horses for meat.
If we change the horse community's attitude about indiscriminate breeding, we can slowly make sure that we don't have any more unwanted horses. A change in attitude like this will be more effective than using legislation to ban slaughter. It's not as quick, and it's more difficult to believe in, but it's a better way.
There is a story about a man who is walking along a beach and comes upon a young girl who is throwing starfish into the sea. There are thousands of starfish that have been left on the beach by the low tide. The girl is trying to throw them back into the ocean before they die in the sun. The man says, "Silly girl. You can't save all of these starfish." The girl thinks for a moment then picks up another starfish and flings it into the water. "But, I saved THAT one!"
The man laughs and he starts flinging starfish into the sea. Each time they throw another one, they shout, "We saved THAT one!" Other people see them on the beach and see what they are doing. Dozens of people step up to throw the starfish back into the ocean. Pretty soon, there are no more starfish to save.
How do we get the horse industry turned around so that there are no more horses that need to be saved?
Before I leave this topic, I thought I would share part of a column by Baxter Black. I saw this column in the Valencia County News-Bulletin, but I found it on line at http://www.thevictoriaadvocate.com/farm_and_ranch/ranch/story/2652798p-3075165c.html. This excerpt provides an interesting perspective.
Horses have been this country's most valuable beast of burden since Cortez turned 'em loose in 1535.
The motorcar diminished their importance as a tool in the 20th century but they have returned to huge numbers today as a toy, sporting good, pet or friend.
The middle ground is not so hard to find. In my observations one issue that would have to be faced is the idea that we have the right to deny other cultures our horses for human consumption.
It would be like Mexico refusing to sell their marijuana to our addicts because they think it's harmful, or India not selling us beef because their cows are holy, or France refusing to sell us pate because we couldn't appreciate it.
And, the supporters of the ban would need to concede that traders should be allowed to make money. This is America.
Which leaves the biggest and most substantial bone of contention - humane slaughter. As it was pointed out to me by one horsewoman, dead is dead.
The disposition of the carcass, be it dog food, taxidermy, wolf bait or Pierre's platter is irrelevant. Like most complicated issues, the answer doesn't have to be.
If Solomon were here he might say "waste not - want not, recycling horsemeat through omnivores beats dumping them in a landfill but," he would say, "horses are not cows, and they deserve an anesthetic cocktail before the .44 caliber entree is served."
Help for Horseless Horsewoman
In my newsletter in February, I published a note from Aphrus Travers about how she is a horseless horsewoman. She is at a time in her life where she can't have horses, but misses them. I asked for help from you folks for suggestions about how Aphrus can get horses back in her life without owning one. Here are some responses.
Martha Cather says, "I am always looking for people who are interested enough in riding horses to drive the 10 miles to my house and learn to saddle, bridle, and ride without my supervision. Most folks say they would love to come out, but they just never quite seem to make it there. She should just put up a sign at the local feed stores or run an ad in the local horse magazine that says she's a rider looking for a horse."
From Rosemary Murray: "Why don't you suggest to the woman in Texas who wants to work around horses without owning one, to help with a therapeutic riding program (check www.narha.org for one in her area), or a horse rescue-type facility."
Mary Sexton writes, " I spent many years with horses before I was able to have one of my own. I mucked and groomed at stables in return for riding lessons for my kids - you have to ask and beg. I still volunteer at a horse shelter. Shelters need volunteers to do mucking, feeding, grooming, hand-walking, round-pen work, and general socialization. I joined local equestrian and 4-H groups. They welcome volunteers for their activities and it provides an opportunity to meet and develop relationships with horse owners - some of whom have extra mounts to be ridden. I volunteered to be a walker with a disabled riding program where the walkers were responsible for mucking, grooming, and tacking up and they got to ride occasionally when the horses weren't being used. If you're just as happy working on the ground as being in the saddle, there are lots of opportunities to be with horses."
Aphrus's story prompted Brenda Neikirk to write about how she has had to be apart from her horses due to various injuries, including a spinal cord injury. She says that just being near the horses is her saving grace. She continues, "People have said to me, maybe you need to sell your horses. I think that's insane. My good friend in Idaho said, you would just die without horses in your life. I've even thought of signing up as rider in the therapeutic riding program. Sometimes life throws you curve balls and you never know what may happen. Please tell Aphrus to hang in there. Things will change. If horses have stolen her heart, she will find a way. When I was twelve my horse was taken away from me and I promised myself that when I was able I would have a horse again. Now I have three and plan to always be around horses in some way."
After I forwarded these notes, to Aphrus, she wrote me back.
"Thank you, Jay, these were quite heartwarming. PS, we now have a 3 mo old Puppy...on my way back into animal heaven."
Hey! Two weeks in a row!
Maybe I can get back in a rhythm of making the music of my weekly newsletter again. After averaging about two months between each one, here are two within a week!
I love hearing from you folks. I told Nancy last week that I need to write my newsletter more often just so that I can stay in contact with my friends.
And if you know anyone who should be getting this newsletter, please have them write me and I will get them on the list.
And I am still humming Wagner opera choruses after our concerts this weekend.
Copyright 2005 by Jay Koch. All rights reserved. If you want to share any part of this newsletter in any published form, please just ask.