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Ralph Gardner Jr: Generating Music

House concert at the Gardners
Ralph Gardner Jr
House concert at the Gardners

That does it. We’re getting a generator. We’ve been saying that for years, approximately every time the lights go out, which in our neck of the woods is pretty much when the wind does much beyond whisper through the woods.

And last Thursday night it wasn’t whispering. It was shouting. So loud, in fact, that it felled a major oak across our back lawn.

The lights went out somewhere past midnight and with it the electricity, the water, both hot and cold, and the heat, of course.

None of that mattered. We come from hearty stock. I’ve been known to go a full day without taking a shower. And I consider reading and cooking by candlelight – the stove still ushered gas even if you were required to light it with a match – a quaint and romantic anachronism that I’m willing to endure for approximately the same amount of time I’m willing to go without soap and water.

We also have a wood-burning stove. When we bought it we had fantasies of it generating so much heat that the whole house would become toasty. Turns out the model we purchased is more ornamental than functional.

It has a lovely picture window that allows you to admire the flames and embers but apparently at the sacrifice of heat. If we’re lucky when it really gets rolling it will heat our sunroom, where it’s located and grace one or two other rooms with the semblance of warmth.

But none of our provisions all put together – the flashlights, head lamps, crank radio, stoves (both wood burning and coffee warming) – would have come anywhere close to meeting the challenge required of them last weekend.

That was to accommodate five houseguests in addition to ourselves Friday night and seven the following night as well as forty guests who were showing up for a house concert Saturday afternoon.

Fortunately, the performers’ instruments – a piano and cello -- didn’t require electricity (which may be why live music was the equivalent of Netflix throughout the preponderance of human history.) But their program, not to mention the mood of our guests, might still suffer if the musicians were playing in the cold and by candlelight.

Normally, when we call our electric company they’re at least able to provide comfort by offering an approximate time by which power will be restored. For some reason that wasn’t the case with this storm.

Visiting their website – my cellphone worked even if the Internet didn’t – under categories such as “cause,” “status,” and “estimated restoration” which in past tempests had offered cheery predications, now said only “investigating.”

Investigating could mean anything. It could mean their crews were clueless, overwhelmed, hard at work restoring our power, or dispatched to Southern California to help them deal with their Armageddon winds and fires.

The message, in not so many words, seemed to be – “Stop complaining. We’ll get to you when we get to you. And by the way, what fops hold house concerts in 2019 anyway?”

Perhaps they had a point. However, the performers, cellist Clare Monfredo and pianist Ari Livne, were on their way. Indeed, they constituted two of our houseguests – three if you include Nina Monfredo, a violinist and Clare’s sister, who volunteered to turn the score’s pages for Ari.

And then there were all those excellent cheeses, crudités, and various beverages that would go to waste if we were forced to cancel the event.

So the question arose – could we pull off a concert in the creeping dusk of an autumnal late afternoon, while greeting our guests after having not showered for two days?

Fortunately, things never reached that degenerate state. On Friday night -- just as I was returning from the Hudson, NY train station, after picking up the musicians and festively informing them that they’d be playing under conditions that would have been familiar to Beethoven, one of whose compositions they were planning to perform – the lights and electricity returned.

Normally, I suffer a moment of disappoint when they do. There’s something meditative about candlelight – my wife had studded the house with candles, votive and otherwise – but on this occasion I was more than willing to concede that for all the achievements of Vienna’s golden age of classical music, I prefer living in an era of LEDs and hot showers at the turn of a handle.

By Saturday afternoon things were well back to normal – if you ignored the towering oak, now an eyesore, splayed across our back lawn – and the house was filled with the melody of the musicians practicing their parts.

Even if your claim to being cultured is tenuous you can’t but feel better about yourself and optimistic about life with a concert pianist toying with Brahms in your living room.

And here I thought the greatest impediment to pulling off the event was going to be the questionable health of our inherited Steinway baby grand.

But the piano sounded excellent, the cello captivating, the light – both natural and artificial -- lovely, and the audience rapt.

Hopefully, there’s another house concert in our future but not before that generator arrives.

Ralph Gardner, Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found at ralphgardner.com

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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