May 2009

Our Shared Humanity - and the End of an Era

May 1, 2009 03:19

"A crossroads of maestros and tyros, the venerable Joseph Patelson Music House in Manhattan has been like a living room for the classical music world.

For more than six decades its shelves bulged with the fruit of Mozart and Bach, Stravinsky and Strauss, to be plucked by shoppers who wore its wooden floors black and sought counsel from expert and sometimes cantankerous sales clerks.

Yes, you know it is coming: Goodbye, Patelson’s."
-Daniel J. Wakin, New York Times

Yes, it was from this article in the New York Times that I and many in the world found out that Patelson's Music House was closing its doors.

I have been to Patelson's only twice - an odd thing to many, I'm sure, considering that I AM a classical musician, but I studied at Rice University in Houston and my trips to New York were rare. It was in 1995 that first traveled to the city with violin in hand (for my Mannes College of Music audition - grad school auditions, those were the days, no?) and it was during that trip that I ventured into Patelson's Music House and bought Bartok's Second Violin Concerto.

My second visit to Patelson's was yesterday.

A friend and I went into the city with the intention of filling holes in our respective music collections. This was simple for me: a few orchestral parts and perhaps some chamber music and other things that I absolutely need. Choosing those things was easy - it was deciding which small composer prints to purchase that became difficult!

"At the store the atmosphere is sad and lonely. The holdings are a shadow of what they once were. On the wooden shelves heavy cardboard dividers with composer and work names written neatly in felt-tip pen line up with little music between them."

Although written two weeks ago, Mr. Wakin's description of the store is more than accurate - the place is bare. Apparently the plan is that the store will remain open until either all or most of the remaining inventory is gone, there is no set final date.

While I was happy to have had the opportunity to replace some things (yes, it's still going on), I had a very strange feeling during the entire visit, and I shared it with one of the salespeople: "I kind of feel like I'm looting," I said as I placed my small stack of violin parts from Beethoven and Brahms symphonies on the counter.

There were conversations with other patrons as well as the salespeople - the two men working yesterday seemed to be handling this transition with grace, preparing themselves for new ventures as we all have at times. A piano teacher (who looked conspicuously like a long-lost relative) and I spoke about the remaining retail options for buying sheet music and supplies in the city. Nevertheless, while everyone was in good spirits there was a sadness in the air, a reminder of the ephemeral nature of this life and the larger reality that everything can change.

During that first trip to Manhattan in 1995, I found myself feeling oddly protective of a half-eaten bagel while on the subway when, during the ride, a homeless person came into the car asking for assistance. I'm somewhat ashamed to admit this, as well as to share my thoughts from that moment ("His backpack is in better shape than mine", I thought as the man moved slowly and desperately through the crowded subway car in 1995).

Fourteen years later - after a few profound changes in my own life, including Hurricane Katrina and these years that have followed - I can only hope that I'm a bit more human and compassionate. While walking back to Grand Central Station my friend and I passed a homeless man on Fifth Avenue. Unlike the man on the subway fourteen years ago, this man sat on the corner, sign in his lap, saying nothing - and the world passed him by, pretending not to see.

I went back to share what I had - I do wish that it could have been more - and took his hand...

...I think he smiled. At least his eyes did...guess we do come full circle after all.

More from the road,

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