Marti's Blog

baseball, mushrooms, and the music of morton feldman

I used to find baseball deathly boring. I had absolutely no comprehension of the game, and could not bear to spend even 5 minutes watching it. I didn't get it. Then, in 1996, when I was dating my ex-husband, he taught me to keep score, which completely changed my perception of the game. Keeping score illuminated even the tiniest aspects of the game for me, and it sprang to life. Suddenly, instead of nothing appearing to happen, everything appeared to happen. The more I looked and noticed, the more I saw was there. The intricate relationship between the pitcher and the hitter now seemed so multi-layered. The symbiotic connection between the pitcher and the catcher- the almost psychic relationship the good ones have with each other- became thrilling for me. Watching the fielders- especially someone like Nomar Garciaparra when he first started to play for the Red Sox- showed me the complexities of reactions to what was going on at the plate. My favorite games became the intense low-scoring "pitchers' duels" that often went into extra innings. I learned to be rewarded by paying attention.

I was reminded of this several years ago when I attended a conference in Asheville, North Carolina on John Cage and his influence on visual artists. One of the sessions was a mushroom walk on the grounds of the former Black Mountain College, where Cage was in residence in the 1950's. Cage, as many people know, was an amateur- but brilliant- mycologist. As we walked through the grounds, searching for mushrooms, guided by a local mushroom expert, I saw nothing. Just trees and grass, maybe a few flowers here and there. Meanwhile, the visual artists amongst us were noticing mushrooms both tiny and huge that many of the rest of us did not see until we got close. I realized that the visual artists were attuned to visual observation; they were better at looking and seeing than I was. As I tried to pay better attention, I started noticing many mushrooms that I hadn't seen before.

Experiencing a piece by Morton Feldman, especially the longer ones, can be like a baseball game or a mushroom walk. Instead of just hearing the piece, one must listen with full attention and aural observation. When one approaches Feldman's music in this way, one discovers that, while on the surface it may seem as if not much is happening, in fact (in the words of pianist Andy Costello) Feldman's music is "action-packed". Noticing each tiny variation and expression of the musical materials, observing with full attention what happens to the materials in a piece can be thrilling and deeply  satisfying and moving. One's perception of time completely changes. Three hours can seem like 20 minutes. One realizes that a profound experience has been had, that close observation and attention can be richly rewarded.