Friday Musings: Virtuoso
As some of you may recall, I am a huge fan of the 2018 movie Call Me By Your Name and actually wrote a post about it back in March of 2018 that was entitled I Remember Everything, arguably the film’s most well-known line. A few weeks ago, I picked up a copy of the book, which I’d had on my reading list since I’d seen the movie. How I wish I’d read it sooner. It was fabulous! One of the issues I often have with movies that are based on books written in the first person is that we tend to lack the information we need to fully understand the emotional depth of their stories. In the movie Call Me By Your Name, we are given glimpses into what Elio is feeling, but only through hesitant dialogue and yearning looks. For example, there is a part early on in the film when Elio plays a song on the guitar that catches Oliver’s attention. Oliver wants him to play it again, and Elio eventually obliges, but he does so on the piano, making it sound very different. It’s not what Oliver was hoping for. There’s an exasperated exchange between the two characters, and eventually Elio plays what Oliver wants to hear. The relevance of this scene is hard to understand in the movie, but in the book, it becomes a moment that is highly portentous. The back-and-forth between the two characters happens in much the same way, but later that night when Elio is writing in his diary, we learn how much he is struggling with understanding Oliver’s moods, which range from ice to sunshine, and the extent to which he finds his own equally inscrutable. He concludes the entry by saying, “We are not written for one instrument alone; I am not, neither are you.”
I had dog-eared the page in the book when I read that line because it stirred something in me that I wanted to think about further. Elio is a virtuoso, the definition of which is a person who has great skill in music. He can play various instruments flawlessly, as well as transcribe pieces of music that were written by one composer into what they would have sounded like if they were played by another. Since I am a person who is not musically inclined, the idea of playing one instrument well seems daunting enough, let alone having the kind of talent that allows for even more. We can all think of modern musicians who move effortlessly and skillfully from one musical instrument to another: Paul McCartney, Prince, Taylor Swift, and so many more come to mind. Just a bit of research tells us that when a musician masters a new instrument, it may feel uncomfortable at first, but they are rewarded with a greater understanding of music as a collective whole. My son-in-law Andrew is a drummer, and he believes that when he plays a song on the guitar, it actually lends greater depth and weight to the way he would play it on the drums. He returns to his original instrument with greater insight. As for what happens for us, as listeners, when a song is played differently, we need only to listen to a few examples to learn that answer. Van Morrison has a cover of Bob Dylan’s It’s All Over Now Baby Blue that replaces the guitar with synthesizer sounds, Matt Hylom does an acoustic version of The Beatles’ Let It Be, and the Netflix series Bridgerton became known for taking modern songs like Wrecking Ball and Material Girl and converting them to string pieces that fit perfectly into the show. If we listen to any of these, or the many other examples out there, what emotions do we experience as we hear an original version of a song we love transformed?
Elio’s diary entry reminded me of a recent inspirational email I received from DailyOM that talked about the idea of each of us having a unique song within us that we are meant to share with the world. Is it possible that we take out different instruments to play that song depending on the situation in which we find ourselves? I think the answer is an emphatic yes. If we are in a place, literally or metaphorically, that feels uncomfortable or challenging, our song may be subdued and played as a single melody on a subtle instrument like the flute. This is the quietest version of our song. If we are in a professional setting where we may feel more comfortable, but know that there are still expectations of us, we tend to focus on making our song technically perfect and play it with a great deal of control. This may arguably be the highest expression of our song. If we are in a place or with the people in our lives with whom we feel at home, we will play the most exuberant version of our song, with improvisation and major chords. We will throw our heads back and close our eyes without fear of making a mistake because we know that it will not matter if we do. This is the truest version of our song, meant to be heard by those who reside within our innermost circle. There will be times when we have to pick up a different instrument than those around us expect us to play. There may be, for example, difficult moments when we feel anger take over and our song is played as a rising crescendo. There may be instances at work that are challenging, and our song may become subdued, rather than confident as we attempt to understand the problem in front of us. Even at home, in our most comfortable place, there will be days when the joyful expression of our song takes on a melancholic feel as we face the very human emotions of sadness, regret, or loss. When those around us hear these unexpected versions of our songs, they may react as we do when we hear a riff on a musical piece that we love played differently. It takes a moment to find the melody and let this new direction of the song settle in. One thing is for certain, each time we move between our instruments, we do gain insight, and we return to the truest version of our song with new information about ourselves. Our songs deepen and take on nuance as we become virtuosos that move effortlessly between instruments, our audiences learning to trust our performance, no matter what, hearing the melody come through clearly and truly each and every time.
For today’s cocktail, I decided to begin with the idea of using St. Germain elderflower liqueur as my key ingredient because it behaves so differently depending on the other components of the cocktail in which it finds itself. If we pair it with vodka or gin as its base, along with a simple syrup and lemon juice, the result will be a light and refreshing cocktail that is dangerously easy to drink. Similarly, if we add it to Prosecco, we create the sublime brunch cocktail known as the Elderflower Spritz. On the other side of the cocktail spectrum, however, there is the Elder Old Fashioned which brings bourbon and bitters into the mix right alongside St. Germain, resulting in an entirely different expression of this floral liqueur. Knowing this, I was inspired to go in a darker direction for my cocktail, and so I chose Suntory Japanese whisky as my base spirit. I then added lemon juice, St. Germain, and a small amount of clove simple syrup as the other components. The combination of these deeper, spicier flavors dropped the St. Germain down to a different level where its floral presence became far more subtle, yet extremely important to the cocktail’s flavor profile. Symbolically speaking, elderflower represents endings and beginnings, reminding us of the constant cycle of expression that is available to us. Cloves are thought to open our minds to possibilities and acceptance of things that are new or unfamiliar. Finally, sweet woodruff stands for humility, something even the greatest musician must always have. Cheers everyone. Happy Friday! In many way, this blog grants me the opportunity to play the truest version of my song. I’m so grateful to all of you for listening to it.
2 oz Suntory Whisky Toki
.75 oz St. Germain
.75 oz lemon juice
.25 oz clove simple*
Short shake over ice.
Single strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice.
Garnish with a sweet woodruff sprig.
*Equal parts sugar and water. Add a few cloves to taste and allow to steep.