A Tip for Musicians in Paris

Sorry for the long silence, everyone – we went away for the weekend and came back to find our Internet service had stopped working.  Troubleshooting with multiple phone companies is exactly the barrel of laughs you might have expected.  Cavalier, in particular, has lived up to its name with depressing irony.  So my next few posts are leftovers that never got published before the Great Internet Debacle . . .

For a music teacher, I live a remarkably music-free life.  Aside from the hours I spend in instruction and performance in my studio and church, I rarely listen or play much on my own.  I’m not sure why.  I think it began after I moved back home from New York; I found I had heard enough noise there to last through a very  extended silence, and I didn’t miss music even on long car trips and at home by myself.  Over the years I came to enjoy it again, but my laziness usually wins out: it takes effort, even the smallest sort, to put something on while I’m otherwise occupied.

[Aside: The other thing is that, as a visual learner, I cannot abide clutter in any form, and music feels like clutter unless I am focusing solely on it. I really do enjoy my students’ playing (and my own, when I can carve out some time for it) but it’s because it’s the only noise around.  Even a wiggly or talkative sibling in the room can ruin a lesson for me.  In the car, if I’m driving, I focus so much on the music that I’m afraid I won’t be able to pay attention; my last speeding ticket, several years ago, was the result of a rare trip with the radio on.  And my biggest complaint is to restaurants that blare a soundtrack so distracting I can’t converse.  Even sidewalk cafes feel the need to wire the outdoors so that you can’t possibly enjoy a moment of silence, save the tinkling of glasses and forks and the ocean’s swell of human voices enjoying each other's company.]

All of this is to say that it’s shocking and saddening how often I forget what music really means to me.  So it was an unexpected and memorable surprise to discover the Cite de la Musique at the Parc de la Villete one afternoon during our trip.  I wandered in to pass the time while the students were sketching in the park; I ended up staying long after everyone else had left, exiting only reluctantly when it closed.

(The Parc de la Villette, of course, is the sprawling complex of museums, lawns, and carnival rides that turned a seedy area into a bustling family-friendly mecca.  It's punctuated with bright red follies that are a fun, lively, challenging example of deconstructivism, and I may have just a tiny crush on the architect. A tiny one.)

Though my French is pretty good (and was at its peak after nearly two weeks of constant practice) I most appreciated that the museum was set up multilingually.  An audio guide is included in the admission price – an unobtrusive pair of headphones wired to an iPod-sized device that hangs from your neck or handbag.  Throughout the museum, there are short audio samples – instrument demonstrations and soundtracks to accompany the videos on the screens throughout.  You just enter the number that accompanies the headphones symbol next to the exhibit you want to learn about.  And there are literally hundreds of them – everything from historical background to critique and performance.  I wandered through the displays of instruments –grouped by period, family and geographical location – in awe.  It was an amazing experience.  Here are a few of my favorite photos:

A huge bell – taller than me.  Probably a good thing this one was behind glass; it would have been really tempting to hit it with the clapper!

Intricate detailing inside a stringed instrument – a lute, I believe.

An antique wind instrument – much like a saxophone – with anthropomorphic tendencies.

One of the first keyboard instruments; clavichord, I think (I should have taken notes!)  I thought it was interesting that the colors of the keys are now reversed.

A guitar with gorgeous inlay patterns.

My favorite!  I think this guy is some kind of recorder.  Love his toady face.

Part of a huge set of Asian instruments; I think she's part of the side of a huge gong.

Obviously, for a musician, the Cite de la Musique is an imperative stop on your Paris journey!  I hope you get to see it someday.