Nero Burned Down the House

neroThis past Saturday, I was pleased to be invited to the NAC symphony for the third time in as many months. You see, my girlfriend’s mother works at the NAC, and is privy to all of the inside information, from which violinist is dating which oboist, to what colour shirt goes better with Mozart. She’s also quite generous in doling out free tickets to those around her who would appreciate a night of cultural aggrandizement.

This weekend, as part of the NAC’s “Pops” series I was treated to the full orchestra led by one Peter Nero, a gentleman of music if I’ve ever seen one. From his silky white locks to his carefully groomed facial hair, I knew from the moment he took his place at center stage that he would be a spectacle to behold. He had the air of a conductor, yet none of the pomposity (as evidenced by the string of jokes he decided to warm the crowd up with). Granted, some of them may have been a bit over the age limit of anyone under 70 (who’s Gertrude Pall?), but others coaxed out a chuckle. All in all, he was a very jovial guy.

But it wasn’t until he began playing that I realized the music legend this guy must have been in his heyday (if his heyday is even over). I mean, here was a man easily over 80, literally playing the piano with one hand and conducting the orchestra with the other. Leaping back and forth from his piano bench to the conductor’s pulpit like a marmoset on methamphetimines, he led the full orchestra on his arrangements of Gershwin pieces, some John Williams stuff (from Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind), a Beethoven tribute with heavy jazz influences, and a full jazz instrumental interpretation of the entire West Side Story score.

The highlight for me (though I really loved the Beethoven bit) was when he broke out Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. For those of you who can’t picture the tune in your head, you’ve heard it on Fantasia 2000. It’s the music for the animation set in New York City, where there’s this young African-American construction worker with an eggplant-shaped face who keeps breaking out drumsticks as he’s working on the girders, as he dreams of being a jazz musician. All the while, the music takes him and some other Manhattanites through depression era themes (there’s another Italian-looking guy in a blue suit and hat who’s on the brink of an unemployment-fueled suicide). At the end, Disney sets everything straight: it turns out that the young construction kid quits his job just as the depressed guy is walking by to take his place as a jackhammer operator. The young black kid ends up being a jazz musician in a nightclub.

disney drummerDisney, you’ve done it again and put all the races where they belong, and just in the nick of time! We were almost worried there for a second! But, once again, your PR team realized that no one would want to see a cartoon where the Italian man is not a construction worker and the black man is not a jazz musician by the end of it. Just look at how happy he is!

Uh, what was I talking about? Oh yeah, Peter Nero’s awesome. If you’re ever in Philadelphia go see him or I will hurt you.


6 Responses to “Nero Burned Down the House”

  1. January 9, 2006 at 4:52 pm

    Nick, I like you, but frankly, it’s always bothered me that you’re NOT a construction worker. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go get drunk, beat my wife and eat a potato.

  2. January 9, 2006 at 5:25 pm

    Ryan, I’m reminded of the time I came over for dinner and you kept going on and on about the “rule of thumb”. If you’re wondering why I never come over for dinner anymore, it’s because of that.

  3. 3 Paslibe
    January 9, 2006 at 6:33 pm

    Peter Nero, a truly amazing musician. Great description of the evening, Nick.

  4. January 9, 2006 at 6:54 pm

    Dearest Paslibe, having been present at the aforementioned event, you can no doubt testify that there is no one like a good Nero.

  5. January 10, 2006 at 3:52 am

    I hope that you do, in fact, know where said “rule of thumb” originate from!

  6. January 10, 2006 at 1:48 pm

    I did a bit of reserach on it, and, apparently its mysoginistic origins may never have actually been confirmed. There were laws about spousal discipline put in place, but I think the “rule of thumb” might have just developed as a literal “wive’s tale.”

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