The a-MAZE-ing Labyrinth

When I was little, we had this board game called The a-MAZE-ing Labyrinth. (Actually, I think it is still in the garage.) I’ve never seen it anywhere else, but it was a great game: the board had a few fixed pieces on it, but the other pieces were shuffled and then placed to fill in the rest of the space on the board. Then players took turns shifting the rows and moving their pieces to get to the “treasures” hidden in the maze, the goal being to collect all of your treasures and return to your home space first. (Treasures included a coin, a crown, a bag of gold, a sword; but also a ghost, a genie, a princess, a lizard, a skull, a knight’s helmet.)

Sometimes this maze reminds me of my brain. (Or perhaps the other way around – my brain reminds me of this maze?) I just finished The Distance Between Us, a novel by Bart Yates, whose Leave Myself Behind I read years ago. The Distance Between Us is about a family of musicians, and naturally many classical music names were tossed around, both of composers and specific pieces. Idiosyncratic though it is, I have mostly built my (small) classical music collection by taking “suggestions” from novels I happen to be reading (starting with Susan Cooper’s The Boggart in fifth grade, which prompted me, years later, to track down Mendelssohn’s Fingal’s Cave, and continuing through The Time Traveler’s Wife and Love Begins in Winter, both of which mention Bach’s cello suites). All the music mentioned in Yates’s novel reminded me that there was a piece by Rachmaninoff that I had been meaning to track down since 2006, when I heard it performed in Prague.

Shift the maze, move the piece: first, I dug through a box of notebooks and found my journal from that spring. The concert, it turns out, was on April 1. Shift and move again: I unearthed an old canvas bag from our storage closet, for I recalled that it contained postcards, programs, maps, tickets, and other travel detritus. After a few minutes sifting through Spanish postcards and maps of Paris and Prague, I found it: the brochure for the concert. The Bohemian String Orchestra at The Municipal House played pieces from Handel, Bach, Vivaldi, Mozart, Rachmaninoff, Dvorak, and Tchaikovsky; the Rachmaninoff piece was “Vocalise for string orchestra.”

Shift, move: after doing a bit of basic research on Wikipedia and listening to some 30-second clips on iTunes, I’ve found it. Once again, the technology of the twenty-first century enables us to discover the inventions of the twentieth (and nineteenth).

Oddly enough, “Vocalise” has no words.

What I’m reading: The Mistress’s Daughter, A.M. Homes

What I’m listening to: “Songs, Op. 34: Vocalise, 14” by the St. Petersburg Philharmonic from The Rachmaninoff Collection; “Vocalise, Song for Voice and Piano, Op. 34/14” by Yo-Yo Ma and Bobby McFerrin from Classic Yo-Yo


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