Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Country Divided

No, I don't mean the United States, although it would politically fit the description; nor Iraq where the Sunni-Shia-Kurd partition exists de facto, no matter what our leaders would like us to believe. I'm talking about the land of delicious chocolate, great musical importance, Hergé and his Tintin books and of course, the European Union headquarters: Belgium.

Never intended to be a country as it is today, it was nevertheless created soon after Napoleon met his Waterloo. A German prince was invited to become a king of a new monarchy in 1831. Always an uneasy mix of Dutch (or Flemish, a dialect of the former) and French speaking Flanders and Wallonia, it nevertheless managed to grow in importance, not the least by being put in charge of the Congo and two East African countries, Rwanda and Burundi. Belgian Congo was always rich in minerals and became a major exporter on uranium for the Manhattan Project and the nuclear bomb industry.

Today, many openly question whether the country of Belgium should exist at all. The politics are strictly divided between language barriers. Formerly the farming Wallonia was better-to-do, but recently the Flanders have managed to overcome their southern neighbors, mainly because of industry and trade. Recently a fake report on television claimed that the country had been split into two and hardly anybody doubted the "facts" in this Lowlands version on "the Martians Have Landed". The issues preventing the division are a mutual love and respect for the king, and the question of Brussels, the "EU City". The latter is by far the most important city in Belgium and like Montréal in Quebec, mainly French-speaking. The Catholic Flanders wouldn't really want to join the Protestant Netherlands in spite of the common language, and France has enough problems or her own without being saddled with Wallonia's economic woes.

Musically the Conservatory in Brussels has been one of the most important in Europe for more than a century. Especially important is the Belgian, or Franco-Belgian, school of violin playing, often also referred to as Modern French. The great musical genius and virtuoso Eugène Ysaÿe was a giant in the history of the violin, disciples of whom have had great influence in this country as well (Josef Gingold, Jascha Brodsky, Louis Persinger). His most important student, however, was Mathieu Crickboom. He played second violin in his teacher's his famous string quartet and later inherited the professorship in the Conservatoire Royal de Bruxelles. Ysaÿe also dedicated the fifth of his famed six solo sonatas to his student and friend.

In my childhood my father had a couple volumes of Crickboom's Le Violon – Théorique et Practique" and this is what I used to teach myself the violin. My parents were taking a long walk when I had just turned five, and I took out my father's full-size violin and decided to see what it sounded like. With perfect pitch I had no trouble playing the right notes and when my parents returned, I surprised them by playing a short piece from probably Volume I. I can well remember my father starting to kind of laugh, either nervously or excitedly, I couldn't tell. The next day a three-quarter size instrument appeared and soon a man was brought to the house as a teacher candidate. Well, I didn't really care for the fellow and thus no lessons followed. Also, I was unhappy with the sound of the 'little' violin and insisted on using my father's. Not long after that he purchased a modern instrument that had won a prize in a violin makers' competition. I treasured those Crickboom books and although I taught myself to play a lot of other material, these books always had a special place in my heart. As I started teaching my friends and even older kids at a very young age, it was always "Le Violon" that I used with them and got them to play so well that many ended up as professionals. I went through a lot of other methods but none ever came close to the logical and musical approach of Mr. Crickboom.

Time passed and somewhere I lost my valued five volumes of this series. It might have been during one of the big moves from one country to another or probably when my ex, in a fit of rage, got rid of all my music, along with other personal items such as reviews and other such clippings. Personally I think she lied about it, claiming that she had put the boxes on the curb and twenty minutes later they had disappeared. So she probably held onto all that stuff but I have no way of finding out. At the time my children were too young for me to put them through a nasty scene, so their mother got away with a murder, so to speak. Over the years I tried finding the Crickboom books in stores and online, but with limited success. Not long ago, I decided to try once more and to my surprise they popped up at an American site. The first book was not what I expected it to be but another Crickboom work on scales and technical stuff, very useful and intelligently formulated. Then I searched differently and, voilà, there they were at, some in French, some others in German or English-Spanish versions. I got my volumes II, IV and V just this week and going through them is like having found a lost childhood treasure. Volume III is on backorder and while waiting for it, I also ordered Crickboom's "Chants et Morceaux" , four out of five books. These pieces are supposed to be played when a certain point in the actual "Le Violon" has been reached. Granted, most of my students are past the level these books are intended for, but every once in a while one of us takes a young one under our wing, and it will interesting to see how this material can be used. There is nothing wrong with the Doflein Method we have used and it does introduce "modern" composers of the time (1930s) such as Orff, Bartok and Hindemith. However, the approach of Mr. Crickboom is more natural and logical.

So, one day there may not be a Belgium as we know it, but the unthinkable has happened before. Perhaps this country of ours should be divided as the Southerners once wanted. We could have the states that believe in universal health care in one union, and those who don't in another. Or make the split based on who wants to have the separation on state and religion and who sees it as one and the same. Living in a rather liberal and socially conscious part of union, we in Seattle really have very little in common with folks in Alabama or Texas. Another seemingly illiterate politician has his eyes set on governing this uneasy union of ours. Although many in the media chose not to report it and I first learned about the speech from a foreign online source, a presidential candidate recently claimed: "Actually, just look at what Osam — Barack Obama — said just yesterday. Barack Obama, calling on radicals, jihadists of all different types, to come together in Iraq. That is the battlefield. ... It's almost as if the Democratic contenders for president are living in fantasyland. Their idea for jihad is to retreat, and their idea for the economy is to also retreat. And in my view, both efforts are wrongheaded." What a difference one wrong or missing letter can make, making a Mormon a Moron.

in pictures:
Tintin and Snowy (Milou), Mathieu Crickboom