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Sara Says - Sara Davis Buechner invites you to share in her reflections on music, matters artistic and non, and the creatively fun things in life. Be a part of the conversation!

Archive for April, 2015

The Cosmo Man

Posted on: April 19th, 2015 by SDB No Comments

Reynaldo Reyes at the piano, in traditional Filipino barong tagalog


20 April 2015

Last weekend I had the privilege of being part of Towson University’s 50th Anniversary Retirement Celebration for Filipino pianist Reynaldo Reyes, who has been an integral part of that institution, and musical life in Baltimore, for a half-century. Mr. Reyes was my musical father. He taught me to play the piano, during the crucial formative years of my life (ages 5 to 16) — taking me from Leila Fletcher’s Book One all the way to Balakirev’s Islamey. But that fact by itself merely hints at a mentoring relationship of extraordinary generosity, creativity and vitality. Indeed, when I try to describe Reynaldo Reyes, the words that emerge are all from the world of music — brioso, con fuoco, molto energio ma sempre espressivo and, to quote from Beethoven’s Piano Sonata op. 101, mit der Innigsten Empfindung.

He was born into the broiler of the Pacific World War, in a time and place of extreme hardship. That his mother was able to procure an upright piano in his native Phillipine village of Alitagtag, was a miracle; Reynaldo’s weekly 6-mile barefoot walks with his sister to and from their early piano lessons was a second miracle; and the survival of young Reynaldo, his family, and even the family instrument yet a third miracle — for the Japanese occupying force burned his town to the ground upon their retreat in the closing chaotic time of the Great War, not long before atomic weapons visited destruction upon Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Despite all of this, Reynaldo learned to master the piano with such brilliance that he was sent on a Philippine government scholarship to the Paris Conservatoire for study with the great pianists Marguerite Long (1874-1966), Jean Doyen (1907-1982) and Jacques Février (1900-1979).

Among Rey’s graduating prizes in Paris were Grand Prix in sight-reading and solfège — necessary skills much-neglected by pianists these days — and he is without question the greatest score- and sight-reader I have ever witnessed. After coming to Baltimore in 1958, he worked with Mieczyslaw Münz (1900-1976), an important disciple of Ferruccio Busoni; and he brought me to play for Münz also, when I was still a teenager.

Reynaldo Reyes racked up a fine shelf of international piano competition awards including 2nd Prize in the Busoni Competition of 1962. He could have easily pursued the career of a touring virtuoso. But he chose instead to make Baltimore his home base, to the good fortune of the many generations of pianists who have thrived under his tutelage, fellow musicians who have shared in his wonderful chamber collaborations, and audiences in the Baltimore – Washington area where his name is well-known. I was as inspired by his many recitals (encompassing the whole of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, Debussy’s Préludes and Études, Chopin’s Scherzi, Ballades and Préludes, the complete Sonatas of Mozart and Beethoven, the Variation works of Brahms, and transcriptions of every stripe imaginable), as I was by his magnificent pedagogy. On stage his technical wizardry and personal passion just sizzled.

It was Busoni’s philosophy of the piano that hovered over my decade of lessons — the piano as instrument for the greatest possible realization of the composer’s intentions and poetic message. Whether executing the manifold Baroque ornamentations of a Bach Suite, untangling technical knots in Liszt’s Études, or coloring the pointillistic imagery of Debussy’s Préludes, Mr. Reyes always kept my sights focused on the discovery and ultimate sharing of the composers’ emotions with my audience. It mattered not whether that was an audience of one, in my teacher’s studio, or an audience of thousands in a large concert hall. I learned that music is a communicative art of the utmost obligation and importance.

He is the most cosmopolitan of men, and it is that aspect of his personality that I recall fondly, when recounting the time of my studies. In the course of our frequent and long lessons, his office phone would ring, to be answered in any number of languages with which Rey was fluent — English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Tagalog, Greek (he seemed to have a good working knowledge of Russian, Japanese and other tongues as well) — his conversations ever laced with bounteous good humor and an infectious laugh. From his appreciation of all the worlds’ countries and cultures, Reynaldo instilled in me a profound admiration for the sheer vastness of the human experience. And in turn I acquired a similar thirst for the bountiful literature written for our instrument, the piano, which only continues to grow without end.

It is hard for any child to speak of their own parents without sentimental attachment, and so it is for myself with Reynaldo Reyes. My own remarks given at his retirement concert can be read below, and they contain some cherished personal narratives. I hope you enjoy them, and join me in saluting a remarkable musician of wondrous scope, vision, energy and spiritual inspiration. Fifty years and counting, Reynaldo Reyes… the Cosmo Man.

Reyes Retirement Speech by SDB (4.11.2015)



Posted on: April 1st, 2015 by SDB No Comments

From the pages of today’s New York Times comes this elegiac article about the dwindling Koreatown of the Bronx, located in the Bedford Park neighborhood on East 204th Street between the Grand Concourse and Mosholu Parkway. How things change, too quickly, in New York. The contrast to this optimistic story from the Norwood News about the same area, from a decade ago, is startling.

In my last three years living in New York, I resided on the Grand Concourse at the corner of 202nd Street, just two blocks south of the little Bronx Koreatown. I often used to walk there to buy spicy delights at Suzie’s Oriental Grocery, and also to eat at the spacious Korean restaurant on 204th Street, which was called Jokbal (referring to marinated pigs’ feet)They served a wonderful seafood pajeon, jap chae, dwaeji bulgogi, bibimbap, and my favorite on a hot summer day, naengmyeon (cold noodle soup).

What I most loved at Jokbal was the lively Friday night drama, when sizzling Korean prostitutes who worked in the rooms above the Popcorn Hof karaoke bar across the street would wander in around 10 p.m., to flirt with blue-collar workers from the neighborhood, who stopped by for food and drink before going home. The men would drink OB Beer to great excess, becoming very red in the face and sometimes bursting into Korean song, while the ladies sat on their laps, pouring them more beer to get them even more toasted. Eventually, the men would be dragged off to the upper rooms of the Popcorn Hof to have their wallets emptied of a weeks’ wages.

Now, this is all gone. When I visited the neighborhood last year, it seemed the only Korean stores remaining were one dry cleaning establishment and one beauty salon. 204th Street is far less colorful without its many signs in hangul. Of course, the taste of fine Korean food still may be found in Manhattan’s Koreatown (near Macy’s) and all over Flushing, Queens. But I’ll always treasure my tasty memories of the little Koreatown in the Bronx.