I have been listening to some of Schubert’s string quartets over the last few days – more cheap but high quality recordings from the lovely people at Naxos. In this case, the Kodály Quartet playing his String Quartet No. 15 (D887) and a different CD on which they perform D112, 18 and 46 (I love catalog numbers! I remember being very pleased as a young person finally figuring out what BWV stood for. Small triumphs, you know?).
I was listening to the first of these yesterday afternoon as I was leaving campus to get my ears lowered and I was just at the scherzo, which starts out sounding fairly serious – not grim, but serious, although it gets a little more meditative later on – when I realized that something slightly weird was going on. I was passing some sorority houses, and out front there were these crowds of identical looking young persons (I mean, really identical – all white, all with long straight hair, no pierced noses or mohawks or anything) in identical baggy t-shirts and track shorts, yelling things in unison. And these girls were not messing around. They were in formation, and they were loud. And then the yelling turned to squealing. Rush week! I think this is specifically an American thing, and it’s particularly a southern thing, although they’ve got them in other parts of the country too. But it’s particularly pronounced around here. Any old southern school worth its magnolia trees has also got fraternities and sororities. And which ones you rush, and whether you get in or not has (apparently) a huge determining factor on the kids’ non-classroom life. I’m from the west coast and I went to school in the northeast at a college that did not have any sororities and even if we’d had any I don’t think I would have tried to rush one or succeeded if I had tried. So, the experience is a little foreign to me, although I’m not about to dismiss it entirely. I had a friend in grad school, an engineer, who had been in a sorority at the University of Virginia and she utterly loved it. She also liked Beethoven, so clearly her judgment is sound.
However, as an old faculty crone of thirty-two, Sorority Row during Rush Week is not necessarily a place where I want to hang out. So, I continued on my way and went back to listening to the rest of the first of those two Schubert recordings, which went on from D887 to Schubert’s German Dances (D30) which are great fun. I’ve been listening to a lot of Mozart, Hadyn and Beethoven the past few weeks, and Schubert is a really pleasant change. Similar enough in some ways to the late eighteenth-century music that it’s not a jolt, but also distinctly different. (Yes: Today in News of the Vague and Obvious: Schubert is Distinctly Different From His Predecessors But In Some Ways Not So Different After All.)