March 30, 2010
The United States Bureau of Weights and Measures has just announced at a national news conference that chamber music may cause global warming. The issue first came to the bureau’s attention when directors of several distinguished music conservatories notified it of alarming and unexplained rises in temperature at odd times of the school day. Government inspectors were immediately sent in with the hope of discovering the problem’s source. It soon became evident that temperatures rose only when chamber music classes were being held and that string quartet rehearsals were responsible for the most dramatic changes. At first, inspectors were at a loss to explain why, but they soon discovered that the most heated arguments seemed to occur during quartet sessions and that the resulting noxious gases caused by a combination of flaring tempers and rosin powder trapped heat around the music buildings.
The inspectors soon uncovered something even more ominous: fast tempos contribute substantially to heat gain. Waldemar Strumbleknauf, head of the examiners’ task force, looked especially grim as he spoke to reporters. “Anything above 180 to the quarter note seems to drive atoms crazy. They get, I don’t know, like, kind of hot around the collar. And it’s not the students’ fault,” he continued. “Never mind coal-fired power plants. It’s those darned professional string quartets that are causing the planet to heat up. Every year they play a little faster, and for what? More concerts? A higher fee? Have they no sense of decency?” Strumbleknauf singled out the Emerson String Quartet as a prime example of the problem. “Have you heard their tempo for the last movement of Schubert’s Death and the Maiden? This is why the polar caps are melting.”
Reaction to the announcement was mixed and strong. The country’s leading chamber music magazine I Play, You Play, We Play denounced it as a right wing ploy to cut funding for the arts. However, the conservative think-tank “America the Beautiful” accused what they called “weak-kneed liberals in the government” of fear mongering and creating an issue out of nothing. An influential republican senator from the mid-West, who insisted on anonymity, declared that he was often bored but never overly warm when his wife dragged him to string quartet concerts.
Moisha Kapoya, the director of a little-known music conservatory in Lompoc, California, has offered an interesting suggestion. “Why not have a Cap and Trade policy whereby quartet players agree to slow down fast tempos and speed up slow ones. Cut a little here, add a little there. What’s the big deal.” When someone questioned whether leading string quartets would agree to shed their artistic convictions for a few points on the metronome, Kapoya became visibly upset. “This is not about us. It’s about future generations. I don’t want my grandkids having to traipse all the way to the North Pole to hear a Beethoven String Quartet cycle.”
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