Wednesday, February 17, 2010

From dad.

Play the tune again: but this time
with more regard for the movement at the source of it
and less attention to time. Time falls
curiously in the course of it.

Play the tune again: not watching
your fingering, but forgetting, letting flow
the sound till it surrounds you. Do not count
or even think. Let go.

Play the tune again: but try to be
nobody, nothing, as though the pace
of the sound were your heart beating, as though
the music were your face.

Play the tune again: It should be easier
to think less every time of the notes, of the measure.
It is all an arrangement of silence. Be silent, and then
play it for your pleasure.

Play the tune again: and this time when it ends,
do not ask me what I think. Feel what is happening
strangely in the room as the sound glooms over
you, me, everything.

play the tune again.

from 'Weathering' by Alastair Reid.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A silence more eloquent...

In honor of S and her fam's arrival in town, another reason teachers get mad respect:

Lyrics here.

PS. Everything this choir does is phenomenal.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Mighty Aspirations.

"My brother sings to save the good and make the wicked take their own lives. This is the source of his resonance."

- Richard Powers, The Time of Our Singing.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

At the Post Office.

So this is Part II of "Mundane Errands Rescued by Heroes of Music," a series of indeterminate number.

This time of year for singers is a parody of busy-ness. The entire American opera industry descends on New York from October through early December to hear young blood and old. Back in the day, as a then-unmanaged singer, one found one's self in the post office line at 4:45 more than one would have liked. In these cases, I myself either felt extremely accomplished for having gotten together whatever constellation of elements this or that application required, or cranky and resentful of having to ask (again) for a place at the table.

At this time three years ago, I was in the New Haven Post Office on Elm. Even though it's a regular federal post office, Yale- in its modesty- has a permanent display of graduates who've been put on stamps. It fills two walls. You stand in line with your application moving slowly past all these eminences, wondering whether you're on that path to stampdom. Maybe this particular application had required three signed recommendation envelopes and two recordings of arias different than those offered for competition, but cranky and resentful, I glared at the other students in line with applications for jobs that would pay better than music. Then I thought about the marginalization of my industry and thought that no opera singer would ever make it to an American stamp. Then I turned a corner in line and saw a large display of this in all it's purple glory and I forgave all. I thought "What a nice country. What a great artform. What a badass woman."

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Bernstein on Canal

Today on a Chinatown errand in my role as Girl Who Likes Things “Just So,” my search for a rare ingredient led me down and up Mott and finally into the fishy heart of the large grocery/housewares emporium on Canal. Amid the aisles and aisles of tea dishes and sake sets on the lower floor, I wandered, half looking for the granulated honey I’d come in for and half browsing domestically and thinking that some day between gigs I might use a bamboo dumpling steamer set. These acquisitional imperatives—which alarm me in their insistence that I become my mother— battle with my inner minimalist who in addition to liking the look of all the clean visual lines in dwell, arrives home after seven weeks at Marlboro and looks around her apartment thinking “when did I ever come to needed all this s^%$?!”

In evidence of this struggle, several articles and foodstuffs of Asian origin were chosen, carried around for a while and then put back. As I moved through the wok aisle, I listened to the radio on the megaphone taped to the ceiling and heard that it was playing a synagogue service and I remembered that it was Shabbat. I’m not Jewish, but as a former bread and falafel maker for Oberlin kosher co-op, I sometimes remember these things.

The choir- it sounded like they were two or three on a part- began to sing the last movement of Bernstein's Chichester Psalms with organ. I love Chichester. I sang it for the first time at sixteen when a wonderful and ambitious new choir director used it and Poulenc’s Gloria to announce to the town and the school board that he meant business.

Chichester Psalms is the most Well Meaning of all the very Well Meaning works by Bernstein who in this case had set out to write something academic and twelve-tone and instead wrote something subjective, modal and heart-on-its-sleeve. Parts of it are unbelievably beautiful and moving. The whole thing ends with the opening of Psalm 133 and despite having learned some choice dirty words from naughty Israelis this summer, I won’t try to type the Hebrew, but just the translation: “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity.”

The cultural vertigo I felt hearing Bernstein's setting with its super-solemn chords (and its personal meaning for me) crackling down to me from hilariously awful speakers in the housewares section of a Chinese grocer somehow spurred me to take ownership of the whole moment and I thought, “Damnit, I’m going to stand here stock-still among the styro-foam ramen bowls until they get to the chord change I love…” (7:08) So I did. Some shopping NYU students thought me a little wierd, but whatevs. Never found the granulated honey. Didn’t buy a thing. Lenny Bernstein-1/Impulse Shopping-0.

On the way out into the early evening, I passed the live blue fellows below- I wish the picture showed their movement- and wondered whether their "dwelling together in unity" was good and pleasant to them.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Words words words...

Recently, courtesy of some new friends, I've been overwhelmed with appreciation for the power of non-programatic music. It has been a trip to say the least. Early on, I overheard someone at lunch say "Of course, I think good music doesn't need text."

Now I have always been a text girl. I began singing while in the throes of exultant crushes on Blake, Dostoyevky and Virginia Woolf. My hypothetical non-music job has always been reclusive poet/high school English teacher. But I'm new here and these people seem to know what they're doing, so I let this amazing statement slide, thinking "What does that even mean!?"

I have since rehearsed and performed with a these fine folk. Their sense of emotion- its pacing, drama and specificity- has matched any of the lovely theater geeks I've ever worked with even when they had no idea of the texts' meaning. They think in terms of gesture, change, timing and direction... I don't know what or if they think, but most of the time they're right on. Quite often, they're hitting it out of the park. Richard Goode's Diary of One Who Vanished was one of the most amazing, sexy, sad, vivid musical experiences of my life and I was bowled over by the priviledge of performing in such a real emotional landscape.

Further into the summer, the gorgeous quality of an elder statesman cellist's sound had caught me off guard and and I couldn't decide why I loved it so much. Then a friend said, "It's like his notes have text." And that does describe this man's playing. He plays with an intention so pure that you strain to understand concrete meaning in his music.

The text vs music question is boringly old/constant and important/irrelevant. Which is better? ... Yes. They say you should never lose the text and I don't think I could if I wanted to. To quote an awesome colleague, "Actors read text, but we get to make out with it." Too true. Nothing I love more than making out with text. But through this month's baptism in non-programmatic chamber music, I felt a defensive need to preserve some old emotional attitudes toward music. Text can be so damn exhilarating, but it allows you to say "This means this." and put the piece away somewhere safe. When you let music wash over you, it's dangerous. We don't want to pay attention to some of this music because it is so powerful that it demands life changes.

As a girl, my mother, herself a one time English teacher, traveled more than once with her own grandmother from New Orleans to the Bethlehem Bach Festival. As I grew up, my beautiful, intelligent, always mysterious mother would talk about Bach's music having saved her life. I didn't think much about this at the time.

In response to some non-music related events, I've been listening to the Hilary Hahn recording of the Chacconne from Partita 2 every day. I feel not so much that this music is saving my life as that it is making, renewing and organizing my self. That the music- its gestures and changes, its struggle and its exultation- is writing my life in a way that words never could- my past and my future- even the endless minutiae of my present as it ticks by. And I'm so grateful.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

no words

Thanks to the friend who took this the other day.