On the Fringe
October 16, 2011

I hate “classical music”…The phrase is a masterpiece of negative publicity, a tour de force of anti-hype. I wish there were another name.

Alex Ross, The New Yorker, ‘Listen To This

I read those words on a screen hanging above a stage set for five chamber musicians at last week’s Fringe concert.

For those of you who don’t know what ‘Fringe’ is, you need to go to their website.  Like, now.  I’ll wait…

You back?

Okay, so in the dark before the concert began last Saturday, a variety of fun, insightful and irreverent quotes played across the screen in the sanctuary of the Church of the Redeemer, the venue where Fringe holds all of their concerts.  Pithy statements, such as, ‘Want to know what it feels like to play with the Calgary Philharmonic at six years old?  Ask our violinist, Helen Kim.’  And, ‘We can’t believe this is Fringe’s fifth season.  Did your favorite t.v. show last that long?’

I blogged about this group last month and I was eagerly anticipating attending a performance for the first time.  I was very, very curious about how the whole event would shake out.  Fringe does more than put on a concert of nice-sounding music.  ‘Concert’ isn’t the right word for what they do – a night with Fringe is a multi-media, multi-art event.  In one night, they stage an art gallery, an open-air club, a short film screening, a music appreciation course and chamber music performance.  The whole thing works and it’s wonderful.

On this particular night, the visual art hanging in the church lobby was photos by Atlanta photographer Chris Bromley.  He was there (I noticed him when he reached out to straighten one of the pictures on display) and I got to talk to him about one shot I particularly liked – a woman in a mermaid suit, swimming with a man in a lagoon.  Turns out it was taken at a place in Florida that was big in the 60’s, and is still operating – Weeki Wachee, ‘The Only City of Live Mermaids!’

Now, as if discovering the existence of live mermaid performance wasn’t worth the price of admission alone, the lovely open-air courtyard of the church was enlivened with lanterns and glowing white umbrellas hanging from trees, while a DJ (Little Jen) wove a gentle pulse of electronic music through the air.  I grabbed a beer and perused the program for the evening…

When the time for the ‘concert’ arrived, I joined the other patrons in the sanctuary.  The screen above the stage lit up with a pleasant short film about a young, preening rock star who has to spend an evening in a pediatric hospital while on tour (Pop Star, by Nathan Scoggins).  The screen went black again, but prior to the live music, a documentary was played – a professionally crafted video with interviews of the musicians we were about to see take the stage.  One by one, the members of the quintet spoke about the piece we were about to hear them play, about their own role in it, about the particular challenges or joys of the work itself.  It was brilliant.  We learned that the clarinet quintet they would be playing was composed by Mozart for a drinking buddy, and that the buddy must have had a pretty good hand, since at that point in history the clarinet hadn’t developed into that great-sounding of an instrument.

So, after the photos in the lobby, after the night air and the film and the insights into the music of the evening, then the musicians took their places.  And what a difference it made to hear a piece after being given so much information about the music and about the players!  I can only speak for myself, but I know that my watching, my listening was enhanced tenfold when I was given those glimpses behind the curtain.

Another great joy of the night – a Fringe audience is not afraid to applaud between movements of a piece.  I enthusiastically joined in, knowing that a big, fancy ‘classical music’ rule was being broken.

After an intermission, the film that opened the second half of the concert was Western Spaghetti (PES Films).  In the second musician documentary, the violinists mentioned that the Brahms quintet on the program was composed with a lot of doubling between their two instruments, and playing with correct intonation could pose a challenge.  I never noticed a wrong beat, but just being able to listen for those moments in the music and have some idea of what the players were working towards made me feel closer to the them and to the piece.

When the music was finished and the stage was being broken down, I returned to the courtyard and found the quintet happily downing post-performance beers.  These are my kind of people.  I’m afraid I gushed at them a bit, telling them, ‘I wish all of my recitals could look just like this!’  But I do.  This group has found a unique way to foster more intimacy, more connection with audiences – they know that the closer we can feel to each other, the better the music experience is.

There is a better name for ‘classical music’ – at least here in Atlanta.  It’s called Fringe.

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A tale of two performances
September 11, 2011

Here’s a personal story of success and failure at performing the same aria at two different performances…

...flashback sound

Story #1:

The year was 2004.  I was a few weeks pregnant with my first child.  I was constantly snacking on carbohydrates to keep my hormonally-induced nausea at bay.  I got a call one Thursday – could I step in as a last-minute replacement for an opera concert in south Georgia that Saturday?

Who could say no to such a tempting offer?

I took a day off from my receptionist job and spent all day Friday memorizing ‘Sull’aria’, a sextet or octet of some sort from something and the Rosenkavalier trio.  I needed a solo piece too, so I chose my old chestnut, Micaela’s Aria from Carmen.  As long as I didn’t throw upon stage, I could probably do pretty well for a last-minute replacement.

I didn’t really have the greatest dress, or the greatest idea of what was going on in general, but Saturday arrived, and I traveled the three and a half hours to Albany, Georgia and prepared to take the stage.

I made it through the ‘Sull’aria’ just fine.  I knew I didn’t quite have the Rosenkavalier trio down, but well prior to that in the program was my aria.  I emerged from the wings, slightly nauseous, no doubt still brushing cracker crumbs from my dress, and proceeded to…

nail.

it.

I swear to god, I have no idea what happened.  I sang and it was good.  I managed to do things with that aria that I haven’t managed to do since.  When I finished, the audience gave me more than applause, they gave me cheers.  I returned to the wings, sat down, and began munching on an orange.  A friend gave me the Wayne’s World ‘We’re not worthy’ bow.  I threw a saltine at him.

Story #2:

The year is still 2004.  I am five months into the same pregnancy – I was feeling a lot less nauseous, but now I had a volleyball-sized baby lodged under my ribcage.

I traveled to Italy on tour with the Michael O’Neal Singers.  The first concert on our twelve-day trip was at the Naples Conservatory.  I was dehydrated and jet lagged.  Nonetheless, my first solo on the program was Micaela’s Aria.  I stepped forward, opened my mouth, and proceeded to…

blow.

it.

I swear to god, I have no idea what happened.  I sang and it sucked.  I managed to mangle that aria in ways I haven’t managed to do since.  When I went for the climactic high B and shanked it, I saw members of the audience being to laugh.  When I was done, I returned to my spot in the choir, and for the first time, experienced an intense bout of flop sweat.  After the concert was over, the same friend who had bowed to me months prior simply put his arm around me and asked, ‘How ya feeling?’  I told him that I had wanted the stage to swallow me up.

Please, please tell you have experienced something like this.  Tell me that you’ve had such moments of bliss and moments of hell, all in the name of performing.

Is there any way to be secure in one’s talent when such caprices of fate can take the very same song and make it a triumph or a failure?

At least Renee knows how I feel…

Singing Handel in the shower
August 30, 2011

What’s a soprano to do when she wants to sing, but she has kids to raise and frankly, she isn’t being asked to sing anywhere?

She sings in the shower where the kids can’t find her and the acoustics are good.  I’m telling you, my soap has been hearing some quality work from me in the past few weeks…

 

Okay, okay, I have made a few moves in the right direction.

 

I got a score for Ravel’s Trois Poemes de Stephane Mallarme and I long to tackle it with a chamber group.  I finally worked up enough nerve to email a director I’ve never sung with and asked him if he would listen to me – surprisingly, he responded to my request with an immediate ‘yes’.  Of course, no word from the three other directors I emailed, but  I guess a 25% success rate is pretty good for cold-calls like that.

 

With no upcoming performances on my calendar, I am fearing the revocation of my ‘Professional Singer’ card.  But I think I’m in good shape, for the shape I’m in, which for the record, is a stay-at-home-mom with a degree of talent and a desire to do quality work with whomever will have me.  The fall is arriving, new music seasons are starting, and things will come up for me.  As Emily Dickinson said, I dwell in possibility – and  sing in the shower.

Lookie, lookie, lookie!
July 7, 2011

Here’s a picture of me holding in my hot little hands a copy of a song sent to me by a British composer, Adrian Williams.

I found him on the internet (www.adrianwilliamsmusic.com) and was captivated by one of his songs,Red Kite Flying.  One brief email exchange later, and Adrian generously shared a copy of the song with me .

It’s a special joy to be in such close contact with composers, and Jackie, Allen and I have developed a taste for it.  So far in our recitals, we’ve shared unpublished works from composers Adam Burnette and Cary Radcliff, and we’re unearthing new possibilities for our next program.  Jackie’s considering some pieces from New York composer Tom Herman (you can check out some samples here), who is a massage therapist by day!

I went looking for pieces with soprano and chamber ensemble, and stumbled upon these pieces for flute and soprano.  I hadn’t heard of the composer, but a short Google search brought me…right back to Atlanta.  The composer plays for the ASO and teaches at Kennesaw State University up the road.  What are the chances?
And at least all this new music has gotten ‘The Yellow Rose of Texas’ out of my head!

Okay, now music must wait, the Breaking Bad season premier is on…

Searching…
July 6, 2011

So, I have been doing just as I predicted I would do in preparation for Recital 3.0 – spending lots and lots and lots of time online , sifting through hours of aural material.  This is what I have looked like this week:
listening
Charming, no?  I’ve stumbled upon songs ranging from unpublished, recently created works to songs from older masters that I hadn’t heard before.  What would I do without Google, YouTube and Amazon.com?  Jackie and Allen will likely be sick of me and my constant emails in about another week.  So many possibilities…
I’m working ‘Non mi dir’ from Don Giovanni a little bit, which doesn’t exactly fit in to my recital repertoire, but as my college voice teacher told me, ‘Mozart is wonderful for the voice.’  What a powerhouse of a piece – it’s not bombastic, it just takes incredible technique.

Today I had a lesson with my favorite coach, Marina (www.voice-movement.com).  She’s an invaluable help to me in my continued growth a a singer.  Today we worked on evening out the quality in my upper and lower ranges and freeing my sustained tones in the upper range.  We did some good work today – thank you, Marina!

After learning (as a lot of you maybe already know) that most of Emily Dickinson’s poems can be sung to the tune of ‘The Yellow Rose of Texas’, I’ve got that running through my head…  Sing it with me!  ‘I felt a funeral in my brain/and mourners to and fro/kept treading, treading till it seemed/that sense was breaking through…’