I believe I just had an "unlocking experience". I'll try to share it with you in a sequential narrative. You be the judge. Let me know what you think.
I knew I had two concerts to attend this last Sunday, March 26, so I started out early from my home. I live about an hour away from the the first in Claremont, "A Classical Memory" at the Garrison Theater, Scripps College by the Mountainside Master Chorale. I expected the "coming home from the river traffic" to be bad but it wasn't. I got into Claremont more than an hour early. I drove around the village and was tempted to stop at "The Bakery". I noticed alot of cars around the "Folk Music Center". Then I saw the sign, "Open Mic Tonight". I got an idea. You see I had received an email from Border's Book Store promoting Ben Harper's new CD "Both Sides of the Gun". They had sent a "podcast" of his lead song "Better Way". I had enjoyed it and had noticed it was filmed in and around the Folk Music Center with all its ethnic instruments on the walls. I went in and Ben's mom, who now runs/owns the store was just getting off the phone about that night's "open mic concert" there. She got me his album...alittle over $17.00. It was busy and noisy(they have always allowed customers "hands-on" sampling) but we talked. I told her I had had Ben for Jr. Hi. English and I remembered he was a good student and now, here he was, writing his own songs/poems) When I said that he did his homework she raised an eyebrow in disbelief. I told her to say, "Hi, from me and, keep up the good work." I went out and got in my car and popped that CD in my player and listened to the first two cuts. I noticed that is was a double album in black and white with a triple fold packaging, clever. One half (one CD) was more rhythmic, throbing, driving, the other had more ballads, softer, more personal touch. It was full of protest about the current political climate ie. war etc. but from two different platforms. Ben had written most and played many different instruments in them.
I still got to the first concert early and was met at the door by one of my "touring buddies" She is from England, where we toured and I just can't think of her name right now...she's an alto. Anyway, she wanted to know if I had been invited to a little get-together (dinner) honoring Bruce. I said no and when was it. She said it was early in June before the final concert. I was sad to respond that we might not be back from our cruise but keep me informed by mail. I asked if they had found a new conductor, not that they could really replace Bruce, the founding director. Yes, they were working on it and had a fresh, young, energetic man in mind. This was good I thought. Then I asked if they were doing the Mozart Requiem first or after the intermission. No intermission but a small break. I thought this might work out after all. You see I had heard and sung Mozart's last composition, the one he didn't quite finish before his untimely death. I knew I was going to have to miss it. No disrespect to all my MMC friends but I was concerned again about the freeway travel and downtown L.A. where just the day before more that 500,000 demonstrators had been in virtually the same area, near the Music Center. So I enjoyed the first half of the concert with very traditional, religious text compositions from Johann Michael Haydn and Wolfgang. Johann Michael was Joseph's younger brother and maybe not quite as famous, but he wrote some beautiful music. (no "unfinished symphonies") These are from the late 18th Century and the "rules of composition" then were very restricted...mainly by "the Church" and these composers had to be careful if they wanted to support themselves. Mozart was actually the first composer to not have to rely on a "church commission" to make it. He was prolific in his short life, writing operas and all kinds of pieces with "too many notes". We all know the (true?) story from the film "Amadeus" and still wonder if he didn't "channel God's music" himself and cause the "jealousy" that prompted his last "mystery commission" which he thought was probably his own requiem. These were all sung in Latin and maybe, originally German. The themes of most of the texts had to do with "salvation" and belief in the hereafter. They were group prayers and affirmations of faith. To this day they still are, once you translate, read and listen. The musical settings are so harmonically and structurally beautiful that they still move many of us. "Laetatus Sum" "I was glad when they said to me, Let us go to the house of the Lord! Peace be within your walls, And security within your towers."
On the road again, I continued to listen to Ben Harper and his group. I had a stray thought about how his name was right out of "Tom Sawyer", he was Tom's sidekick and dupe. Tom tricked him into painting his fence. Hmm...Let me listen to those lyrics alittle closer..."You have a right to your dreams And don't be denied...I believe in a better way."
I arrived at the Disney Concert Hall early enough to grab a bite to eat. On the escalator going up to the lobby I said,"Hi" to Rich Caparelli(?) from K-Mozart Fm 105. Told him I enjoyed his preconcert introductions/conversations with Grant and the artist/composers. I told him I quoted him in my blog posts. He was interested and took my card. He warned me of his upcoming "Minimalist Knock, Knock Joke". This was the theme of the nights concert which was part of the "Minimalist Jukebox Festival" which had been on-going for the last two weeks. I didn't know what to expect but I was open to a "new musical experience". And, believe me, that's what I got! Two of the night's three contemporary composers were there: Meredith Monk and Michael Torke. Meredith performed her pieces with the chorale along with two of her soloists from her performing company. Michael was in the audience and came to the stage for many bows afterwards.
The concert started out on a bare "minimalist stage" ie. flat, up center, a chair, a stool, 3 music stands, 2 mics and the organ console off up right. The chorale was dressed informally all in black and walked very directly in to form a circle. Grant was directing from the center, up left. The tenor's backs were to us, the main audience; but since the theater is "in the round" it worked. They proceeded with the most beautiful acappella settings of Arvo Part's compositions from the texts in Psalm 137 "By the waters of Babylon we sat and wept" and "The Beatitudes" They were clean, precise, economic and "minimalist". They were profound. What a way to start a very different concert. "Blessed are the peace makers; for they shall be called the children of God." I was moved. Then came the most challenging part, I'm sure for the chorale members. No printed music or notation. Choreography and singing at the same time (no gum chewing either) No text or story line but a wealth of meaning. Lots of "bobbing"...I responed to that (my blog's name Bob!...a verb) Mostly non-sense syllables which were performed and juxtaposed in such a creative ways that it almost defies description. There was a sort of "wave" of passing sounds/harmonics along a line of 15 or more singers all holding hands with their eyes closed. (like the game "telephone") They communicated, I noticed, with a slight squeeze of the hand just before intonation. It was spectacular. There was Mongolian Throat
Singing with overtones octaves, thirds and fifths above. Grant had the audience try it as a "filler" while they rearranged the stage. He demonstrated using the oo sound and going to the schwa "dreaded r" or "er sound". This is a sound chorale groups are told never to use. What made it real for me was his referring to his daughter. He said he couldn't do it around her, too scary? ...maybe even for the dog.
Then there was a long intermission while they hydraulically set up the stage for a full orchestra and Michael Torke's selection. It was the capper for the evening. Eight proverbs from "The Book of Proverbs" in the Bible, interpreted with full chorus and orchestra and two soloists. Some were even rather humorous. Lots of percussion of all kinds punctuated the pieces. I had to laugh because the couple sitting next to me, not regulars, were suddenly jarred awake with the "crack of the whip" for a horse. They had both had lolling heads and were dozing. Here again, the minimalism was demostrated in an economy of word and tonal assignments with variations in sequence which might have affected the meaning but in the end, he brought it all together with the parts equaling more than the whole. Mr. Berry, the near soloist, was the most expressive with his interpretation of a rather slanted version of "adultry". Again, we had a soloist who shook hands, this time, with the older lady two seats from me. She was so excited during the "curtain calls". Her grand daughter, next to me, sat passively throughout the performances much "taller" than me. Each proverb had an ethical point and a melodic statement. It gave me much to think about. It was also in English for ease of understanding.
I didn't drive home humming or whistling any of the "tunes" I had heard. I finished Ben Harper's double CD. It kept me awake on the hour and a half home. As I look back on this evening, I can truly say that I "unlocked" some of my preconceived notions about what "a voiced concert" of music could be and how it can appeal on many levels with and without words/content. At times, I feel so locked in to a didactic world of writing and explaining, narrating and evaluating. It was refreshing to change that and just observe it all happening...and Bob!