Inappropriate opera

October 23, 2011

I haven’t blogged in a while due to illness, busyness, and busyness, mostly in that order. The last “busyness” was Kaia’s prep for Voices Against Violence, a benefit for Middle Way House, a local rape/domestic violence crisis shelter and life transformer.

We learned my piece Vow in about 2 and a half weeks, which is a record for us. It’s a difficult song. Not in structure or pitch, but in meaning. We started by just going around the circle and sharing our reactions to it (it’s a song about domestic violence but the beginning spoken word section covers all violence against women). Lara wept as she shared what I also felt: That she’d never sat in a group of women and not heard the stories of abuse and violence at the hands of men. My breakthrough to feminism was this very fact: That almost every woman I knew had survived some form of violation.

The Voices Against Violence show was actually two shows—one at 3 and one at 8. Different artists performed at each show; we performed at both. Aside from Vow, we did different sets for the different shows. The sets were constructed to show our vision for a better world as well as to showcase pieces in different languages and our strongest repertoire.

The first set opened with Arise, Lara’s stirring setting of Julia Ward Howe’s lyrics for the Mother’s Day Proclamation. The crowd (though small) loved it. We did some world music before coming around to Vow and then I Love Everybody. Whenever Lara sings the opening of ILE, she envisions the worst of the worst offenders she deals with on a regular basis in her day job, and tries to surround them with love. Just coming off Vow, she had a visibly difficult time making the transition. But I’ve never heard her sing it with such conviction and truth as she did that day.

The second set’s anti-war piece was my Not One More Day (which I find, to my surprise, that I have not posted about before). We mixed in some world music with Vow and closed with Dubula, a jubilant South African dance piece.

I over-sang during the second set. I noticed it most clearly on Not One More Day. For some reason, I felt a deep urge to connect with the audience, to drag them along, to make them see the insanity of the Iraq war and of all war. The audience was warm, appreciative, and even tried to clap along until they (as always) discovered it interfered with their ability to hear the lyrics. But I felt something missing—maybe it was something missing in me.

Both sets were intense. They whipped around the world and through our key messages of peace and social justice with breakneck speed. And we rocked both sets. The audience was very appreciative. But we did not get a standing ovation. No one got a standing ovation, actually. It was very weird, since it’s ridiculously easy to get a standing O in Bloomington. But even among this crowd, Vow, for the first time, was just listened to without that without-words shout that rises up in people hearing it for the first time.

Gladys DeVane was on with a monologue about Amelia Earhart. Diane Kondrat did Marge Piercy’s The Low Road. Janiece Jaffe and Curtis Cantwell Jackson did their usual mellow songs of love and light. All of it spoke to the meaning of the event, and to the hearts of those assembled.

And then came Roadkill—an opera trio including the famous Sylvia McNair. They opened with The Man I Love. They sang I Feel Pretty. Sylvia soloed with another piece from West Side Story. The others soloed with pieces I wasn’t familiar with but had that same Broadway/cabaret songbook feel. They closed with My Favorite Things. And I squirmed.

It wasn’t the quality of the music, of course, which was exceptional. It was the content and the delivery. They sang with songbooks in their hands, which is fine for classical music but seems off-putting in a show like Voices Against Violence. But it was their song selection that was intensely jarring to me.

To open with The Man I Love at an event about domestic violence struck me as downright chilling. The rest of the pieces, while amusing or moving or interesting in themselves, were so far from the content of the rest of the program that I felt almost sick. It was a dinner set, the same they would perform for any event. It wasn’t tailored to the content of the show or the needs of the people in the audience. In my opinion, it was inappropriate.

The experience shown a light on my feelings about performance: That it be transformative. Not that it simply entertain. It’s like design—design isn’t about decoration, it’s about information. It’s about creating change in the viewer. And music is a great changer. It gives voice to that which was previously inarticulate. And for those in the audience, who seek such a fundamental change in our society as the end to violence against women, and even an end to all violence, we have a responsibility to them to at least attempt to give them a voice.

I’ve seen it many times with Arise. I’ve seen it happen every time we sing Not One More Day—by the time we’re singing, “No more torture / We’re forced to pay for / No more torture in my name,” we’ve got people ready to rise up singing. They want to join in and raise their voices to say no more, a better world is possible, and I want to manifest it.

I Feel Pretty just doesn’t cut it. Not for me, at least. I don’t deny the artistry of the women onstage. I just wonder whether they considered pieces that would articulate the deepest desires of those in the audience, and whether they agree that an artist has a responsibility to try to articulate those needs.

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Redbird flies!

June 13, 2009

Thursday night Kevin and I debuted Redbird on Carolyn VandeWiele’s Womenspace show on WFHB. It was a fantastic experience.

Due to other commitments, I arrived after the show had begun, but in time to hear Curtis Cantwell Jackson backed by Janiece Jaffe and possibly Bobbie Lancaster. Curtis is tremendously talented and has a great voice.

Kevin arrived with his hollow-body electric guitar and we nipped into a back room to run the piece and get used to the different sound. We then went into the studio to set up while Arbutus Cunningham had everyone in stitches. Krista Detor was in before us, prepping to play, so she was the only one with headphones. We couldn’t hear Arbutus but heard everyone in the sound booth and Krista bursting out laughing.

Krista dedicated her delightful Teeter-Totter on a Star to Arbutus. I could only listen with half an ear because I was keeping my nerves under control and staying “in character” for Redbird. In the midst of my stage fright, I suddenly got clear. I looked around the room and realized this was part of my dream come true—to be in the midst of truly talented musicians, performing music I’ve written the way I want to sing it, rising up in the hopes I could be anywhere near as good as they were, and having the scary-yet-exhilarating thrill of singing live. This is what I want to be doing with my life. It was a wonderful realization.

We had no time to run the piece, so I could only hear the mix on the fly. And I couldn’t hear much at that! I pulled one headphone off an ear so I could hear myself and kept the other in place to get a sense of the mix. Kevin played beautifully and I—well, I tried my best! 🙂

Everyone was very gracious afterwards, complimenting the piece and our performance of it. It’s been terrific to get the feedback and support of the family and friends who listened to it. I loved having my friend Bry in the lobby—it was wonderful to know I had a groupie no matter what I did! 😉

Since I couldn’t hear very well, I don’t know how well the piece worked, but Kevin thought it was our best effort yet, which is pretty damn good. And lots of people seemed to like it. I am very satisfied at having more of my creative path affirmed! It was a great night.


WFHB update

June 10, 2009

Kevin MacDowell and I will be debuting my original song Redbird on WFHB on Thursday night (11 June) between 9:30 & 10pm.

The show is Womenspace and it runs from 9 – 11. The show will feature live, in-studio performances from:

Krista Detor
Bobbie Lancaster
Curtis Cantwell Jackson
Jaime Sweaney
…and more 

You can tune in at 91.3 or 98.1 FM or listen online through the magic of the Internet. You’ll definitely want to stick around and hear the other talent!

Way excited!! Thank you, Carolyn VandeWiele for the promo! The show is to help promote the upcoming Rock the Shops event on 26 June at Wandering Turtle Art Gallery. Sponsored in part by the City of Bloomington, Rock the Shops encourages residents to shop downtown and support local business. Kaia will be performing at Wandering Turtle along with a boatload of others to help support the cause!

Please have a listen tomorrow night and then come out on the 26th! (For more info on the gig on the 26th, see Kaia’s site.)


Beltane Bash Snapshots

May 3, 2009

 

Raising the power

Raising the power

I’ve just woken up on Sunday morning after a late night at the Webtor Beltane Bash and my head is filled with little video snapshots. In no particular order:

 

  • Krista in her red sequined gown with slit up the front and black top hat, looking like a particularly sexy lion tamer
  • Amy holding out her white hand to me while we sang Travelers Prayer
  • Mike Redman looking like The Hermit from tarot
  • Amanda Biggs singing an aria from Tosca in true diva style
  • Tristra’s husband Ian, who we thought was just coming along for the ride, working the bonfire like a demon
  • About twenty-five people trying to figure out how the hell to wrap a maypole, with Krista, Ian, and others all shouting directions at once
  • Meryl in her little black skirt and high spiked black leather boots
  • Green George doing his totally unselfconscious, raucous version of The Doors’ Light My Fire
  • Grooving in front of the hot bonfire, flames shooting up 15 feet, sparks and debris showering down on me from 30 feet above, while hearing the message again and again: “It’s time”
  • Resisting the impulse to scarf down every single deviled egg in a five-mile radius
  • Not resisting the impulse to scarf down every dessert within snatching distance
  • Talking to “Dave” over the food table, his googly eyes pushed back on his head and the red of his shirt drenching the aura around him
  • Gentle Jana as a combination Robin Hood and dryad
  • Faith with her luna moth wings, mirrored sunglass “bug eyes,” and adorable pipe cleaner antennae 
  • Tristra’s beaming face as she danced the maypole, pregnant belly bulging fecundly
  • Dancing to Curtis and Janiece’s I Can See Clearly Now, wishing I wore something more nimble than Doc Martens!
  • The incredibly scary clown on stage right that would occasionally not just slowly nod its head, but move its shoulders up and down—I kept expecting a peal of diabolical laughter
  • Glancing up, surprised to see the moon for the first time in weeks, admiring her waxing self amid the watery clouds
  • Ned with his kitty nose mask, dark glasses, and especially his Spock ears, reciting his fabulously lascivious poem
  • The roller derby dancers
  • The roller derby pole dancers—voof!
  • Dana in her sex toy tent, a huge pouf of red of red tulle surrounding a small white face covered by a huge round red metallic wig
  • Janiece gently gliding on the tree swing
  • Robert in his wild man make-up, perfectly toned body ready to dominate the stage at any moment
  • Nell laughing continually at the latest outrageous joke and contributing plenty herself
  • Laughing our way through the 5/4 Full Moonlight Dance, falling apart every time we tried to listen to each other—every other lyric was “fassa fassa”
  • Steve Mascari in his fur pimp coat and zoot hat
  • Trying get a groove going with Janiece and Amy Roche around the fire
  • Amy Roche drawing out her groove, slim silhouette against the fire, graceful body matching liquid voice
  • The silence surrounding Travelers Prayer as we sang praise to Sister Moon
  • Remembering My People all night long as I basked in the scent of Lily of the Valley and re-kindled the fire in my heart
  • Stopping at evil McDonald’s on the way home for chicken McNuggets because I knew I’d fall asleep before I made my own—BBQ, mmm….

A fabulous evening under the clouds, surrounded by glittering stars of our earthly firmament.

 

Tristra, Cairril, Amy sing "The Farmer" (photo by Michael Redman)

Tristra, Cairril, Amy sing "The Farmer" (photo by Michael Redman)