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.

All in a day’s slack

May 8, 2009

What a day! It started with the good news that Kaia’s CD Get Down, Rise Up! is featured live & in person at Wandering Turtle Art Gallery. Not only is Wandering Turtle run by one of Bloomington’s coolest people (Jaime Sweany), it features fantastic art and great greeting cards. It’s a wonderful place to browse for a creative boost and, of course, a great place to buy things!

Next came an email from the Bloomington Playwrights Project saying that Kindred, a mini-play I co-wrote with Lori Garraghty, has been selected for the 2009-2010 BloomingPlays Festival! While I’ve published poetry, fiction, screenplays, and non-fiction over the years, this is the first piece I’ve written for the stage. 

There were 77 entries, I believe, and only a handful of Bloomington playwrights (5? 7?) were selected, so it’s an even bigger honor to me to be selected. My other entry, a mini-play entitled A Day In The Life, did not make the cut. I wasn’t sure if it was just self-involved rubbish but thought I’d throw it into the pot. I think I was right! 🙂 

Tonight I went to go see Cardinal’s production of Doubt and Randy stopped me to say they’ll be calling me back to audition for The Sound of Music! I felt bad that I couldn’t focus entirely on the excellent production in front of me because my brain was busily imagining possible audition sequences and flashing back to my high school appearance as Maria. (Diane Kondrat was a non-stop revelation in Doubt; go see it if you can!)

I ran into the fabulous Janiece Jaffe after the show and talked a little about taking voice lessons with her. I’ve thought about it for a while. My current voice coach has been brilliant to work with in the past but he seems to have a serious block about teaching now. He’s suggested I find a woman who understands the voice of a woman over 40: voilá! I’m sure I would learn a lot from Janiece but I need to set with it a little bit longer before I decide. I want to be sure Jeduthun is truly uninterested in working together.

It’s been a wonderful day for affirmation of my artistic self. I only hope I can live up to it all! My brain is in a tremendous whirl. Time for milk and some popcorn to calm me down!

Here we come a-wassailing

December 18, 2008

‘Tis the season for caroling and I’ve had the good fortune to get my fill.

Monday night I went to Diane Kondrat‘s for her zillionth annual “sing loud and fast” caroling fest. The group included Busman’s Holiday, Nell Weatherwax, Janiece Jaffe, and a goodly group of others I’m too tired to enumerate. But we all sang loud and fast!

Diane’s lyric sheets were from the days when she used to carol outside bars, so she learned that slow, pretty songs tended to lose the audience pretty quickly. But she graciously acquiesced to such lovely classics as Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, O Come O Come Emmanuel (my fave), and Janiece’s sweet rendition of When You Wish Upon A Star.

We also collectively massacred My Favorite Things and a few others, but had a great time doing it. We got through my second-least-favorite carol, The 12 Days Of Christmas, in record time. (My least favorite carol is the insanity-producing Carol Of The Bells. I swear it was written to drive people out of their minds.)

After all this raucous holiday cheer at Diane’s (they went for almost four hours; I arrived late but ate my share of fudge), the next night’s excursion couldn’t have been more different. The fabulous Rachael Himsel had lined up a caroling gig at the grand opening of a business in Renwick’s Village Center. She had 6 singers and was trolling for a few more. Since I was attending the opening anyway (Renwick is a client of my alter ego), I was in!

The weather decided to turn icy, pelting people with sleet and making travel hazardous. Surprisingly, the event had a great turnout and people crammed into the little offices to see What Was What. All the other singers had skipped out for various reasons, so it was down to me and Rachael! 

We took our place near the front door (Rachael, bless her, put herself in the way of the icy draft so I wouldn’t freeze) and started in. We sang for over an hour as dressed-up businessfolk passed by on their way to see the sights and find the wine. The air was so dry it felt like my voice was actually being pulled from my lungs; it got painful by the end. (I’ve had that happen once before and fantasize of carrying a humidifier with me to all gigs.)

Luckily, Rachael’s voice and mine were a great match. She has a lovely voice and a very nice timbre that stays pretty constant throughout her range. I attempted some harmonies here and there but, between the giant sucking sound leaving my lungs and the din of too many people crowded into a small space, I’m afraid I wasn’t as deft as I would’ve liked.

Patty Pizzo turned up and helped us out on a few tunes, which was a delight. We scarfed a few treats down (we’d been pressed into catering service when we arrived early) and marveled at the harpists who were playing outstanding music in other rooms. 

I discovered that I’d had my fill of Christian carols a little too soon into the gig. I felt uneasy at singing the explicitly Christian messages at a business event. It wasn’t until afterwards that I was able to explore my feelings; I’m so used to being in charge of everything about a gig, I didn’t know how to respond when this one started feeling uncomfortable! Definitely something for me to work on. Rachael was a rock and would’ve done some secular songs if I’d asked, but I just kept thinking, “This isn’t my gig” and stopped myself from even considering to ask. What a moron. Sheesh.

So now that I’ve had my fill of caroling, I’m prepping for a trip to sunny California, where I can escape the Christmas hype and do some serious loafing with friends. I just hope the ice thaws by then….