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.

Vow in the studio

January 22, 2011

Went into the studio yesterday with Grandmaster Kevin (MacDowell) and recorded almost all of Vow. We just need to add the drum line and then edit the spoken word section to the sung part. I’m hoping Lara will drum. I would love her energy on this project.

It’s a demo recording, so it’s pretty rough. You can hear the pages of the sheet music turning, for instance. I’m not thrilled with my vocal performance but it’s not bad, considering we did almost every line in one take. The alto line sounds bad because it’s right at the bottom of my range and my sound production cuts out by half on an F so I just go with this really breathy sound—awful. Especially considering it’s supposed to be this powerhouse bass.

Kevin attempted to do everything through Garage Band but it kept freezing up. So he pulled out his venerable analog 4-track and recorded onto tape! Très retro. But he knows a way to get it transferred to digital without losing quality, so I say all the better for him. It was just ironic that the $400 equipment trumped the $4,000 set-up.

Mucho thanks to Kevin. More news as it’s fit to print!

Vow may be happening

December 18, 2010

I’ve been corresponding with the fabulous Toby Strout of Middleway House and she has a vision for two concerts in October called “Voices Against Violence.” All the usual suspects would be performing, including Kaia (yay yay yay).

The exciting news is that we may be able to do Vow. I need to get a demo recording made (I’m waiting to hear back from Kevin and Lara on the use of their studio). I’m dithering whether to make it an “experienced singers only” group or an open call for any women. The latter would be more powerful but presents more scheduling and space challenges.

I’m so excited. I think about it all the time, especially at night when visions of Vow-plum fairies dance in my head. The bummer is that it’s too late to get funding, so I’d have to pay out of my own pocket for all the rehearsal expenses and such, unless Toby can help me find some angels to help.

Oh, I hope it comes off! It would be a wonderful gift to the community. The first step is to get that demo made, so Toby can give it the thumbs-up or thumbs-down. I am so impatient! 🙂

A vision for Vow

December 4, 2010

Back in 1997 or ’98 I was driving home from a concert by the Indianapolis Women’s Chorus. The theme had been “silliness,” so I was still in good spirits as I recalled different tunes from the show.

“When suddenly…” this song was suddenly there. Like in Amadeus where Salieri said it was as if Mozart were taking dictation from God. Not that God had anything to do with it, since I don’t believe in the guy, but my POINT is that suddenly there was a song in my brain and heart that hadn’t been there before.

The piece was built around a central chorus: “I hold this body holy/I hold this body sacred/I hold this body inviolate/I reject your violence, your hatred, your story.” It was a piece about domestic violence and I felt the passion rise in my being as more of the song unveiled itself to me: “This is gonna stop, I take this vow:/I swear by the Earth and all I hold dear,/I will not stand by and watch this slaughter/I will intervene, I’ll stand in your way,/You will not strike your sistah, your wife, your daughter.”

This was like no domestic violence piece I’d heard before or since. It crackled with passion and rage. Not like some lily-livered singer-songwriter lament that just seems to say “it’s too bad men beat women but <sigh> that’s the way it is.”

I worked on the song for some time. The sections with “Hey, hey hey hey” were actually inspired by some John Mellencamp work.

I first sang the piece for my soul-sister Cam while she was on a creative retreat. She was in awe of the piece but rightly pointed out that the Mellencamp influence was out of keeping with the rest of the song. 🙂 I worked on it more until it was ready to be born.

The piece has been performed by the Bloomington Feminist Chorus and by the Indianapolis Women’s Chorus. It’s on the IWC’s CD To Sing Is To Fly. (I have  to be honest, I don’t find the IWC version to be as kick-ass as the Bloomington version—it lacks the intensity of our version. But I loved that they did it.) The piece has received a standing ovation every time it’s been done. I can barely take credit for it. It’s a transformational piece, both to hear and to perform. It’s explosive.

Since those days I have long wanted to form a community choir and do the piece as part of a larger benefit for Middle Way House, our local women’s shelter and life transformer. It’s too good a song to have it mouldering away in my music cabinet. It really needs to be a choral piece—a lot of women singing it—so the intent is that much more powerful.

There are grants through the City that I could apply for in order to bring this to life, but I feel like I need a partner in crime. It’s too big to pull off by myself, plus I need someone else to organize that benefit!

Hurm…now that the vision has resurfaced I don’t know if I’ll be able to let it go. I have a few people in mind that I could contact. I wonder if now is the time to bring this to life.

I claim my life, my love, my rage!

Vow lyrics

December 4, 2010


© Cairril Adaire 1998

Broken Bruised Shattered And torn (You’re sorry)

Scarred Blistered Battered Unborn (Always sorry)

Incest Rape No more trust (You’re sorry)

You call it love You call it lust (Always sorry)

Terrorized Hypnotized Rooted to the spot (So sorry)

Eyes wide open Soul is cut (Always sorry)

Fear Nightmares Numbness Pain (So sorry)

Betrayal Violence Terror Flame

Our children are watching

Our children are watching

Our children are learning

Our children are dying

I try to make it better

I try to do it right

I try not to make you mad

I try to stop the fights

But what can I do when it’s too late

When the hands of love

Become the hands of hate


I heard on the news the other day

Yet another story ’bout a sistah blown away

I’m tellin’ you, the fire, it stops here

Listen to me, brothers, let’s make it very clear:

I hold this body holy

I hold this body sacred

I hold this body inviolate

I reject your violence, your hatred, your story!

Hey, hey hey hey

It stops here

Hey, hey hey hey

It stops today

Hey, hey hey hey

Your little game

Hey, hey hey hey

I won’t play

How long can this go on,

Father to son, we are broken,

Hey, we are broken

When will you face the truth,

Give up your abuse,

Broken, yes, you are broken

I’m tellin’ you today

I’m not gonna stay

In the place you’ve set for me

I’m stronger and I’m ready now

This is gonna stop, I take this vow:

I swear by the Earth and all I hold dear,

I will not stand by and watch this slaughter,

I will intervene, I’ll stand in your way,

You will not strike your sistah, your wife, your daughter

Hold this body holy

I hold this body sacred

I hold this body inviolate

I reject your violence, your hatred, your story!

Hey, hey hey hey

It stops here

Hey, hey hey hey

It stops today

Hey, hey hey hey

No more victims

Hey, hey hey hey

Because I say:

I hold this body holy

I hold this body sacred

I hold this body inviolate

I claim my life, my love, my rage!