A few years ago my colleagues in Gramercy Trio and I embarked on an interdisciplinary project with dance, called Where Sound and Motion Meet.
Of all the art forms, music and dance in particular have intertwined histories. With the Sound and Motion project our aim is to explore and experience the special relationship between music and dance… the place where sound and motion fuse and create something new.
We look at different ways in which music and dance can interact, from the mirroring of sound through the movement – where dance is a reflection of music – to the more abstract, where dance enters into a conversation with the music.
We try to get the audience to ‘dance’ with us. At the debut concert in 2010, when asked how the first piece made them feel (a really wild merengue by Stephen Dembsi), an elderly gentleman yelled out “Fantastic!”
At the most recent presentation (Nov. 30, 2012), one audience member expressed surprise at finding that, instead of being a distraction as she had expected, she seemed to hear the music better with the dancers.
A full Sound and Motion presentation is a true ‘community engagement’ event, as it includes a tango lesson for the audience before the concert and a dance party after. But the best part is using the performance to examine our implicit feelings and assumptions about music and the movement it evokes, and make them explicit.
Steven reminds me that this is exactly the kind of gathering that would always spring up around another American master, George Gershwin. We did make our way through two of his marvelous songs that evening.
Last night I went to a concert to hear the premiere of a gorgeous piece by one of my favorite composers, Scott Wheeler. Also in attendance – Tom Lehrer.
It did the heart of this fan good.
A couple of weeks ago I had the great pleasure of attending a party in which the entertainment was provided by those present. There were 2 guitars, a mandolin, a keyboard, a cello and a violin. First there was chamber music. Then, everyone sang rounds. Finally, least a dozen people – perhaps half of the revelers – got up to sing, either alone or in pairs. They offered original creations as well as old and current popular hits.
The great delight that we took in each other still brings a smile to my face.
This sharing generated a joy that went far beyond what is possible in our more passive forms of entertainment. Of course, before technology made everything available at the push of a button, active creation was the first, most important element to any such gathering – whether it was story telling, acting, singing, music making, dancing….
It brought to mind that great man, Charles Ives. Ives disliked and avoided recordings and radio, feeling that these kinds of technology interfered with the direct, experience of live music. A step down the slippery slope…
He would have loved that party.
About a week ago I was walking in the woods with my dogs when they flushed a rabbit out of the undergrowth. It hurled itself right at me, got all tangled in my legs and then shot off to the other side of the path.
It was over almost before I had any idea what was happening. Yet, the feeling of that furry, surprisingly substantial body twisting between my ankles and stepping all over my feet lingers on.
(No cause for alarm – the bunny got away. Long gone, but fondly remembered.)
I used to believe that everyone had music in their head 24/7, just like me. Actually, It wasn’t so much a conscious belief as something I simply took for granted.
For some reason, about a decade ago, I went outside my own little box and thought to ask several people if they always heard music too. To my surprise, the answer was no.
All this got me thinking about awareness – about how much is going on in our heads all the time. We are probably not aware of most of it.
All this mental feedback, the constant reworking and processing of ideas must have a purpose. Think about it…. We learn in our sleep. Many wonderful eureka moments are the product of lots of cogitation unfolding in the mental background….
What drives the content of our internal world?
Last year I spent several months mulling over which colors to paint my house. Literally hundreds of colored squares with absurd names like ‘gypsy love’ and ‘sailor’s delight’ were strewn about my office. After month or so of staring at paint chips, I realized that my minds eye was turning into a kind of psychedelic kaleidoscope. The obsession du jour was crowding out the music.
While preparing for an upcoming performance of Pierrot, I have been reciting the sprechstimme while practicing my own part. This is probably more entertaining for me than for my husband, trying to work in the next room.
Actually, I frequently sing while practicing, filling in missing voices from the score. Another great exercise is singing one voice in a double stop passage, while playing the other (always fingering both, but just bowing one). Doing so shows one can hear the voices independently, not just as two notes sounding together. I find my students usually can’t sing the bottom voice. As violinists, there is a tendency to listen only to the upper line.
It is crucial to play the entire score in the mind, whether it be a piece of chamber music, a sonata or a concerto. After all, as in most human interactions, it is attention to the entirety that gives real meaning and creates real connections. We probably have all had conversations with someone who is talking at us and not hearing a word anyone else is saying…. not a lot of communication going on there.
My first performance of Pierrot Lunaire is fast approaching. This is a piece I have always wanted to play, and to do so have had to learn the viola, another long-dreamt-of undertaking.
I have been facetiously telling friends that taking up viola is my latest attempt to stave off senility….. It is never too soon to start. After all, learning new things and challenging the brain is the best way to stay mentally sharp and flexible.
The most surprising part of the process has been discovering how deeply ingrained treble clef is in my mind. Those little dots are linked by bands of steel, not just to physical locations, but – more importantly – to a specific sound.
The difficulty is, with string instruments, as with the voice, if you can’t hear it, you really can’t play it…..