Robert and I have just completed another film poem, incorporating footage of children in Britton, South Dakota filmed by Ivan Bessie in 1939. Enjoy!
Recently, I’ve been taking theatrical impro classes which culminate in a public show, and they’ve sparked lots of ideas in me. Our teacher, Remy is extremely imaginative and adventurous, and so we never know exactly what we’ll be doing from one moment to the next. However, we do generally start the class with a warm-up.
An impro warm-up is designed to get us to a place where we are able to be open, creative, free, bold, natural, inventive, uninhibited. Once we are in that place, anything is possible. It doesn’t really matter how we get there. Recently, we were instructed to improvise several scenes and songs in Spanish, although most of us don’t speak the language. At other times, we will speak gibberish, or mime, or do one action while describing another. It’s more about what goes on inside us- allowing ourselves to experience that moment of daring, the pushing-through of the membrane that usually stops us emerging fully into life. Continue reading
This week, I’ve written a guest post “What does it mean to be free to create?” on Lisa Peake’s Peake Productivity blog. It’s an area I’m very much still working on, and I’d love to hear your ideas too!
My new blog entry is on the most inspiring books currently on my book shelf.
A few days ago, I happened to hear about an intriguing concert in London- the Aurora Chamber Orchestra playing Mahler’s First Symphony, followed by a Klezmer band, She’Koyokh. Being a fan of both Mahler and Klezmer (traditional Eastern European Jewish folk music), I decided to book tickets, not quite knowing what to expect.
The concert took place at St Luke’s, Old St in the City, a converted church, now rehearsal and concert space for the LSO and others. The first half began with the orchestra in darkness, a sole spotlight on Timothy Orpen, an astonishing young clarinetist, who played a virtuosic solo by Jörg Widmann. Hardly had he finished when a clarinettist in the rafters took over (Susi Evans, from She’Koyokh), playing a traditional Doina, accompanied, still in darkness, by the orchestra. This was drama at the service of the music, and it worked beautifully, highlighting the prime role of the clarinet in both the symphony and in Klezmer music, and introducing both improvisational and traditional music from the outset. It was only after the conductor, the charismatic Nicholas Collon, crept on to the stage and the first few chords of the Mahler symphony trembled into life, that the lights began to come up.
The Mahler was performed in a brand new version for chamber orchestra by Iain Farrington, with one instrument per part. This version was fascinating. Watching single strings cope with demanding counterpoint and lyrical intensity in a virtuosic display with the transparency of chamber music was stimulating. Each wind player brought individual colour and charisma. There was nowhere to hide, and no one wanted to. There was sometimes a pull between those wanting to let music breathe (particularly string players), and the wind agreeing with the conductor in wanting to drive the music forward. This resulted in minor ensemble difficulties occasionally, but over all the playing was outstanding. The famous funeral march of the third movement is punctuated by obvious references to Klezmer music, making explicit the raison d’être of the programme. It was only in the fortissimo sections of the final movement that I really missed the impact of a large orchestra.
After the interval, it was the turn of She’Koyokh, a distinguished klezmer band, to take the stage. In vibrant outfits, with rakish hats and equally rakish grins, they provided an immediate contrast to the classical players, and the audience were enthralled within minutes by a series of songs and dances from the Sephardic Jewish tradition, Bulgaria, and Turkey, amongst others. Astonishingly, some of the Aurora players had volunteered to join them, having taken a series of workshops on Yiddish music. A main part of the success of the evening came from seeing music being made with such playfulness, courage and risk-taking. Watching the classical players step (leap) outside their comfort zone, be inspired by folk music, and willing to improvise publicly was an inspiration.
As humans, we often mistake seriousness for purposefulness, and vice versa. Here purpose was all joy. The strengths of the classical players: virtuosity, musicianship, the ability to learn new music quickly in different styles, combined with the strengths of the multi-cultural band: Characterfulness. Juice. Drama. Instinct. Chutzpah. Groove. It was one of the most invigorating evenings I’ve experienced in a long time, and I didn’t want it to end.
I have a new post over at Music Teachers’ Helper about the importance (and the difficulty) of maintaining balance in your life, especially as a freelance musician. Enjoy!
This afternoon was the last day of the Christmas holidays, unexpectedly sunny, crisp and breezy. After the departure of some visitors, Robert and I were about to go out for a walk and some tea and cake, when he suddenly pointed to a patch of light on the wall behind me. The reflections from the garden of waving branches and the wrought iron of a clothes post were casting flickering shadows onto the wall in an astonishing fashion, almost like a silent movie. Robert grabbed his iPhone and captured some video. “You could use that for a poem-film, “ I remarked, thinking about the beautiful short videos some friends had made recently.
When we got home from our walk, I began improvising to the footage on the piano, while Robert listened and wrote. Within twenty minutes we both had something. Remarkably, when Robert read his poem aloud, it was exactly the right length. He recorded it, synchronized it with the video, and then I recorded my part on top onto a different track so that we could experiment with individual volume and colour.
I’m not a recording engineer, but I know what works when I hear it. In this case, I knew we needed to take the ‘edge’ off the sound on both tracks. It took a little whole to find the right effect for the piano part. It wasn’t until Robert added a little reverb that it harmonized with the imagery. It sounded as if it had been recorded many years ago in a dusty, cavernous ballet studio on a slightly tinny upright. Perfect.
We both could hear that Robert’s voice was also cutting through the texture in a way that sounded too immediate, modern and dynamic. When he equalized it, using an effect called RCA Victor 1947, it all came together.
Result: a film-poem in one evening. If only making art could be this easy and graceful every time.
I just wrote a new post for Music Teachers Helper blog on musicians and injury from a personal standpoint. I’m getting better at being open about what has in the past been a very difficult and painful subject for me, and you can read the article here.
“No Triumph, No Tragedy” is the name of a program on BBC Radio 4 where a well-known blind radio presenter, Peter White, interviews various celebrities who have also had to deal with physical challenges. The program is enthralling–Peter White is an excellent interviewer and his subjects are equally fascinating. So why did that title offend me so much when I first heard it? What on earth could he mean, I thought, “No Triumph, No Tragedy”? Continue reading
“Humans are the only animals that will follow an unstable pack leader.”
- Cesar Millan, ‘The Dog Whisperer’
How many times have I followed an ‘unstable pack leader’? Try: My whole life! I bet I’m not alone either. Ever since I heard that quote a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been pondering what it means, and whether it matches my own experience.
Cesar defines a stable pack leader as someone who is what he calls ‘calm-assertive’, present in the moment, balanced, and consistently providing clear rules and boundaries. For dogs these are “exercise, discipline and affection… in that order!” He asserts that dogs immediately know whether someone is in that state by their energy, and can’t be fooled by words or the outer symbols of power that persuade us mere humans. I’ve recently become a fan of his show for that reason— to see him modeling that energy, and to learn how to manifest it more in my own life. Continue reading