Tuesday, February 15, 2005

les choristes

France is in full choir frenzy. With the film' Les Choristes' inspiring kids and grandmothers all over the country to join up, and another new documentary just out, everyone here is singing. On the other side of the channel, I hear that schools are told they cannot have christian hymns in assembly because they would be prejudiced against Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and thus a child grows into an adult having never had the chance to express himself in one of the oldest, most natural, and safe, ways. Don't those nasty rule-makers know - it's not about the words, it's about opening your lungs, your arms, your heart and your mouth and letting all the unspeakables and the unspokens pour out of you in sound......?
Working with the Glyndebourne Education team I've seen kids sing for the first time in their lives, the 'difficult' ones pouring out sound - histories of abuse and drugs, of paralyzing fear, or of that little moment of beauty when a gentle hand held theirs. The session ends, we leave them, perhaps with a small tender opening in their hearts, perhaps not. Perhaps they never sing again. Heart-rending stuff.
Given my passion for singing then, especially the imperfect kind, you would think I would have been bowled over to be doing a choral concert in Cannes on one of my only two days off?
Having to travel for ten hours on the train that day, I was not in a good mood. On arrival I lugged my cello and suitcase down to the beach to eat my take-away sushi, only to find any view of the sea obliterated by a series of white tents, all swarming with English speaking conference bods feeling very important in designer suits and snatching away my right to the sea view. Then, to top it all, a choir that sang Mozart's Ave Verum SO out of tune that it was an excruciating assault on my soul. It's wonderful to sing. Everyone should do it for all sorts of reasons, but in public?
Now, here's the thing:
The audience was ECSTATIC! Four calls back to the stage, whooping and slapping of all parts of the body in unison, and yet another unbearable rendition of Mozart's beautiful classic.
So what's it all for, I ask myself? Why Bother with searching for universal harmony in perfect intonation? Why Bother with seeking an arc of phrase that has the same architectural truth as the Golden Section? Why Bother tapping into a character which is archetypal? Why Bother meditating beforehand in an attempt to connect to the great unity of spirit which binds us?
Julian suggests that an audience's response is all about time and place, not about the performance. I agree with him. To an extent.
I believe the intention behind a movement or a sound, or even an act of listening to be of paramount importance; I believe in the social power of gathering together, like we do in prayer. I believe in imperfection. (Listen to Casals, or Joni Mitchell - it is their imperfections that touch us; it is the courage they have to stand on the edge of emotion and sing that is SO unbearably human). And yet, surely there has to be some kind of recognizable form from which these jewels shine out - as Joni would say, 'like a ruby in a black man's ear' - and not just chaos?
Apparently not, and perhaps, as my wise, music loving, humming hubbie says, I am just doing it for me.
Food for thought indeed.


Blogger ezappy said...

Purity in performance, while taking one closer to the gods, so we believe, is different from performance as drama. The unexpected rendition in the open air, as a dramatic event can impinge on "everyman", while the acknowledgement of craft and mastery requires education and effort. We live in strange times where a snapshot from a mobile phone can sometimes rival a painting? Anyone can be arty by pressing a button in the right location at a syncronicitous moment. That is not to be confused with weilding a hairy stick dipped in gloopy stuff to make magic happen.. or dragging a horses tail across an old wooden box to charm the muses eh?

2:36 PM  
Blogger ruth said...

ezappy and ezapoet too. well put maestro.

12:00 PM  

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