Thursday, April 30, 2020

Completeness | Pandemic Musings

I'm really not sure whether my attention span has increased or decreased since quarantine started.

And with that, Facebook calls. See you in 15 minutes.

Our reward for getting three sentences in: my favorite opera scene EVER,
taken from the production of Les Indes galantes that I briefly discuss below.

What was I saying? Oh yeah, me and my attention span.

But I don't usually have the attention span to sit down and listen to "complete" anything. At concerts, my mind often wanders (yeah, I admit it). My favorite albums usually have a little bit of a lot of things -- just look at what I've reviewed so far.

Lately, though, I've found myself seeking out more "complete" musical experiences. Last week, I listened through all of Britten's Turn of the Screw -- I don't usually listen to operas, it feels like a piece of missing (maybe I like to see staged works?). Just a couple days ago, I made it through the six hours of music that make up Marais's second book of viol pieces. And now, I'm on a recording of Bach's complete keyboard music (volume 3 of many).

I wonder if having more time necessarily translates to more attention. I feel like the answer is no. Then why am I seeking out "completeness" all of a sudden?

Maybe I'm overthinking this. Yeah, I think I'm only seeking out "completeness" because it's new to me and I'm getting bored of only listening to skittish concept albums.

That said, my favorite "complete" experience that everyone should have this break: the Paris National Opera's production of Rameau's Les Indes galantes is available on You need a European VPN, but it's well worth finding one. My friend and I started at 9pm and planned only to watch until the end of act two (the opera is a prologue plus four acts). It was so fantastic we didn't stop until the bitter end. I can't provide the link or else I might be sued, but go. Do it. You have the time.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Free to Be...You and Me | Pandemic Musings

Free to Be... You and Me - Wikipedia
All I really want is for this cast to come read me a bedtime story... 
WHO: Marlo Thomas and Friends (you know a lot of them, trust me)
WHAT: my childhood
LABEL: Bell Records

Free to Be...You and Me was an elementary school in-the-car CD. Once I hit sixth grade, the CD went back on the shelf. I didn't listen to it again for about ten years.

Out of the blue, I found Free to Be stuck in my head a few months ago. It was one of those mornings where I had sacrificed half my night's sleep to wake up and churn out an entire paper that was due that day at noon....not a great day. But once I'd sent the paper off (for better or for worse), I put the album on just to get it out of my head.

It's crazy how much content we miss in our childhood favorites. I mean, I remember my mother very clearly telling me I was not allowed to sing the soundtrack from Hair anywhere near my elementary school -- I didn't understand why until I listened back in high school. Sodomyyyyy....fellatioooooo...

Anyway, I never internalized the message of Free to Be...You and Me, even though it's right there in the title. Upon relistening, it was kind of right there -- all genders are equal, a concept we still struggle with today for some odd reason. God, I must have been one oblivious child.

I have to say, the experience of listening to Free to Be as 21-year-old gay guy instead of a 8-year-old kook, now that the lyrics form full sentences in my head instead of just sort of isolated words to memorize...I quickly realized what I'd missed. I cried a little bit. Or maybe a lot. I was running on four hours of sleep, the details are a little blurry. Probably a lot.

Again today, I was humming through the soundtrack. I just have to say: it hits every time. That indescribable feeling of wanting to smile, cry, laugh....and then it just overflows as you throw your head back and sing along at the top of your lungs. Sorry, neighbors.

It's all still oddly relatable. Just like Aesop's judgments of morality still ring true today, so will Marlo Thomas's for my children, and their children. Do good. Be nice. Treat others right. Though I will admit, the thought of a 22-year-old Dudley Pippin (who, according to Thomas, is "just about your age, or maybe just a little bit older") contesting that he didn't knock over the school sand-table made me chuckle. Especially considering that my former residence hall does, in fact, have a sandbox for some reason.

Mel Brooks as a Brooklynite baby trying (and failing) to figure out his gender. Diana Ross speculating on adulthood. Harry Belafonte singing about the joys of parenting. Former Penn State defensive tackle Rosey Grier reassuring us that it is, in fact, alright to cry. Carol Channing reminding us that NO ONE likes housework -- I was ironically hanging my pans up to dry as that one came on. And Marlo Thomas doing all of the above and more. A mastermind, a workhorse, a true talent.

It reminds us that all these untouchable celebrities are people too. People who care. People who love.

Oh, and I still know all the words, even ten years later. Some things are just etched in your soul forever.

I know it hasn't aged perfectly -- there are many more genders than the two that they mention, of course. But we can't fault them for not mentioning that in 1972. This album (and the TV special that aired with it) is historically important, full of fantastic music and storytelling, and will make me want to sing along until the day I die. You're never too old for Free to Be...You and Me. I wish I'd discovered that sooner.

And let me tell you, it's aged better than 95% of the classical canon, including Victor Herbert's operetta Babes in Toyland, quoted and parodied extensively by Jack Cassidy and Shirley Jones in the second-to-last song of Free to Be. Maybe that's the next step with problematic classical music -- parody it so much that the message loses all its gravity. A crazy and impractical solution, but in theory it would probably work!


Sunday, April 26, 2020

Donizetti and Desperation: Some Tracks From This Week | Pandemic Musings

Remember that time I whined about being in "day umpteen" of quarantine on, like, day 10? Ha. Haha. HAHAHAHA.

Apparently I've been busy, because I haven't written for almost a month. But of course I've still been listening to lots of music -- what else am I going to do while I cook meals for five and then eat the entire pot in one night?

Side note: any of you ever make a whole loaf of bread and then finish it in 24 hours? I'm down to a heel of the focaccia I made yesterday. Note to self: solo quarantine is terrible for the waistline.

Anyway, here are a few memorable bits of music from the past couple weeks.

David Lang: "penance and remorse" from the little match girl passion
Theatre of Voices; Paul Hillier, conductor

A few nights ago, in some sort of tired, cranky, stir-crazy fever dream, I seriously considered mounting this piece as the capstone to my music degree. The next morning, I woke up and decided that maybe post-midnight quarantine Emery shouldn't be calling the shots.

Dieterich Buxtehude: O clemens, o mitis, o coelestis pater
Julie Roset, soprano; Ensemble Clematis

According to Julie Roset's Facebook fanpage, she got her bachelor's in 2019 -- and in Europe, bachelor's degrees are three years. So basically, she's a year older than I am. Her first solo album dropped, like, a week ago. What have I done with my life? (I should mention that the first phrase of this Buxtehude was so perfect that I forgot about the dish I was washing and spent the next fifteen minutes sweeping ceramic shards from my kitchen floor...maybe that says more about me than about Julie Roset though?)

Meredith Monk: "Wa-Lie-Oh" from Songs from the Hill
Marc Mauillon, baritone

An album to be experienced, not to be talked about.

Richard Strauss: the last five minutes of Ein Heldenleben
Gothenburg Symphony; Kent Nagano, conductor

I'm never in the mood to listen to Strauss. Except yesterday, I was. Brought me right back to Disney Hall, watching an aging, but ever lively Zubin Mehta conduct Heldenleben with the LA Phil on the weekend of my 18th birthday. I've said it once and I'll say it again: thank god for the $10 student ticket.

Marin Marais: "La Polonoise" from Suite in d minor (Second Book of Pieces for Viol)
François Joubert-Caillet; L'Achéron

I watched this one video ~20 times the other day. My findings: harp is just so totally the best continuo instrument. Plus, how cool is that 10th century church they're recording in?

Gaetano Donizetti: "Chacun le sait" from La fille du régiment
Erin Morley, soprano and piano; from the Metropolitan Opera's livestreamed gala

I go on a lot of walks in the only New Haven neighborhood with living rooms that big, I wonder if I've walked by Erin Morley's house? (also, what a performance holy crap) (also also, bel canto usually gives me hives but for some reason yesterday I only wanted to listen to music I don't usually like? I think quarantine broke me)

Anaïs Mitchell: Way Down Hadestown
From the original 2010 concept album

There's something so comforting about this original version -- no pomp, no circumstance, no huge swing-band dance number. With the call-and-response, it's almost campfire-y in a way. Intimate, muted, warm, fuzzy.

My first day at Kinhaven, circa 2010

Thomas Ford: Since First I Saw Your Face

Virtual madrigals were exactly what my aching heart needed this week. Look hard, you might see some familiar faces. (video here)