Tuesday, November 2, 2010

An honour

Last night, I got to have one of my coolest performing experiences to date.

I was asked to sing with the Windago Chorus, headed by my friend Elaine, in two mini-concerts as part of the Soundstreams Project. Last night was the first of the two performances. The event was a Q&A chat with Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer, and we performed his pieces Gamelan, and Felix's Girls (excerpts).
Photo from Soundstreams

When I first looked at the music, I thought: Not really my cup of tea... but a little musical exposure never hurt anyone.

Gamelan is a piece inspired by the traditional Indonesian musical ensemble of the same name. Here's a Youtube video of the piece, though not by my choir. Cool stuff, right?

Felix's Girls is a compilation of nine pieces set to nine short poems by Henry Felix, with whom Mr. Schafer was personally acquainted. As he introduced the piece, he explained that Mr. Felix was a German Jew (though the introduction in the score says Polish) who escaped the Nazis by walking, by night, from Germany to Greece. The poems each describe a different girl, with the author's great sense of humour.

It is certainly nerve-wracking to perform a piece for its composer! You can only hope that you got his vision right and do him proud.

Gamelan went pretty well. Most of us were nervous about that one because of the irregular rhythms and competing lines from other parts. Also, the composer was very specific about assigning certain syllables to certain notes, so we couldn't just fake it. But we got through it.

We were more relaxed about Felix's Girls. They were fairly easy, straightforward pieces - so we thought.

Mr. Schafer practically jumped off his chair when we finished the performance. "You have to MOVE when you perform these!" He encouraged us to perform Jou-Jou (a poem of nonsense lines like "Everytime I hear a crocodile sneezing in the Nile, I shall remember you, Jou-Jou" with a background of nonsense syllables) again. "This girl is completely crazy," he explained. "You need to let go and be just as nutty as her. And gentlemen, you're just wondering how the heck you got yourself spending an evening with this crazy girl."

So we did. And suddenly the music came ALIVE!

I feel so privileged to have had that experience, and I will never forget it. I hope to be able to bring that kind of life to all of my future performances, even if the composer isn't watching.

The second Soundstreams performance will be this Sunday afternoon at 2:00 PM, in the Royal Conservatory of Music's Koerner Hall. We will be performing Gamelan and Felix's Girls, along with Arvo Pärt's Summa. http://www.soundstreams.ca/our_events/detail.php?id=107

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