Tag Archives: brahms

soul to soul

so last week, i had the great pleasure of recording an interview with a producer from the BBC for a radio program entitled Soul Music (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b008mj7p), a program that focuses on a particular work (classical, pop, whatever) and people’s personal connections to it. i spent a very emotional hour talking about the Brahms Requiem & its place in my life. 

it was one of the most difficult things i’ve ever done. there were tears and things caught in my throat and serious real talk was had. i don’t think the producer nor the sound engineer had ever heard something like that. (the sound engineer asked me if i was a writer, i told him i was) but as difficult as it was, it was freeing and i’m so excited to share it with everyone when it airs.

i do think it’s funny though that the day after giving this interview, opening myself up about being ill, that i ended up in the hospital. and this time, i wasn’t concerned about my professors knowing (and i actually wanted them to know…granted this situation is a little different) — things may be cyclical but that doesn’t mean i have to make all the same mistakes. 

and i think i have Brahms to thank for that.

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ich will euch wiedersehen!

Ye now are sorrowful, howebeit ye shall again behold me, and your heart shall be joyful, and your joy no man taketh from you. (John 16:22)

i know i’ve mentioned Brahms before here before but i would be remiss to not mention the experience i had today. somehow out of the ashes of confusion and anger towards circumstances that were beyond our control, something beautiful occurred. in the midst of our run of Ein deutsches Requiem, we reached the fifth movement. and while it has always been performed lovely, i was completely taken by surprise. yet somehow i’m able to recall the exact moment: Mühe und Arbeit gehabt. suddenly, my eyes filled with tears and i was just so overcome with this strange mixture of joy and sorrow that is only explainable through tears. however, my brain told me to snap out of it because i was singing and if i paused for even a moment, it’d be all over. this was the biggest conflict of interests ever. my body wanted to run off stage and weep, as if to release some deep longing and yet, somehow, my lips kept moving. the next thing you know, we had reached the end. wiedersehen! and out of nowhere, as if by God’s command (or Brahms’s), birds began to sing. well that was more than i could handle. the only other time that particular experience has happened to me was in the sanctuary of the Church of the Holy Trinity in NYC where i had an appropriately religious experience singing Saint-Saëns. for me, as a child, i associated birds singing with the idea of the earth speaking to me, reciting a love song. i know it might sound weird but i was a child that was moved by the wind, the sea and birds singing. whenever i felt the most sorrow and the most despair, the birds would come and they would sing.

so just as St. John said, i was sorrowful and was made joyful. the ability to be moved by something so acoustically and mathematically arbitrary, so textually fragmented seems a mystery to me. luckily, it’s a mystery i have no desire to solve and have no business solving in the first place. i’m perfectly content with music happening to me. so many in my field ask questions to reach a deeper understanding of what we do and why we do it but i feel that this deep knowledge can only come from a sort of passive listening that happens with one’s whole body and mind. that’s when the tears come, and the birds sing.

(for you, jessica.)


Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit

i have had an intimate love affair with Ein deutsches Requiem for over four years now, and its still in the blessed honeymoon stage. it all started when a very exuberant german conductor walked into my life. Hans Michael Beurle was here to teach our choirs about Bach, Brahms and conducting and i had the pleasure of experiencing all three (even though he struggled all semester with the pronunciation of my name) and the coup de grâce would be Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem with our combined choirs (vocal ensemble, choir, chorus and choral society). we started work on the piece early and Hans singled me out for alto section leader. that meant me listening to my recording of the Requiem (which just happens to feature the Atlanta Symphony Chorus, under the baton of Robert Shaw, who i just heard perform the Requiem with the Berlin Philharmonic) over and over, marking up my score and, occasionally, singing my parts out loud on the Q88. i fell in love with the piece instantaneously.

and then, the day after our vocal ensemble’s performance of all Bach cantatas (as Hans called them, the really hard ones), i went to see a cardiologist in Long Island, as my GP was worried about some recent EKGs. after some tests, i sat in the doctor’s office with my parents only to hear that i was going to the emergency room right then and there to have heart surgery. to make a long story short, this was the beginning of a multiple year (and ongoing) barrage of surgeries and hospitalizations that would completely change my life (i was 21 at the time). i ended up being in this particular hospital for two weeks, mostly in ICU on bed rest. once i was out of recovery, my parents asked me if there was anything from my apartment that i wanted. i asked for three things. a stuffed bear that was a keepsake, my ipod and my score to the Requiem. now for any of you who have had extended hospital stays, you know that it gets old fast. you’re awake at all hours, never really left alone with nothing to do. so amidst all of the pain (physical and personal) and confusion, i fell, very deeply, into the Brahms. i was excited to nail a new passage, memorize something or just have the chance to sing. and the more it became about knowing the piece as opposed to just knowing the words, i felt a sort of joy that was hard to access under the circumstances.

singing “ewige Freude” suddenly meant something.

the day i got out of the hospital was the dress rehearsal for the performance. i couldn’t walk and had to be carried into my apartment. i took a shower and went to sleep for a few hours. and when i woke up, i made the decision to go to the dress rehearsal. my parents were staunchly against it but i had made up my mind. i needed to do this. and i don’t know how but my parents understood. so i hobbled to the bus and made my way to school on the condition that if anything happened that i would come straight home. everyone was surprised to see me and asked how i was. i didn’t want to talk about it, all i wanted to do was sing. and though i sat while everyone else stood, i sang. Hans assured me that i didn’t have to be there but was glad to have me.

i ended up doing the performance (standing) and i couldn’t control my emotions. i cried like i had never cried before. this piece of music carried me through an incredibly dense despair to a place of freedom and joy. i believe that that is the message of the piece itself. Brahms himself was suffering from loss when he embarked upon the work and its ability to help heal cannot be lost on us. any attempt to talk about the so-called power of music can become trite so i will leave it here (and let the music speak for itself) but i must end with this: there is something to be said about what we allow music to do, both to us and for us. if i ever forget why i got into this racket in the first place, this helps me to remember.

here is the Philharmonia Orchestra under the baton of Otto Klemperer performing the first movement, Selig sind, die da Leid tragen.

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twelve drummers drumming

well i’m snowed in here in baltimore, which presents the unique opportunity to either a) get a lot of things accomplished or b) do absolutely nothing. you can take a guess how the day played out. in any case, a handful of musical tidbits for this particular season:

  • a fabulous post from the guys over at Amusicology, on, ironically enough, how to get to work on your dissertation. i should really implement this…
  • this is the season when everyone puts out a christmas album (much to my dismay) and my time working at the gap has taught me to guard your music wisely! Pandora is working well as i made a “This Christmas” radio station (after the classic Donny Hathaway song & my favorite christmas song), try it out if you’re looking for some new music.
  • a yule log doesn’t hurt (even if it’s electronic)

this past week has been interesting and has raised a lot of issues and thoughts that, i suppose, need addressing. i’ve been taking a class this semester called Community Engagement and we all had to give final projects at the end of the year. mine took place on friday — a selection of musical theater songs with some theater games and info at a baltimore city middle school. over all it went well but there were moments when i wondered if i knew what i was doing. first, what we were up against: middle schoolers. no matter what part of the country, what class, race or socio-economic strata, middle schoolers are all the same. too cool for everything and hormones, hormones, hormones. so the thought of getting 20 kids to listen to me talk about rodgers & hammerstein seemed highly unlikely. and i was right, partly. the first group of kids (all girls, actually) was really excited and seemed cooperative. the group that followed wanted nothing to do with me and i choked. i learned a valuable lesson, many, actually, and tried to keep moving forward. my performers were unfazed which is testament to their professionalism and willingness.

but how do you lose the academic veneer that you’ve been working on? how do you make music history approachable to 13 year olds? i had an interesting conversation with my performers before we started about how to reach people. in the last year of my undergraduate, my new music ensemble along with students from the drama department took a full version of Stravinsky’s L’histoire on tour. our second stop was a high school in bay ridge (brooklyn) where we performed parts of l’histoire and parts of Steve Reich’s Drumming. they seemed unimpressed, at best. my pianist mentioned that they may just not have known how to express interest because, let’s face it, who hears Reich and Stravinsky live in their high school?

so i hoped in vain that part of this project would hit home and i think it did. an adorable 7th grader came up to our vocalist asking all sorts of questions. made me feel good even if i kind of flaked. (if you’re wondering, i got a B+ in the class which was to be expected). i think sometimes, we’re so caught up in academia and the impractical aspects of our field that we forget about their very practical applications. as far as getting out in the community, i’m a little rusty but i plan on rectifying that (in the form of an internship at the BSO’s ORCHkids program). how many musicologists, professors or what have you would have been able to do what i did on friday or would have even entertained the idea? if middle schoolers and church goers and kids at the Y don’t know about a symphony, what’s the point?

you can contend that point if you wish. my platform is that there isn’t one, but that’s just my take.

for something a little less existential…i was lucky enough to receive, as a thank you for my GA work, two tickets to the Berlin Philharmonic’s Digital Concert Hall from my advisor. i’m taking advantage of this present tomorrow and watching Donald Runnicles conduct Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem. i really have fallen in love with this thing, on so many levels. for the inner tech geek in me, the quality of this is just outstanding, from the website to the actual production. it’s a pleasure to watch and feels like a grand event. and, of course, the music is just first rate. it seems that this is a venture that the Berlin Phil is strongly behind, using it to allow people all over the opportunity to hear great music. their outreach program that is tied in with this (with the help of Deutsche Bank) is also outstanding. so maybe it is related to what i discussed before. programs like this and the Met Live in HD (their cinema showings and their online player) make me slightly less worried about the future. it’s work on both ends of the scale that matter.

well, if i don’t see you before the new year, merry christmas and happy holidays. relax, be safe and love one another. i’ll leave you with a song from my very well guarded christmas mix, James Taylor’s cover of Joni Mitchell’s classic, River.

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