Tuesday, March 29, 2005

NYC day 3

My consternation concerning the African music section of the program for this course is increasing. The problem is that while I really do feel that some of the "emotion" and "power" in the music is contrived, I can't help but sympathize with and admire the conductor. He is just too white, and just too male, and just too new South African to make me willing to trust him entirely, but I can't help believing that he is sincere when he talks about how important the music we are working on is to him. And I sympathise with his desire to keep African choral music alive. At the same time, I am a bit in awe of his abilities as a conductor. The last time I sang under him, he was a kid, who appeared to be just finding his footing as a conductor. Now, he's a larger that life character, who you'd swear was years older that me, rather than my own age, with a knack for leading a choir. The irony of it is that I don't entirely trust his musicality. And if we're judging things from the conventional standpoint, then he's not a particularly skilled conductor. I have yet to see him actually conduct, but he has achieved results with the choir that none of the other conductors have been able to. He keeps saying "energy is non-negotiable", and that is certainly what he gives and gets. Still, when I am instructed to "make a noise for four bars," and find myself at a loss for what type of noise to make, or of the actual effect of that noise to the music, I think back to that informant who commented that he didn't think that African music had much value. Hell yes it's fun, but really, how musical is it? And yet, on stage, it's effective. We'll have to see exactly what the effect is tomorrow, but I suspect that it will be satisfying. It's so easy to enjoy music like that, an the music just demands a response. If it's what people want to hear, if it moves them, and energizes them, what's really wrong with it? And what's really right with performing difficult, but "musical" music if the response is half-hearted? This director commented today that part of the reason so many choirs perform to half empty halls is that they are lacking energy. And he's probably right. Lots of people listen to this. Why are we really making this music?

I asked several people today what their favourite sections in the music are, and unlike yesterday, while everyone expressed pleasure at the African section, the vote for the Latvian music being the favourite was unanimous. Is it more musical? I can't tell. I also can't tell what stereotypes it reinforces, because I don't know what is stereotypical to a Latvian musician. I do know that it's satisfying music to sing. And it also makes use of theatrical devices like drums and symbols, and in one case, even patter singing. In fact, if we're looking at theatricality, so does the Chichester psalms. So is there nothing we are singing that is all about the music? Perhaps they all are. Perhaps the music is theatrical and dramatic, and that is what it's all about. After all, don't most composers seek that elusive 'hook'? The director who I spent the first part of this entry obsessing about related a bit of conversation he had had with a composer, who said that he felt that everything, compositionally had "been done." He then went on to comment on the value for a composer of living in South Africa, with it's diversion of cultures. And yet there's my conducting teachers "white noise" concept to consider. Is it possible to achieve multi-racialism without reaching overkill? Is a choir in which the bases are singing an ostinato pattern, the tenors are singing a fragment of our national anthem, the altos are singing a fragment of "bobejan Klim die Berg", the second Sopranos are singing another fragment of the national anthem, is two different languages, and the first sopranos are singing "Mbube" producing white noise? On the other hand, wasn't it Mozart who said that only with music can you have twenty people singing completely different things all at once, and still make sense?

NYC this year really is an Africanist's dream. We have everything from a flamboyantly gay Afrikaner, to a liberal, white, English modernist, to a group of young men and women who grew up in a township, and traveled to Chicago last year to perform an opera; from those for whom music is a hobby, to those for whom music is life; all levels of experience, all walks of life, a variety of attitudes, beliefs, passions, and reasons for being there. And yet we manage to produce music. Why would I possibly want to be anywhere other than exactly where I am right now?

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