Thursday, October 30, 2008
Let me tell you: if you've ever seen the musical performed by your local high school or college ensemble, you may think you know the songs, but you haven't truly heard "Tevye's Dream" until you've heard Fruma-Sarah belted out by Ruth Madoc. (I think--I've lost the original liner notes. And actually, the Fruma-Sarah at my college's production was almost better, but I can't remember who sang it.)
My parents took me along to this movie when I was 3 years old. I still remember the dried leaves swirling as Fruma-Sarah returned from the grave. Then I dove under the seat, but no sticky little fingers in the ears could keep out that mighty shriek. Had nightmares for a long time after that.
For 99 cents, the pleasure can be yours!
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
How is an Editor Like a Violist?
Last year, Morning Edition, the NPR program, ran a series of essays called “Musicians in Their Own Words.” One gray morning, I happened to catch Cynthia Phelps, the principal violist of the New York Philharmonic.
Now, the viola section rarely gets the melody in orchestral music—and when they do, it’s usually just for short passages. But Phelps talked about how violas shape the sound of the entire orchestra. They play the “notes behind the notes” that provide the backdrop, the context for the melody. They influence how listeners perceive the mood and even the tempo of the music.
Cynthia Phelps didn’t hesitate to say that one of the reasons she likes being a non-melody-getting viola player is that she has control at the very foundation of the music. I don’t think she means that this control is like a dictatorship, though. The power of music is a collective power—musicians working together; it also involves the listener.
Are you starting to see where I’m taking this?
So, of course Phelps didn’t call herself a dictator, or even a leader. She called herself a mediator. The radio feature ended with her saying, "I try and create a balanced middle ground. It really resonates with the way I am as an individual."
An editor, too, is a mediator, a liaison for the readers and the writers and the publisher. If I only printed what writers wanted to write, [one of the publications I edit] would be very different. (They all seem to love to write about cancer survivors, octogenarian athletes and small business owners.) And although I’m lucky to have a publisher who truly values good writing and reporting, in general, a publisher’s concerns are not precisely the same as the readers' or the writers'.
If I only printed what readers wanted to read… well, I don’t know what Readers want, exactly, but I do know (because I’m a reader myself) that they want to be informed, entertained, and above all, respected.
So the editor is the pivot point, the mediator. The editor gets the writers to think of the readers. I hope by choosing topics and assigning articles that cover a wide range of experiences, I get readers to think about our community and our world.---
There was more, but I drifted away from the violist/editor analogy. It was hard--and probably not necessary-- for me to express how epiphanic the moment was for me, when I heard Phelps declare that the role of a viola in the orchestra fits her understanding of herself as a mediator. It was deeply pleasing to hear someone else say this, the same thing I feel about my role as an editor. I had never bothered to imagine that a musician might see herself this way.
Friday, October 24, 2008
Thomas Mapfumo started making music when Zimbabwe was Rhodesia, a former British colony struggling for independence. He's credited with blending traditional Shona songs and instruments with contemporary electric rock music, and is recognized as a cultural leader in the revolution. He's now stridently anti-Mugabe, living in exile in Oregon and making music with his band, Blacks Unlimited.
As for this music, simple and complex beats are layered to produce a thick foundation of rhythm, on top of which melodic cycles and riffs flow in and out. Mapfumo's voice isn't strong, but intense and perfectly balanced with the instruments: drums, percussion, bass, tenor and alto sax, mbira and guitar. It's music to sit and soak up or to dance to, and a little bit of the latter did, in fact, occur in the sedately carpeted aisles of Camp Concert Hall.
If you're not familiar with Zimbabwean music in particular, or African music at all, this is an excellent show to start with. Good thing they're playing again, Saturday night... get a ticket now!: Thomas Mapfumo and Blacks Unlimited
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Just when you think the elevator and your tour guide couldn’t possibly go any faster, you smash through the roof and everyone jumps to their feet clapping.
Thursday, October 9, 2008
I took my 11-year-old daughter tonight, and because I was lame and didn't buy tickets ahead of time, we almost didn't get to see the show. We had to sit on opposite ends of the theater and I felt sad that I couldn't see her reactions as the play progressed. Afterwards, she said she was glad we went. Maybe she was just as happy not sitting with me.
P.S. Only in the Underworld do fathers and [absent] brides walk down the aisle to Glenn Gould's meditation on corporeality that is the Goldberg Variations Aria. Thank you, Bryan Harris, for teaching us this. In fact, I think it was the Bach that called Eurydice to her father.