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Thursday, May 25, 2006

Conducting and writing

1. The Triangle Jewish Chorale had its last concert of the season on Tuesday. It was an informal affair, in a nice room with a good piano, and the audience was big (for us), and enthusiastic, and sang along when asked. A fine time was had by all!

I first started conducting this group about ten years ago. That's a long time; my life has changed tremendously since then, and the vigorous, opinionated businessman who used to (through his wife) pay my salary - that was before the group was a non-profit - is now a shadow, shuffling through his Assisted Living Center with a hunted look on his face.

When I got the job, I took it entirely as a musical assignment. I thought my mandate was to make excellent music, so I was frustrated when the group couldn't duplicate phrasings I sang for them, or when pieces had to be abandoned because they were too difficult for untrained singers who meet only once a fortnight. I was embarrassed when there were mistakes in performance.

Now, though, I realize my mandate is actually to inspire the people who are in the group, and make them happy in a musical context. When they're happy, their joy is communicated to the audience, and joy is the goal.

I write almost all our arrangements now, keeping the group's ability level in mind.

I've learned to communicate what I hear in my head using lots of words, using humor and plentiful analogies; I've realized meticulous verbal descriptions work better than saying: "do it like this" and singing for them. I guess that's because these particular singers are highly literate people and learn best through words.

(In contrast, my musician buddies couldn't care less about words - they're more like Silly Putty - if I sing or play something for them, if I press them up against what I hear, without discussion the idea travels through their ears into their fingers and voices.}

In concert, my smiles and funny faces fill the singers with courage, and I communicate the rhythms and phrasings with my hands, arms, and entire body. The audience gets the backside of that, hope they enjoy it ...

After the concert I tried to hug or shake hands with every member of the group, to look into each pair of eyes and share my appreciation. It touches me to see how each singer loves our music. Where once I might have been irritated at flubs, now I see the big picture: that life is fleeting and that joy, especially this spiritual joy, is too rare to squander.

2. My son Zed is home from college. He doesn't have a job (long story), and so I've set him the task of writing a page for me every day, his choice of subject, due by 9 pm sharp.

I'm hoping this will help get him in the habit of writing for pleasure; he's had a blank-page phobia for a long time. I'm hoping it will help him figure out what he likes to write about and what's important to him. I'm hoping he will find some joy in the process.

And lying here, listening to the birds (just as I wrote that, the melodious little sounds of songbirds minding their own business were blotted out by a gang of rasping crows), I realized: that's what blogging does for me.

In addition, in accordance with The Artist's Way (I still never got beyond chapter one) I've been writing "daily pages" every day since November, looking forward to going downstairs and getting a ballpoint pen and writing in a spiral notebook (I'm currently on the fourth). It was the daily pages which inspired me to start painting, and to study Yiddish - which is now one of my most inspiring obsessions. The writing inspired me to get back in touch with Bob - and playing Pratie Heads music again fills me with, well, a spiritual joy.

When Zed left home last August, I was afraid my world would shrivel, but instead it's blossomed. Meaning, it seems, that I'm out and about, doing things that excite me, and there's less time for poking around the internet.

To be continued, in some form or other...

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At 1:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Melinama,
Your column today brought a tear to my eye, it was just beautiful.
I'm 74 and although the young ones
think I'm just an old crone, like you I have noticed the changes in my outlook on life as I've aged and all for the good. I guess it means that we're getting ready to meet God. Not yet, though.

At 2:07 PM, Blogger miatagirl said...

How marvelous! As for myself, I tend to be somewhat reclusive by choice. Not sure why, just my personality – rather strange for a Leo, especially since when I’m with small groups of people I know well, I always want to be the center of their attention.

Nonetheless, I generally prefer solitude. But, then, on the occasions when I do venture out into the world (say, to find a voice teacher because I’ve decided I want to learn to sing) I’m reminded that there are many admirable and inspirational people out there.

Keep on doing all that you do! Just don’t spread yourself too thin.


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