Sunday, July 15, 2012

Schütz at early music camp

I'm on the way home from Amherst Early Music, in a Comfort Inn in Clarion PA. What a change from last night at what I've come to think of as "Baroque Fantasy Camp." Early music performing and chat 24/7 is a very special and rare thing.

Last night was the final concert by the faculty and students. Actually, there were so many performances, all day, so wonderful and varied that by five in the afternoon I had to opt out of a dance concert because I could hardly stand up. I had a nap instead, much needed; but I missed what I hear was a very cool event.

I napped so that I'd have the energy to sing in the last big event, the Schütz Requiem. Two really wonderful things happened for me in this performance: they had to do with focus and insight.

Focus: On Wednesday, I'd volunteered to sing what I thought might be one solo. I got to sing about five -- all the second tenor solos (actually, most are ensemble pieces, from duets to sextets, but still, it's just one voice per part). This is in a program where there are fabulous singers, from the students up to the professionals, like the great Julianne Baird! So, I'm nervous, practicing a lot, trying to stay calm, trying not to panic. And I didn't, and I got through it, with only a few bloops and a much clearer sense of what I really need to learn about singing. How? It had to have been the sense of focus I felt about it, about focusing on the music and what I wanted it to say, about being present, there and then, and not daydreaming; even about making a mistake and moving right on. The key, I think, was the sense of support I felt from everyone around me. Thanks to all!

Insight: I've loved the Schütz Requiem since I sang it with John Ferris and the Harvard Memorial Church Choir in 1972 (the 300th anniversary of Schütz's death). But this time I think I understood it better. I'll write this up in a different context, I think, not here in the Comfort Inn. But in general it had to do with understanding more about the way the piece captures not just the brevity of life (that's pretty obvious: "we remain here only a short time" etc) and the way that in that 17th-century theology, it's only the soul, not the body, not the world, that lasts. Yes, the piece is about learning how NOT to value the worldly, the bodily, the tangible. But it's got the opposite idea built in as well: the tangible, material, audible, musical, performable life of the world IS the medium of this beautiful piece of music, of these profound texts. The piece says it's leaving this world in ways that are utterly tied to the beauty, wit, intensity, profundity OF this world.

Like George Herbert's great, beautiful poem about beauty and death, from the same decade in those terrible 1630's (with its reference to "closes" -- musical cadences: it's as if he had been listening to Schütz!):


Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright,
The bridall of the earth and skie:
The dew shall weep thy fall to night;
                                    For thou must die.

Sweet rose, whose hue angrie and brave
Bids the rash gazer wipe his eye:
Thy root is ever in its grave
                                    And thou must die.

Sweet spring, full of sweet dayes and roses,
A box where sweets compacted lie;
My musick shows ye have your closes,
                                    And all must die.

Onely a sweet and vertuous soul,
Like season’d timber, never gives;
But though the whole world turn to coal,
                                    Then chiefly lives.


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Congrats on your good performance~
The lack of focus always troubles me a lot when I perform on stage…can’t help day-dreaming.
The problem of beauty and death also brings me back to Homer--compared to divine life, human life is more meaningful because it’s got an end and we all know it…Anyway, I prefer to simply enjoy the “dark” beauty of this Herbert poem and forget about real life (although I guess it's important to the poem)