Before you don your viewing glasses on Monday, turn on your radio...
Thanks to Oregon Arts Watch for this thoughtful and thought-provoking response regarding their troubling review of our most recent concert. (You can read the review here.) I appreciate several aspects in particular. The OAW editors affirm their own philosophy of inclusion, as well as their philosophy of including diverse opinions of writers in their publication. They corrected the factual inaccuracies in the original review, quoting the points in the letter Vin and I had written. And while they do not wish to censor their writers, they apologize for not having edited the “unduly harsh” tone of the original review (a phrase used both in the editors’ commentary and in Terry Ross’s brief quotation). They note that they have learned “that the charged way he expressed those opinions could indeed make the artists involved feel unwelcome in arts settings.” I appreciate the spirit of learning and reflection that the editors convey here. And I especially appreciate the specific apology they make to Vin, as well as the acknowledgement of Resonance’s mission and history of creating barrier-breaking concerts that include many styles of music performance.
There are ways that I wish this response went further. I would have loved for Terry Ross to have engaged more deeply in this conversation by offering a more substantive and substantial response. The editors of OAW describe the ways that they listened to and learned from community responses. It would have been helpful and healing for Ross to have described the ways he listened and learned.
I appreciated as well this statement by the OAW editors: “Part of the problem, which FitzGibbon and Shambry identify, is the stance of the critic. We see this once-common formalist critical stance supporting the most conservative cultural values: the few against the many, the white against the black, the rich against the poor, the known against the unknown, the old against the new.” This was one of the few places that acknowledged the role of class in this discussion. I would also add gender to the list of conservative values: the men against the women. (Readers of comments on the original review will see gender writ large.)
These class and gender biases worked against Nikole Potulsky’s song, “Baby Mine.” I feel that Nikole has been treated poorly throughout this discussion. As Vin and I wrote, Nikole is a world-class folk music performer, so Ross’s calling her performance “amateurish” was totally off-base. She performs in a folk style – a style historically for the working class, the disenfranchised. She’s a beautiful singer and sensitive guitarist. And she wrote a song that is about an issue experienced by many women (and men, of course) – the issue of child loss, of wishing you could hold a child in your arms. As a woman who has had a miscarriage, and as a woman who has seen friends go through other unspeakably difficult child losses, I listened to this song and felt like it told our stories of grief, and in a musical style that conveyed them as a simple lullaby that heightened their poignancy. I saw audience members in tears. Ross’s repeated dismissal of Nikole’s song as “amateurish” seems like another way of limiting his desired concert content to the conservative, upper-class cultural values cited above by the OAW editors. I feel that Nikole deserves an apology too, but I can only take care of my own part of this, which is to say: Nikole, I am sorry that I did not defend you more vociferously from the beginning. Your music is brave, tender, and rich, and having you be part of the concert deepened the whole evening for me and for many others.
My former student Will Preston, now a writer himself, commented to me that his issue with the original review was that Ross’s “argument appears to be based on nothing more than the fact that the pieces didn’t fit within his expectation of what ‘proper programming’ ought to be, rather than considering what Resonance was trying to accomplish… and judging it on those merits. I think this is also supported by how condescending the tone is. I mean, ‘This advice would have been well heeded by Katherine FitzGibbon?’ Really? That basically implies that the concert was a ‘mixed bag’ because Kathy didn't consider what these pieces might sound like next to each other! That's a completely absurd claim. If the reviewer had actually tried to engage with the programming and still found it problematic, it'd be a different story. But I see no evidence for that in the text.”
Part of Will’s sentiment was conveyed by the OAW editors – that the concert review seemed to focus on what “proper programming” should be. But I’d like to second Will’s suggestion of an alternative framework. What did the programming try to accomplish? Was it successful?
The response that Vin and I originally wrote was primarily limited to a commentary on the final paragraph of Terry Ross’s review. I wanted to be careful not to appear to be a disgruntled or defensive artistic director rebutting a bad review. I always seek to learn from reviews and audience responses. What did we do that “resonated” with our audience? What didn’t work? What can we do better in the future?
I’ve decided to come clean on a couple of aspects of my own personal response to this matter. I was troubled by the opening salvo of the review, “Be careful with your programming. This advice would have been well heeded by Katherine FitzGibbon in putting together the June 24 concert of her choir Resonance Ensemble at Portland’s Yale Union.” My programming is careful and intentional. I resented the implication that I forgot to take care with programming. In fact, I told the audience that we had carefully paired musical works together: waves of grief being answered by waves of healing. AllClassical host Christa Wessel posted on her Facebook page that she felt the concert to have been “thoughtfully curated by Katherine FitzGibbon in a way that – in my experience – very few concerts are.”
I’ve been thinking recently about Reni Eddo-Lodge’s important article, “Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race”. As Eddo-Lodge writes, “They’ve never had to think about what it means, in power terms, to be white- so any time they’re vaguely reminded of this fact; they interpret it as an affront.” Or, “It must be a strange life, always having permission to speak and feeling indignant when you’re finally asked to listen. It stems from white people’s never questioned entitlement, I suppose. I cannot continue to emotionally exhaust myself trying to get this message across, whilst also toeing a very precarious line that tries not to implicate any one white person in their role of perpetuating structural racism, lest they character assassinate me.”
I can’t know what it feels like to be an artist of color or a person of color. But I can do what is in my power to think about structural racism in the arts and in society and create inclusive concert spaces (and classrooms). I can listen when people of color share their truths. And I can do my best to invite concertgoers and our Portland arts community to ask themselves the hard questions, without defensiveness or (if applicable) white fragility, with openness to mutual understanding. And so I ask if our community can think about the power dynamics in our arts scene. Would some of the responses to Vin’s work have happened had he been white? Would the questioning of my supposed lack of care in programming have happened had I been a male conductor? Would the questioning of Nikole’s music have happened if she had been performing upper-class art music, or a text about a male experience? Would people have read the letter Vin and I wrote with as much respect if we would have allowed more anger to show through our language?
Artistic Director, Resonance Ensemble
On June 24, 2017, Resonance Ensemble performed a concert called “…. only in falling” presenting music and monologues that explored personal grief, healing, and transformation. On July 3, Oregon Arts Watch published a review of the concert by Terry Ross. The review contained several troubling sentences about Vin Shambry’s performance of his original work, “Brother Man.” On July 7, Artistic Director Katherine FitzGibbon and actor/singer Vin Shambry published the following letter on Oregon Arts Watch.
We are troubled by the macro- and microaggressions against Vin Shambry’s piece “Brother Man.” We write to ask Ross and Oregon Arts Watch to consider the language and ideas they published and to invite our arts community to engage in dialogue about who is in charge of whose art, who decides what is welcome (especially in “classical” music performances), and how we can empower the arts community and, especially, the next generation to represent and witness many voices and perspectives.
WATCH THE VIDEO HERE:
There were a shocking number of problematic statements in the two sentences Ross wrote about “Brother Man.” To call it an “impersonation” implies a kind of caricature or something inauthentic, which follows in the long tradition of minstrelsy and of rendering black performances as inferior to white performances. Vin’s piece was a genuine statement of his own perspective, his daily perspective which is informed by being a man of color living in our predominantly white city and in this time in the United States. Ross cannot understand Vin’s perspective – no one can fully understand another person’s perspective – so to label it as an “impersonation” devalues it and sets it aside.
Second, Vin’s sung performance had nothing to do with “rap style.” Rap incorporates "rhyme, rhythmic speech, and street vernacular" (Keyes 2004:1). It is astounding that Ross would lump this performance into the category of rap.
Third, this also had nothing to do with Black Lives Matter, which is an entire movement with a specific set of goals. Again, “Brother Man” expressed Vin’s personal feelings and his experience of daily life.
Fourth, Ross refers to the “ghetto’s mean streets” and “murderous cops,” neither of which stereotypes figured whatsoever in Vin’s piece.
Fifth, Ross writes that “blacks were not, to my recollection, specifically mentioned.” Ross’s tone when he refers to “blacks” is not only off-putting but suggests that the experience of all African-Americans, Africans, and African-Caribbeans are the same (and linked with the “ghetto” and “mean streets”).
And if “blacks” were not specifically mentioned (in point of fact, there is a single mention of “men of color” in the piece), then why did he conclude that the piece was in the manner of a Black Lives Matter “screed”?
Sixth, and most devastatingly, Ross concludes, “This small bit of actorly free expression was desperately out of place and unwelcome in this setting.” This statement troubled and angered us such that we feel the need to affirm how welcome Vin’s perspective was and is, in the world of classical music and whatsoever. We affirm that concert and theater performances are richer and deeper when they are inclusive of many points of view, both aesthetically and psychologically. (Ross also criticized other styles that were not classically choral, as in his remarks about the inclusion of singer-songwriter Nikole Potulsky, an artist with a national reputation who is just coming off a sold-out solo show in Portland). It seems that Ross has a narrow understanding of what “belongs” on a classical music concert, and indeed, an understanding that does not reflect the fundamental mission of Resonance Ensemble, one of collaboration with many styles, art forms, and communities. We believe that art can provoke and move its listeners. Clearly, Mr. Ross felt provoked by and uncomfortable with the inclusion of Vin’s piece, and we ask him to consider why it did not feel “welcome.”
The silver lining is that this review has galvanized us to develop several new collaborations to celebrate the potential of theater and classical music to share underrepresented perspectives; showcase the work of actors, singers, composers, and directors of color; and show young people in particular that the worlds of classical music and theater do welcome all of us. We are developing an experimental theater and music piece with Vin, Resonance Ensemble and the Artists Repertory Theatre that will seek to show Vin’s inner thoughts as he walks through Portland as a man of color. We are each continuing and expanding initiatives that reach out to students and families of color. And we hope to continue to reach out to our arts community through our intentional programming choices, panel discussions, and other forms of engagement to continue to help Portland become a more welcoming and compassionate place.
Vin Shambry and Katherine FitzGibbon
On Saturday, June 24th at 7:30PM, Resonance will close its eighth season showcasing the poignant and captivating works of local area artists at the beautiful contemporary art center, Yale Union (800 SE 10th Avenue), in music that emphasizes the resilience of the human spirit and its need to heal and transform.
Among the works included for this concert will be Only in Falling, a major composition by Portland composer Renée Favand-See which captures the emotional power of her poignant voyage following the death of her newborn son, Owen.
Following, is Renée's notes, which will also be included in our program.
Along this path of grieving, Wendell Berry’s poems have been steadfast companions—offering presence and witness in the deepest dark of loss, offering understanding and insight, gradually even light, to my slowly unfolding experience. The poems in this set of pieces are ones that speak to different aspects of my grief—an ever-changing landscape of feelings and thoughts.
“The Finches” accompanied the winter of grief—the shock and sting of it. The world spins, goes too fast. Everything is laid bare. The most striking musical element in this poem is its rhythm, specifically the emphatic quality of adjacent accented syllables that command ever-changing odd meters to my ear. Also, the successive accented syllables accumulate pulses over the course of the poem (ears stung --> soon go north --> bare sticks soon live) toward the inevitable point of arrival in the poem’s message: may winter soon become spring. The poem drives forward with little stopping for breath and elisions of phrases. I take this poetic phrasing as a cue to follow suit with musical phrasing that often overlaps, one voice ending as the next voice begins. The icy, bristling images at the start of the poem conjured up bare fifths alternating with biting tritones—these intervals color the opening motive that pervades this movement.
Berry’s poem “For the Future” is a proverb gone rogue, introducing a question into a seeming certainty. Iambic rhythm and rhyme are broken up in the middle with a question that continues to resonate even after the rhyme returns. I chose the warmth of men’s voices together with harmonic thirds and sixths as a contrast to winter and to underscore a hopeful tone. The melody takes surprising turns, as life gives us the unexpected, both terrible and beautiful.
The music of “Woods” came to me whole, as a gift. I simply took dictation as the lines, the harmony, the phrasing poured forth—the music moved through me, a joyful and pure experience. What a fitting conception for the setting of this poem that explores gratitude, another significant timbre in the feeling palette of grief. As I emerged from the deep water of my trauma, I sensed a subtle shift as gratitude for my son’s life began to well up in my heart. Just now it occurs to me that the opening movement of this choral cycle begins with perfect fifths, and this movement begins with perfect fourths—their inversion. This musical relationship fits quite nicely with the idea that joy and sorrow are two sides of the same coin—they complete one another, they need one another. The tritone from “The Finches” is also present in “Woods,” but this time as an emphasized melodic interval functioning clearly within the major scale. The tritone’s brightness is the poignance of gratitude felt in the context of loss. As with so many revelations that come to you in grief, I see this now only in retrospect.
“The Law That Marries All Things” is a poem I knew well before Owen was born and one that I turned to early on for comfort. It has taken time for the full depth of its meaning to sink in, as it has taken time to cultivate a spiritual relationship with my son—or to even absorb the full gravity of the fact that I will not get to see Owen again, ever. The “law,” as I understand it, is the natural law of wholeness. The poem uses the physical behavior of water as an illustration of nature’s law: the ocean receives water lost by the cloud, and in turn, the cloud receives water lost by the ocean. In the presence of loss, there is ever wholeness and balance. And “in the air/over the water” there is the place in between where water is invisible, neither cloud nor water body—an intangible point of unity. As a nod to Berry’s Baptist roots, I have threaded material from the shape note hymn “Sweet Prospect” throughout this movement, sometimes as an accompaniment texture, sometimes as a model for original music, and sometimes in explicit quotation. As I studied “Sweet Prospect,” I noticed a perfect musical expression of the images in this poem. The upper voices often meet at a unison mid-phrase as one voice descends from high to low balanced by the other voice ascending from low to high. The voices trade places as the water does between cloud and ocean, and they meet at that magical unison “in the air/over the water.”
My musical entry point into “The Wheel” was Berry’s lively opening phrase “At the first strokes of the fiddle bow.” From there I was off with a chord of stacked fifths, pitches corresponding to the open strings of the violin. Add to the mix the image of a gathering of people gradually transforming from a crowd to a formation of dancers, and that opening sonority continues to add fifths until maximum density is reached—then the lowest fifth drops away and the pattern continues to ascend or at significant moments distills into the clarity of a unison or a bright triad. Then add the image of a turning wheel that inexorably gathers momentum—energized by Berry’s wonderful short-short-long phrasing, like a dancer taking a few running steps before a graceful leap. At a climactic moment in this movement (“time is the wheel that brings it round”), the wheel, or in musical terms the cycle of fifths is traversed much more quickly than the opening long phrases that build harmonic density very gradually.
Another prominent element in this poem’s structure is the continuous thread spun by the repetition of words from one phrase to the next: dancers-->dance; couples-->couples; movement-->move; etc. I highlight Berry’s tactic musically by overlapping pitches on these recurring words between the cumulating ostinati that carry segments of text. The dance theme of the poem inspired a jaunty waltz often with an emphasis on beat two.
Finally, in this poem downward gestures—down-bows on the fiddle—are balanced at the local level by ascending gestures—the dancers rise. Melodically, leaps are balanced by stepwise movement in the opposite direction. The spinning wheel’s motion is a continuous balancing of descent and ascent. Over the arc of this poem, the wheel, originally grounded in the world of reality, attains such momentum through the dance as to overshoot its original starting point and soar into the spiritual realm. One of the most powerful aspects of music is its ability to hold more than one thought or feeling at once. So at this moment when the poem launches us into spirit realm (“In this rapture the dead return”) a solo soprano line rises into the stratosphere while the harmony falls by thirds (the original cycle of fifths with an extra step in between). These musical gestures together seek to capture something of the experience I feel now of being rooted to earth, while my heart reaches for a deeper spiritual communion with Owen.
These notes would not be complete without a heartfelt expression of gratitude to my friend, Kathy, who bravely offered wise words, soothing gestures, and most importantly, gentle companionship when I was completely broken with early grief. She has been a steadfast support in this long and continuing season of grief. As I shared these amazing poems with Kathy, gradually a seed of an idea formed to set these words for Resonance to sing. One of the many heartbreaks of losing your baby soon after birth is the unfulfilled desire to nurture in the traditional way—after giving birth, your heart is open and ready to nourish your child as long as you live. Despite loss, all those feelings continue to flow and one must seek out ways to fulfill this need. Writing “...only in falling” for Owen is a healing act, an affirmation that he was born and his life holds meaning in this world. Thank you, Kathy, for the invitation to make this music, and for your caring delivery—through the beautiful voices of Resonance’s singers—of these songs into our ears and hearts.
--Renée Favand-See (March, 2014)
Come experience Renée's transformational music along with other fantastic works this Saturday, June 24th at 7:30PM at the beautiful contemporary art center, Yale Union (800 SE 10th Avenue).
The cloud is free only to go with the wind.
The rain is free only in falling.
– Wendell Berry –
I think good art happens at the edge
between comfortable and in a lot of pain, you know what I mean?
—Liz Phair, American singer, songwriter, and guitarist
Last year, we asked our audiences what you wanted out of this year's concerts. You said, "Keep up with the delicious variety!" and "We want more Dirty Stupid Music!" and "We love your commitment to showcasing local talent!" You said, "I was moved to tears by the beautiful music" and "I hope Resonance will keep bringing us these amazing concerts!"
We heard you loud and clear, and with that in mind, it is now our pleasure to announce this EIGHTH season of shows to you.
The three shows we announce will form the core of a season rich with opportunities to dive deeply into "good art." As we continue to build bridges between art and community, between our past and our present, as we stay brave and share classical music and use contemporary ideas to provide a place for it in the 21st century.
We take pride in our deep commitment to showcasing music that transforms us, performers that transform us, and ultimately performances that indeed, serve to change and inspire all of us. We will always strive to create innovative programming of exceptional music. We hope you will join us.
I ask all of you to subscribe to our season.
Subscribe to Handel's Messiah, where you will see us performing with Portland Chamber Orchestra in December. This concert will feature twelve of Portland's most talented classical singers, singing the Christmas portion of Handel's Messiah. Three singers per voice part on this piece is not heard often, and the exposed, transparent sound our singers produce will knock your socks off! In addition to this, we will also offer another 25-minute set of gorgeous a cappella music. This will be a special, unique holiday concert.
Subscribe to our 2nd round of Dirty Stupid Music -- a show we premiered in 2013 to a sold-out house and – several encores later – we knew we had to bring it back. So we do, and this time, we offer TWO shows. Not only have we cast singers who are able to dance on that fault line of classical music and cafe-style cabaret, but we have invited Portland Opera pianist David Saffert back to not only accompany the singers, but act as emcee for the show. If you have never seen his one-man show, let me tell you – he does THE most spot-on Liberace impersonation you will ever see. To entice you even more - all subscribers over 21 will get to enjoy a FREE Dirty, Stupid Cocktail at the show. And our show takes place at Curious Comedy Theater - THE COOLEST VENUE IN TOWN. (Can you tell I'm excited about this?)
Subscribe to our season closer on June 24th, ...only in falling, This CD release event will showcase the work of Portland composer and my good friend, Renee Favand-See, who composed Only in Falling following the death of her infant son. The pain and ultimately the healing that we witness in her music is something powerful to experience, and I look forward to sharing it with all of you.
Your subscription to this season not only ensures you entry into every one of these great shows (with the best seats!) but it also shows your support of our vision, and you join a community of music-makers committed to celebrating the transformational power of good art.
Please join us.
Feel free to connect with me anytime; I would love to hear from you.
Resonance is hard at work preparing our "Dance of Death" concert, and we are incredibly excited about the double bill of versions of the Totentanz (pronounced TOE-ten-tahnts).
The amazing pianists Thomas Lauderdale and Hunter Noack are joining us to perform the Franz Liszt Totentanz in its two-piano form. This is a virtuosic tour de force for these musicians in a piece described as having "diabolic intensity." (See this YouTube video to get a "sneak peek..." )
So, that's a Totentanz that is extroverted, intense, in your face. But our other Totentanz is one that makes you stop and reflect on your mortality. It hits you in your gut in a surprising way.
Our other Totentanz is by Hugo Distler, the early 20th-century German composer whose music sounds like a mixture of jazz chords, medieval writing, and Stravinsky. It is transcendently beautiful.
When we performed this work a few years ago, Brett Campbell wrote that it "may linger longest in my memory." I'm not sure I can adequately convey how much we love this work and how much the audience loves it, but I will try!
It has 14 short, tender movements that reflect on death and loss and the afterlife. Between those movements, there are dialogues, which we perform in English, between the figure of Death and various townspeople. Death invites everyone to join the dance. Some come willingly, some come in fear of judgment, and some (like the heartbreaking dialogue with the young child) just don't understand why they must join the dance. After each dialogue, there is a plaintive violin solo, played here by Third Angle's Ron Blessinger.
There is something magical that occurs within this piece. The singers (and I!) have a hard time not crying in parts of the music. (We do our best not to, as it's not a pretty sound... ) We suspect you will find a wayward tear on your cheek as well.
Recently, the New York Times published an article discussing research on why humans experience awe.
Apparently, recent studies show that people who experience awe in their lives tend to act more generously toward others. Psychologists Paul Piff and Dacher Keltner wrote, “We found that awe helps bind us to others, motivating us to act in collaborative ways that enable strong groups and cohesive communities.” In multiple studies, people who reported experiencing awe in their lives, through the beauty of the natural world or through the arts, felt more connected to strangers and therefore gave generously and selflessly.
Prompted by this article, I have found myself thinking a great deal about the nature of awe and how it changes my life. Those of us who make music and attend concerts can point to magical moments we have experienced, where the music swept us into a transcendent space. As a teenager, I remember feeling euphoric joy in a high school choral performance (full disclosure: I was in a show choir. With sequins. And lots of hairspray.). In graduate school, I heard a performance of the Verdi Requiem by the Swedish Radio Choir and Orchestra that remains one of my top musical experiences as a listener, with exquisite pianissimos and thunderous no-holds-barred passion.
In the last couple of weeks, I find myself thinking about awe, gratitude, and generosity in a more personal way. We have been preparing four works with Resonance that fill me with awe, even in rehearsal. Poulenc’s Figure humaine is an incredible masterpiece for six-part double choir – twelve distinct parts in all – that cries out musically about war. Poulenc set powerful poems by Paul Éluard, composing in secret in occupied France and smuggling the work out to be premiered in England. Poulenc described it as an “act of faith to be performed without instrumental aid, by sole means of the human voice.” It is pretty awe-inspiring (an “act of faith” seems to me to create awe!) that the human voice can make such glorious, complex, profound music.
Schoenberg’s Friede auf Erden is a plea for peace on earth. I described it in last night’s rehearsal as Schoenberg’s walking as close to the edge of late Romantic chromaticism as possible without actually jumping off the cliff into atonality. The music sounds like late, late, late Brahms, with yearning chords that mirror the composer’s longing for peace. I hear those soaring chords and feel awe and connectedness with the wondrous singers of Resonance.
The extraordinary tear-jerker on the concert is Lee Hoiby’s Last Letter Home, a setting of an actual letter written by an Iraqi war veteran to be given to his wife and children in the event that he did not make it home alive from the war, which, sadly, he did not. The letter is full of such tenderness and joy, with a final, painful, loving reminder, “don’t forget to smile.”
And I can’t begin to articulate the awe I feel bringing the finale to Vaughan Williams’s Dona nobis pacem to life. Its unbridled optimism shimmers, giving me goosebumps.
One of the people on this earth who has been most beloved to me was my uncle Danny. Dan Meltzer was a Harvard law professor, legal scholar, and public servant who served in the Obama administration as principal deputy counsel and who believed in leading a generous life. Growing up, I didn’t know those things – I just knew that my goofy uncle Danny took obvious enjoyment in nurturing his children, nieces, and nephews. He made us feel cherished and truly seen. He also had an incredible partnership with my aunt Ellen, and I loved seeing their delight in each other.
Danny loved music. He had a great ear and could play jazz standards in any key. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of classical music; I remember riding around in the car with him when I was a graduate student in Boston a decade ago, and he knew the composer and opus number of obscure string quartets on the radio that I could only guess at. He was very supportive of my musical and academic career and always asked questions (the legal scholar coming to the fore) about rehearsal process, music history, Resonance, and Lewis & Clark.
Danny passed away on May 24 after a battle with cancer. He was only 63. I feel sad for all of us who loved him, most especially his wife Ellen and their sons, Josh and Jonathan. But again, I find myself thinking of awe.
Danny’s career is one that could be said to fill people with awe. But in the end, I think he would say that that isn’t the type of awe that matters. What matters is finding experiences, and relationships, that make awe a part of your life. Danny lived that kind of life. That delight he radiated when he was with my aunt Ellen, or his boys, or his baby granddaughter, or yes, discussing a complex legal issue, was the visible manifestation of his awe at his beautiful life. He found awe in musical experiences, too.
To return to the studies that so captured my imagination, Danny’s awe may have been part of the reason for his generosity. He was a generous friend to all, and certainly to this grateful niece.
So, amidst feelings of grief, I am experiencing gratitude for being able to make music and for knowing my loving, generous, awe-inspiring uncle. And I understand better the ways this awe transforms us and makes us want to be better, more generous people who collaborate lovingly with others.
One of my mentors once said that people who have seen war are often the gentlest, most peaceful people. Some are committed to leading lives that foster understanding, even while haunted by the horrors of war. Some seek to draw attention to tyranny and hypocrisy, to prevent the abuse of power and the oppression of innocents. I think of my father, a gentle Vietnam veteran who served as a Green Beret, who then devoted his career to international legal reform, working to ensure the rule of law in developing democracies. I was always moved by my dad's work for education and the rule of law, a commitment that seemed to have been both forged through his experiences in Vietnam and, to Dad, part of the same desire to help make the world a better place that caused him to go to West Point in the first place.
Our responses to war seem both universal and highly individual. My father is one example. Francis Poulenc is another. It's incredible that, amidst the chaos and cruelty of Nazi-occupied France during the second world war, Poulenc received the rebellious poems of Paul Eluard and set them to such exquisite music as Figure humaine. He was taking tremendous risk by writing this subversive work, but he responded to war as an artist can, with a thought-provoking, powerful work that transforms the audience.
The works on our upcoming War and Peace Concert this weekend seek to illuminate the deepest of human questions. Why do wars exist? How can we, as individuals, hold on to our humanity and our free will under a dictatorship? What is the personal and family cost of honored military service? Can there ever be peace on earth?
I am struck, as before, by Leonard Bernstein's inspiring quote, "This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before." Resonance may not be able to answer these human questions, but we can explore them through music. The music you will hear at these particular Resonance concerts will remind us all that we can hold on to ideas of freedom, family, and peace.
I really hope you will join us for one of these concerts. The show on Saturday, June 13, at 7:30 pm will be held in the wonderful acoustic of Lincoln Recital Hall at Portland State University. We will close with a 2 pm Sunday matinee at First Presbyterian Church as part of the Celebration Works Concert Series.
We are so lucky in Portland to have incredibly talented singers who are also some of the loveliest people around!
I have come to feel that we have a musical family here, with top-notch singers and instrumentalists who are not only technically able but who commit wholeheartedly to the musical process. They are adventurous and versatile, able to do early music through wild new music.
As I mentioned in my last post, I’m able to choose specific singers for a project based on the vocal color and musical demands of the project. These singers come from a list of people who I have already collaborated with or have heard audition. While our roster may vary by concert, there are skills that make a “Resonance singer.”
These musicians are:
- technically proficient, with flawless intonation, the ability to sing with and without vibrato, and dynamic range and control
- emotionally expressive through their voices
- able to read and learn complex, challenging music
But there’s an ineffable quality of our most successful Resonance musicians, too – they are gutsy and excited about doing wildly varied music. They “geek out” on early music and Schoenberg and jazz. They like the challenge of singing with Resonance, with a group of people who are asked to come to their first rehearsal having mastered the music in advance so that we can spend our rehearsal time focusing on nuance.
And, most important, they have heart.
When we announced this blog on Facebook, several of our supporters said they would love to hear more about the behind-the-scenes process for Resonance Ensemble events. How do the creative juices get flowing? How do our concerts come together?
So, today, I’d like to talk about repertoire! Usually there is some kernel of an idea that comes first, that gets me really excited, and everything spins forth from that seed. Sometimes the idea is for a specific theme (“Back in the U.S.S.R.”), and then I brainstorm and research particular works that could fit that theme.
Or sometimes there is a particular vocal work that I have been dreaming of doing (Stravinsky’s Les Noces was like this). I reflect on what makes that work special (musically, emotionally, poetically) and consider what other works could be a good fit on a program. Here I like to think about what works would be interesting contrasts for the audience. I want each concert to have a rewarding arc for the listeners, so the program order needs to be just right. And, practically speaking, if the main work on a concert is going to be extraordinarily challenging for the musicians and need a lot of rehearsal time, I pair it with works that can be rehearsed more quickly.
When I know the repertoire for the concert, I can start thinking about the palette of vocal color that would be ideal for that music. The beauty of Resonance Ensemble is that we have a roster of singers with different vocal colors, so that we can tailor the roster for any given performance to the exact demands of the concert. If we are doing “Dirty, Stupid Music,” we can choose singers who are dirty and stupid! (Just kidding…) But I’ll leave off the discussion of choosing singers until our NEXT blog post!
In December 2009, I sat down with two musical friends and started to daydream about a kind of vocal ensemble we envisioned. We dreamed of working with Portland's finest singers and instrumentalists, creating an ensemble to perform innovative, thematic, multidisciplinary programs. We wanted the ensemble to perform everything from medieval chant to cutting-edge new music, with changes in color and style to match the repertoire.
After a few truly terrible name brainstorms (while I would never name a choir after myself, we joked that the Kathy FitzGibbon Chorale would hilariously be abbreviated KFC), we opted for Resonance Ensemble, because we wanted to explore music's resonance with other art forms and with our audience.
Now, in our fifth season, we have performed dozens of concerts, including in partnerships with other Portland arts organizations (Third Angle New Music, Portland Chamber Orchestra, the Portland Art Museum, and March Music Moderne) and with guest artists including the Oregon Poet Laureate and Venerable Showers of Beauty Gamelan Ensemble.
Recently, one of Resonance's long-time singers asked me to start a blog. She suggested that our audiences might enjoy hearing more about the process of creating Resonance's programs, having some "inside scoop" on some of the composers and artists in a more regular form rather than having to wait for the concert, and our program notes, to learn more!
So here it is, my first blog post. For this first trip to the blogosphere, I'd like to express my gratitude to all of you. I'm grateful for the support of our Portland community, especially our musicians and our Board of Directors. I'm grateful that we are able to make music ranging from the naughty (this fall's hilarious "Dirty, Stupid Music," or 2013's "The Big Oh!") to the deepest kinds of feelings that music can express ("War and Peace" coming up in June, for example). (Do you like how I was able to get a plug for our June concert into a discussion of gratitude? I'm grateful that you are bearing with me, nonetheless!)
And I'm grateful to our donors who make this all possible. Working with these musicians and connecting with our audiences are really dreams come true, and it is thanks to your support that we can continue to make this vision a reality. Thank you, and I look forward to connecting with you in the blog over the months to come.