The vulnerability in music

By Damaris Montalvo

I’m pretty sure that if you would’ve told me that I was going to see a performance that’s being described as a “liter-usical” based on a text called HAM, I would have probably envisioned a live reading of Orwell’s Animal Farm with jazz hands, sequins and perfect harmonies.

I wouldn’t have expected the thrilling rollercoaster ride of emotion that was The Sam Harris Experience. I wouldn’t have expected the beautifully woven interplay of a literary reading with appropriately and strategically chosen musical numbers, performed the supremely talented Sam Harris, who took me through time and space and through the whole spectrum of emotion. I never would have expected him to make me laugh. And cry. And laugh because I’m crying.

But then again, I don’t often know what to expect of the Music @ Boston Court.

I expanded my membership this year beyond the theatre membership to include four music performances, having experienced Orpheus and Euridice and Bruno Louchouarn’s Voces en el Polvo (Voices in the Dust). The latter was deeply meaningful to me because it was based on the 1985 earthquake in Mexico City and “los topos” – the moles – the citizens who would dig through the rubble to save people, to save children. I grew up in Mexico City, where I was raised and went to school until I left for college, so this story resonated deeply with me and my family.

So I decided to give the music membership a shot this year, and I’m so happy I did. I didn’t quite know what to expect – especially given that I know next to nothing about music. So I can’t really wax eloquent about sonatas or arrangements or this or that, but I don’t need to. Because my experience of Music @ Boston Court hasn’t really been about the music itself but about something much more profound: it’s been deeply introspective, like a mirror being held to my own face.

In fact, when I think about the way in which I respond to the plays at the Theatre @ Boston Court and juxtapose it with the way I respond to the Music @ Boston Court, I can see a striking difference. While I certainly have deeply emotional reactions to the plays, I also know enough and see enough theatre to allow for a fair amount of interpretative analysis to accompany an emotional response. However, being quite ignorant about music history and appreciation, I notice that I am left with a purely emotional response that turns my analytical mind the only way it can go: inward.

And honestly, it makes me feel very vulnerable.

So I find myself sitting in the Branson space, letting the music inform my thoughts. This was most noticeable to me during the two Piano Spheres performances I attended, each a tour de force in its own right:

  • Visual Music with Vicki Ray
  • Transcendent Svrcek plays Charles Ives’ Concord Sonata

Vicki Ray played piano music created by artists who were inspired by other art forms. I remember in particular a piece inspired by the pointillists, as I recall how the notes evoked the small dots that form the whole. I noticed, though, that during each piece, my mind would inevitably begin to wander – my thought shaped by the rhythm and the sound of the music. Whenever a piece became chaotic, cacophonic or incongruous, my thoughts would jumble and turn pessimistic, and I’d start to think about pending or unresolved issues or tasks, and I’d grow irritable or stressed. When the tune became gentler, milder, I’d compose myself and mellow out, my train of thought gradually morphing until I eventually came to think of positive things, like my love.

These feelings were further heightened in the Ives’ sonata, as it was played as a continuous piece; whereas Vicki Ray provided context in between each of her beautifully curated pieces, making me snap back into the current moment, Ives’ sonata is meant to be played straight through, so Susan Svrcek took us this herculean task that allowed me to dive into my own consciousness and explore some of the dark feelings I’d been pushing aside or unwilling to face. Deep feelings about life goals, identity, direction. Everything from career to family to national identity and sense of self.

This is, of course, perfectly fitting when you realize that the piece is evocative of Ralph Waldo Emerson (transcendentalist who placed the individual above all), Nathaniel Hawthorne (Romantic whose bears deep psychological complexity), the Alcotts (Louisa May was a feminist novelist), and Henry David Thoreau (transcendentalist and hardcore civil disobedient).

And so these deeply experiential Music @ Boston Court shows have me feeling like the other performance I saw this year: New Sound of Silent Film: Tom Peters’ Live Scoring of Carl Theodore Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc. I took a semester-long class about Joan of Arc in film, history and literature in college, and we saw this film, which is fascinating because the original negative was destroyed in a fire until a copy was discovered in a mental asylum in Norway. The film draws parallels between Joan’s martyrdom and Jesus’ sacrifice and employs the use of close-ups to build the sense of oppression Joan feels. Having the opportunity to watch a live scoring of this silent film was unique and formidable.

So I can’t wait to see what Mark Saltzman has in store for the 2014 season.

I’m waiting for more Piano Spheres to help me reveal things about myself that I’ve been hiding, and I’m expecting more of the unexpected.

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