craftsmanship

Hi from France! More about that later. As I traveled here over the weekend, I stopped for a night in Brussels to visit a friend, hear an opera (Fauré’s Pénélope–hear this score if you can, OMG), and see an exhibition of Japanese prints.

The exhibition was a last-minute decision. I had a morning free before re-starting my travel, and I thought I’d see how I felt–maybe I’d prefer to while away a couple hours over a coffee or two, read and people-watch. But I woke up with lots of energy and decided to go. And now I can’t imagine having not seen it. It was so enthralling that I nearly missed my bus because I lingered too long.

The exhibition spanned several centuries of fine-art printing, and each room was extraordinary in its own way. But the image above was one of the first things I saw, and it set the tone. It’s part of a long horizontal case–thirty feet long, maybe–displaying what looks like an accordion-folded book (the 19th-century artist is Kawase Hasui). Starting at the rightmost end of the case, you see at first a single-color engraving–the outlines of a scene pressed in a grayish ink. As you continue to move down the book, each fold showed an additional single-color print that was to be layered in, and on the left the cumulative effect each new print was having on the whole picture. So, after the grayish outline, some tiny blobs of brown were added, and later the yellow and then the red of the temple popped vibrantly. One entire print layer might be the tiniest pinprick of purple to darken the pattern on a kimono; another was a light wash of green to give the trees their first color, followed by a darker shade of green, distributed more irregularly, to create shadows. Many layers added just the subtlest dusting of gray to nuance the texture of snow or sky.

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multi-tasking, multi-living

I’m reading “Foreign Parts,” Sir Thomas Allen’s memoir, which I ordered after an inspiring week working with him and watching him teach masterclasses at Songfest. Sir Tom, as we were all calling him by the end of the week, is a charismatic teacher and a sublimely lovely, fiercely funny singing actor himself, of course. But getting to know him and hear him give advice, what I found most inspiring was his clear, lifelong commitment to a deep work process. Now over 70, he had recently performed a run of Winterreise recitals–a piece he had gotten to know and perform as a young man. But for this series, he spent an hour every day, for a full year beforehand, reading and chewing over the texts. On a piece he had performed before. Every day, for a year. READ MORE

a new thing

For the first time ever, I’m being paid to compose.

Sort of. I was offered a project as a “maker” with an experimental music theater company I’ve worked with several times. It’s a collaboration with a guitarist, and the assignment is to create a ten-minute theatrical piece on the theme of Tristan and Isolde (several other teams are also working on the same prompt). That’s it. Those are the guidelines.

When I got the offer, my feelings were equally split between excitement and apprehension. Did they know that I hadn’t tried to compose anything seriously in many, many years? Did they have any idea that I had ever thought of composing at all? If not, what kind of contribution was I expected to make, as “just” a singer? What would I expect of myself? What kind of angle could I find in such an open prompt? What if I couldn’t think of anything? What if what I think of, and create, isn’t good?READ MORE

up, up, and away

Currently open on my laptop (on my lap, in the train):

  • a document in which I’m cutting apart W. H. Auden’s “In Sickness and in Health”
  • Spotify with Frank Martin’s Le vin herbé
  • VLC with an extended guitar improvisation, some videos of me singing Schubert, and Battlestar Galactica
  • various browser tabs: lots related to web design, email, Facebook, Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” and a very dark nihilist perspective on American politics

This–a summary of what I’m consuming and thinking about and rearranging–seems as good a jumping-off point for a blog as any. I’m done pretending that the version of me presented on my website, or on Facebook, or in any given rehearsal on any given day, is the full story. READ MORE