Saturday, May 10, 2008

Notes From The Rolling Studio

When B. asked me whether there was some music I'd like to work on, I was prepared. I whipped Purcell's "Evening Hymn" out of my backpack. We looked at the music. It was in G, and climbs to 2 Gs above middle C.

High G is not my friend.

I hit a high G in church last week, I think. I was LEM, and was standing next to the priest at the altar as we sang the Sanctus. Its Hosannahs all go up to a high D, the absolute ceiling of my range. Glass ceiling, it sometimes turns out: the note sometimes shatters into overtones, the loudest of which is a tinny, unpleasant G. So there I was, belting out my precarious Hosannahs, listening to the acolytes reaching them sweetly and effortlessly, when it happened --

Ho- sanna-AAEEEEEEEEE !!!!

Oh, man. Did I ever want to turn Ad Orientem.

So Evening Hymn in G was not an option. We settled on the key of B, and I headed off into a gorgeous Boston spring evening, with my Evening Hymn in my backpack, eager to start practicing.

Earlier, as I sat in the Conservatory hallway waiting for my lesson, I listened to the students practicing. It was 7:30, and I was tired, but happy to be there. Four or five magnificent, simultaneous performances washed over me, including a familiar Bach string piece. I thought about all the young musicians learning the ancient repertoire. The musical score exists like a timeless first principle. Performers incarnate it. The music itself is spirit, breath.

I have found singing to be extraordinarily carnal. This, for someone as disembodied as myself, is disconcerting. I think about my vocal cords. In my imagination they seem to reside in some deep flue occulted miles below the surface, impossibly remote, a glistening, taut, fleshy V opening and closing in a subterranean wind. I touch the front of my throat: it seems odd that they are in fact less than an inch below my fingers.

Anyway, the next day I climbed into my rolling studio, pointed it toward Medford, and did some long tones and some vocalises. Then, working up from my lowest note -- D below middle C, I found Evening Hymns's first note, F, and began singing. I was having a great time. As I crossed Mass Ave into Arlington, I sang

to the soft, the soft bed, my body I dispose

and as I rounded the corner and headed past the looming brick side of St Agnes Catholic Church, I sang the next line, a question --

but where, where shall my soul repose ?

I looked up. As if offering up a cheeky alternative answer to Purcell's Dear, dear God even in thy arms, it rolled past: a flatbed truck, and, chained to it, an improbably pink sarcophagus.

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