Monday, June 15, 2009

Shakespeare is my therapist III

"And this, our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything."
(As You Like It)

I have a love-hate relationship with the city. Being within striking distance of people and institutions is so essential for one's "career." Yet the city discourages the fostering of the very skill or product that said career is banking on.

Take a singer. (It took all my restraint not to append the word "Please" thereafter. For I know singers. But in any case, take a singer.) Singer goes to Manhattan, in order to "make it big." To make it big doing what? Singing. And what are the elements of good singing? Breathing. Relaxation. A true sympathy with the emotions of the music. And so forth. Well, how the hell are you supposed to breathe in Manhattan? There are more poisonous gases in the air than oxygen. Relaxation? No comment. And sympathy for emotions? I'm going to suggest that Manhattan is not the ideal place on earth to develop that commodity.

Yet Manhattan is the place where the famous voice teacher is, the one who is going to reveal to you the secrets of Caruso and Nellie Melba and Adelina Patti and Gigli. The teacher who, for your convenience, accepts all major credit cards. (I'm not joking. There are voice teachers in New York who accept credit cards. In Boston there are lawyers who still don't accept credit cards!)

But what if that teacher does not keep as many secrets as you think? What if there are aspects of Caruso's art that are revealed only in the rural suburbs of Naples? The sound of the dialect being spoken ... the smells and tastes of the food ... the attitudes ... and most importantly, that feeling in the air -- that certain something that makes you feel like making music? I felt it the first day I was in the province of Naples. It's like a chemical in the air that just doesn't exist in other areas of the world.

But what about the important and influential managers back in New York? But if you're going to market something, that something has to be of a certain quality to start with, or else why market it? That quality is obtained by exposure to "tongues," "books," "sermons," and "good." What if those four things are more plentiful in the country?

Now that the Internet is becoming more diffuse, we are becoming a society that goes beyond what I dreamt of in the early 90s, before the discovery of Cyberspace. I dreamt that if I could get my career to the point that I could live off of royalties, all I'd need was an address. That address could be in a village in Sicily as easily as in Manhattan. But how do you accrue such royalties? Well, today there is a whole other stratosphere of possibility: living in Sicily and building a career while you're there. With CIC I correspond with composers in countries all over the world, most of whom I have never even met. With a computer and Internet access, it is all possible. There's nothing I've ever done with CIC that I could not have done in an Alpine village.

The difference is in the quality of my product. When I smell the aromas of smoked Würst'l wafting through the Alpine air, my mood to make music is twice what it is here. When I see the mountains reflected in the lake, so much music rushes through my head that I could never write down all of it. These are the truths of music, not the hypocrasies of Conservatory professors perpetuated from their professors and the professors before them. I live in the city not to receive these truths but to market them. But if the Internet could permit me to do both from the same location ...

The most idyllic place I have ever played was neither in the south of Italy nor in the Austrian Alps. It was Altenberg, about a half-hour from Cologne. Downtown Cologne resembles Downtown Boston in so many ways. Modern. Dirty. Depressing. Sure, there is that small matter of the Kölner Dom. But the day I visited it, the Cathedral was so infected by "public haunt" -- and by seminarians holding plates that said, "Für den Dom" -- that I doubt a moment's feeling of prayerfulness would have been possible there.

But travel 17 kilometers -- 10.5 miles -- 25 minutes by car -- and you are in Odenthal. You are in the middle of a postcard. Trees all around. The babbling brook. The castle in the hill. You couldn't hope to be anywhere more beautiful on Planet Earth. And in the northern part of Odenthal is a section called Altenberg, where there is a High Gothic cathedral -- right there amidst the trees! (See the photo if you don't believe me.)

One of the best parts of an organ tour is when they give you the key to the church, and you're all alone -- you, the organ, and the music that you're free to make on it. Being closed up in that particular Cathedral, the moonlight seemed to blend with the tones of the four-manual Klais organ. There were no people around to disturb it -- no clergy to cry about money, no parishioners to complain that the hymn was too loud or too soft or too fast or too slow or too overdone or too unfamiliar. Take away people and you have the silence of truth. Add people and you have the white noise of fiction.

During my practice breaks, I walked to Odenthal and was part of the postcard. In America you walk out of the church, and there's K-Mart.

So is there a way to learn the truths of music in this type of environment and also make the connections in order to market the music created from these truths? With a good laptop, perhaps so.