27 November 2009

Sad Songs v. Happy Songs

Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.
~ Victor Hugo

As I mentioned in my last post, I debuted two new songs on Saturday at my annual St. Cecilia's Arts Festival. I have often been accused by my mother and at least one good friend, that I compose too much melancholic music. Even one of my closest friends and supporters joked after the show: "Wow. Between the Rain is your non-melancholic, happy song!?" I retorted that I had never said is was not melancholic ~ just that it was positive and happy in the sense that it was not about wallowing in one's misery or crying over the lost love. Between the Rain is a take on the theme expressed in songs such as Bless the Broken Road by Rascall Flatts ~ every heart break we go through opens us up to receiving the one we are meant for.

Another friend shot me an email a couple of days later and suggested that I try sitting at the piano when I am in a good mood and something wonderful has just happened and "see what comes out." Sigh. Well, I know these friends love me dearly and also admire and enjoy my music. And I am sure they do not want me to become trapped in my own talent.

But after reading that latest piece of advice, I began thinking [always dangerous!]. And it occurred to me, that as I mentioned in my last post, the artist not only works through his own suffering and brokenness through his art, but also enables the receiver of that art to work through theirs as well. Good art is almost always I would venture to say, universal. The audience should not always be conscious that they are listening in to someone else's story. They should absorb it and think "That is exactly how I feel [or felt]! Only I didn't know how to express it!"

That is not to say that any art that purely introspective cannot also do that, it is just that I believe that part of being an artist is giving the voiceless a medium to shout and sing and cry and basically get in touch with their innermost emotions and brokenness. And this leads me back to my friend's comment about writing "happy songs." Let me hasten to assure you, dear reader, I am not an angsty, grunge-esque artist. I do not wallow in self-pity nor do I uphold suffering for its own sake. But neither do I just compose music that sounds more like it is on Valium than the natural high of life.

I have nothing against so-called "happy music." But I wonder ~ does the audience really need my help processing good emotions? Happy memories? I know, I know! Perhaps they do. But so far, I find that my audience responds more to the music that speaks to their deepest fears, profound sadness and heartaches. And even when I am offering something more positive, there is still an element of the bittersweet. Which is how it should be, I think. However, that is just my opinion and perhaps I do need to break out of my minor key comfort zone.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

23 November 2009

The Sixth Annual St. Cecila's Arts Festival

Without culture, and the relative freedom it implies, society, even when perfect, is but a jungle.
That is why any authentic creation is a gift to the future.
~ Albert Camus

This past Saturday was the long awaited, much bally-hooed and always entertaining Sixth Annual St. Cecilia's Arts Festival! [Now you know dear readers, why I have been a bit AWOL lately.] We had performances ranging from Vivaldi's seriously classical Sicut Locutus Est to Monty Python's seriously funny The Beekeeping Interview. Our audience members hailed primarily from the Northern Virginia and DC area, but we had a few who flew in just for the event from Southern California, Kansas, New York City, and Connecticut. Fallen Sparrow and Bernardo and Katie Aparicio from Dappled Things were in attendance as well.

Sullivan was Stage Manager and also performed, reciting an original poem, one by Jonathan Swift and another by U.S. Poet Laureate Kay Ryan. Mr. Bob French also showed off his poetic prowess as well, with one original and two poems by Irish poet, Bryan Kennelly. Closely related was Anthony Smitha's enthralling rendition of Shakespeare's ghost monologue from Hamlet.

For classical music enthusiasts, the lovely and lyrical contralto, Imelda Franklin Bogue opened the show with Vivaldi's Sicut Locutus Est from his opera, Magnificat and The Saint Cecilia Players uplifted the audience with Kantori's Rejoice in the Lord Alway and The Virgin's Cradle [as we are getting close to Advent]. In the Broadway musical vein, we were energized by Gregory Grimm's Go Home with Bonnie Jean from Brigadoon and Michelle Jacobeen showed off her vocal range with the comic The Girl in 14G.

Yours truly did not escape the spotlight, but performed two new songs: Ashes and Dust and Between the Rain. I also acted with Sullivan in what has now become a traditional part of the evening: a Monty Python skit. This year, we decided to do the Rowan Atkinson/John Cleese The Beekeeping Interview. I think my character, Mrs. Henrietta Prawnbown, with her frumpy outfit, complete with thrift store hat with netting, was a hit. ;-)

Our Featured Artist this year was Acoustic Stew. I have known Mike Sirotniak, one of the players, for a few years and he has played solo guitar at my house several times, but I had never heard he and Joe play together. They took the stage and the audience's hearts with their incredible fret work and foot-stomping melodies.

In addition to the performing arts, we were very blessed this year to have the art work of none other than the Shrine of the Holy Whapping's Matthew Alderman. I am deeply grateful to him for sending us many of his magnificent drawings. Stay tuned: we will be sponsoring an art show in the DC area Spring 2010 for Matthew.

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You know, dear readers, I cannot write about an event without talking about the food! We served heavy hors d'ouevres during the intermission. The menu included Asiago Stuffed Dates wrapped in Bacon, Cheddar Sausage Puffs, Blue Cheese and Prosciutto Crostini, Chocolate-Cherry Shortbread Cubes, tipsy Chocolate Truffles [Baileys, Rum and Whisky] and may others, along with red and white wine, mead toddy punch and cranberry punch. Cooking for one hundred and fifty guests over two days is daunting even when you have a consummate crew helping [many thanks to Marlena, Kathy, Amy and Janet for their tireless work], so it is no wonder that tonight I am at home nursing flu-like symptoms. But it is totally worth it!

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The renewal of culture is a dire necessity. Over in Scotland, Seraphic mused recently that there are a group of people [I hope to heaven they are few in number!] who consider "literature, good grammar, clear speech, education and good architecture. . .as 'posh'." And therefore to be thoroughly rejected and derided. Such an ignorant and misguided rejection of culture is both puzzling and appalling, but it does not ultimately surprise me. Cultural and social philistines abound! Meanwhile, over at Hilliard and Croft, Christina laments that art "according to that [modern] world-view, isn't designed for the masses, it is there to cater to the ego of the artist."

It is appropriate then, that on the same night of St. Cecilia's, Pope Benedict XVI met with over two hundred artists to make the anniversary of John Paull II's Letter to Artists. Papa Benedict asks us "What is capable of restoring enthusiasm and confidence, what can encourage the human spirit to rediscover its path, to raise its eyes to the horizon, to dream of a life worthy of its vocation. . . .?"

The answer is Beauty ~ for it can "remind us of our final destiny [and] give us the courage to live to the full the unique gift of life." Artists ~ whether our medium is clay, canvas, stage, pen, voice or instrument ~ have a special gift and calling. One that carries with it a great responsibility. It is not just about our egos. We are "the custodians of beauty . . .[we] have the opportunity to speak to the heart of humanity." Even when we create the art we do as a way to find our way out of suffering or pain, it should never simply end there. It should reach out, break through the walls of another's heart and enable them to find their way out as well.

It is my hope that the St. Cecilia's Arts Festival provides a forum to do just that for the artists who perform and display their work.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela