Update coming soon. Well, let’s just say I’ve busied myself lately, surrounded by geniuses and working harder to walk among them. In the meantime, I wanted to alert my New York City fans to a great last minute opportunity.
Kent Tritle’s Organ Recital. Tonight. 8pm. You have 2 hours to get there. Go.
Seriously, aside from the fact that the title of the event rhymes brilliantly, Kent Tritle is an incredible organist. According to an extremely talented friend of mine who has played upon this recently refurbished Schantz organ, it remains one of the best early music organs on the East side. If that doesn’t mean much to you but you love the organ, believe me, you’ll understand by the end of the concert.
Tonight, Kent will feature works by George Crumb, Larry King, Ned Rorem, and Julius Reubke, and I can pretty much guarantee you won’t regret attending.
Once upon a time, several of my readers asked, “Why?” They continue to ponder, “Why the nudity,” “Why the Bulgarian music,” “Why you (a question more likely uttered by acquaintances or colleagues)?”
My answer, written in January but as yet unpublished, seems all the more poignant to me as we prepare for our upcoming, much grander, longer (less than an hour), and far more ambitious performance this coming Monday and Tuesday, May 23 and 24 at 7pm and 8pm, respectively. Within this tableau, one will find weddings (yes, actual weddings), dance, improvisation, Bulgarian folk singers, a string quartet with a few additional players, opera singers, new compositions (none of mine in this production), classic opera arias, and just about every body type imaginable, both clothed and exposed. Within this preparation time and Tableau Vivant itself, I hope to find the peaceful pandemonium of life so perfectly expressing the imperfect we all discover each new day.
My answer: The Peaceful Pandemonium of Tableau Vivant
By Abigail Wright
In September, at our first rehearsal for the current incarnation of Sarah Small’s Tableau Vivant, a large circle of fascinatingly varied introductions confirmed my role as the only nude singer. Although CJ Body joined me in my exposed expression as an unclothed upright bass player for our fall tableau as part of the DUMBO Arts Festival, I bore that undertaking alone in January’s Bathhouse Studio performance. Rima Fand, a brilliant composer I’ve had the extraordinary joy of knowing in three separate artistic endeavors, entered into the equation and introduced an unusual task for most of the models as well. As musical director, she and Sarah Small designed an aural tapestry that placed almost every performer equally far from their comfort zones by layering voice upon voice (mostly untrained), until each added his unique sound to the swelling chorus of suspended, sighed, and soared tones.
Since September, the larger group of artists composing Sarah’s tableau has grown closer in companionship and familiarity, and something about the quality of the picture and drones of the sonic landscape feels more cohesive and powerful as we join together again, now at Bathhouse Studios. The Black Sea Hotel, a hauntingly beautiful Bulgarian folk quartet fully clad in bright crimson wool dresses, ever-powerfully intones a stirring folk song about a man waiting for his friend’s death in order to marry the woman for whom he pines. Sarah Small, whose musical arrangement they sing, enters into the living picture to enliven selected groups of models, static poses beginning to unfreeze and interact with one another.
As eventually the motion quiets and our once crescendoed chorus comes down from the swell, this photographer/composer/creator adds her voice as a soloist which then melds with the folk quartet to conclude the perplexing but poignant song. Almost ominously, as the melodic love story ends on the Bulgarian word meaning “death,” each of us personalizes it, as chanted, spoken, shouted, and vibrated pitches echo a resonant “umre” throughout the space. Upon this scattered final iteration, each person in tableau releases her individually held pose, engages the eyes of a random audience member, and waits for the first note of my aria after extended silence as a signal to fade away and drop her head.
In September when Sarah and I first met to discuss which aria I might perform to conclude her Tableau Vivant, I had a comparatively vague sense of the profound nature of her living picture as a whole. After hearing her focus for the tableau as a means for exploring life and death, I chose music and a text that would minister to her spirit as the creative energy behind such a feat. In “C’est l’amour vainqueur,” commonly referred to as “the violin aria” from Jacques Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann, the character of Nicklausse sings this song to the poet E.T.A. Hoffmann, imploring him to write. Referencing the beauty of music, its transforming power, and finally triumphant love, Nicklausse exclaims, “It is all-conquering love, ah, poet, give your heart!” Little did I understand at that moment how much the aria and tableau as a whole speaks not only to Sarah Small as the creator of the concept, the musicians and the models inhabiting it, and the audience in the room, but especially to everyone as a microcosm of life as a whole.
In my brief but meaningful experience with the art of tableau vivant, I have enjoyed an insider’s view of her “Delirium Constructions” as a means to explore in public all of the common human experiences most hide. Fusing truly implausible combinations of the primal with the classical, musically and visually through the clothed and bare, static and engaged, healthy and deformed (some models in particular have body paint and positions to indicate bruises, rashes, and injury), proud and meek, this odd concoction of life without pretense explores some of the most profoundly universal themes in a short twenty-minute span. Reminiscent of the musings of Shakespeare as Hamlet tells Claudius how “a king may go a progress through the guts of a beggar,” this photographer brings to light in one small space a truly living picture of the simple complexities of humanity, seen and unseen. By insisting upon such an unapologetic depiction of existence, Sarah Small presents the most honest public offering in which I have ever taken part. As society imbues her art with love, death, life and its intricacies, may she continue to inspire audiences in the peaceful pandemonium of her Tableau Vivant.
Visiting my friend and photographer David Michael‘s most recent website update, I paused to see his use of the word “investment” when referring to his fees for photographs and photo sessions. As my friend, David has used this word rather often over the years when speaking of friendships, relationships, and our careers as singers. Unfortunately, understanding the concept surprisingly doesn’t necessarily lead to keeping it in mind as a general practice.
I wonder how many performers purchasing a photo session pause to think of this yet another business expense as an exciting investment, rather than an annoyance, a financial burden, or one of the many initiation rites involved in keeping oneself current as an artist. Furthermore, how many dates give one the impression of purchasing dinner, paying her cover charge, and buying her drinks to invest in the future of a potential relationship? When someone flew 2500 miles to visit me this New Year’s Eve after only knowing me for a week, I began to understand the concept. Arriving a few days after his departure, two dozen red roses made his message ever clearer.
When faced with the option of making bold gestures and sizable undertakings with our finances, time, efforts, or talents, many of us pause in fearful protest, “I’m not ready for this.” Teaching and looking after six to ten children per week, nearly twenty-four hours each day, I clearly remember not feeling prepared for the task of working as a camp counselor at seventeen. Of all of the many lessons I learned those two extremely rewarding summers, I regularly recall the priceless value of making even a seemingly risky investment in something truly worthwhile.
Handing out my first business card at my first rehearsal for my first puppet opera (Don Cristòbal, with ten performances this spring), I couldn’t help but contemplate the investments I have recently made of my money, time, and talents. Although I definitely need to monitor my finances and debt in order to survive as a performing artist, I don’t regret having spent money on new headshots, union dues, trade publications, opera tickets, etc. I did gasp for a moment when a promotional box of matches arrived in the mail with a 5×7 photo, both of which had an image of four women including myself (yes, nude) from Sarah Small’s Tableau Vivant in September.
After my initial shock, I weighed my experience with Living Picture Projects, new skills and strengths discovered, and my belief in Sarah’s vision against the handful of those who might innocently judge what they don’t understand. I realized that if I intended to continue appearing in her performances, with one later this month and another in May, I needed to embrace and celebrate overcoming such a challenge as part of my life. Now, the box of matches lies in plain sight next to a candle in my bathroom for any visitors to see.
To remind myself of the extreme personal profit I gain each time I defy the inner voice who constantly chimes, “I’m not ready,” I displayed the 5×7 of my first Tableau Vivant, framed on the wall by my bed, under another photo from this summer’s skydive. Hung for inspiration every day, they may help me remember to face the cold a bit more happily tomorrow to sing at church, act and puppeteer with some brilliant artists, and enjoy the fruits of everyone’s labor at the 3rd Ward Moviehouse for the premiere of Wolfy’s Journey at 8pm.
Wolfy’s creator, Leat Klingman, knows all about investment. She has done everything on this project and for many months has given her time, money, effort, love, and sleep to creating something magical, beautiful, and original. Presenting timeless themes of searching, loneliness, meaningful art, faith, and community, I expect the film to give back generously to the audience and its creator. As for me, I have already received so much more than the hours and effort donated to Wolfy’s Journey in skills learned and friends encountered. With an exciting day ahead of me tomorrow, I confess I most look forward to seeing how the journey ends – mine and Wolfy’s. Hope to see you there.
Living an admittedly unusual life with incredibly varied talents, friends, and interests, I sometimes forget that I don’t fit the standard late-twenties/early-thirties American female mold. I speak my mind sometimes without sugar-coating, insist upon quality products and services and fair treatment of workers, try new things that scare even myself, and make a living doing just about everything I love. Occasionally, this results in quizzical looks and responses, unfortunate misunderstandings with friends and acquaintances, and the ever-popular request to perform on command.
Some of my favorite people do this often, cheekily saying, “Sing something for us!” Knowing better, they deliver the line as a partial joke, hoping they might actually get me tipsy enough to oblige. These things have happened. Still, born with a desire to perform professionally, I have always dreaded the request to perform my profession, immediately upon request, without preparation or accompaniment, with no hope of such a performance benefiting a cause, furthering my career, or truly artistically inspiring anyone. On the other hand, I do sing, act, and model for free on occasion. For purely selfish reasons, sometimes I trade my services as a way to learn a new role or skill or network with exceptional leaders in my field. In cases of high quality art, to further the cause of an artist or organization in whom I believe, I happily have donated my time.
Spending time with other musicians like Molly, Reg, and Justin this morning comes so easily, and I truly adore my fellow artists in crime. Still, as a huge fan of nerds, social media, and scientists, I have yet to come up with a good way to explain our differences clearly to avoid future pleas for spontaneous private performances. Thanks to the glories of Facebook news feed and my friends Julia and Jared who posted this video by Soprano Marcy Richardson, whose adorable friends expose our fantastically awkward moments as classical singers, I don’t have to. Enjoy and share, please! We need all the help we can get…
Since last week, I’ve done countless “blogworthy” activities, from odd spa services to wine tasting to comedy and jazz shows and an impromptu trip to Portland, Oregon. As I began uploading pictures and video from my camera, I realized that while I’ve always loved and found myself drawn toward more idealistic people as a whole, a very common trait binds together so many fiercely amazing friends in my life. Generosity, especially of the passionate and sometimes stubbornly loving variety, easily hides under the rug below the pride, self-assertion, and individual rights our American society so often promotes.
As our beloved president would say, let me be clear. Fighting for our rights and the freedoms of others ranks high on my list of difficult but crucial tasks for humanity in general; however, sometimes the greater and less applauded challenge involves laying aside our needs, wants, and even liberties to support another person or passion. Take for example my friend who, like so many animal-lovers I know, brought in a stray cat fourteen years ago, only to spend years caring for him physically, financially, and emotionally as his cat aged, lost his sight, and developed diabetes. After his beloved friend passed yesterday at twenty-five years old, he volunteered his services for another funeral and comforted his friend at the loss of a close family member, all while preparing for upcoming concerts and gigs in a busy musical season in New York.
Out here in the Northwest, I can’t go a single day without personally experiencing and witnessing the care and generosity lavished upon her entire community by the woman with whom I feel so privileged to live these next several weeks. Ignoring physical discomfort or fatigue, she packs each moment with concerns for her family, local schools, arts organizations, community events, political issues, her wine business, and even some children in Africa who she supports and encourages to the point of visiting there and inviting them to come here to perform. I smile to think of how life and my perspective will change as they reside here with us at some point this fall.
In the meantime, I had the welcome but rare chance to set aside my own selfishness and volunteer my services to sing for several hours to benefit the Mid-Columbia Mastersingers this Saturday. Himself a devoted and tireless supporter and participant in the musical community of the Tri-Cities region, my friend Justin Raffa arranged a fantastic opportunity with Barnes and Noble to raise money for his talented and enthusiastic choir. From 9am to 9pm, Justin spoke with customers, sang again and again, introduced and promoted his volunteer singers and pianists, ran an hourly ticket lottery, and announced repeatedly instructions for customers to check out and tell the cashiers, “I’m here for the Mastersingers.” Each purchase donated a portion of the sale to the Mid-Columbia Mastersingers all day.
I did my part, bought hot chocolate and tea and various goodies at the cafe throughout the day. For those of us in less of a position to donate financially to much of anything, we had the opportunity to sing. Singing arias, musical theater songs, and duets from both genres, I definitely gave my voice a workout, rotating with Molly Holleran, Mitzi Lundberg, Mark Barton, and Justin Raffa while Sheila Zilar Gephardt accompanied us for about five hours with little break. Karaoke was never so hard. Still, I had a wonderful time, trying out new songs, watching audience reaction to gauge whether or not to use a piece in the future, and enjoying the performances of my friends who tirelessly sang throughout the day.
We all have choices to make about how we spend our finances, time, energy, and talents. Doubtless without focusing on ourselves from time to time, we diminish our usefulness to others and ourselves. On the other hand, in terms of truly improving our happiness and quality of life within our communities, selflessness goes a much longer way than we as independent Americans often realize. Today and tomorrow, you have the opportunity to also support the arts in Washington and the Mid-Columbia Mastersingers. Anything you purchase at Barnes and Noble by bn.com/bookfairs from October 23-28 by entering Bookfair ID 10253680 at checkout will contribute a portion of your sale to support my talented friends. If you can’t do that, I encourage you to find another way to support another person, animal, or cause. I’ve started to see that it really does transform the world… and our lives.