October 21, 2014, 08:14 AM posted by Maria Choban

Learning to do something I love enjoying - like writing when I love reading, is an exercise in holding on to the magic. With great teaching comes maturity, knowledge and the loss of naive bliss. I finished The Alexandria Quartet - all 4 volumes - 2 nights ago. For me, what makes Durrell great is his amorality - his inability to moralistically judge character. Incest or superficial B+ intellects in the British diplomatic corp are equally forgiven human traits in likeable, flawed individuals. Dark sides are his specialty. He shares this trait with Terry Pratchett. A masterful metaphorist, of turning nouns into verbs (i.e. something like "the translation Englishes badly" in one of his sentences), I get lost in his writing - never thinking that it's laboured or pedantic (something I cannot say about Thomas Hardy). Because I frequently discussed the book and the writing with a writer friend who has always wanted to read it, I was forced - via soviet interrogation - to specify WHAT made this read so riveting for me (and what was lacking). Durrell's AQ stands up to the interrogation; I never went back to reading the book thinking about what was discussed about it. But yesterday I read a Hilary Mantel short story The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher. LOVED IT! and yet, was always aware that I was comparing and dissecting and analyzing as I was reading.

I remember when I decided as a concert goer to stop listening as an insider - to stop analyzing, stop appreciating great craft, etc. . . . . to JUST FEEL! (good or bad). And to dissect later. I was in my early 20s. It's hard! It's not something I accomplished in one year or even five. It's a lot easier to do when the event is particularly great or particularly awful, but that in between has me second-guessing myself, tending to err toward the good. I recently tried to read Josephine Tey's Brat Farrar and got about 100 pages into it before I gave up. She writes smart, quick, insightfully and I couldn't quite grasp why I was detached. Finally I surmised, like Aaron Sorkin's West Wing, her smart characters are all the same character and the pacing never varies - a one bandwidth book. But it took some time for me to ferret this. In the past (before writing consistently, with observation) I would have dropped it with an "it sucks." And while I'm happy for the maturity of exploring why it sucks, I do miss the good old days when I jumped from book to book or event to event or piece to piece just looking for the one that got me high.

October 14, 2014, 05:37 AM posted by Maria Choban

It's the first day of autumn. Not really, but the long stretch of arid sunny days is purportedly over. My next door neighbor stood me up for our morning walk no doubt he'll claim threat of rain. It's barely foggy and I've gassed up the sunlamp by my computer.

What a great summer! A ten day trip to Estonia to partake of the world's largest choir fest - 30K on stage, 90k in the audience!!!! Lots of outdoor gardening/farming time (though never enough). Starting a new business venture (which is still more a renovation project than a business endeavor) with one of my sisters our father. I did not get in as much hiking or cycling as in other summers but I don't know where I would have slotted those activities either.

Today, right now, would have been the perfect day for Thanksgiving to fall. By the time late November hits I'm friggin' thankless with all the rain and miserable damp, too clouded to feel how lucky I have it.


For those who missed my last diatribe on Oregon ArtsWatch,click here!

For those who missed my gushing over Ben Folds, the second coming of Leonard Bernstein (yes,THE Ben Folds),click here!

August 07, 2014, 06:38 AM posted by Maria Choban

"we need street action, that's what's basically wrong with the music today, a lot of it don't go street." (James Brown from his interview with Terry Gross on NPR)

August 01, 2014, 09:54 AM posted by Maria Choban

I am puzzled by the protestant work ethic when it spins its myth into "force yourself to do stuff that's uncomfortable." Why wouldn't you force yourself to do stuff you love? That kind of discipline is hard enough to master.

Composers are offering advice to young students to broaden into areas that do not relate to their world. Others are bemoaning inadequate performances of their pieces, not understanding that same concept: Not part of that little performer's world . . . . yet. I have a student who is gaga over vocaloid music, listening to youtube hits like Nyan Cat and tracking down the sheet music and playing them. After observing her pattern through several of these obsessions, I asked her to listen to THIS. When I finished playing THIS she jumped up and down like the 12 year old she is, totally unselfconscious, wanting to know what that piece was and if she could play it! Bach's c-minor Prelude from WTC book 1. She's learning it line by line, week by week. She has 3 more lines to go -- 3 more weeks. After this we'll try Philip Glass's Wichita Vortex Sutra.

I don't think it's our job to push the broader world willy-nilly on the young. Too often, when I hear this kind of talk I translate: "You just want them to expand into YOUR world!" It is our job to shepherd them to areas that resemble the territory they know and love, augmenting that territory and bringing explosive ebullience into their experience (unabated btw for the 2 or 3 months my student has been in love with Bach's Prelude, continuing her focused obsessive drive to learn the whole piece).

For more ruminations like this, read my recent article in Oregon ArtsWatch, Cascadia Composers' "In Good Hands" concert: Bringing students the music of their time.

July 29, 2014, 11:43 AM posted by Maria Choban

"Do you like this piece?"

3 of us are sight reading the first of 3 pieces by Rick Sowash and I have been asked.

No, I do not like this set of 5 movements. It's insipidly tonal, cloying and I have to work hard to breathe life into it.

"Well, I can see where it would be much more audience friendly to a broader demographic than what classical music has been reduced to" is what I actually respond.

Am I lying? maybe. But consider these points:

1. For one month earlier this summer I was immersed in everything Estonian -- actually travelling to Estonia to partake in Laulupidu, the largest choir fest in the world -- 30,000 singers on stage at one time, 90,000 in the audience. The music was insipidly tonal. So tonal I totally understood why Esa Pekka Salonen defected to Modernism. I was this close myself! The issue of maintaining populist, folk simplicity vs. evolving a more sophisticated type of sound has been raised . . . . . and defeated at this festival. In Estonia's case, I totally agree with the decision but that's another blog post which centers around unifying a nation around their own language, banned through most of their existence, circumvented by singing.

2. David Del Tredici, a recent feted composer at Chamber Music NW -- is he revered because he stuck up for tonality or did he simply outlive/outlast the others in his milieu?

3. Our own Mousai audience, one of whom remarked to one of the players at the sight-reading session that the last Mousai concert sounded too much the same.

How should I program??? Should I default to tonality or some variation because statistics prove that's where I'll get the broadest largest demographic? Should I program stuff I personally like, such as Industrial Metal or Rebetika?

And then we played Sowash's Clarinet Concerto arranged by him for clarinet, cello and piano. The cellist and I fell in love immediately. "We MUST perform this piece!!" -- I interrupt the playing to gush. Lush harmonies, swoopy lines that resemble Gershwin, and that unexplainable "it" factor that makes for magic vs. good craftsmanship.

What makes a good program? a good piece? Like Justice Potter Stewart's pronouncement regarding porn: "I know it when I [hear] it."

June 04, 2014, 08:12 AM posted by Maria Choban

More than anything I love falling in love. I prefer when it comes out of left field, totally unexpected as it did with Will in the World -- the terrific Perry Mason-like biography of Shakespeare written by Stephen Greenblatt (And isn't it true, Mr. Burger, that Will's father's decline might have been attributed to alcoholism . . . . ?). Never having been a fan of Shakespeare, with this bio I not only fell in love with the author, I am also reconsidering a reconciliation with the playwright. I have never been a fan of musicals but I was cajoled into helping out in the band with Homomentum and I fell in love with its creator, Max Voltage, the cast, crew and band. When was the last time I heard ANY album, concert (much less musical) with 20 songs -- most of them written by Voltage -- that covered country, rock, cheese, Celtic, classical, blues and much much more with intelligence and HOOKS! ?

I am nearly immune, almost predisposed to rebuff what I consider in Portland to be a hybrid of emperor's new clothes with much too much polite acceptance of accredited acts or ensembles or shows or whatever. Call me a curmudgeon, my partner certainly does. In my defense, I have never been wrong when I've been dragged to these hybrids. It's not that these acts are terrible, it's just that they're not magic and I want magic!!! (although too often they are terrible).

Last Sunday I capped my concert filled weekend attending Portland State's choir concert. I was not dragged. I went because my nose has been itching to see Ethan Sperry, director of that school's choir programs, for over a year. In classic form, I was not an Ethan Sperry fan after a first introduction at a party. Staying true to classic form, I am now a groupie. My nose operates differently from my highly reactive personal emotions. It itched even harder after that party. I always trust my nose. When Sperry took the stage for the first piece he conducted well into the second half of the PSU show, everything flipped to hi-def. He moves spastically like David Byrne. His moves are sexier than Byrne's don't ask me why. I've seen both men live now. I think it's because Sperry has more heat and less kitsch. The Man Choir he was directing responded with equal heat. There was so much testosterone flying I nearly dove off my first row balcony seat and into the middle of that morass. Like the Lear production I saw a few weeks ago, the entire meh concert was worth these precious moments. I want to see Sperry march onto Portland's choir scene with a handpicked underground choir. I want Sperry to show us what magic really is. Make no mistake, this man over-prepares his choirs as evidenced by the national and international awards his choirs have won. This extra layer of raw rock&roll heat is lacquered over well rehearsed content. I am not a choral nerd, but I am a starstruck Sperry groupie and I'll catch anything I can that he puts on, or that Max Voltage produces/directs or Scott Palmer or . . . .

May 26, 2014, 06:12 AM posted by Maria Choban

The happiest I am these days is wheelbarrowing aged mellowed horse manure from an old Chevy pickup down a gravel lane and back up into my garden beds. There is a metaphor at work here and I'm determined to find it. I am as played out as what? a garden planted without crop rotation for too long? Not my garden. I've neglected it and allowed the native plants to over populate with thistle, grasses, dandelions. It thrived in this wild state for years, much to the consternation of my tidier neighbors.

Transitions feel like purgatory. When will I ascend into that heavenly state of flow again?

Maybe the metaphor is backwards. Maybe I ought to look at my own life and apply those lessons to my mostly tabula rasa garden beds:

1. Space out the seasonal work

2. Less is more

3. Know the difference between organic healthy horseshit and ordinary bullshit

May 19, 2014, 10:16 AM posted by Maria Choban

All Night Long: "Are you playing tonight?"

Me: "No -- just drinking."

I was at The Waypost checking out Muse:Forward. This AFTER three-and-a-half hours of Lear produced by the British National Theater (broadcast in hi-def on a big screen at the World Trade Center). And this follows last week's 2 plays: Kaddish for Bernie Madoff and Learn to be Latina.

If I knew anything about theater I'd be a critic. Northrop Frye's Anatomy of Criticism sits on my shelf unread. I bought it several years ago. I am, however, a diligent student of Men on Films (In Living Color):

Kaddish for Bernie Madoff: "Hated it!" (too cute and superficial for a subject -- Madoff -- so complex; music SUCKED!!!!!)

Learn to be Latina: "Hated it!" (too sophomoric and dated. The political-incorrectness was nowhere mean enough to depict the heinous hurtful narcissism of the recording industry)

Lear: "Hated it!" . . . . except for the scene when Lear discovers the sightless Gloucester. I give that scene "two snaps with a twist and a kiss". Audible sobs bubbled up around me (my own included) as Simon Russell Beale's Lear tenderly and with gentle humor tried to cheer up the loyal Earl. The entire 2.5 hours is worth sitting through for that one scene well into the second half. Otherwise, too many clever camera shots -- erasing Gloucester in one of the scenes (making me wonder whether Mendez meant for Lear to have hallucinated Gloucestor . . . . . . . until the camera panned away and we found him again; he had moved further upstage) and in general too up close and personal for the huge room it played (mugging faces dissipate and look natural out in the audience). The first half played like a tribute to Reservoir Dogs except that Sam Mendez, Lear's director, is more like a one-dimensional Rodriguez and less like the 2 dimensional Tarantino whose cartoon caricatures I adore, Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs being 2 of my favorite movies. I really want Tarantino to direct opera.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, now quaffing a terrific cherry cider while listening to an accordion player accompany his very excellent own vocals on Walkin' After Midnight followed by a noise artist, I'm feeling very warm and fuzzy about Muse:Forward's debut. Clarity will come later.

May 16, 2014, 07:18 AM posted by Maria Choban

Now I see how it happens. You start just being yourself, you get a bit of exposure as a public writer. You get lucky with a great editor . . . . . . and poof! Suddenly you lose the ability to be yourself; to mine through an unimpeded conduit your gut. Suddenly everything has to be polished before you type the words. Filters go up. Where's my beautiful anger - my muse? The trouble with exposure is that it can neuter you if you let it.

This is a process. Do I want to be a writer? Or do I want to be a dilettante? It's so much easier with music because I was born into that environment -- complete with hard-ass teacher, hard-ass parent and constant nagging to practice. I don't know any different plus it suits me. As an introvert, spending hours/days/months with a score is like giving an alcoholic a case of fine single-malt and a cabin in the woods.

I deliver on time, under budget and with spectacular charisma, depth and results. BUT I also do only what I want -- which in theory sounds great. However, it means I don't push myself. I stubbornly refuse to grow. And yet, I am petrified of calcifying, of turning diamond hard and small-minded. I react with anger when this is mirrored around me -- as it is now being mirrored in the classical music community in my own home town. Where ClassicalRevolutionPDX was once an incubator for everything -- past/present/future both in music performed and performers' background training, now I see fissures. The traditionalists within CRPDX are much like me, or at least I am reacting to the mirror I perceive: Recalcitrant, wanting to do only what they are comfortable doing or being exposed to, rejecting from fear (or, in my case - laziness) the new, the outside-the-box.

I want to scream "GROW THE FUCK UP!!!!!!!!!!!!" and I realize I'm screaming at me.

At any rate, I wrote a preview on Oregon ArtsWatch detailing this melee. Read it and leave your comments if you want.

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