When pushed outside of your comfort zone, it is fascinating to find the unrealized notions and conceptions we hold dear. This past week I also ventured outside my comfort zone in our African Drumming class with Nani Agbeli. Nani is an intense musical instructor. Moving at a fast clip, he taught the class a myriad of new patterns all played on traditional instruments. The realization of how tightly I cling to Western Musical Ideas was startling to me. (Not to mention that I was never a very good percussionist, much to many close friend’s dismay over the years.)
However, on Friday we held our performance of the drumming, singing, and dancing that we had practiced over the week with Nani. Surprisingly, it wasn’t stressful but rather fun! It was a gentle reminder that you’re only placing restrictions on your own possibilities by getting tied up in what you do. Even though I am not a skilled percussionist, I found that I play a pretty mean tingo.
After another exciting “Ancient Voices of Children” (Crumb) rehearsal, we were witness to a truly badass 4:30 recital by Ashley Bathgate, cello. Ashley’s programming for this recital was inspiring. She opened with a beautiful piece by John Zorn (“Untitled”) which was dedicated to one of the fore-fathers of “assemblage” and an experimental filmmaker, Joseph Cornell. “Simple Lines” by Bill Ryan, she explained, was her “first multi-track piece.” Immediately likable, it reminded me of the scene in The Natural in which Redford is playing catch in the wheat field. Such a perfect moment set in time and space. Though Ashley played two other incredible pieces, “Closing” by Philip Glass (with Vicky Chow, piano) and “A Humble Tribute to Guanguanco” by Gregg August (with Todd Reynolds, violin; Vicky Chow, piano; and Gregg August, percussion), the stand-out audience favorite was Yoav Shemesh’s “Empty City” (performed with Nick Photinos, cello.) A tour-de-force of cello playing, “Empty City” features electronics full of city sounds while the cellos play furiously to cut through the din. Ashley plays with chops, passion, and wisdom that belie her age.
We also had our first rehearsal for Glass’ “Music in Similar Motion” which we are performing with an unusual instrumentation: two cellos, upright bass, oboe, keyboard, electronic bass, harp, and voice. I haven’t heard it with a singer before, so we’ll see how it goes. Since we will have some extra time in that group, our ensemble posed a challenge to the composers at the festival to write new pieces for us over the weekend. They were given stipulations such as an ensemble member can only perform in three pieces and there can be no more than five members to any given piece. I’m excited to see what will transpire! I’ve already heard some really exciting things from the Fellow composers.
Friday wasn’t the only day that we were asked to perform outside of our comfort zone this weekend. But, that will have to wait for the next part of weekend edition…