05 August 2005

Voice of the Whizzle

Please note - if you don't have enough time to read this whole post, just make sure you scroll down to the asterisk.* Believe me, it's worth it (I think).

Sarah, Carrie, and I performed George Crumb's Vox Balaenae (Voice of the Whale) last night at band camp. It's scored for electric flute (Sarah), electric cello (Carrie), and electric piano (me) - electric meaning amplified. It was a fun experience as I have never played a piece that requires extended techniques (namely playing harmonics, sliding a chisel on the strings, strumming the strings while depressing keys silently, using a glass rod to produce some groovy archaic sounds, and pizzicato-ing the strings). The work is based off of the Crumb's recordings of humpback whales in the 1960s, and he set his findings to music in 1971. It's pretty amazing how much the piece evokes whales and marine life. The composer recommends a dark stage set-up with deep blue lightning, and the players are required to wear half masks (sort-of like Zorro). The black masks are meant to dehumanize the performers to denote the impersonal forces of nature. Carrie wanted to take it a step further and dress up like a narwhal with a large horn. Sarah and I both thought it was a brilliant idea, but unfortunately it never panned out. I used black face paint for my mask so I could have more peripheral vision to work inside the piano and to see Sarah and Carrie. Because I had to reach into the piano throughout the piece, I couldn't use the piano stand, and layed my score inside the instrument. With the extremely dim lighting, it was very difficult to actually see the music!

We made the decision to play the piece while on a Pirate Cruise at the end of June. A bunch of us RAs sailed this booze cruise in a nearby town's bay area. We actually missed the boat (literally), but we spotted the drunkards in the distance, and I was furtively spying on them with my pirate scope (which was really a paper towel roll with a skull drawn on in blue permanent marker). Admist all the utterance of maledictations and "Arrrr Matey"s, Carrie drew upon her pirate smarts, called the boat on her cell phone, and they swung back around to pick us up! The cruise was beautiful - we saw seals and bald eagles, and local townies waving from their docks. We were in a particularly aquatic mood, cross-dressed as pirates with facial hair and all, so playing Voice of the Whale together felt like the only natural progression.

We actually didn't get started on the piece until just two weeks ago though. What happens at band camp is that we get assigned chamber music when we get here, so we have just two days before our first coaching (which is always horrendous because no one knows the music yet). Even though we requested the Voice of the Whale, it didn't mean we were going to get to be coached by it, so I didn't start it until we received confirmation, just prior to our first coaching.

Our coach for this piece was Emma Tahmiziàn (see picture below; my friend Micah is all funny and likes to sing: "Emma Emma Emma Emma Emma Tahmiziàn" - like the Culture Club's "Karma karma karma karma karma chameleon"). Ms. Tahmiziàn is an incredible pianist and musician, but sometimes, sort of scary. During our coachings, she would suddenly begin flailing her arms and wail, "NOOOOOOOO" if she didn't like something. I was especially scared for my life when she couldn't meet with me to go over all the extended techniques before our first coaching. I was trying to figure them all out in just two days compounded with the load of other music I was concurrently learning...Yeah, that wasn't so fun. However, hard as she was on us, she also commended us when she deemed appropriate. I liked this because it made her compliments really meaningful. Her suggestions were also extremely helpful.

So, after just under two weeks with the score, we performed the piece last night, and it went pretty darn well! After the concert, I was looking for Ms. Tahmiziàn, and when I saw her walking toward me with her black and orange moo-moo flowing behind her, I suddenly grew sore afraid and instinctively hid behind the stairwell. When she saw me, she put her hand on her heart and said our performance was "so beautiful" and that she was "deeply moved". I then crept out from behind the stairs and acted all calm and cool.

*Okay, now for the fun part - so, as previously mentioned, the Voice of the Whale calls for me to slide a chisel on the strings to make whale sounds. So, my plan was to talk to Richard from stage crew and write him a note that said I needed a "chizzle" and that's no jizzle. Unfortunately, I didn't get to because he gave me the chisel before I got to him. Fizzle. The other funny part is that band camp hosted a whale watch trip. Due to limited space, not everyone got to go, so I was going to make signs that said, "So, you thought you missed the whale watch?...Um, well, you didn't - come see the Voice of the Whale."


At 12:27 PM, Blogger Ash Sere said...

Well, I thought you were a pretty cool chick, but band camp? Seriously? Hmmmm...

...on the other hand...

*gets American Pie out of head*

At 3:53 PM, Blogger Sophia said...

Hey, Ash Sere!

Yeah, I am pretty nerdy...

I actually haven't seen "American Pie", but people have told me they think of that movie when they hear "band camp" too.

Just to clear things up, "band camp" is my code for the music festival I'm participating in. I think it sounds less presumptuous this way. :)


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