Wednesday, April 09, 2008

La la la...

Lettuce #2 photo caption: Why garden veggies are almost too beautiful to eat!
Yesterday night I got to hear Cantus as part of the same university "cultural enhancement" series that I mentioned earlier. Their music is brilliant, deep, complex, and definitely worth going to hear. That said, the first half of the show was music from the Christian tradition, and the concert was held at a local church.

As a result, the professor decided to stay home. He's not a music lover like I am, and some Jewish families (like his) dissuade their kids from going to other people's places of worship. He can't shake that discomfort as an adult, and I understand that. I was raised to be intellectually curious about religion (and I am) and open to new religious experiences, as long as I don't cross any lines regarding my faith tradition that make me uncomfortable. Even so, I find sometimes that choral music is hard to access, because it's so heavily influenced by Western Christian tradition.

I love to sing, and wish I'd gotten to do more of it in music education...but I lost my opportunity around 5th grade. That's when the public school music teacher said that if I wouldn't sing the religious Christmas carols in the chorus, I'd be kicked out. I explained that it compromised my religious practice, and chose to be kicked out...that was my last chorus experience. Instead, I played piano, sax, and guitar, and I sang at summer camp, at religious services, and in college jazz ensembles. If I sang, I chose the words (rather than a choral director) and that worked out best for me. If only that elementary school music teacher had handled things a little differently.

I still love to sing, and try to find opportunities to do it. Listening to Cantus (especially the second half, with less religious material) was as close to vicarious singing as I will ever get--and I will never be that good!

I'm blogging about this because I think sometimes people lose track of what it's like to be a minority or to feel alone in one's beliefs. I watched someone roll her eyes last night while I tried to gently explain why the professor didn't come to the concert. This shouldn't be an invitation for people to say, "Just get over it!" or "Geez, I went to a mosque/synagogue/temple,etc. once, what's your problem?" or "You're just handicapping yourself!" (That's how Mendelssohn's family saw this, as a disadavantage) Offering the explanation of difference to someone shouldn't result in an "I'm so sorry" or pity, either. It's just an explanation. Here's why. Here's a chance to put on an empathy cap, and try to understand the "other." It's an emotion and skill that is, perhaps, underutilized.

Photo Caption for Kale: Kale, an underutilized (underappreciated?) delicious green, in our garden.

I've been knitting with handspun Nepalese hemp and nettle yarns. These are available in the USA, and allow me, through my fingers, to practice my empathy. These are sustainably produced yarns made by hand by Nepalese women. I know what it is to spin these bast fibers, and these far away women do a great job. (I need to work on my bast spinning skills) The yarn is affordable, it's well done, and it respectfully supports others whose traditions I don't understand. In the meanwhile, the yarn is wiry, tense, and alive. It's hard on the hands and softens over time. The design I'm making has a body of its own, and I like how it is turning out. I like how it connects me to those women in Nepal.

One of the songs Cantus sung last night was in Japanese. It sounded beautiful, but the translation was what drew me in. It's a famous folk song...but it's the yearning and empathy that gets me, every time.

Mogami River Boat Song
I am leaving for Sakata. I hope you work hard, stay healthy, and don't catch cold.
It's hard to be apart, but blame it on the mountain and the wind.
With the wind in my straw mat sail, I will catch much for the one I love.

A good musical performance can definitely be a learning experience, don't you think?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes. Oh, yes.

I wonder if it could become easier, if only I could lend my ears: the high frequency hearing loss, whereby the consonants of speech get lost but the lower-pitched vowels are still there, the music is (mostly) there but the lyrics completely vanish amongst the instruments. So that the music is distilled to its very most human essence, with the things that separate us gone.

I guess you have to become deaf for the music to become truly universal in its expression.

April 9, 2008 at 2:03 PM  
Blogger Nancy said...

Several years ago I decided that I needed to purposely choose knitting projects in which I would grow through each one. The same is true of my spinning, and would be true of my weaving were I to return to it. Each year the garden evolves. They each have their song sung to me and through me as I pursue their venues.

April 9, 2008 at 4:31 PM  
Blogger Melissa said...

I'm so sorry that that chorus teacher pushed you away. I was rejected from the first school choir I could have joined because I didn't sing in my church choir. My church didn't have a choir. I thought that was a very arbitrary rule.
But I sang through high school and on into life. I am not a Christian but I have a deep attachment to some Christian religious music traditions, both things like the Mozart Requiem and the distinctly American music known as Sacred Harp or Shape Note music. And I've had people come up to me after a performance and ask me if I was a Christian, because the music spoke to them in such a way. I finally learned to deflect this question rather than to answer honestly. It's not a conversation I want to have again with a total stranger.
The trio I've been singing with for ten years now is made up of a culturally Jewish woman, a non-practising Catholic who is very passionate about religion in many forms, and myself - raised in Christian Science but rather anti-religion and pro-spirituality as an adult. A mono-deific poly-religionist? We sing mostly European early music, 12th-15th century religious music. And we love it - because it is beautiful and because it speaks to our spirits and speaks of a deep and genuine passion.
Our beliefs are so important, and I respect people who know themselves enough and are firm enough to make choices based on their beliefs. I have a deep passion for music and I am very particular about what I will and will not sing, but that line isn't drawn soley by content.

April 9, 2008 at 5:01 PM  
Blogger cyndy said...

Music, is for me, a universal never fails to enrich..and I love to learn(ok, I admit I have a hard time with some heavy metal-- but I still try!)

Your red kale looks terrific! Have you ever grown the dino kale? I didn't like it as well as the red...but it wasn't bad in soup.

The hemp and nettle blend sounds very interesting. Is it tough on the hands?

April 10, 2008 at 7:17 AM  
Blogger Sarah Jean said...

I must admit, it was difficult at first for me to understand not listening to a type of music because it’s from a different religion. I’ve grown up in a very open, artsy household – my mother is Catholic, and my father was raised Jewish, but is now atheist – and both of my parents are actors. Needless to say, we’re pretty much open to any kind of art. But then I started really thinking about what you wrote, and it makes sense. The closest analogy I could think of for myself would be, Would I ever go to a mainstream rap concert? Probably not, because I don’t believe in a lot of what the lyrics are saying. It’s kind of a wonky comparison, but it made me understand your viewpoint better. Thanks for making me think a little today. :)

April 11, 2008 at 10:41 PM  
Blogger Laughingrat said...

I'm not familiar with Cantus, but they sound like a great group. What you say about the choral music tradition in the West being dominated by Christian religious music really makes sense to me. I hadn't thought about this matter until about a year ago, when our local classical station showcased some of the great cantors as part of a lead-in to Passover. Never having heard Jewish religious music, I was stunned at how different it was from the Christian choral music I'd grown up on. It had never occurred to me that Jewish religious music might be different.

I was delighted, too, because the cantors' singing reminded me of my beloved klezmer--and, dare I say, of early jazz. (I hope I don't offend when I say that.) Was I hearing "Rhapsody in Blue" or "Kol Nidre"? Sometimes I couldn't tell. Quite an experience. And of course ever since, when I watch "The Jazz Singer," the story seems deeper and truer. :)

April 28, 2008 at 9:05 PM  

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