September 22, 2010

Back to School

My first day of classes was technically yesterday, but as most of my performance classes don't officially get underway until next week, it was a somewhat uneventful day.

I did have my first lesson with Charlie. We went over his and Barbara's comments on both my auditions--the pool audition as well as my audition for NU--and to sum up his advice, the biggest hurdle he feels I'll have to overcome is my own self doubt, an internal emotion that externally colors my appearance on stage and has some detrimental effects on the music I make. Jokingly, he said I might need a therapist to work through some of these issues...I didn't tell him that I had already made an appointment to see one.

This morning I attended the first meeting of a real academic class!!! That's right...I'm gonna have readings and homework, papers and quizzes, and a big final project, which in this case will be the production of a music video based on a 20th century American art song. Why am I excited about this? Well, I'm one of those weirdos that actually likes learning and academics. I've been aching to take a class of some kind for years...and now my time has come with "American Art Song" led by professor Davies. Brain cells...get set!

The class is hugely (and perhaps predictably) dominated by vocal majors, but there are a couple of instrumentalists as well as a token english major (which is good, because much of our study will be devoted to the poetry of art song). Today in fact, we began by studying a poem by James Agee that was set to music by Samuel Barber...

SURE on this shining night
Of starmade shadows round,
Kindness must watch for me
This side the ground.

The late year lies down the north.
All is healed, all is health.
High summer holds the earth.
Hearts are whole.

Sure on this shining night I weep for wonder wandering far alone
Of shadows on the stars.

What a lovely poem.

I was immediately drawn in by the references to stars...starmade shadows no less. In order for stars to cast shadows themselves there must be total darkness and no moon. I pictured myself wandering alone under a summer desert sky...a dim shadow cast around me by blue starlight and my eyes drawn up in wonder at the vast milky way above. The words carry with them a kind of pleading, which is accentuated by Barber's melody--a slight rise in the voice at the end of the first three lines--inquisitive, questioning. Then, in hushed tones, he prays for a benevolent force to "watch" for him as he moves upon his journey toward an inevitable destiny: "this side the ground" other terms may be: this side of the grave.

As the speaker turns his thoughts to the future north, (possibly another astronomical reference to the setting of the Milky Way that happens, at least in the northern hemisphere, as autumn progresses to that time, the wanderer would cast no shadow as the starscape above would have become significantly more sparse...though if you look on the bright side, we get to see the Orion nebula instead!) his sense of melancholy unassumingly persists. When he proclaims "All is healed, all is health" (the musical climax of the song) is he actually sadly and distantly referring to other's health...other's he is left feeling less than whole?

In the last two lines I find it exceptionally interesting that Agee uses the words "shadows ON the stars" which, if you think about it, evokes quite a different image than that of the brilliant milky way smiling down upon a soul in wonder. I didn't bring this up in class, but I wonder if this might suggest that the melancholy and inquiring heart of our lonely wanderer has left its own imprint, a shadow, on the heavens...or at least how he is able to see them.

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