Chamber Music Campania 2015 came to an end last week. We enjoyed two weeks of intense concertizing throughout Sarasota, Florida. Our calendar of events included an outreach program for individuals with developmental disabilities, a celebration of Italian culture at a local restaurant, and adventures in contemporary American music at New College. We also welcomed a new member to the Chamber Music Campania staff: Tristan (pictured below), an inward-looking philosopher of Nietzschean intellect, who carefully chronicled our summer activities with a critical eye. His report (procured by Alice Jones, flute) follows.
From what I can tell, music making is just a clever ploy to reduce the amount of butt scratches I receive. It is a scourge that must be stopped. A perfectly nice day could be had if one simply adhered to the following schedule, which is by no means a rigid agenda, but rather an outline of my suggested best practices for spending one’s day:
Awaken. Preferably everyone awakens at the same time, so I don’t have to sniff every door jamb and make sure everyone is in the house.
Potty time. I wish my owner wouldn’t call it this. It’s so demeaning and reduces the importance of and concentration required in order to complete my herculean efforts of neighborhood territorial communication about my mood, thoughts, and general virility to my comrades. Oh, but it feels so good, and every time she says “Want to go outside and go potty?” I wriggle and want to scream “YES” with every fiber of my being. But I don’t, because I have standards. Instead I quickly go sit by the door so we may get on with our day.
Breakfast. If only everyone would sit patiently for food to magically appear in their bowls instead of this infernal cooking they insist on doing every morning: home fries, bacon, fried eggs on English muffins. And those green smoothies! I love grass as much as the next guy, but have some self control!
The next portion of the day is crucial, and unfortunately, the musicians can’t seem to understand this point. They all rush out the door, saying something about “Jim,” wearing smelly, tight fitting clothes. But they’re going the wrong way! The real morning activity should be the lanai: a magical place full of lizards, delicious rocks, the sounds of birds, and a giant vat of poisonous water. Sometimes, after seeing “Jim,” the musicians (inexplicably) all jump into this giant vat of poisonous water. I rush after them, trying to protect them from the danger, licking off the evil liquid when they resurface. They took me in the giant vat once. It was so liquidy and cool and soothing and… oh, now I get why they keep going in there.
The rest of the afternoon is where the real trouble emerges. The musicians must be very good beggars, because they get to eat another meal in the middle of the day, which is then followed by a clamoring of moving furniture, as chairs are relocated from one side of the house to another (and they scoff at me for moving my toys around the house) and set up in a ring in a different room. Every day, I hope against hopes that they’ve finally come to their senses and realized that this configuration is the perfect one for a tag-teamed unending Nirvana of butt scratches. There they are: circled about me, all five of them in a perfect position to cuddle, pet, rub, and sate my hedonistic ego. And yet, they ignore me and even, to my incredulity, yell out in protest as I sample the small bowls of water they’ve laid out for me throughout their circle. (I would be most appreciative if they didn’t put those small pieces of wood in the water – they are such a pain to drink around, and, moreover, they’ve made it quite clear that I am not to chew on them.) I curl up underneath the oboe, and no one pets me. I try to lie between the clarinet and bassoon, and they say I’m in the way of the clarinet stand. I sit myself, as regally as possible, on the black towel laid out for me at the horn player’s feet, and… oh, the horror and the shame – he drops viscous, smelly water all around me. He doesn’t even make eye contact with me when he does it. I want to believe he’s playing a game with me, but something about it isn’t quite right. Even my owner, when she pets me during these awful afternoons, does so in a cursory manner, just a stroke or two, as if that sated my needs.
But the worst of it – the worst, I say! – is the noise. The lows, the highs, the louds, the getting-louders, the shorts, the longs. They somehow have decided to do these sounds all together. They breathe together, they look at each other instead of at me, and they do it over and over and over… Every so often, however, a soothing sensation comes over me, as if the monstrous instruments they all hold have turned into caressing hands, and they loll me to sleep. I can feel the energy in the room change, and the musicians are powerfully electric, but without tension – it’s hard to describe, but in those moments, I am sure of the love in the room, and that butt scratches will return shortly.
And they do! Once the musicians are done with their séance, it is my job to ascertain which of them is most likely to pay attention to me the quickest. I follow this person to his or her den, trotting as quickly as I can, so that I convey the urgency of butt scratching, but not galloping, as that would be undignified and cheapen the activity. As if to make up for the wretched stretch of ignoring me, they all often reconvene on the lanai, enjoying the sunshine (ah, I’ve taught them well!) and relying on me to supervise their poisonous-water time.
As an added bonus, a perfectly lovely day such as the one I’ve described should be completed with a car ride. It’s not necessarily important where one goes, but rather it is the going that matters. Often times, I have found, we end up somewhere, which is always a pleasant surprise, although I would be just as happy to not end up anywhere at all and simply take in the experience. (I imagine that when the musicians leave me alone in the house, they simply drive around in the car, going in circles, waiting until they can come home. I suppose they think I need the time alone to work on things such as my manuscripts and other intellectual projects, but they fail to realize that butt scratches are just integral to my work.) When one hops out of the car in a new place, the rush of smells and sounds is intoxicating, especially in this past month, in which every time the car has stopped has been further and further from home – everything is new.
On one recent evening, we took a car ride and stopped at a sandy, sunny place that abutted the biggest stretch of water I have ever seen (and I am fairly well traveled). I was apprehensive but sensed the musicians’ excitement and happiness, and so I forged ahead, leading the musicians along. We crossed over a low rise, emerging out of the tall grass, and into a great expanse that was, in the words of the musicians, “The Happiest Place on Earth.” I cannot relay the specific events of the rest of the evening, only sensations, and they were, in no particular order other than a Proustian array of images: sand; sun; turning back to make sure the musicians were following me; new people, oh new people! oh the butt scratches!; sand; salt?? wow it’s so salty out here!; running along the water with a Brittany spaniel, tumbling with a Rottweiler, sniffing a Staffordshire; more new people!; being in the water, swimming in the water, walking into the water and a mass of moving water suddenly hitting me in the face; the setting sun; running the sand; a series of Sports Illustrated: Swimsuit Edition-worthy photographs, starring me; oh, the softness of the sand!, and curling up in exhausted sleep, too tired to enjoy the car ride home.
I offer these words not to brag about the quality of my life (please, do be jealous), but rather as an illustrative example of how one should best structure a summer day. I beg of you, follow this general outline, and whatever you do, make time for butt scratches.
The musicians are enjoying their last days under the Italian sun, while I – writing from American Airlines Flight 111 – travel back to the States.
The last week of Chamber Music Campania seems suspended in time, like a photo of a smile or the startling moments after an avalanche. Our days in Lucera were bright and calm and furious, and our expectations rose and fell with the inconsistency of an Italian marching band’s intonation. The Fiati 5 performed two concerts (one in Lucera, the other in Vico del Gargano) with programs that included Italian favorites (e.g., “O mio babbino caro” performed by the inestimable Katie Dukes Walker), nail-bitingly difficult American quintet repertoire (e.g., Elliott Carter’s wind quintet), and three world premieres. Our listeners responded with standing ovations, tearful eyes, and Italianate physical affection (kisses, hugs, rigorous handshakes, the pinching of cheeks). Indeed, one audience member exclaimed that he would paint a picture inspired by Jason Thorpe Buchanan’s new work Oggetti.
Our final roundtable discussion on June 27 enhanced our busy week of concertizing. We examined the increasingly popular trend of teaching courses in music “entrepreneurialism” at conservatories, universities, colleges, and music festivals. The musicians, composers, and I voiced some concerns, mainly, that institutionalized certificate programs in music entrepreneurship rarely endow students with usable skills. We also attempted to define the many dimensions of music entrepreneurship, which might entail an ability to recognize opportunity (Mike, horn) and, no less important, a capacity to generate unique, viable products and services (Jason, composer). We concluded that artists and administrators can, should, and sometimes do occupy the same spaces, an overlap that may provide for healthful musical communities.
I leave the happy frenzy of Chamber Music Campania 2014 with a heavy heart, but also lightness in my step. I anticipate great things for Chamber Music Campania and the Fiati 5, and I look forward to future summers of mozzarella di bufala, pizza al forno, roundtable discussions, lunchtime banter, and the sounds of wind instruments emerging from my grandmother’s farmhouse in Varano – sounds that rustle the leaves of olive branches and disappear into the mountains.
(l'ultimo gelato a Lucera; photo credit: Christina Dioguardi)
At Chamber Music Campania, our roundtable discussions extend beyond “the table” itself. For days now––between long rehearsals, after meals, during the so-called Italian pausa––the quintet, composers, and I have contemplated and re-visited questions about marketing, branding, audience engagement, and patron development. I cannot effectively summarize the content of our conversations in a single blog post, so instead I point to a couple significant themes.
The topic of “listening” continues to dominate our discussions, and happily, these discussions are directly informed by the quintet’s concert experiences. We have witnessed a complex, non-linear spectrum of listener identity, including: people who simply “hear,” deeply attentive audiences, and rowdy but still actively engaged Italians who heartily sing along to “Va pensiero.” This diversity of listener identities complicates otherwise simple definitions of “audience” and what constitutes “listening.”
The musicians presented several performance strategies that acknowledge the complexity of Italian listening culture, for example, providing the audience with a “multiple choice” program (e.g., “Do you want to hear an American piece or an Italian piece next?”). Mike (horn) discussed the importance of programming and audience engagement; he compared clever programming to an adventure in wine tasting––both should involve an array of sweetness and bitterness, wherein one taste prepares, contrasts, or complements the others.
We continue to explore these ideas and related topics in our upcoming roundtables about programming, the arts and economic sustainability, and music education.
If there is anything we have learned from spending time in Varano, it’s that flexibility is the most important aspect of planning anything. Cars will break down, soccer games will ensue and even on the most beautiful of days the skies will open up and it will start to downpour right as we are planning to start an outdoor concert. Be that as it may, the alternative plans and activities always produce the most amazing stories that truly make our time in Varano a special experience. So when one of our favorite locals, Alba “the rabbit slayer”, suggested an afternoon with her at the river instead of spending some time relaxing on the beaches of Salerno we said okay. And let me clarify that when I say suggested, I mean that she quickly dismissed the Salerno plan and told us that instead we were going to the river, no questions asked.
It was around 2:00 in the afternoon when we began the journey to Alba’s house, about a twenty-minute walk from C’era Una Volta. We had spent the morning gorging ourselves on the most incredible Mozzarella di Bufala at Vannulo, an organic mozzarella farm, and were excited for our afternoon adventures. Regina reminded us to wear “good shoes” because Alba said there would be a little, let me repeat that, a little walking. We donned our sneakers and bathing suits, grabbed towels, blankets and snacks, and were off on yet another adventure.
Once at Alba’s, one of her sons, Donato, helped cart us all to the river. We packed into the car and he followed on his motorcycle, guiding us to the spot where we would park the car, and make the short walk to the river’s edge. We began the walk, full of optimism and excited to jump into the cool waters, as it was quite warm that day. After about five minutes of walking and no river in sight our optimism started to falter, and it was only a few minutes later that it completely evaporated into the abyss when we saw the mud. We figured all we had to do was cross this one strip of mud and then we would be rewarded with the beautiful river, so we trudged through. Purtroppo, that was not the only strip of mud; in fact it was the smallest and shallowest spot that we would encounter. As we trudged on, the mud became thinker, deeper and full of mosquitos and other water dwelling insects. Our “good shoes” that we supposedly built for walking became prisoners of the mud, so we thought that taking them off would help us get through at a quicker pace, but boy were we wrong.
With all my will and determination I tried to push myself a little farther, my bare feet clinging to the rocks buried beneath the mud, until I could no longer hold on. Most of the group had moved on, but Regina and the wonderful Clement So lagged back with me as I moved slowly, trying to protect a hip injury that I had been nursing for a few weeks. I was dreaming of the beaches in Salerno, and in that brief moment cursing Alba (whom we all love and respect dearly) for sending us on this farfetched goose-chase through the mud, in search of a river that did not seem to exist. And it was in that precise moment that Donato returned, whipping around the corner on his motorcycle to rescue Regina and me from the mud (which I still believe to be some sort of supernatural, super sticky, special southern Italian mud).
Petrified of motorcycles, I politely declined Donato’s chivalrous offer to rescue us from the mud, but with another slip on a particularly sharp rock, I grabbed his shoulder and hoisted myself up. Regina climbed up behind me, and there I sat nestled between the two of them as we started to drive out of the mud. “Lento,” Regina kept saying, indicating to Donato that we wanted to drive slowly, as I held on for dear life, my heart in my throat. We whizzed passed the group, under what we thought was an electric fence (of course) and finally arrived at the river. Shaking, I dismounted the motorcycle and immediately dove into the cool water.
In the end the river was quite nice, once we got through the mud and mosquito ridden shallow waters, and we had a lovely afternoon there (if you can call an hour an afternoon). For in typical southern Italian fashion, just as soon as we were starting to enjoy ourselves, the storm clouds rolled in. Worried that we wouldn’t make it back to the car in time, Regina suggested that we all rode back on the motorcycle with Donato, one or two at a time in order to expedite the almost two mile trek. As I hopped back on the motorcycle for the second time that day, once again petrified for my life, I couldn’t help but laugh: of course this would happen to us, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
We ended up making it back to C’era Una Volta—though not before the storm, soaked to the bone, and encased in the magical mystery mud—and all we could do was laugh. We had survived yet another crazy Italian adventure and save for a few bruises and scrapes we had come out just fine. I don’t think we will ever forget our trip to the river; I know that I won’t, and if there’s one thing we all learned it’s that next year we are going to the beach in Salerno.
Last weekend (June 7th), I arrived in Salerno with minimal damage to my person and none to my luggage (it not having to be concerned with strained muscles from sleeping in peculiar positions on the plane). The train was on time (!), as was our lovely director/cat-herder Regina, and the journey from Salerno to Varano was pleasant and only somewhat nerve-wracking (driving in Italy is not for the weak of heart).
Due to various and sundry reasons, I had nearly no time to write music before departing for Italy, so I have been madly scribbling away in various locations about "C'era una volta" (my room, the garden, the hallway floor…), inspired by the strains of Bernstein and Rossini that waft from the fengshui room of rehearsal to my apprentice ears.
I broke my record of "gelato every day spent in Italy", and so my gelato/day ratio has sunk below 1. This is probably for the best for both my health and my wallet, but you know what they (presumably) say: a gelato eaten is a gelato earned*. Of course, going without gelato is no hardship when the food here is so delicious…mostly cooked by us, we few, we band of musicians, but last night we were fortunate enough to feast on food provided to us by our gracious host, Tonino. The pasta! the greens! the bread! the salad! the meatballs (three-meat, naturally)! the spicy olive oil!(!!!!)…if that were the high point of my journey, I would be satisfied.
Some notable accomplishments from this past week:
Culinary accomplishments (in rough chronological order):
--cut through a watermelon with my bare hands (that were wielding a short chef's knife)
--learned how to get the most out of the cheese grater (spoiler: it involves also using a fork)
--helped make mushroom risotto (and consumed it! mushroom bravery ftw)
--helped make meataballs [not a typo]
--made parsley pesto
--had buffalo (buffalo) cheese, yogurt, gelato (that's right, you read that right, buffalo gelato, SO DELICIOZO AHHH), and budino (pudding) (chocolate, of course)
--had a mushroomy pasta fagioli soup (the bravery continues!)
--made rosemary-romano polenta with rosemary olive oil
--had Nutella every day with breakfast (I don't know if this is an accomplishment or a--no, never mind, definitely an accomplishment).
--wrote an additional five minutes of my woodwind quintet for the Fiati 5, "Saturday Morning in the South End"
--discussed contemporary audience engagement with classical music, including the problems with valuing one type of listener over another, particularly when the division of "active" and "passive" listener is so unclear/fuzzy
--listened to the Fiati 5 play beautiful music, including a quintet by Kyle Werner that made me want to only write music that creates weird overtones
Misc. cultural accomplishments:
--attended the local festival/party for Santa Maria di Constantinopoli
--was eventually allowed to depart said festival/party
--in addition to Varano, have visited Eboli and Campagna (the city, not the countryside. or the region.)
--expanded my Italian vocabulary to include words like "earthquake," "lentils," "nap," "non-alcoholic," and "pop music"
--achieved swimming in the local river
I have learned…
--how to draw Texas
--the definition of pausa (protip: NOT the same thing as pranzo, which is lunch. If you conflate these two things into one word, your Italian-speaking mother will laugh at you.)
--that the most effective way to exit a festival early is to dance your way out
--that you should not refrigerate mozzarella, but instead keep it out in its bag in a bowl of cold water
--how to play the card game Kemp
--that the lower register of the oboe is not verboten or "honky," despite what my orchestration book may imply
--the difference between bassoon and oboe reeds
--that the river is a lengthy, muddy walk from the road
Things I hope to achieve in the coming week:
--more puppy sightings
--finish writing my quintet, enter it into the computer, edit it, and give that music to the Fiati 5 to look over/play through
--learn the words to Va pensiero
--divers other musical, culinary, and cultural adventures!
*They don't actually say this, as far as I know, but CLEARLY they should. Whoever "they" are.
The Fiati 5, composer-in-residence Kyle Werner, apprentice Laura Staffaroni, and I met last night (ieri sera) to discuss practices of listening to music in the twenty-first century. Two scholarly texts provided a basis for our conversation: Tia DeNora, Music in Everyday Life (2000) and Daniel Cavicchi, Listening and Longing (2011). Both authors suggest that the listener participates in the process of musical creation, what DeNora calls “appropriation,” i.e., a listener may place music in a specific context, such as listening to music at the gym, or a listener may hear the music with reference to memories and extra-musical associations, such as listening to a piece he listened with his grandmother as a child.
Our conversation explored the generic categories of “active” and “passive” listening, which DeNora and Cavicchi both consider, if only peripherally. The Chamber Music Campania musicians and composers, building upon the scholarly literature, identified that this duality of “active” versus “passive” is not only complex, but also perhaps a false binary. Mike (horn) recognized that a listening experience is fluid: the listener can be actively engaged one minute and unreceptive the next (think of sitting through Wagner!). Kyle (composer) argued that the materials of a composition and its continuity in affectual logic can sustain active and passive listening, depending on the listener’s context, the program (if there is one), and other factors.
We return to this topic next week, when we contemplate further the role of the listener and the relationship between audience and performer. I expect another lively and energizing discussion––the ideal antipasto before dinner at “C’era una volta”!
Enjoy this photo from last night’s feast (credit: Christina Dioguardi, bassoon).
Ciao a tutti! Today, we officially launched Chamber Music Campania 2014. We began the morning with a rousing “scientific study” (read: taste test) of apricot juice (il succo di frutta) from two different countries, one German, the other Italian. Each participant selected his or her preferred juice; we unanimously decided that the German juice was tart and flavorful, while the Italian juice was generically saccharine. The big difference: high-fructose syrup in the Italian variety. (Nonetheless we maintain our unconditional love of all-things-Italia!)
Check back here tomorrow for a summary of our conversation about listener identity and the ontological processes of music-making.
The Fiati 5 are beginning preparations for our first American concert! The ensemble will recreate the affective magic of our Italian experience in Armonk, NY at the family-owned, New York Times worthy restaurant Fortina. It promises to be an exciting event.
Tonight is my final evening in Varano. With the fellows en route to America and my suitcase packed, I now notice the hushed tranquility of the Italian countryside. I see that the light is beginning to change to a dusky orange, and I note the smell of summer edging slowly into the kitchen. The house is still. But it continues to vibrate with energy, like a concert hall in the quiet moments after the audience has left, yet before the janitor turns off the stage lights. I can imagine a flute playing long tones, the creak of a refrigerator door, and Tonino’s colossal voice yelling on the phone at some sorry soul. Lena, the Italian woman who lives across the street, scolds her grandchildren. A car drives by. Now a motorcycle. Now a tractor.
I often try to visualize my future with calm, carefully calculated expectations, and Chamber Music Campania had been a part of my reticent imagination for over seven years. Still, I came to think about the project with near fanatical anticipation, the way a teenage girl obsessively ponders her future Prince (or Princess) Charming. It did not feel real or even possible. But it did feel necessary. Now that the festival rests in my memory, not my fantasy, I am left with the great sadness that arrives when things come to an end. And, so, I find solace in the whisper of new dreams.
Thank you for taking this journey with me. I will continue to update the blog as Chamber Music Campania grows into something ever more beautiful.