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.