Haven’t posted in a while, but this weekend is a good time to get back into it with two concerts that were profoundly social in nature. What I mean by that is a kind of performing that involves intimate size, of performing group, audience, and performance space. I love me a big theater, with the flights of imagination that loft and depth make possible. But I also love a living room, a communal meeting hall, any surprising space that brings players and listeners close together. The audience watches us sweat, hears us breathe, can feel us think together before we set down a consonant or an intention. And we, in turn, can watch them, respond to the lift of an eyebrow, take energy from a laugh.
Yesterday I had the rare pleasure of performing with my husband, a terrific saxophonist who leads cruise ship bands. His parents are near us in an assisted living community, and we gave a concert their in honor of their wedding anniversary. We don’t play together much, since I’m not an expert in the styles he commands, but there’s a swath of old blues and wonderful Gershwin tunes that I can get by on. It was very cool to hear people react to songs they recognized and loved. Afterwards, I had the privilege of hearing many stories about favorite songs: what one woman danced to at her wedding, the love one man had for Tony Bennett’s singing. Many people told us about musicians in their families, skilled amateurs who had played in dance bands or in churches.
Today, a group of UMich colleagues and I did a house concert for the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival. We sang the Schumann Spanisches Liederspiel and, especially joyous for me, the Texanische Liebeslieder that I premiered in Austin in August 2015. I’m happy to report that Michiganders love David Hanlon’s work as much as Texans do!
These two cycles have me thinking so much about translations, whether from one language to another or from culture to another. The Texanische Liebeslieder are a celebration of German culture in Texas, but also a memory of that culture, a poignant farewell to it as it fades.
Part of the reason I’ve neglected this blog since November is that our current national conversation has been so overwhelming. Music has kept me rooted during that time, in a lot of ways. These pieces have so much to say about how we do and do not understand cultures outside of own own, as well as cultures that cross our borders. Each language is a slightly different way of constructing the world, and each encounter with a new one is a chance to expand the boundaries of that construction. One language can shape another. Or be subsumed by another. Or be shut out entirely.
Just as people approached us yesterday to tell us about their favorite Gershwin song, or the time they heard Cab Calloway live, today people approached me to tell me about their German grandparents, or the African daughter-in-law trying to raise bilingual children. The story of this flux, of these gains and losses, is the story of humankind. I am thinking of how gladly I spend my life studying language and music, working to maintain and acquire fluency of thought and expression, and I’m so aware of what could have been handed to me by my grandparents as a gift and was not. We choose fear of our differences over exploration for myriad reasons, all of which are easy to understand, but the loss is incalculable.