Sunday, June 24, 2007

Rise Again!

What’s the best way to get an excellent seat at a symphony concert at Kitara Hall in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan, for free? It’s a rather lengthy process, but first one tries out for the Sapporo Symphony Chorus; then, after passing the audition, one spends long hours every Tuesday night and sometimes weekends rehearsing.

For the celebration of Sapporo Symphony's 500th performance, they chose Mahler's Symphony #2 in C minor, a grandiose piece which acts as a showcase for the orchestra, using practically every instrument possible. It was a truly uplifting experience, though one that required enormous physical energy, perhaps the most demanding piece I've ever sung. For Sopranos, it meant singing a range of notes extending from the A below middle C to a high B, and from PPPP to FFF. Nevertheless, having practiced since January, and especially after 5 rehearsals and 2 performances with the orchestra, I really grew to love this powerful symphony, which goes through the gamut of emotions from pathos to joy.

One of its most transcendent moments is when the Soprano solo slips almost imperceptibly from the voices of the chorus, rising to an E flat as she sings, "Rise again!" (from the poem Die Auferstehung [The Resurrection] by Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock). The Soprano/Alto duet in the 5th movement, from which the chorus continues singing "With wings . . . I shall soar upwards too the light which no eye has penetrated!", makes me wish Mahler had written operas. He did, at least, include choral music in several of symphonies.

Audiences at both Sapporo Symphony performances responded enthusiastically, and the June 24th performance was broadcast on NHK radio. You can read what the Hokkaido Shimbun wrote about it (in Japanese) here. I've discovered since that the piece was played by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Leonard Bernstein, for its 1000th performance. Read James R. Oestreich's June 15, 2003, New York Times review of that performance in "Music: Tuning Up/Mahler's Symphony No. 2; Picking Up Beethoven's Gauntlet."

That's me in the second row, second from the left. I couldn't have asked for a better seat!

Saturday, June 09, 2007

I Can’t Not Dance

Since I’m going to be a dancer in my next lifetime, I need to get in all the practice I can during this lifetime. Unfortunately, I wasn’t born with the physique of a dancer, but that hasn’t stopped me. Through the years I’ve had formal or informal training in folk dancing, square dancing, “social” dancing, jazz dance, hula, and, most recently, ballroom dancing.

For about 3 years, every Tuesday evening I did the waltz, tango, rumba, cha cha, and samba in a dance studio only a block from my apartment. The way I started the lessons was practically like a scene in the movie Shall We Dance? For several years I gazed up at the lit windows of the studio, sometimes seeing a shadow of a dancer moving past. I finally got up the nerve to climb the stairs to the 2nd floor and, after peering through the glass door, signed up for a dance circle.

Ballroom dancing is a terrific workout in so many ways. Not only does it help with strength, balance, and coordination (I'm beginning to distinguish my left from my right foot), it is also a social way of exercise together. "In addition," according to an article in the National Retired Teachers Association newsletter (2007) "dancers must memorize intricate steps and movements, mater timing, and coordinate movements with a partner--the type of mental acrobatics that hold off memory loss and dementia."

Unfortunately, when I passed the audition for Sapporo Symphony Chorus, I had to quit since rehearsals were on the same evening. However, private lessons were still an option., so I kept taking lessons occasionally even though it was expensive. A couple weeks ago I was dismayed when I looked up to see the windows darkened and the curtains gone. The studio was empty! All my dreams of being belle of the ball at my 50th high school reunion had vanished. And just after I had gotten new arch supports in my dance shoes that meant I could dance longer without getting tired.

Actually, I had met my dance teacher at the subway station a few weeks before, and he had mentioned something about opening a new studio. What I had thought was that he was branching out, and that he’d be teaching in at least a couple of places. Last week I got a formal announcement in the mail about his new studio. I can get there pretty easily by streetcar, although it’s a long ride of at least half an hour, not counting standing and waiting in all sorts of inclement weather. I’m so eager to continue dancing – at least the Latin dances – that I’ll probably check out his new studio. If it has air conditioning, I’ll continue private lessons for sure during summer vacation.

I can't not dance!

Scott, Phil. "Get Your Groove On." National Retired Teachers Association, Spring 2007, p. 12.