Friday, September 12, 2008

Super Flumina Babilonis: From TV to the Choir Loft

Super flumina Babilonis. That’s Latin for “By the Waters of Babylon."

In my daily American life, it reminds me of Don Draper and the gang in season one of Mad Men which ended with the Beats singing the folk version of the song

In my 10 days of being an Italian polyphony singer, the words, set by the Renaissance master Palestrina, were a clearer path to the Biblical roots of the Babylonian captivity of the Jews, cogently connecting us to the ancient sadness by the ancient Latin, sung in the slightly less ancient Basilica San Vitale in Ravenna.

Illic sedimus et flevimus: We sat down and wept

cum recordaremur Sion: When we remembered Sion

In salicibus in medio ejus suspendimus organa nostra: and we hung up our harps in the willows.

From the privilege of the choir loft, the celebrated mosaics were almost in arm’s reach. That was exciting. The view of the church from the loft was also memorable.

There were many things that were striking about participating in this international choral workshop in Rimini. One was how much of an Olympics air it had. Of the 25 people, half were the home team of Italians, then there were the Danes, the Dutch, a Russian from Moscow, several Brits, and three Americans. English was the lingua franca, followed by Italian.

The dinner conversation was interesting and varied, fueled by the diversity of day jobs. And it was there that I learned that most of my fellow singers don’t watch television. Nobody said it in the snobby way New Yorkers do—it sounded consistently genuine, and true (again, not like some New Yorker’s claims).

Well, I do a lot of things besides watching television, but I became aware of how many of my casual conversation references are tv-based. Travel. You can’t beat it for a dose of self-awareness.

One of the nonwatchers was Peter Phillips himself, the director of the Tallis Scholars. I didn’t know what to expect of this world-class conductor who runs summer workshops for amateurs. You would think the nonpros would be intolerable to him. But, it’s an easy way for him to be paid very well to stay in one place for a week, for a couple of hours’ work a day. The Tallis Scholars can't tour 12 months a year.

I have to say it was a thrill to sing under his direction. The control that he had over the group was sterling. And with his talent, we were able to pull off an 8-part piece. He was funny, engaged with what we were all doing, and down to earth.

One of his own next big projects is establishing a choir at Merton College, Oxford. I told him it’s a shame that the Inspector Morse series isn’t still filming there, (although the Sargeant Lewis sequels may be), but not being a tv-watcher, the reference meant nothing. Happily I also brought up Nesciens Mater, when he spoke about wanting to put the composer Jean Mouton on the map. That made him nod and smile.


dorki said...

What a wonderful experience you must be having! The pictures you posted makes me want to travel more.

I can connect about the (not) TV watching. I stay willingly glued to a screen for a long time, but I am usually hacking on code for another of my projects.

Have fun and take care.

Tim Footman said...

I thought Morse was the sort of TV watched by people who don't really watch TV.

Don't like Lewis (the series, not the character). They've cynically turned him into an ersatz Morse by giving him his own sadness (killing off the wife). But he's not. He's still Lewis.

And I saw Kevin Whateley in a stage production of 12 Angry Men and he was rubbish.

M.A.Peel said...

Hi dorki. Yes, tv can be a good companion while doing other things.

Tim, I like the Lewis series only for Billie Piper's husband (whose name I should go Google). He's such a good character, I wouldn't be surprised if he got a series.

kathleenmaher said...

M.A. is there a recording? Was there an audience?
Never mind if not: music and only music alters time And live music shows how artificial other transports prove in the end.

M.A.Peel said...

Kathleen, there is a recording, but they haven't posted it yet. If it's good, I'll let you know when it's up!