“Works of art make rules; rules do not make works of art.” Claude Debussy
If you read Tim Sharp’s ChoralBlog on Monday, you know the title was, “Collaboration Outside Our Comfort Level.” I meant to write about collaboration as well and his comments on Oklahoma and buffalos (my Granny D. grew up in Tonkawa, OK and used to talk about buffalos) convinced me I should just go ahead and ‘be the Buffalo.’ My Blog today will speak to the subject but on a more rudimentary level.
I am the daughter of a ballet dancer/stage director father and an opera singer mother; thinking about collaboration between arts is normal to me. Yet, when I bring up the idea of collaboration between arts, I often get blank stares or an occasional “no way” from those I thought would be open to doing something new. We choral folk could learn much from our fellow artists (whatever their discipline) in the coming together of arts, but may tend to think it is not an option for our ensembles or think it might draw attention away from our music making.
One of my favorite works for solo piano is a suite by Modest Mussorgsky, Pictures at an Exhibition. Orchestrated by Maurice Ravel among others, the work was a memorial of sorts for Mussorgsky’s artist friend, Victor Hartmann, who died at the age of 39. As Mussorgsky walked through a memorial exhibit of 400 of his friend’s works, he was inspired to write a piece reflecting what he saw. It delights me to think two artistic forms—musical and visual–converged to create such a lovely work. And I wonder why we don’t “converge” more.
Other musical and performing art forms already know what we should; using other art and artists to enhance takes nothing away from our own performance. This may seem like a new idea but it’s not. Early in the 20th century, Pablo Picasso collaborated with Diaghiliev and the Ballets Russes on several ballets, using his Cubist sets and costumes for Parade, The Three-Cornered Hat and Pulcinella. In the last 25 years, opera companies around the country have used sets and costumes influenced by the Belgian surrealist, Rene Magritte, for productions of Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Having attended two productions of this version of The Barber of Seville, I can attest it is charming!
All this is great, you think, but how does this apply to choral ensembles? A few years ago, my husband gave me a video of two of my favorite things—a ballet choreographed on my all-time favorite choral piece (to sing or conduct), Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms. Originally conceived for Nederlands Dans Theater in 1978, the chorography has been used by other dance companies, recently by the Boston Ballet. It was profound to see what I was hearing and singing and actually seemed to make my experience fuller. I don’t know if other large choral works would work quite as well having a ballet made on them, but I think Symphony of Psalms does. Last winter, one of my own home town choral ensembles, Chicago A Capella, did a concert collaborating with Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater. I admire them greatly for thinking outside of the box!
I also try to collaborate or be inspired by other art forms with my own ensembles. Last spring, my chamber choir did a concert inspired by the life of the architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. My singers, to a person, told me how much they enjoyed the music and how much fun they had with this perspective, different from our usual. Sometime in 2017, I plan to do a concert using Baroque dance in some way; we will see where that idea leads me.
Collaboration doesn’t have to be difficult; it can be as simple as having a concert at an art gallery or museum. There are occasionally announcements of concerts here on ChoralNet of events such as these, with musical offerings intended to enhance the art works or exhibits. I have thought a concert at a house of worship with significant stained glass windows, with works chosen to highlight the windows or the window donors, could be a wonderful sacred concert.
What about you? When will YOU be the Buffalo? Every journey begins with one step; what will be the first step to your collaboration? Please tell us!