Monday, March 28, 2011

Opera: the music equivalent of "slow food"

  I had a great weekend.  I got to help out at the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra Gala event.  I got to celebrate an early birthday with two other Aries friends at the Flagstaff Photography Center (always a good time to be had in THAT place.)  And I'm getting excited for April, a.k.a. "Event Season" here at the university.

  The first big event of April is the NAU Opera.  This is your only chance this year to experience a full-length, full-orchestra opera in Northern Arizona.  You can read all about the opera performance of "The Elixir of Love" in Charles Spining's article for the AZ Daily Sun here.  But what I want to talk about is why opera is such an enduring art form.  (Disclaimer:  I am certainly no opera expert.  That would be Nando Schellen, but he's busy getting ready for "The Elixir of Love.") 

  Let me put it like this.  Opera is the musical equivalent of slow food.

  My first professional opera performance was the LA Opera's performance of Madame Butterfly.  I was warned by my date to prepare myself--opera was much slower than anything I was used to.

  And so I received my first clue to understanding opera; an opera story is slow to unfold.  It takes its time.  Every angle of a lover's quarrel/dilemma/and scheme is expressed; emotions are more deeply explored. It is cooked with care and attention to detail.  It's much different than our television world, where every week we watch a drama reach denouement in 30 minutes.  In contrast, opera encourages you to savor each moment, each bite, of drama.  

  My second clue in opera appreciation; it's a sensory artform.  It doesn't use any new tricks or technologies, just good solid singing and expressive body language.  You don't need to understand Italian (or French, or German)--you can understand a lot of the story through reading the posture of the actor/singers.  You don't have to read all of the supertitles!  Just read the program notes beforehand (or better yet, fully research the opera before you even go) and watch the singers' expressions.  There's a reason love is called the "universal language." 

  And that leads me to my last observation; opera is traditionally about love.  (Read my blog posting about Nando Schellen here.)   It seems to me that opera seeks to preserve and immortalize the "ingredients" of love, ingredients that stay pretty much the same throughout the centuries.  Love stories are pretty universal, and the elements don't really change much.  Who couldn't use some instruction in love?  

  Just as you would probably enjoy a traditional meal cooked with care, and eaten with appreciation, you also might enjoy this upcoming opera like the gourmet meal that it is.  So I encourage you to sit down to the table  and order up some opera. 

  The opera will be performed April 1 and 2 at 7:30 and April 3 at 2 p.m.  You can order tickets from Ticketmaster at 928-523-5661


Monday, March 21, 2011

Go with the Flow

Zuill Bailey; A Triple Threat

Oops, I missed a week.  (My goal is to attend at least one cultural event per week and write about it every Monday.)

I was on Spring Break, working on other projects, things that don't have anything to do with art and culture.  But before I drove 12 hours to visit my parents in Colorado, I attended the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra's performance on the 11th, "Colored by Bohemia."  Cellist Zuill Bailey was the soloist.  Everyone who saw and heard him play fell in love with Zuill, he was that beautiful and that talented.

So afterwards, I waited my turn after all the pretty women (and men) had their say, and eventually talked to Zuill myself.

I told him that it was nice to watch him play, and that I wondered how he felt when he played, since he was so obviously moved by the music himself.  Because I had just finished reading "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience" I was sure that he was in a flow experience while playing.

Here's where it gets a little strange.  Zuill told me that once he gets immersed in the music, he actually floats above himself and can watch himself playing.  HUH?

But that totally fits with flow.  Other people, in the book, say that their particular activities feel the same way.  They say "It felt like floating." It's when you have no concept of time, and your activity is appropriately challenging your self, and helps you achieve goals that innately make you happy.  It is purposeful work.

Zuill doesn't get there right away--he says it's like running.  The first two miles are awkward and hunkering, but then all of a sudden, it clicks. 

And so, my mini-psychology session over, I was delighted to discover that it's really true for people of all levels of skill.  When you are doing something you love, and continuing to grow, you can reach an almost meditative, spiritual state.

That it happens to be with music for some people is all the better for the rest of us civilians. 

Monday, March 7, 2011

Weird and Wonderful; Viola Awards

NAU represents.  Me and Michael Vincent, Dean of the College of Arts and Letters.

I went to a lot of cultural events this week.  On Tuesday, I decided it was "fine-culture appreciation day" for my 14-year-old, so we went to the College of Arts and Letters Film Series's screening of the ever-classic "The Big Lebowski".  On Wednesday, I went to Danny Lyon's rambling talk about his striking photography of convicts, motorcycle gangs and the Civil Right Movement, sponsored by the School of Communication.  On Friday I was at First Friday and got to see Darcy Falk's beautiful new exhibit at West of the Moon Gallery.

But my favorite event was the 3rd Annual Viola Awards Banquet on Saturday, a gala event honoring Flagstaff's artists, musicians, and cultural leaders. (A full list of winners is on the Flagstaff Cultural Partners website.)

Some of my favorite things.  Jason Hasenbank from Flagstaff Photography Center.

I loved it because everyone dressed up to the nines.  I saw most of my favorite people in Flagstaff.  I got to celebrate all the honorees, and all the hard work they do to put on events, create works of art, and making music.  And I also got to talk to many, many people about planning for even more exciting things for the Flagstaff arts scene.

Basically, I felt like part of one big, happy, creative and playful family!

That's one of the great parts of Flagstaff arts, is that people feel connected to one another.  We promote each other's events, we collaborate, we share many of the same audiences.  And most importantly, we all help each other out. Once you get a bunch of Flagstaff artist types together, the ideas will start flowing like wine.

As honoree, Anne Doyle who organizes the Hopi Festival and the Museum of Northern Arizona said, "It takes a village to raise a festival!" 

The Flagstaff cultural leaders work HARD at achieving their goals, too.  Bruce Aiken, winner of the Visual Arts Award, said "for every painting, there's a pool of sweat".  I admire the energy of this town.

John Running and Laura Kelly, Executive Director of Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra.

And finally, we are so blessed to live in such a beautiful geographical setting, one that inspires all of us to create our own beauty.  John Running, winner of the Mayor's Award for Lifetime Contribution to the Arts, said "I give thanks to the muse of 'place'."

Me too.

I loved what Matt Lehrman from had to say about it in his blog, "Upwords."  At the Viola Awards "everyone took home a very tangible connection to their being part a large, weird & wonderful collection of people who ARE the vibrancy of Flagstaff’s arts & cultural community."

And I think that's a pretty special thing, something that isn't apparent in other, bigger cities.  What a weird, wonderful world we are!