Emily Eagen and Peter Sciscioli rehearsing Hocket (from Facing North),
which reminds me of Inuit throat-singing with its playful and
mind-bogglingly virtuosic sharing of breath
We've had a couple of runs at tonight's Symphony Space program already this week, including a performance at Sarah Lawrence College last night and an open dress in front of our various posses on Tuesday. The question that people asked me after both runs was, how much is "written" in these pieces, and how much is interpretation?
This is, of course, probably the biggest question we have to grapple with in this project, and by "we" I mean both The M6 and Meredith Monk herself. I hope I'm not putting words in her mouth, but it must be both exciting and jarring to see and hear work that had previously never been separate from her own presence set into different bodies and voices. And since it's both impossible and undesirable for us to be clones of Meredith, in each of our coachings we have to work continually on honing in on where the essence of each work lies. Often the insights provided are about form, proportion, impetus, imagery, color, spaciousness—things that can't necessarily be communicated through notes and dynamic markings on paper or just by imitating a recording, especially since the pieces themselves are also somewhat malleable. In both cases, a transcription or a recording is just one snapshot of one performance or one possible form in which the piece can take shape. Patrick Vaz observed in a comment below that that this method of learning "sounds like the way dance tradition is passed on—training directly from the creators rather than interpretation of notation," and this is exactly on point(e).
Claire Bryant (cello) and Silvie Jensen (chopsticks) rehearsing Dolmen Music,
which has the sense of a ritual removed from time or history
I echo something that M6er Holly Nadal said in the NY Times: "You listen, and it sounds so free and improvised. You don't realize how much structure is there until you start trying to pick it apart. A lot of people...think there's a certain randomness there. But it's highly, highly structured." I would add that though there's a certain amount of freedom, there's no randomness at all. Depending on the piece, the structure can expand or contract a certain amount, depending on the individual performance. But only through rehearsing and performing these pieces has the essence of the structure, proportion and form really become apparent and internalized. What I've come to realize is that this process is the nuts-and-bolts work of building a legacy.