Sunday, December 21, 2008

Passing into the West

Today we made history.

Today, the combined choir of the Young KL Singers, the Malaysian Institute of Arts Music Department and the KL Children's Choir ended their three-day run of Howard Shore's Lord of the Rings Symphony at the Dewan Philharmonic Petronas with the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra.

The show premiered on the 19th of December. Four months of blood, sweat, more tears than I could possibly imagine, worry and stress, culminating in three nights of fear and trembling on stage, wanting to do the best we possibly could. Two nights of missed cues, thumping hearts, wrong notes. And it all ended in the best performance we've ever done.

Hearing the refrain Nef aear, si nef aearon echo in the symphony hall was one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard - no mistakes, perfect time, voices light as air, clear as glass.

Listening to the men's chorus singing the Dwarven refrain of Un du abad, ku gan aga aznan on that last lifted note swell with the tenors in high register took my breath away. It was beautiful. It was moving. It was everything it was supposed to be and it brought tears to my eyes for the first time since we started singing in the symphony hall.

And when the same men's chorus stormed into 'Urus ni buzra! Arras talbabi filluma! with full deep bass volume, it was all I could do to not smile from ear to ear because of just how proud I was of them. Our men! (For the record, Asian voices don't do bass very well. Lots of tenors, lots of baritones, true basses? Very hard to find. Most of our basses are either transplanted baritones, or else they have the range of a Bass 1, ie: not that low. This part of the symphony was one hell of a challenge for them and they pulled it off.)

Today, things just fell into place. Clicked, like magic. The women sounded like the warriors they were supposed to be in Movement 3, mysterious and bell-like like the Elves they sang about in Movement 2, full of fire and rage in Movement 5 and Movement 6. The men rounded out that sound in all the Movements - warm, rounded tones, solid. And the children sang like angels, especially our boy soprano. The mezzo soprano and baritone soloists were on the top of their form - perfect performance today, all shivers down spine.

The soprano solo of 'Into the West' in the last Movement has never failed to touch me every time I've heard it these last few days. Today though, it brought me to the verge of tears because in a way, that's been our journey - all the rehearsals and the insane administrative work, and worrying about just how we're going to sound and how prepared we are - and now, it's over. Like the Grey Ships, we're passing into the West too.

It's been hard. I've been ill for the entire week, and have totally lost my voice, but today I managed to sing the last three Movements (I'll pay for it tomorrow I'm sure.) It's been a logistic nightmare in many, many ways.

But I would do it all over again, if just to hear the echoes of the choir's voices rising and falling, supporting Ann de Renais' bell-like 'Into the West' as it lifts into the air. This is why I joined choir. This is why I work for a choral academy. This is why, like a sucker for punishment, I come back to choir again and again. Because it's a labour of love. Because to hear something as perfect as this and know we've helped to make it happen is the best reward for all those agonizing months. And just maybe, sometimes, it's all the reason I need to carry on.

And all will turn to silver glass
A light on the water
Grey ships pass
Into the West.

Bravo, MPO Lord of the Rings choir. I am so. Damned. Proud. Of all of you.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Dream: Berlin

Tired, sick, discouraged. Maybe that's why the dreams are so vivid.


Dark night on the streets. Grey, formless, it’s mixed up with another dream where I remember bright lights in a shop window – triangles and other ornaments in red neon and sparkling fairy lights. Lots of people. There always are lots of people, all faceless and nameless and they’re walking quickly, always never showing their faces. I’m walking too, past little lanes where there is water on the tiles – little lanes like those in Panglima Street or those alleyways locally here where there are drains and the backs of shop houses. In the other dream I know I hid with a group of people or at least came into contact with some like minds.

In this dream, I remember soldiers. Huge cordons of them around the city, wearing Berlin colours and bright brass buttons on their jackets. They’re menacing. The sheer force of so many of them makes the air prickle with danger. It makes me uneasy. I look at my companion – he’s faceless and nameless too, but a comrade-in-arms, that I know – and we both think with the startling clarity of thoughts in dreams that with so many of Germany’s forces gathered en mass like this, one good hard blow would cripple them permanently.

We must have agreed. In dreams, things like consensus happen as if by magic, completely naturally. The roads are dark. We’re on the way to where Berlin has headquartered their forces. Ahead in the night sky, a plane lifts off and the glow of the aerodrome halos in the darkness, menacing and cold. There are trees silhouetted against the halo and I think, ‘Luftwaffe.’

We need to hide. There are searchlights and beacons all around us as we try to get into cover. One of the beams catches us and throws us into high relief and I am terrified in case we are discovered and shot, but somehow, miraculously, the guards leave us be. We are in a drain, an overgrown, weedy monsoon drain shallower than most. I go down a little ways, and discover that it’s a hidden passage to the sentry box. We need uniforms or disguises. There are three doors near the sentry box – again, with dreams, the most illogical things seem possible. I know one of my comrades manages to find a uniform, and another, but when it is my turn, I can’t, and I remember thinking that we need to hurry, I can see their boots under the stalls and if I can’t find something to wear and soon, there will be trouble.

I turn the chainmaille ring on my finger and think that such a small gesture against Germany’s massive army is like a piece of tiny chainmaille in a sea of boots. A drop in the ocean. I wonder why we’re doing this, and the implications of failing. We don’t seem like heroes, just madmen.

When I wake, echoes of the Luftwaffe and the sour taste of futility linger like tired rags.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Adventures in Photography, Insanity, and Invention

Creative blocks stink.

They sit in your head, weigh down your psyche and weight your hands so when you pick up a marker or a pair of pliers, nothing presents itself. Not even the veriest smidgen of an idea. Other people's work becomes a source of wide-eyed admiration and immediate despair, and you want to throw up your hands forever and just give up because nothing will ever, ever be good enough. Words trickle onto a blank screen, you read them and promptly delete everything. You attempt Nanowrimo, because only a totally insane person would do that, start late because of show, fall sick, write in a frenzy and bottom out at 40k words because you miscalculated the cut-off time and besides, you fell asleep in total exhaustion after one hour's sleep the night before - and the one hour nap turned into six hours instead.

The last few months have been like that.

Perhaps it's just because I've been far too busy rushing from one production to the next, but creativity has taken an extreme back seat. Mostly, I've just been too tired to do much more than hope the next day is a little less hectic.

These two weeks have been looking up a bit though - after three horrible days of migraine, I finally staggered out of bed this morning (woken up by Buddhist funeral bells and chanting, of all things) and decided to get to some creative work after I finished the remainder of the costume plot I had to plan out for the Christmas play.

The result was one pair of earrings I've named Venetian Rose, and a lot of photography. And I mean, a lot of photography. I've had my camera for about three years and still never quite figured out how to tweak all the settings until I futzed around with it this afternoon.

So, finally, after months of black-hole-in-the-mind, this is what's been taking shape over the past couple weeks.

The Alien Zap Bracelet, named because the glass beads resembled little alien planetoids floating around. This is probably my favourite bracelet at present. All the colours make me smile.

I had the great privilege of meeting Stephanie Sersich, the glass artist, in Maine several years ago before I came back home - I'm also a proud owner of one of her spiky knotted bracelets, courtesy of a dear friend and his mother. When she published 'Designing Jewelry with Glass Beads', I immediately asked my brother to get the book for me if he could, and he did, bless him. This was an attempt at her Kinetic Earrings - except I couldn't find flat discs so I improvised with some foam cut-outs for making greeting cards, some waxed linen thread and some cheap lucite flowers to pair up with some shell beads and Czech pressed glass. They -were- fun to make!

Rebecca Mojica of Blue Buddha Boutique's Shaggy Loop Bracelet with a Mercenary's Twist. I wanted to make one of them the minute I saw the tutorial, but could I leave well enough alone? Nooooo, of course not, I had to add little bits of artistic wire and beads for colour, inspired by a tutorial in Beading Daily - and since I had to handcoil and cut all those coils, it took a few days to get a relatively simple bracelet made. I wound up making an S-clasp for it as well, and I was quite pleased with how it turned out. Next time though, I'm getting better quality jump rings. These were a -hell- to close flush.

A better view of the entire bracelet. Oh and yes, that's an iPod packaging case. How on earth did I never realise that the plastic casing an iPod comes in when purchased makes an -excellent- photography stand for earrings and bracelets when one has no decent surfaces to take pictures on?

It wouldn't be be me if I didn't make matching earrings of course.

Venetian Rose. These turned out exquisite; it's just that the photographer is lousy.

And that, pretty much, sums up my day, apart from rehearsals at night. Next installment - the Overdue Chronicles of the Great Turkish Drop Spindle Project, and when I've actually -scanned- my London journal, some excursions into that too.

Random Facts, Courtesy of C.

Somewhere along the way my blogging habit went out the window, somewhere around the time I lost my mind I think.

In an attempt to correct this, Chris has very kindly tagged me in a desperate attempt to get -something- going, or so I think anyways - sneaky but effective, dude!

So. Here we go, the Seven Random Things About Me Meme:

1. I am a Confused Soprano. Technically, I am a lyric soprano but I apparently seem to be developing a rather more solid alto range than I want - which means that any time the chamber choir needs an alto, guess who gets the call-up. This has earned me the nickname of 'The Travelling Soprano' or more aptly, 'The Confused One.'

2. I am an avid cook who destresses by standing over the stove and stirring up risotto. My dream is to have a large, airy professional-standard kitchen - eventually. (Right now I'm confined to a slice of kitchen where standing room can be a little awkward for even one person, and the occasional stray cat.)

3. I'm gluten-intolerant. As a result, I can cook for almost any food-allergy, given I spent three hellish years in university learning to adapt to my new eating habits and those of my vegan friends as well.

4. I love the Metal Gear Solid series. I can't play any of it because I get motion sickess, but I love it.

5. I read. Like a fiend. As in, a book or two a day. I have to consciously slow myself down when I'm reading non-fiction so I can make notes and bliss out, like the book I'm going through right now, Gideon's Spies (it's a history of the Mossad.)

6. Once upon a time I dated a Goth guitarist who used to play for the beginnings of what is now Abney Park.

7. I'm ambidextrous with the mouse. I often forget which side it's on, since I switch between hands without thinking whenever space constraints dictate. This often gets me a good swearing by people who have to use my computer afterwards.

And now since I'm supposed to tag people, here are the rules of it:

-You must link to the individual who tagged you and post the rules of TAG.
-Post 7 random facts about you.
-Tag 7 bloggers and link to them.
-Let them know that they have been tagged by leaving a message on their blog.

With many apologies, I thusly tag only 5 people:

Catalina (my beloved computer) has been giving trouble of late, so depending on how temperamental she is, updates may come either tonight or tomorrow - also depending on how well my camera shots turn out for the Great Drop Spindle Project, and the recent jewellery.

And to break up the monotony, I hereby present the newest Indie Band to hit the scene: The Voodoo Puppeteers, courtesy of the dressing room in the hotel that the choir was due to sing at for a big French function...

The choir was horsing around in the dressing rooms while waiting for our performance to take place. This is a rare instance of me getting in front of the camera to actually pose because by and large I -hate- taking photos.

And now, to learn up an orchestra score...