When Too Much is Just Right

We are taught from childhood that excess is inherently negative. Certainly, as a trained artist, I had a certain version of that idea reinforced throughout my studies. But thankfully in that training, there was also the affirmation that part of the purpose of knowing the rules and boundaries thoroughly, and especially the valid reasons for those having been codified as The Way to Do Things, is so that when we choose to break the rules, cross those bounds, and color outside the lines, we will do so intelligently and with purpose as well.

Otherwise there would be no invention at all.

Imagine if those who developed the magnificent decorative beauties of the art and designs prevailing in Art Nouveau work had always held back and refrained from going a bit beyond the norms, never mind whether any of the magnificently ridiculous extremes of the Baroque and Rococo would have bloomed in the darkness. Think, if you dare, of a world where experimentation and thinking outside the proverbial box were forbidden: would any of the useful, meaningful, and beautiful inventions that save lives and enrich them ever have happened?

This idea can be expressed on a much smaller and more modest scale, too. Why not let our joy in excess sometimes shout its existence for others to bask in its reflected glow!

Over the Top

An iconic sight along the edge of Alki Beach in Seattle, this home has grown, literally, into a garden of earthly delights that we all enjoy as we pass along our ways. Sometimes being ‘over the top’ is the perfect solution.

What Now?

I have heard others wonder, many a time, a thing that I have speculated on myself, namely, what the animals we look at so quizzically in nature, home or zoo think, in turn, of us. Do they even think of us at all, and if so, is it with curiosity? Is the curiosity limited to what we could feed them or whether, in point of fact, we could be fed to them–or does it go beyond this into realms we cannot even begin to guess?

As the calendar year trickles toward its end, many of us turn our inquiring minds toward the future and ask ourselves what lies ahead, and whether we can have any influence on it. We long to be happy and healthy, rich and free, but are often puzzled when directed to think not about how the universe can confer these delights upon our undeserving heads but instead, how we might earn or attain them by our own efforts.

For some reason, all of this recently began to merge in my own head, coalescing into an odd and perhaps contorted mystery of a related but new variant. Thanks to my appallingly unscientific mind, I suppose I have often pondered the universe in the same way that I do animals in relationship to humans, imagining the universe’s workings as some sort of parody of Baroque stage machinery. We occupy a stage on which we animals and plants and other living things act out a madly unscripted play amid the apparently clumsy clockworks of our artificially constructed container and wait for the deus ex machina resolution to clarify all that is, was and ever shall be therein.digital collageSuddenly, though, I’m struck by a further thought that if there is indeed any such power running the show, perhaps the universe is looking at us, at me, in great consternation and mystification, wondering when and how I will be explained. It makes me feel smaller than ever in the grand scheme of things, yet somehow comforted that I may not be entirely alone in my wondering. Will the year ahead, or the decade or lifetime, see my questions answered? Will the universe get its answers? I can’t even begin to imagine. But I like the thought that whatever is waiting on the other side of New Year’s Day may be just that much more miraculous than all of the exciting and surprising and wonderful stuff that went before it. I, for one, plan to stick around until the curtain falls.digital collage

I’ll Tell You a Little Secret

You shouldn’t be surprised, if you’ve been hanging about this place at all, to learn that I’m very fond of living in my imagination, and that as Ruler of it I am happy to say that reality is highly overrated and being a distinctive (or weird) creature surrounded by distinctive (or weird) happenings and insights is a far superior sort of happiness.graphite drawingWeasels Ahoy

There once was a stoat in a velvet coat

Sailed off in a sterling silver boat–

Yet here’s a clue: I don’t know about you,

But I think some things are too good to be true,

And just as a logical soul should think,

That shiny boat was bound to sink–

At least in a Normal world it would,

Yet some things are simply too true to be good,

So I live in a world that I much prefer,

Where stoats wear velvet right over their fur

And captain ships of a platinum hue;

I think it beats logic by far, don’t you?

My Baroque Gesture

The first time I heard Early Music performed in period-appropriate style I experienced, not surprisingly I suppose, a full mixture of amusement, bemusement, mild horror and deep curiosity. It was in a performance of Claudio Monteverdi’s seminal opera Orfeo at the English National Opera; I was a mere college stripling who had probably not even heard the phrase Early Music at the time let alone known what it might mean, and ‘performance practice’ was in something of a time of transition. Anthony Rolfe Johnson sang the title role with, if I remember properly, a rather nice overall sound, but a straight-tone and senza vibrato style and a strangely stuttering kind of ornamentation that might well have been an authentic recollection of the opera’s original character and an accurate and historically informed version of the way it would have been presented by its composer and first performers. I, having never been taught such things, merely heard sounds quite foreign not only to my ear but to my concept of skilled and artful performance, let alone prettiness. I do remember thinking that either this was all far over my head (entirely possible) or it was a pointless and poor imitation of what the ENO imagined the average amateurish opera company of Monteverdi’s day must have been capable of doing (less likely), or poor Mr. Johnson, who later went on to receive his OBE, just plain wasn’t up to the job despite a naturally pleasant voice.

Years later, I may not be much smarter than the young squirt of those days, but I’m far more experienced and have heard worlds more music, both the great and the terrible and, of course, a massive quantity in between. And I’ve been taught a thing or two about the fine points of what is beautiful and magical when it comes to singing or playing with any amount of vibrato–or none–and the many elements that combine to create tone and color and variety and character in a performance. I’ve learned some useful stuff that changes how I perceive both the level of virtuosity in playing or singing and its aesthetic appeal, two aspects that do not always coincide in my ear, mind and heart but when they do, that combine to create a kind of joy that is virtually unattainable in any other way.

When my husband conducted a production of Orfeo over a quarter century after the first one I’d heard, I had a whole different understanding and appreciation for what the many performers were doing and why the stage director would expect them to do so both from a visual standpoint–training them, along with other coaches, in appropriate ways of moving and posing and gesturing as well as in those of vocal ornamentation, since she is a superb and well-trained Early Music singer herself–and an historically suited musical one. Just as there are countless styles and types of music known to us nowadays, which you can multiply by the number of individual teachers, performers and audience members to get a rough sense of the variety you’ll encounter, there were historical strictures and structures and stylistic trends and ideas that shaped earlier generations (centuries) of music and musicians and listeners, and while some have perhaps remained relatively unchanged since their inception, many more evolved over the ages. Our expectations of music have certainly changed, and our guesses as to how it was first conceived and perceived are only as good as the lines of scholarly inquiry and oral tradition can attempt to make them.

In all, it makes rich fodder indeed for both the ear and the imagination, and I for one am mightily pleased that I have had the opportunity to live a life immersed in all kinds of music and to learn along the way. I still like much of what I heard, whether ignorantly or not, in my younger days, and much of what I like now I learned to love along the way. While my form may be far from historically accurate or artistically impressive, I will still happily bow and curtsey to all the musicians who have shared their gifts with me in my life, and to all of those who work and are inspired to play more, to sing onward.graphite drawing