A Pantomime Horse

digital illustrationIt Takes All Kinds

I am the back end of a pantomime horse,

and I say this without much embarrassed remorse,

because I could never have claimed too much class

to have let people see I’m a true horse’s ass.

No reason to laugh, though, or mock me in jest,

since I’m in such fine company with all the rest

of the others (this, straight from the true horse’s mouth),

for we know every north end requires its south.

No cause for weeping, dear friends of my heart,

for prancing behind is its own kind of art,

and no matter how foolish the fine equine farce,

better far than play dead to just play the arse.

Presenting . . .

My life sometimes seems like a synopsis. Or maybe it’s one of those TV shows shot with a rapidly moving handheld camera, interrupted at frequent intervals by commercials so snipped into quick-cut bits as to become nearly stop-motion animation. Just when I think I know what’s happening, the scenery shifts and the action swerves in an entirely new and different direction. I can seldom sense what’s ten minutes ahead, let alone ten weeks or ten years.

This is no complaint, mind. I realize that such unpredictable chaos is likely closer to the norm than otherwise in this weird and wonderful world. And no one can have great adventures, joyful or otherwise, without a touch of that good old element of surprise–maybe even the slightest frisson of danger. The degree of risk often determines the possible breadth and depth of reward. Still, there are moments when I hunger for a sense of safety and stability, if not quite stasis. We all long for the familiar and comfortable from time to time.

But this is the tragicomedy we live, loaded with unnamed characters making entrances and exits that were never foreshadowed, doing unscripted deeds and introducing plot twists never imagined on this our stage. All we can do, each of us, is to find our own character, commit to it, and keep working on its subtleties and vagaries no matter what scene changes get sprung on us. I, for one, will always wonder what new or mysterious acts remain ahead for me, and hope I can make the required costume changes and keep up with the action as long as the story unfolds toward the final curtain.digital artwork

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

So I’m not that Impressive–but I’m not above Pretending, either

Our Own Heroics

Our history is riddled with the tangled lines of man and myth,

Lines blurred by our conception of ourselves and powers that are with

All spirits, in our being; juxtaposed with this our creeping sense

That maybe, possibly, there might be Something greater, more immense–line drawingThe whole idea, if we be honest, sets a chill on every skin

That makes each want to change the balance, name himself the paladin,

The master, royalty, creator of all good in this our sphere,

So we can worship our fine selves in glorious beauty without fear–

digital artworkEvery culture, every era, each community has shown

That we wish inside, mere humans, that what’s fancied and what’s known

Were no grander than our smallness, so we’ve always tried to make

Ourselves the gods, the overmasters, even if it’s clearly fake–

digital artworkPretty masks and big stone statues, crown and crypt, elixir, spell;

We’ll try anything we think can make us kings of heaven, hell,

Or earthly realm–but here’s the problem: it looks great, but just a touch

Too great–it turns out we’re grand, but not for long, and not so much.

The Center of Attention

When I am making artworks I am the ruler of all I survey. I get to invent my reality and decide how much of it I want to reveal to you, and even (to a certain extent) how I want you to experience this particular reality. I do know that you will bring your own point of view and that my art, this Empress having invented it or not, will tell you a story that exists in its own unique way within your personal context.graphite drawingHowever, like all storytellers visual or otherwise, I still control how much I’m willing to reveal to you of the whole project in the end. Do I give you the ‘whole story’ or choose to share a scene, a snippet, and then let you extrapolate from that to decide what the storyline is in the image, not to mention all of the possible storylines extending beyond the image in every direction? I choose the window; you interpret what you see through it.

In the case of this drawing of a lady with her fat pony, I’d say that a cropped version of the picture gives plenty of information about both characters and their relationship but mercifully deletes some of the evidence of my horribly sloppy parody of equine physiology, something that’s far more painfully exposed in the larger version of the piece. Yes, there I go, showing you my ‘underwear’ again. But don’t you agree that the image is improved, its focus stronger and its flaws somewhat mitigated, by the cropping?

graphite drawingUltimately, of course, I’m still Empress around here. I get to choose whether I’ll show you my process and share my behind-the-scenes action like this, let alone whether an image is finished or not, whether I’m going to use it for a post or not, and whether I’m going to tell a whole large story or a tiny bit of one. It’s good to be the Empress.