Some of you may be familiar with Anna Russell’s summary of Wagner’s Ring Cycle. If not, watch these:
Pretty funny, eh? The part that I want you to remember is what Anna says about the Prelude to Das Rheingold, where “the orchestra plays the E-flat major triad for six minutes.”
Last night my daughter’s junior choir (4th-6th grade) sang with the Symphony youth choir (7th-12th grade) on a concert featuring Adiemus by Keith Jenkins. We sat next to a friend of mine from our chaperoning of the junior choir’s tour to Chicago, who was working on a to-do list.
Adiemus (I’m not sure which one, as apparently there are several, god forbid) is 40 minutes of nonsense words sung over three or four melodic ideas. The entire piece is ninety percent sequential, and basically consisted of one fundamental harmonic progression repeated over and over and over and over. For forty minutes (in case you missed it when I said that the first time). The youth chorus sang for about seven of them, all told. Sometimes they got to sit down, but much of the time they stood there, waiting to sing nineteen repetitions of a melisma that sounded like it came right out of Lion King. They hit every entrance. This required a lot of patience and fortitude on their part, especially considering that the average age is eleven.
Both choirs did a beautiful job. The entire performance was from memory, and, seeing as how it was all basically the same thing, but not exactly, this would be incredibly difficult. They are very accomplished, and do all the right things.
Despite this, and at the mercy of extreme, frustrating boredom, somewhere around :35, I leaned over and whispered to my husband, “they’re playing this in hell.” We laughed quietly for a second, and then returned to our postures of attentive listening. Then he nudged me, and asked me if I had a pen. I dug one out of my purse and handed it to him. On the program he wrote “Your friend stopped working on her to-do list when she realized that she had written ‘kill myself.'” I am deeply and profoundly ashamed of my reaction, which included at least ten minutes of me coughing quietly to mask the urge to chortle. The ten-year-old girl in front of us watched us behave badly. Actually, the two year olds in the audience behaved better than we did. (We particularly enjoyed the toddler gabbering, as if on cue, during every affected pause during the Arvo Pärt piece, “Psalom for strings and toddler.”) I was trying so hard not to laugh I had tears streaming down my face. Much as I love the man, it’s probably a good idea if we don’t sit together at concerts any more. Or at the very least, I shouldn’t hand him a pen.
Does minimalist music work better if you have something else to do? Maybe running loud machinery — jack hammers, electric sanders, lawn mowers?
(This event also brought back memories for both of us of times spent trying very valiantly not to laugh; usually in church. I recalled once when my brother and I had gone with my dad, and got giggling about something I’m sure neither of us can remember. Dad stood stoically, glaring at us from beneath his bushy eyebrows while we wrestled metaphorically for self control. Moments after we had climbed into the back seat of the car he reached back, quietly, and knocked our heads together. And here we thought we had gotten away with something. I was also reminded of one long trip up north to our second farm, when the same brother and I spent most of the drive “singing,” at the top of our lungs, along with Dad’s Kenny Rogers 8-track. You Picked a Fine Time to Leave Me Lucille stands out particularly well. My husband, on the other hand, claims that he was always a perfect angel, and any infractions were the fault of his younger brother, Greg. Right.)