My mother gave me a gift certificate from the Royal Conservatory of Music for my birthday. Now there's a gift idea! At first I thought it was for music lessons, like maybe she wanted me to study yodelling or something, but fortunately it was for the RCM concert series.
As you all know, I have had some STRESS in my life lately, so I decided to sign up for the most soothing music available. What could be more relaxing than a harp concert? I can't think of a single thing. So, I ordered tickets for my mom and I, and we went together on Sunday.
I even said to my mom, as we got settled in our seats, that I had picked this concert almost as music therapy. I didn't want to subject either of us to crashing, angst-filled pieces such as Rachmaninoff has been known to produce. Little did I know, we would not be hearing The Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy, or anything even close to it.
It turned out that all of the pieces on the program were by contemporary composers. In fact, more than half of the composers in question were right there in the auditorium. And despite my intention of avoiding a musical experience akin to listening to someone's internal experience of a migraine, it was pretty hardcore.
The pieces included a lot of dissonance, weird time signature shifts, and even smacking of the harp strings with an open palm. (Bad, bad harp! I told you to stay in tune!) It was weird, but interesting, and strangely enjoyable. Besides solo pieces, we heard a duet of harp and vibraphone, and even a quartet of harp, vibraphone, cello, and violin. The harpists (there were two of them, taking turns) got sounds out of the instrument that I didn't know it could make. There are a lot of pedals around the base of the harp that were used during these pieces. I'm sure some of them match the functions of the pedals on a piano, however others seemed to be employed for pitch-bending, which I wasn't expecting.
The most challenging piece was a duet for harp and voice (mezzosoprano). A statuesque, grey-haired lady stood onstage and explained that the lyrics were excerpts from Nietzsche's nihilist writings. Then she opened her mouth to sing, and the sound that came rolling out was incredible. I could feel my eardrums beating in time with her vibrato. Every hair on my body rose up. Anyone who might have been nodding off by that time must have sat straight up.
The singer belted out streams of frightening, guttural German, while the harpist plucked energetically beside her. It was difficult to hear any relationship between the line of the song ("melody" would not be an appropriate term here) and the sound of the harp. They must have been related, because they came together during certain passages, but I could not imagine what the sheet music looked like.
As if that were not enough to get the point across, the singer played percussion instruments as she sang. The ultimate one was a pair of wooden blocks, roughly 4" x 4", which she clapped together vigorously. When she'd had enough of that, she took one in each hand and flung them vehemently to the floor.
Surprisingly, I enjoyed the concert. Even more surprisingly, my mother did too. I think it had something to do with being up-close-and-personal with the musicians and composers in that intimate little hall. It's not the type of music that either of us would chose to listen to on the radio, but experiencing it bodily was a whole different kettle of fish.
In case you're curious, here's one of the harpists who played at the concert, performing pieces from one of the composers whose work was represented. I could not find the exact pieces on YouTube; partially because they're not exactly Top 40 hits, and partially because several of the pieces were brand new.
I still have some money left on my gift card. What next?