Thursday, April 9, 2009

Farewell to all that

Twenty years ago yesterday I gave my senior voice recital at UC Santa Cruz. I haven't considered myself a classical singer in any serious sense of the words in some time, and I haven't sung classical music, as either an amateur or paid professional, in over a decade, so in the rush of getting ready for Pesach I had forgotten about what I did on April 8, 1989.

My senior recital was a major milestone in my life then. It represented more than a year's worth of preparation, and also signaled the end of my college career. My parents, maternal grandfather and brother came from far and wide to hear me sing. My dear friend A, a pianist I had met the summer before at a music festival in Switzerland, and who had first worked on some of my music with me, drove all the way down from Portland to Santa Cruz (alone, I might add, no one to share the drive with), a distance of almost 600 miles and probably 10-12 hours, to lend her support (and cookie-baking expertise for the reception afterwards).

Here's the program:

Three Ladino Songs

Scalerica de Or
Ya Viene el Cativo
Cuando el Rey Nimrod

Three Lieder
Gustav Mahler (1862-1911)

Hans und Grethe (1886)
Wer hat dies Liedlein erdacht? (1892)
Das irdische Leben (1893)

Fetes Galantes I (1892)
Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

En Sourdine
Clair de Lune

 - I N T E R M I S S I O N -

Yosha's Morning Song
Malcolm Goldstein (b. 1936)

Six from 12 Poems of Emily Dickinson
Aaron Copland (b. 1900)

3. Why do they shut me out of Heaven?
5. Heart, we will forget him
8. When they come back
9. I felt a funeral in my brain
10. I've heard an organ talk sometimes
12. The Chariot

Music nerds among you might notice Aaron Copland's date does not include his death, because he was still alive in 1989. (He died a year later).

I find it interesting that I included the following quotes from the Talmud in my concert booklet. Interesting because I wasn't particularly connected to Judaism during my college years, and I was certainly no Talmud scholar. But here they are in the program, and I couldn't tell you why or where I came across them:

"Nature is saturated with melody; heaven and earth are full of song."

"There are places that open only to music."

My life as a classical music performer has been over, (with no regrets on my part, let me add) for some time. I realized sometime during grad school that for me singing classical music was akin to trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. I don't have the voice for it, nor the temperament. I never wanted to be a full-time singer anyway; I definitely didn't have the personality one needs to withstand all the rejection, to live only for your voice. I was never that singleminded. Like the address of my blog suggests, I have always been something of a Renaissance woman when it comes to the breadth of my interests and passions, and I was never willing to sacrifice that to acquire the focus I'd have needed if I were serious about making it as a singer.

Singing classical music was something that brought me joy for a time, but it also brought a lot of baggage and the growing realization that I was better suited, both vocally and temperamentally, to the folk and ethnic music I'd grown up with. Since I never wanted a professional vocal career, this realization was not a huge blow; actually, it was something of a relief: "Oh, right, I don't have to sing this stuff; I can sing the music I really connect with instead." 

But there are moments when I miss all the years I spent as a professional chorister, my occasional solo gigs (I was always more of a collaborative than a solo singer), my life as a paid church musician and soloist in a pre-Vatican II choir that sight-read Gregorian chant in the old block notation every week (I probably know more about the structure of the Catholic Mass than many Catholics, and certainly more of the liturgy, something I find amusing since I'm just a nice Jewish girl from L.A.)

Moments of nostalgia, yes, but not many of them. What I really miss now is a regular venue for singing the sort of stuff I really connect with: folk music, Yiddish theatre, Yiddish folk songs. I fronted a klezmer band for about eight years, but haven't found another group to make music with (in all fairness, musicmaking has not been my priority, either). I've been so focused on jobhunting and networking in the sustainable food community that I've given short shrift to music. The closest thing I have to being a performer these days is hosting the Yiddish Hour, and while that is performance of a kind, it is not the same thing.

Perhaps I'll find the time and energy to bring performance back into my life, as spring unfolds.


Joanie said...

And I am especially fortunate because I have a RECORDING of the recital! I was living in England and unable to attend but you mailed me a tape which I still treasure...

with love,

איתי Itai said...

חג מצות שמח

Who knows where the time goes? Twenty years!

The first quote, "Nature is saturated with melody; heaven and earth are full of song," is, I believe, attributed to Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav. The second quote, "There are places that open only to music," is from the 13th century תיקוני זוהר Tikkunei Zohar, chapter 11, page 266.

שבת שלום ומנוחה

Liz said...


You're a braver man than I am, Gunga Din. You'd have to pay me a lotta money, or get me very drunk on high quality hooch, before I'd be able to listen to that tape.



Liz said...


Thanks for tracking down the source of the Talmud quotes for me. I really have no idea where I found them or why I decided to include them in the program, because when I was in college I was as disconnected from my Jewish identity as I have ever been...or so I thought? Perhaps not...

That recital was literally half my lifetime ago. Who does know where the time goes?

ElderBear said...

I was not able to make it to your recital and I'd enjoy hearing the tape, if any more of them are available. If you can materialize one for me, I promise not to force you to listen with me (and we'll save the high-class hooch to share on some splendid occasion).

Based on my own experience (as well as that our your Mom and your Aunt Anne), I think it is quite possible that singing music, in a group if not as a soloist, may find its way back into your life when you are older and some other aspects of your life have become more predictable and consistently satisfying. I started weekly lessons about 18 months ago, stopped after about 6 months when I became dismayed over how hard it was and how slow my progress seemed (with a tip of the hat to you, since you warned me about both these reactions when I first conceived the notion of doing this)--and then resumed with greater dedication. I was initially firm in my conviction that I wanted this only because I like to sing certain kinds of music (primarily folk songs and Broadway standards) and disliked the sound of my voice. However, with strong encouragement from my teacher, I allowed myself to be persuaded to joined a local community chorus. I participated in our concert of Scots and Irish music about a month ago and had a splendid time and now I'm deep into rehearsals for two more concerts at the end of May. My conclusion: If you're meant to sing, music is powerful stuff and it will find you.

Hope you and Beth enjoyed Pesach; I'm looking forward to the Leipziger Seder at David and Laurie's on Saturday (and I'll have the joy of Charlie's participation as "icing on the matzoh", so to speak.


Liz said...

Elder Bear-

I am so glad you are enjoying your singing and that you overcame your initial dismay about the work involved. Singing is harder to learn than other instruments, because you have nothing to physically touch or manipulate, and all the technical skills you need to acquire must be taught by analogy or visualization. It can get pretty woo-woo in voice lessons sometimes. Plus you can't "trade up;" you're stuck with the voice you have, for better or worse.

I expect I'll be getting back to performing sooner rather than later. For one thing, I miss it, and that's a powerful motivation in itself. For another, I have a community of musicians here; I just need to avail myself of their talents. And for a third, singing, despite all the baggage it carries for me, is as necessary to me as breathing. My voice has been silent too long.

More on that when there's news to report.

As for getting a copy of the recital tape, check in with Joanie. I have no idea where mine is, or even if I have one anymore.



Barry in Portland said...

Let's get together and sight-read some Mahler one of these days.

Liz said...


I have some songs, but am not sure you would find them musically that interesting. Plus I'll have to brush up on my German diction, which is pretty rusty.

Still, if you mean it, I'd love to do that. Have any interest in running through Copland or Debussy while we're at it?



bikelovejones said...

I wanna hear it.