Tuesday, February 02, 2010

A New Indigo Peace

The pianist Sarah Cahill performed pieces from "A Sweeter Music" last Saturday evening at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music as a benefit for the American Friends Service Committee, which is the oddly clunky name for Quakers. She was joined by her daughter Miranda (above) who helped out during a rehearsal of the official world premiere of a Pauline Oliveiros piece for audience sing-a-long called "A New Indigo Peace."

I heard a preview of Ms. Oliveiros' protest peace song over a year ago at Mills College and loved it, encouraging Sarah to program it again. She took me up on the challenge and insisted I be in charge of the audience sing-a-long at the Conservatory benefit, which was a stretch because my singing voice only approximates pitch. Plus, after a week of wage slavery at the Census Bureau, I had come down with a horrible cold for the weekend. Thankfully, I was able to dragoon a trio of Quakers from the weekly federal building peace vigil to fill in for me.

Also helping with the audience sing-along was Miranda. As Sarah wrote, "Before the concert I talked with Miranda about the history of the American Friends Service Committee, as much as I know about it, and she said she felt the same about the senselessness of war and the possibilities of peace. And when it came time for Pauline Oliveros' sing-along, she decided she wanted to go stand in front of the audience and guide the singing with the Quakers."

The three brave souls were (left to right above) Stephen Matchett, Sandra Schwartz, and Markley Morris. It helped that Matchett could read the penciled out score and sing with near-perfect pitch.

Markley Morris wrote an account:
"We came for rehearsal two hours before the show. When Sarah played it through, I was dazzled. The idea is simple: a three-part round based on the words “We want peace on earth” is embedded in brilliant swirls of piano music. There’s a certain rowdiness about it. The repeating words evoke the chanting at a demonstration.

I was sorry Mike was under the weather but thankful he was there to help us rehearse. I was given the simplest part of the round but clearly was out of my depths. I never did manage to sing it through correctly to say nothing of in tune!

When it came time to perform, Sarah and then Stephen skillfully explained the piece to the audience and we practiced a little. Then we sang. Somehow it all came together. “A New Indigo Peace” was glorious. I couldn’t really hear the audience but I could see that their mouths moving and the music flowed everywhere.

I think the sing-along was a pleasant and energizing break after some quite demanding music. Sarah likened it to the sing-alongs Pete Seeger’s been leading all these years.

I love “A New Indigo Peace,” and I hope it goes on to have a long life.


momo said...

How wonderful to be involved in this way with this musician and her daughter, and the wonderful, faithful Friends. Singing with other people is intoxicating.

Stephen Matchett said...

Hi Mike--A leetle correction, the actual oddly clunky name for Quakers is the Religious Society of Friends. The American Friends Service Committee is a Quaker service organization, but is not the denomination itself. (Think Catholic Charities--well let's not go there....) Because Quakerism the religion has no central staff or headquarters, it was the AFSC and its UK counterpart, the British Friends Service Council, who accepted the 1947 Nobel Peace prize on behalf of the Religious Society of Friends, for Quakers' relief and reconstruction work in Europe following the two world wars.
We missed you at the concert! I hope you're feeling better.
The whole thing was wonderful, with music ranging from the odd (but fun) to the sublime, and Sarah's performance sparkled throughout. The video accompaniment enhanced some of the pieces very effectively, and in the case of others was a little busy, distracting and insistent for my taste.
Stand-out numbers for me were Mamoru Fujieda's "The Olive Branch Speaks" (falling in the sublime category); "There is a Field" by Jerome Kitzke, featuring the famous Rumi verse of that title as well as some poems of Walt Whitman's, with interludes where the score had Sarah whooping and yipping and slapping the piano (odd-but-fun, and carried off beautifully as everything else!); and the Kyle Gann "War is Just a Racket", incorporating a speech of Gen. Smedley Butler, who helped foil a coup attempt against FDR by a crowd that included the Bushes' father/grandfather Prescott, with Sarah delivering the speech as she played (I don't remember the music too well actually, but the effect was memorable!) The video projections for these last two, which incorporated a lot of period photographs (Civil War in the case of the Whitman, WWII era in the case of Butler), worked far the best for me. I must just be more of a documentary kind of guy. The more floaty, fantasia-y arty images that accompanied some of the other pieces were less compelling and felt sort of superfluous to me.
Almost forgot, the evening begain with a VERY moving talk by Michael McConnell, originator of the "Eyes Wide Open" exhibit that displays lines of empty combat boots representing the US Iraq war dead (and shoes representing Iraqi civilians lost), with his stories of his encounters with people around the country where it has traveled.

sfmike said...

Dear Momo: Thanks so much for the kind words.

Dear Stephen: Thanks for the name clarification. I'll correct it in the text. And thanks for the Prescott Bush/General Butler historical tidbit. Above all, thank you for filling in as choral director on Saturday night. You were great. As far as your take on the music and the accompanying imagery, I completely agree with you on just about everything.

sfmike said...

Dear Stephen: I didn't change the boo-boo in the text because the finale of the opening phrase would have become completely absurdist: "as a benefit for the American Friends Service Committee, which is the service arm of the Religious Society of Friends, which is the oddly clunky name for Quakers." There's a lot to be said for committees and communal action and there's a lot to be said against them too.

Stephen Matchett said...

'sOK, I wasn't implying you needed to do a rewrite! just offering a little clarification for your inquiring readers :o)