Thursday, August 28, 2014

Sea Shanty Songs

The irony of it all.  She approached me, speaking to me personally after years of crossing paths, wet and misty or dry and crackling; our dogs equally and blithely ignoring one other, each of us humans with a slight smile of false acknowledgment on our faces. She said she’d heard me singing in my living room and wanted to know if I was willing to coach her sea shanty choir.  I’m not sure what this says about my ability to sing opera, but it had been thirteen years.  Thirteen years of living in Gouda and hardly anyone recognized that I was there, music or no music. I had once or twice looked for students, but somehow it never caught on. Not quite as persistent perhaps as I could have been, I left once I found a job in Amsterdam. I’ve heard from other musicians that selling music is hard business in Gouda.
“Are you the new resident?” a neighbor asked my ex one day as he locked the door behind him. “There used to be a lady who sang.  She had a lovely voice.”
The dog walker in her British rain gear, and a bowl cut leading a Cocker Spaniel, lived in a big house on the canal around the corner from me.  She posed her question to me, tired and bleary eyed, a week before I was ready to move out of Gouda. I was partly leaving the musical world, I was going into a corporate office. Did I want to coach a choir of sea shanty singing ladies? This was not my dream; I’d rather enjoy a quiet day at home working on projects that interest me than worrying about flat oceanic phrases in folk music.  I barely reacted to her question.  Had she asked me two years ago, I would have brought out the charm for a few shekels of work.
A friend of mine posted an audio clip of her work with children online.  I heard rattles and thumps. This was not my dream of making music. The children delighted in their classes, it was obvious. I’d rather sit at home in the quiet of my dining room and work on projects. Non-paying, most of the time, practicing, digging around my imagination, pulling up all sorts of notions that amused me and sometimes other people.  But on the brink of divorce, I went corporate to pay the bills. I still put in about 15 -20 hours a week to sing and teach on the side on top of my regular job.
I’ve heard of singers who having not made the big stage, avoiding attending the opera. No, personally, I couldn’t confuse my identity with those professionals standing on the stage. At the time I might have made a serious foray into the operatic work world, I was technically unable to handle the stress. I delight in watching the opera, sometimes I have sat in my plush seat these past months, turning over the idea that I once really, really wanted to stand there on the stage and attempt to deliver that quality of sound, which today boggles my brains.
What do you want to sing in terms of opera repertoire? I was asked this question over dinner one evening this week. Actually what I am singing this coming September: Gluck’s Euridice. In addition to this I am singing the Brahms Liebeslieder Quartet four times as well; a lifelong desire.  I consider myself fortunate because aside from these two items, I couldn’t really say what else I’d like to sing in future, although I am open to suggestions. Euridice fascinates me simply because she returns from the dead, and I in a way did this once, not medically but spiritually. It was torturous and on the up side of reincarnations, I’ve lately reinvented myself, and moved into a different world and one in which no one will make the request to coach a sea shanty choir. Somehow the thought makes me slightly nostalgic, and then I shake my head in disbelief when the vision of a group of grey haired ladies and the repertoire appears, seeping into my eyes and ears. Perhaps corporate is another “Euridice” moment, but on which side of the Styx?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Wouldn’t it be better to have been born in the 1500’s?

Years ago, a friend of mine asked me this simple question. She wasn’t terribly big on history, she lived in a suburban area of the American Northwest and drove an expensive all-terrain vehicle. She was considering this notion because she was an all-natural type of girl; she believed in being in tune with bio rhythms, avoiding modern medicine, gave birth without pharmaceutical assistance etc. The way nature had intended us to be, drug and alcohol free. Except in the 1500’s most people spent the day, buzzed, drinking low alcohol percentage draft because the water was undrinkable, and poured the chamber pot out the window onto each other’s heads from upstairs windows after yelling “Slop-a-coming.”  Okay so maybe not much concern about CO2 emissions but still, in her mind, I could follow her line of thinking, her own past years were uneventful enough to merit this consideration having already achieved what would be deemed a ripe life span if transported to the 1500’s.  There we have it, the more of a “I’m a winner in the 1500’s” feel having experienced the privilege of modern dentistry. Not taking in account of the fact she was able to choose when to have her two children, when she was right and ready. She’s a lovely woman, and I won’t want her to talk to me any other way. It’s wishful believing.
Is the grass greener on the other side of time? What would be the up side of living in the 1500’s? I am assuming my friend meant in England.  English speaking, mother land to the United States. I, for one, can’t think of a single thing beneficial except to have perhaps, given the right time and place, seen a Shakespeare premiere. Still, watching a young boy play Cleopatra might be a little disconcerting, although now that I think about it, it could also be both touching and entertaining.
 “You’re having an exciting life.” A friend said to me on the phone. Exciting life? I’m living out of a suitcase in a borrowed room, trying to hold down a number of jobs and occupations at 47 years of age. Maybe life in the 1500’s would be more exciting and that’s what my other friend was talking about, human beings without modern assistance or interference surviving somehow.  A big game of luck, skill and connections. However, when did the rules change?  Hasn’t life always been about luck and skill? “Give me your new address!” People plead with me. “Do you have Skype?” I reply nonplussed checking about for free internet.
No internet back then, but maybe a bonus to the 1500’s would be that sugar had been discovered and was being vastly imported by the Elizabethans. They loved it. I couldn’t live without sugar (I am a true sugar junkie) and, do you know, the candied fruit at Madame Pompadour’s tea room on the Huidenstraat in Amsterdam really hits the spot? I’d recommend it highly. The shop building itself goes back to the 17th century.  
And finally, speaking of becoming better acquainted with my new yet old style neighborhood, having to fill in on a Tuesday at the office, I heard the famous carillon and trumpet duet of the Westerkerk at the weekly concert.  The small things in life that make it enjoyable no matter what century you’re living in, but still I’m glad I am in the 21st century.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

There is Natural Joy in All Things

“People,” a friend said, ‘Are really complaining. There are sooooo many tourists.” The Rijksmuseum’s director wrote a formal letter of complaint about the matter recently. I battle daily to make my way through the legions of tourists while I go back and forth from the apartment I’ve been staying in while house hunting for something permanent. The rents in Amsterdam are at an all-time high. This is not encouraging.

Most of the people I loop, jog, and jostle myself around are fairly stoned. Slow moving, stoned tourists who can’t figure out what to do next. I mainly encounter these type of tourists because I am momentarily living near the red light district. These tourists remind me a lot of my Californian childhood. I don’t like them. I shouldn’t say that perhaps, but sensing their inertia I sometimes want to stick my umbrella someplace incommode and enact revenge on the years I spent watching, depending on and irritated by adults high every damn day on drugs and acting poorly. But then these days I also see a different side of the matter. Sometimes I witness the indecision of tourists attempting to figure out the right way to get loaded. I mean because once you’re loaded, you’re vulnerable, so better get loaded safely than sorry later. These people stand on the street with wrinkled foreheads and worry about getting stoned the wrong way.

As I am multilingual I get to eavesdrop on a lot of conversations. It’s quite easy to eavesdrop. The room I’ve borrowed in a shared apartment is on a small side street to a canal street and often people duck down to have a private conversation away from the noise of the district. Unknown to them, the alley is a megaphone alerting residents of all their worldly business. I listened to a Canadian talk about his new love, a boat, and his big plans to take the boat to Tenerife and make some money. I listened to an American blurt out his experience of the ladies and what each item cost him.  I’ve listened to French people not being able to find their way out of a paper bag, Italians discovering something to look at. I’ve listened to Dutch people talk about the weather and pickpockets. Mainly I hear the dire concerns of tourists in the wee hours of the morning, myself half a sleep above on a sloping floor of an ancient house. So far the gem that took the crown was the recent conversation between two Brits, in crystal clear accents shattering the evening:

One: “Did you have fun?”

The Other: “No, they slapped me for five minutes.”

What an exemplary tourist.  

The garbage is sadly only gathered twice a week in the city center. The street cleaners are out every morning waging war with the litter.  Massive, overflowing amounts of old pizza boxes, cans and gulls fighting over a cold French fry. The mornings are the best for me. The short walk to work, the few people on the street, largely street cleaners, the phenomenal beauty of the buildings and canals, the absence of tourists, and the absence of beer biking groups intent on ignoring their surroundings facing each other trying to make the best of the situation while the driver, with a grimace, turns the electric motor on and off between bridges. On the weekends local residents creep out to enjoy the scenery sitting outside at a cafĂ© in the relative silence before the noisy afternoon approaches.  That’s when you see a little bit of true joy in Amsterdam.