Editorial note: Quite a lot has happened since my last post. I've moved cities, and with it gained a much more strenuous commuting schedule. As it turns out, this has all but eliminated my disposable free time, and with it all but wiped out my habit of carefree, philosophical musings due to the time crunch and stress of it all. However, there is a possible upswing. I've applied to two of the local conservatories and if all goes well I'll become a full-time discipulus once again! We shall see. In the meantime, I've been meaning to put this entry up for a while now. -D.A.
I find myself mumbling "Oh those Russians..." a lot these days.
There are some conductors, directors, etc. that just plain inspire you. Their skill and artistic vision are stunning to behold, and you hang on their every action to learn more and gain what wisdom you can. Meanwhile, you have a blast rehearsing and performing with them. Then there are the others. You know, the ones that do it all wrong, ask you to do stuff that you completely disagree with, and if they only sought your opinion you could tell them how their entire aesthetic is misguided and could be improved so much more if you showed them how it's done...
One of the hazards of being a artist who actually thinks and
At least, this has been my experience with a Rus
(Credits: Pablo Helguera)
In a word, the Russians are intense. After two rehearsals I've decided to coin the term "Russian Cadence," which is when the pace of a piece is slowed to 1/8th its original speed, the volume is twice as loud, and every singe note is dictated individually and freely by the conductor. (And by the way, this doesn't happen at the end, but at the end of the very first phrase. This continues to happen three or four more times throughout the piece. For the actual end, the singers will stop to breathe twice before landing, much like Wiley Coyote falling off an extra-long cliff.)
Also, Russians do not sing forte. They sing FFFORTE the likes of which will pin you to the back of your chair like mannequin in a wind-tunnel. Do not even get me started on how to follow a Russian conductor's hand signals, I've yet to figure it out...
Now, so far you've only gotten the brunt of my mockery. I'm sorry for that, but please stay with me because I do not want to end it there. You see, after a short while I realized that this wasn't just one conductor. I've come to sing under and with a handful of Russian groups lately, and it's universal. Every Russian musician I've ever encountered has this trait. I was tempted at first to write it off as weirdness. But then, ever so slowly, I saw what it really was. Something I thought I had, but turns out was sadly missing. Something very, very important for a real artist. It was passion.
The Russians really know how to make music. They don't just go through the motions. Ever.
This doesn't stop at pure music either. It's just as obvious in their worship practices. It's easy to look at Russians in church from TV or stereotypes and say they're a bunch of stodgy ritualists with no feeling. But let me tell you something: Go to an Orthodox cathedral sometime and try to tell me that after you've heard them. This August I sang at a church dedication in Albany, New York. (That's the service where they consecrate the altar with the relics of a saint and anoint the entire building.) There were 6 bishops, 25 priests, and 25 more deacons and altar servers in a domed-ceiling church gilded with gold, covered top to bottom in frescos and murals,
So back to my point, or perhaps, to conclude. I was wrong about the Russians. Oh sure, they still make me laugh a lot, and they sure are weird at times. But they know a lot more about doing things from the heart than I do. And I hope I can learn a thing or two more from them before I'm done. Maybe I can take up their example and sing with a bit more gusto when I get the chance.