Well, hello there!!! It’s been a few years since I’ve written a blog post on here, but I’ve been updating videos and concert dates. Feel free to check out a new video I have posted from a concert with my school’s strings orchestra from October 20th. It was a magical event for me to be featured in, and I am so grateful for that opportunity! I may write more on that later…but now, on woman.life.song!

Now in my third and final year of my bachelor’s at Kungliga Musikhögskolan, I’m finally feeling some more control over my own voice and how I want to sing the pieces I sing. Getting older and learning to be kinder to oneself truly is a gift! Also a huge thanks to my wonderful voice teacher for showing me that singing is also fun and joyous, not only hard work and impossible arias. Among many other things this semester, I’m getting started on my senior recital and thesis. I’ll be performing parts of Judith Weir’s piece from 2000 called woman.life.song. It was commissioned by world-famous soprano Jessye Norman (well, paid for by a rich, conservative New Yorker), who brought together Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison and Clarissa Pinkola Estés to write the text and Judith Weir to write the music. It was premiered at Carnegie Hall by Jessye Norman and the Orchestra of St. Lukes. There are seven movements and it is about 45 minutes long. The piece itself is for soprano soloist and and an extended chamber group of 19 players (3 flutes, 3 clarinets, 3 percussionists, piano, guitar, harp and 7 strings). The piece tells the life cycle of a woman, from childhood to youth to old age. The subjects of the movements range from waiting impatiently for a young girl’s breasts to grow in and her imagining how they will turn out to accepting her mother’s death to loving her own aging body that has taken her so many places.

What I love about this piece is of course the music and the wonderful textures Judith Weir writes in the strings and woodwinds parts, but also the fact that this piece was so collaborative between the commissioner, the authors and the composer. Also that four woman of color were the ones determining the work’s content and story. It was created out of collaboration, strength, empowerment and the joy of being able to tell a story in one’s own words.

Listen to an interview with Jessye Norman here. She mentions loving to sing the piece so much since the women behind it were able to tell their own story themselves, rather than constantly singing music and texts that represent the deepest most inner feelings of women but written by men. Contrast this piece with Schumann’s Frauen-Liebe und Leben, which is a song-cycle about a woman’s intense love for her husband, ranging from her joy of him noticing her to her complete and utter despair when he dies. All of the movements are about her in relation to him and how much she loves him. Now, think back to woman.life.song and revel in the fact that only one of the seven movements is about romantic love! Can you believe it, a woman’s life is so much more than her relationship to a man!?! This is just one of thousands of reasons why the classical musical canon needs to be renewed and why we need to perform and hear more music from people who are not cis-men.

Here is an interview with Toni Morrison, Jessye Norman, Clarissa Pinkola Estés and Judith Weir about the piece. I love this. They laugh and look at each other so lovingly, with so much respect and a desire to lift one another so high. Clarissa says she wanted to write words that would fill every corner of Jessye’s body. She also says later that “Almost anytime women get together and do something like this, it is still considered historic. Still.” I’m not sure she meant it in this way, but I take it as the fact that this is not something completely new, it is just that society forgets all of the amazing work women do ALL THE TIME and think it’s the first time. Without devaluing the importance of this piece, it isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last time. It may be a very long time until a piece like this is featured in Carnegie Hall, true. And yes, it is very rare for this combination of women to collaborate on this level and with the huge budget and space they were given. But, women collaborate artistically and creatively all the time and in very meaningful ways, even if it is not always consumed by the mainstream. But we also need to remember the reasons why it seems so extraordinary and the reasons why the work women and specifically women of color have previously done are so easily forgotten.

There are so many questions that I want to examine about this piece. I’m still wanting to examine and discuss the idea of this being universal for all women, since I’m not sure I believe this can be universal. Even though I can thus far relate to many of the movements very much, especially about waiting in my breasts impatiently, not all women want breasts. Not all women grow breasts, some are born without them and want to get them through plastic surgery. Not all women want romantic relationships with men. Not all women have a loving relationship with their mothers. Other big questions I have center around the fact that this piece was formed by four women of color and one white woman, which makes me want to examine race, whiteness and classical music. What is my role in this as a white woman, as there are some cultural markers in the text that relate to black culture? What does it mean that I sing this piece, that was written for Jessye, who grew up in the south in the 1940s and 50s and was one of the first super famous black opera singers, who experiences all from blatant racism to microaggressions to exotification to misogynoir to tokenism?

That’ll have to be for a later post, when I’ve done more research and written some of my thesis.

Read the texts of the work here: (taken from http://www.musicsalesclassical.com/composer/work/1689/2764)

1a. ON YOUTH [Maya Angelou]

The stride of young legs and the stretch of limber arms were my wealth. My clear and powerful eyesight and my acute hearing were my treasures. I confess that the coins in my purse were scarce or altogether not there, and others may have thought me poor, but when my old grandmother threw a clump of raw peanuts on the floor of the hot oven, and as the air became perfumed with the friendly aroma of roasting nuts and my uncle, sitting happily in the dark corner, began to hum the old songs of the spirit: the aroma of the nuts, the sound – the heavy silk sound of the ancient spirituals, a glass of cold milk in my hand, my young body – obedient to my will – made me rich beyond measure and my heart was filled with gladness.

© Maya Angelou

1b. BREASTS!! SONG OF THE INNOCENT WILD-CHILD [Clarissa Estés]

I have been waiting,
and I have been waiting,
and all over the world,
are millions, just like me…
We are all waiting –
just waiting and waiting,
for the most important thing…
Breasts!!

[Oh, Breasts!!]
Oh when shall I receive my breasts?
Will they be like
the tiny hearts of birds beating?
Or, sonorous,
even ponderous,
like majestic bells
swaying and
ringing across the land?
Oh, Breasts!!
They will be so beautiful…
Do you suppose,
even though mine do not yet show,
that they are all ready,
and just waiting,
deep inside of me?
And if I squeeze my waist, like this,
or if I tense my wrists together,
will they
– just –
– pop –
– out??!! –
visible at last?

Oh, Breasts!!
you are what I dream about – yet, wait…
Does a beloved ocean have breasts…?
Does an ocean even need them?
No, an ocean has its crests, and every current needed for dreaming.
Does a butterfly have breasts?
No, but still everyone thrills
to the sunlight through her wings.

Oh, Breasts!!
If I had breasts I would wear them
ever so smartly,
I would use them to proudly point with,
or flash them in disdain, or lift them up in joy –
but I would never flaunt them,
nor stuff them,
and especially, never fluff them…
except on special ceremonial occasions…
when I would wear ruffles [cut]
“down to here”,
every chance I got!

Oh, Breasts!!
the testers of my patience
Everyone has them, but me…
Chines, Zulus and Haitians
Hawaiians, Aleuts and Transylvanians,
Balinese, Russians and Romanians…
Everyone, but me…

Oh, Breasts!!
In fairytales, they say
giantesses have breasts so long
they can throw them over their shoulders.
Will mine be like that?
Will they be like two young candles glowing
in every dark and gloaming?
or like sweet and tasty [dark] cherries swelling from the branches,
or maybe they’ll be cone-shaped like shy little tulips,
or maybe they’ll be mellow like ripe and dusky melons,
or maybe they’ll be “this big” and take up all the room –
in any room I’m in.
Will having breasts change my voice?
Will breasts make me taller?
When will I receive them?
for with breasts, I am certain that,
– I will rule the world! –

Come! O Lady of my body,
for I am blessed amongst women –
untie the ribbons of my body,
so it can swell in the way it is meant to…
Oh, Mounder of Breasts,
Untier of Ribbons,
Singer to Flowers Unfolding,
please, please, come to me soon?
Breasts!
Tempestuous,
Breasts!!
Holy Mothers of every living creature,
holy with desire,
holy and on fire!
[Holy breasts!]
Breasts-to-be!
Be alive!
Now!!
MMM-mmm-mmm.

© Copyright 1999 Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Ph.D

1c. EDGE [Toni Morrison]

He was a boy – just a boy –
and I was a very young girl.
In blazing light and shadows trimmed in gold
we took the risk of love
the grist of love
the dreamy, steamy mist of love.
For he was a boy – just a boy –
and I was a very young girl
racing to the edge of love
the bed of love
the love-me- til-I’m-dead of love.
He was a boy – just a boy –
and I was a very young girl.

We were new to time
and dreams were real.
We could play out the line
[Get] to the edge of life
the bed of life
the love-me-til-I’m-dead of life.
For he was a boy – just a boy –
and I was a very young girl.

© Toni Morrison

2. EVE REMEMBERING [Toni Morrison]

I tore from a limb fruit that had lost its green.
My hands were warmed by the heat of an apple fire red and humming insight
I devoured sweet power to the core.
How can I say what it was like?
The taste! The taste undid my eyes
And led me from gardens planted for a child
To wildernesses deeper than any master’s call.

Now these cool hands guide what they once caressed;
Lips savor what they have kissed.
My eyes now pool their light
Better the summit to see;
Better the summit to see.

I would do it all over again:
Be the harbor and set the sail,
Loose the breeze and harness the gale,
Cherish the harvest of what I have been,
Better the summit to scale.
Better the summit to be.

© Toni Morrison

3. THE MOTHERSHIP: WHEN A GOOD MOTHER SAILS FROM THIS WORLD [Clarissa Estés]

3a. (Stave I)

Sanctu, Sanctu, Sanctu.

Down at the shores,
the long lines are forming,
the old ones patiently waiting
for the journey over water
back to their “truest home”.

My mother is my heart.
My mantra for years has been,
“Don’t die, don’t die, my Dearie,
my good mother.”
But now I must bow to your angels,
and say to you,
“Lean on me.”

Lean
on
me.

I will row us past the ripping tides,
I am strong and younger than you.
I will take you to that far horizon line,
beyond which,
I cannot go.

Ohhhh… Ohhhh

Lean
on
me.
Lean
on
me –
till the last
moment,
[my love.]
“Don’t cry,
don’t cry”,
says someone,
not myself.
“Do not be afraid.
Am I not here
beside you?
Do not fear;
you are under my protection.”
Whose voice is this?
Whose voice is speaking?
Is it myself? or my mother?
or our dearest Madre Maria,
La Virgin de Guadalupe?
She Who Holds Me, holds my mother,
holds me as I hold you,
my smaller, and smaller mother…
you take on more and more the shades of water,
your soul sparkling against the night sky.

Come, let me hold you
and birth you
through this storm.
[You, who brought me through the door of your body.
Now, I am bringing you through the door of my spirit,]
and I will –
see you –
through…
I will see you through…
to the new morning, I say –
to my beloved Big Momma, [I say – ]
to mi madre pequeña, [I say – ]
to the mother of my bones, [I say – ]
to the mother’s magic touch
making all colors jump, [I say – ]
to the Ma of nightlight rooms, I say –
I will see you through,
I will see you through,
to the new morning, I say –

to the mother of the lightning sky, [I say – ]
to the mother of the serpent strike, [I say – ]
to the mother of remedios,
mi verba buena mother, [I say – ]
to the mother who speaks with the spirits, I say –
I will see you through
to the new morning, [I say – ]

to the omah of the blood red roses, [I say – ]
to mother midnight nurse, [I say – ]
to the mother of the body’s pleasure, [I say – ]
to the most beloved chocolate-grand-ma’am, I say –
I will see you through
[to the new morning, I say – ]

to the frugal mother, turning her socks over
so the mended holes will not show, [I say – ]
to the mother, the lover,
who made thunder under the sheets, [I say – ]
to the Madonna of the grottos
of the ever-full sink and stove, I say –
[I will see you through
to the new morning, I say – ]

to the kitchen-table terrorists, [I say – ]
to the mothers of las velas santas, the candles lit
for the hopes of loved ones, [I say – ]
[to the mother] who loved, in spite of so much, I say –
I will see you through…

[to the dragon-keeper of the family photographs, I say – ]
to the mother of harsh lessons, [I say – ]
to the sacred heart ringed with thorns, [I say – ]
to my mother’s heart broken open forever, [I say – ]

I will see you through
[to the new morning, I say – ]

to the little mouse mother
whose ears hear every secret thing, [I say – ]
to the
most infinitely
tender
little old face,
with the eyes of a child, I say –

I will see you through…
and I will see you
in the new morning, [I say – ]
…just…
…one…
…tiny…
…bedazzle…
…from now…

3b. (Stave II)

When I say, “My mother has died”,
I mean my “most beloved”.
Leave me to myself now,
for I am a ship who’s
lost her riggings;
suddenly
come unmoored.

Oh, my mother has died;

My mother has died;

She has earned her resting now,
waiting only, and proudly so,
for her sails
to be taken down.

I, the daughter,
mend my mother’s sails now;
I seek her
worn and broken
threads of light,
reweaving her dazzling linen…

The sails of the mother
are [to be] fitted to the daughtership;
raised up on the mainsail,
and the final touch –
the red ragged flag – hers –
will be flying at the topmast of my ship.
I’ll be let down into the waters,
I, the daughter, will glide again,
but this time, under the sails
inherited from my mother,
and all the mothers
before her.

Ay, Mother, let me tell you
my treasured dearie-dear,
one [last] thing I have learned
from your spirit passing through me,
as sparkling shadow passes darkening shadow,
on this open night-sea journey:
I am learning to navigate
by the mysterious farthest stars –
the ones that the great wake of your passing
has revealed to me…
…for the very first time…

I will see you in the morning, I say
my sweet little mother, my most excellent omah,
“I will see you in the new morning”, I say,
to someone who is weeping…
Muchisimas gracias, mi mamá;
Be with The Aeternal Mothers now,
I will see you in the morning, I say,
…just…
…one…
…tiny…
…bedazzle…
…from…
…now…

Sanctu, Sanctu, Sanctu.

© Copyright 1999, Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Ph.D

4. ON MATURITY [Maya Angelou]

The years are broken across my body like thin crystal. Their shards reach my knees in pretty, shiny piles and I know each one with a dainty intimacy. Some were friends, and I pick them up and hold them to my ear like seashells, and they whisper to me of great love, of promises, of debts paid. Some were hateful and they speak without the intent to conceal, of the blows of death, the loss of love, friendship betrayed and golden youth ravaged by the weight of time. There appears an image of wisdom. Surely I have learned [how] to live with some grace, some compassion, some mercy and some style. Will these lessons serve me as I face the next adventure?

© Maya Angelou

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