We had such beautiful weather both days of the performances. Walking to and from the museum was a treat in itself.
I couldn’t resist sitting and playing for a moment by the courtyard. The music feels almost like a duet between Isabella and I. It is such a pleasant experience to get to play regularly in such an imaginative creative space to begin with. When I normally practice I often struggle to come up with fresh ideas, but when I play in this space I find I cant help but explore new possibilities. Ideas bounce like reverb off antique walls. It is such a rare treat as a musician to be able to work in an environment where you can just play with musical ideas as if they were marionettes on a string.
I often feel unwelcome by museums. Something about most traditional museum galleries can be impersonal and unwelcoming even when the art is phenomenal, and I can’t imagine a project like this working. The Gardener lends itself to music somehow and I think this has been an exciting experience for the musicians as well as the patrons. I had several very engaging conversations with curious patrons who were enjoying the project as much as we were. I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in Isabella’s artistic vision.
March 8: Alex Baboian and amazing courtyard shadows
March 9: Jamie Billings in the Spanish Cloister
March 8th was our first performance. We had only had a group of observers one other time, which was the class our young children who were viewing the indoor garden a few weeks prior. The museum had a totally different vibe: It was buzzing with excitement from people of all ages, and I was approached by a fair number of people, interesting in where we were from and how often we performed there. I traveled around the museum as much as possible to give respect to the tour guides and play at a respective volume. I spent some time in the Tapestry Room, and Lillia’s playing was so beautiful and bounced off the rooms, and it was great to see people relaxing on benches and just listening. I spent a lot of time on the balconies; it was really great to hear Kerry’s voice traveling, Neil’s soprano sax floating, Alex’s chords swirling, and TJ’s vocals giving a really cool low end to all of our higher instruments. I played a lot of Bach that day and practiced his “Little Fugue in G Minor” and his “Badinerie in B”. I was working a lot with tone, as well. Overall, I think we all felt very surprised at the amount of people at the museum — there were hundreds filing in and out and it was really great to chat with some people who were there for the arts. It was too bad that we weren’t able to see Ana, but hopefully we’ll all see her again in the future when she’s in town.
On March 9th, we all arrived at 11AM again, and saw a huge procession of people in line, waiting to get in. Everyone looked excited. I arrived in the new greenhouse and was brought upstairs to set up, and then myself and the others headed to the museum. The place was already filled, and the happiness and confusion on peoples’ faces was pretty great and amusing as we walked in. We all started playing and went to our desired location. I was switching a lot between floors again; I found myself on the 3rd quite a lot, but also on the 1st by the Spanish painting, which is my favorite room. A lot of really kind people came up to me and said we all sounded nice, and it was great that they enjoyed what they were hearing and we interested in Ana’s idea for this collaboration. I wandered around freely, hearing all of our sounds bouncing off the garden, and from above, I saw people looking up and listening. It was a really cool experience. This day was still very packed with people, and we were also filmed, so we had quite a larger audience. I generally practice alone, locked up in a practice room, so this experience helped get rid of some of the anxiety I feel about playing in front of people. It was such a great experience and I thank Ana, Tiffany, and Pieranna for having all of us and Neil for inviting me to come join on this cool experience.
That was quite a lot to process. Having taken so long to sort it all out, I will write about both days at once.
Thursday’s theme was ‘busy’. So much of my focus was on discerning how not to sing over tour guides or other performers and getting a feel for how traffic flowed in the space that it took most of an hour to finally accept both my constraints and my lack of constraints. I had assumed that I must not get ‘too loud’ and had spent time trying to figure out what ‘too loud’ was.
Reflecting, this piece sits between public performance and solitary practice. While I state that I placed constraints on myself, there was a palpable pressure coming from the musing patrons to find the ‘right’ level of sound. Stolen glances and startled expressions let me know that I was something of an intruder on many peoples experience. I was a little more at ease with intruding on friday and fought less to keep my voice low though I did avoid singing full voice when more than three or four people were in the same room as I. Proximity was rarely an issue except when singing above speaking loudness.
Perhaps forty or fifty minutes into thursdays performance, someone—patron or guide, I am not sure—asked when I would ‘start singing’ and stop with the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’. Getting past the brusque nature of the comment, I wondered whether there was a dynamic being broken by the statement. Was this patron ‘audience’ or something else? I did not take the time to state that I was told to practice in the space and that ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ are the bulk of my practice. Should I have? Did I ‘owe’ that explanation? this led me to consider whether or not I would have received the same remark If I bore an external and, therefore visible, instrument. ‘Playing’ and instrument in a public space is lent an air of propriety by the clearly visible nature of the instrument. ‘Surely she is supposed to be doing that, otherwise they would not have allowed that instrument in’ is what I imaging the thinking to be. Singing has none of this obviousness or propriety without ‘performance’ which, for most people, is song.
Performing in the museum while patrons who did not know at all beforehand that there were performers in the space led me to also think about intrusion in another way. While the public was—in a sense—intruding on my practice, I expected that. I was forewarned. These patrons were not always given that warning. So I began to think of the culturally accepted idea of a ‘solitary and silent experience with each piece’ that we put forth as the understood museum experience. Physical and auditory space are claimed and not to be contested. Armed with the knowledge that I was supposed to be there, however, I had to contest that space. For me, that was the bulk of the piece. My performance was the attempt to, without prose, explain that each sound I made, song or scuffle, was a part of that days museum experience.