Thursday, February 14, 2008

When I was 19 or 20, a mentor took me to see Rudolf Nureyev perform in a production of The King and I. While time has faded my memory of the details (though I don't recall being overwhelmed by the acting or singing), the one thing I will never forget is the scene in which Anna teaches the king of Siam to dance. Those few moments made the whole performance worthwhile. As soon as "Shall We Dance" began to play, Nureyev's body became this vehicle of exquisite grace. Watching him, it was obvious that dancing was what this man was born to do. In my memory, I left the theater not so much feeling that I had seen a dancer act in a musical, but a great master dance while a music just happened to be going on around him. I knew I had seen something special that night. A few years later, when Nureyev died, I counted myself lucky to have gotten the chance to see him dance, even if it was for just a few minutes.

It is this ability of that arts to touch this transcendant chord within us that makes them so special. Anyone with any sensitivity (and that covers pretty much everyone, doesn't it?) has had the experience of hearing some piece of music or watching some performance or reading a poem or viewing a piece of art that touched them in some way, transporting them beyond the realm of just watching and listening to a place where the line between performer and viewer becomes blurred. It is in that moment that the kind of energy is created that sends this intangible "buzz" through a venue.

I had a similar experience in seeing Sweet Honey in the Rock perform at the Schnitzer a week or so ago. Even a week later I am still bowled over at how incredible these women are. While their recordings are brilliant, the live experience is the only thing that really does them justice. Although I've been aware of the group for a long time and will always stop and listen for a bit if they are on the t.v. or radio, I have to admit that I didn't really start to really listen to them until pretty recently. Founded by Bernice Johnson Reagon in the early 70's, the group has had a sometimes changing line up throughout its evolution. One thing all of the women in the group share, however, is that they are incredible musicians who are able to tackle multi-layered harmonies and rhythms with an ease that belies their complexity.

Their music spans a wealth of influences including but not limited to blues, jazz, traditional gospel, rap and African American spirituals. As artists they create a beautiful synthesis of social awareness, inclusivity and spirit, all wrapped in the kind of sound in which you find yourself wanting to get lost. If there harmonies were the sea, I would want to swim naked in them just to be that much closer to them. It is the kind of music that not only puts a smile on your face and touches your soul, but makes you want to go out and DO something when you're doing listening to it.

Originally, I bought the tickets to the show as a Christmas gift for my mom, but now that I've seen them perform, I can't wait until the next time they are in town. Seeing them this past week really does go down as one of my favorite concert experiences ever. And to think that they have this HUGE songbook that is just waiting to be explored. It's like the musical version of reading a really incredible book and finding that it is just the first in a series by a prolific, but briliant author! Sometimes, life is just good!

No comments: