Friday, July 08, 2016

Telling Tales

I had an experience today that I find very difficult to describe. 

It was a drab old day in Sydney, not cold but with lowering clouds and sporadic rain showers. Not a day you expect to be overwhelmed and left breathless and weeping in the space of a minute or two. 
Grey day today: Sydney Opera House from the MCA
As I walked out of Wynyard Station I was assailed by the scent of Narcissus flowers, harbingers of spring. I am still not quite used to Narcissus flowers being sold when autumn is barely over and 'winter' has not quite gripped us, but then what we call winter in Sydney is more like spring in harsher climates. 

This was what I was thinking as I strode off to the the Museum of Contemporary Art. I was going there to see 'Telling Tales', an exhibition that includes a sung work Sonic Blossoms by artist Lee Mingwei. A classically trained singer (there are several who take turns) chooses a random member of the public and sings a Schubert song to them. I am acquainted with one of the singers and was hoping to hear her sing. 
Goowoolem Gijam – Gija plants by Shirley Purdie

In the nominated third floor exhibition room there was a large work called Goowoolem Gijam – Gija plants by Aboriginal artist Shirley Purdie that took up most of one wall. The other works in the room were by artist Emily Floyd, comments on the Soviet Gulag which, as the wall plaques declared, resonate with Australia's offshore internment camps and policies affecting remote Aboriginal communities.

Some time after midday a tall smartly dressed man with a rather dramatic coat appeared (baritone Andrew Moran I discovered afterwards).  He led a woman from the assembled onlookers to sit on a chair in the middle of the room, then withdrew to stand perhaps eight meters away to deliver his song. 

I am not sure if it was the already emotionally-charged space, whether it was Schubert's music/words or whether it was Andrew Moran's extraordinary baritone voice but in the space of four minutes I was an emotional wreck. Is that too strong an expression? After the song I walked out of the MCA weeping and emotional, heading for a quiet corner where I could sit and think and figure out what had happened to me. Eventually I wrote a note (writing helps me digest experience) and emailed it to myself. 
This is what I wrote:
My body feels as if it is too small for my heart which has suddenly grown four sizes bigger. Half an hour ago I was was present when Andrew Moran sang a Schubert song to an audience member of the MCA. I was not the person sung to but despite that, this single song touched me in a way one is seldom touched.
It is true, I weep when I hear Liebestod at the end of Tristan and Isolde, but that is to be expected after four hours going through an emotional wringer. The Schubert song was only a couple of minutes long, but sung in a way that reached right past any defenses I might have had and left me breathless and weeping.
Now I am sitting quietly in a corner with a consolatory beer, trying to get a grip on myself before I go to the ACO/ Giovanni Sollima concert. Will the concert make my malady worse?

Now it is evening. As I returned home on the train I thought about this extraordinary day that has been almost impossible to describe. (More on the concert later.)  Ex PM Paul Keating struggles to explain the effect of Mahler's music has on him; Wagnerians join societies to search for words to describe their feelings;  I write a blogpost in an effort of describe a Schubert Lied. We all fail because there are no words.

 Addendum: here is the song I heard..  Du bist die Ruh sung by Peter Scheier:

Peter Schreier 


wanderer said...

Elizabeth - any more information about the song, or the circumstances of the performance? Regardless, i don't think being so emotional makes you a 'wreck' (I know it's just an expression) - I think it's brilliant!

Elizabeth said...

If you get a chance, go and hear Sonic Blossoms by artist Lee Mingwei.

The song I heard Andrew Morton sing was 'Du bist due Ruh'. Here it is sung by Peter Schreier: