OK class, two questions for today:
- What is music?
- How many types of music are there?
The first is tough, but let’s try Viennese music theorist Felix Salzer’s notion that “Music is motion in time.” This definition seems deceptively simple until one considers that motion implies direction (Where is it going?) over a measurable amount of seconds, minutes, hours….
The second, comparatively, is dead easy: the only two possible responses are good or bad (only the listener can make that determination, perhaps occasionally assisted by a benevolent music critic…).
For the opening production of its 40th anniversary season, Carousel Players’ attempted to answer both challenging questions in a manner that makes sense to the Kindergarten to Grade 3 crowd that are soon to hear the authors’ “replies” for themselves as this show winds its way all over Ontario (three cheers to Ontario Power Generation for sponsoring the tour).
Commissioned three years ago by Pablo Felices-Luna (who also directs), veteran writers Linda Carson and Cathy Nosaty (composer of the non-classical music and extra-creative sound designer), Here to Hear is sure to delight and entertain its intended age group (and give considerable pleasure to teachers and parents alike) but—necessarily, perhaps—leave the mystery of just what music is and how it is made for another day.
The premise literally sets the stage for an in-depth look at some of the Western world’s best-loved melodies and a crash course in creativity—a kind of Sound Sampling/Looping for Dummies. Len Pepner (surely Leonardo…), an aging tenor whose glory days can only be savoured on vinyl, is about to give his one-man show (now accompanied by music-minus-one tracks rather than a live orchestra) with daughter Amanda at the electronic console, cuing up the invisible philharmonic as her dad’s backup. A devotee of “today’s” music, Amy soon enlists the audience to help her lay down a birthday compilation of sounds—present-day and long-past—to create a musical offering to the man that helped give her life. (Yes, Virginia, every day can be a birthday!)
The first few scenes had huge promise of really getting “down” and creating a lively, humourous (more about that key component in a moment) interactive discussion that could have answered one if not both of the questions set before those assembled.
Curiously, unfortunately the narrative/educational thrust was summarily hijacked by the over-long domination of a wayward (given birth by too much “juice” cooked up in the electronic blender) “spark” that flitters about the home-theatre speakers (executed superbly, nonetheless) before bursting its woofer (surely saying tweeter in this day and age would be too confusing) and becoming a red-light musical alien whose domicile is “there.”
From the first loudspeaker fly-by, the pedagogical potential faded even as the entertainment component soared. The youngest amongst us were riveted to the action like never before (one of whom assured the audience that the darting-about bit of music energy was, in fact, a firefly).
After a few dollops of operatic gems in the early sequences, the “compare and contrast” aspect never enjoyed another double bar.
By journey’s end “real music” advocate dad became an instant convert to banal minimalistic, any-sound-will-do art. Not a happy message to leave with developing minds, but most certainly supported by the stated fact that Amy learned everything she knows about music on YouTube. Yikes!
It’s hard to imagine anyone but William Vickers playing Len. Well known to these pages (cross-reference below) his performance is a comedic tour de force that ought to find its way into the Canadian Theatre Hall of Fame (if only such a thing existed…). Combining expertly timed physical comedy (a testosterone-rich, height-challenged matador unable to reach his hat: a butt wiggle that redefined the concept of cheeky fun) with a range of delivery that simultaneously had the kids and the grown-ups howling with glee as well as deftly handling the unexpected interjections from the throng has to be witnessed to be believed. Think all of the Three Stooges plus a tad of Groucho Marx (offering his calling card then topping that gesture with “call me” to the most cooperative mom from the audience who went along with the request to anchor “doh” when the three-part harmony shtick came along) and one gets a rough idea of Vickers unleashed.
Amy Lee played a savvy straight man to Vickers and readily held her own ground when taking the lead in building loops or directing the chorus. Those lucky enough to see this production will wonder just where the time went if still somewhat uncertain as to what truly constitutes our most universal art. JWR