What can one say about an absolutely great performance of absolutely great music?
It was great. Absolutely great. It was stunning, in fact.
So stunned that I have no idea where to begin (even one day later) – so let's talk about Dana Fuchs instead.
I noticed sometime last week that Fuchs was singing at the Three Rivers Arts Festival. As my wife is a fan, we planned on hitting the festival in order to see her performance. That was before we learned that the only tickets available for the Mahler were for the same evening as Fuchs' show. What would it be like to quick-step from Dana Fuchs to Gustav Mahler? Stunning. It would be absolutely stunning.
After catching a bite to eat (me shoveling down a plate of shrimp fried rice while the wife had a falafel), we made our way over to the Dollar Bank Stage where Fuchs was just beginning what was to be an hour-long set. Dressed in her "Sadie" clothes (and if you don't get the reference, go see Across The Universe), with swayving hair and ambulant cleavage, she sang and jumped and commanded a stage far too small for her voice or her talent.
And the band cooked. The band with the formidable Fuchs was tight and rhythmically multi-layered despite being only a trio. The guitarist knew his way around the fingerboard and the well-miked drums produced a discernible thump thump thump in the chest throughout the music. The bass player, while holding down the changes, played them into a melodic role easily equal to the rest of the band. Each part great. The whole, greater still.
The most fitting song of her set had to be, for me at least, Bible Baby. In her introduction to the song, Fuchs told the story of how, as a disappointed teenager leaving her intolerant church to join one more open, she was encouraged to sing by a woman in the choir who told her,
The song, one of deep hope in the face of life's deep struggles, begins with these lines,
Daddy needed the bottle more than you
Praise the Lord – Hallelujah – you're alive!
With each setback, each disappointment, the message is the same: Praise the Lord, Hallelujah – you're alive!
Ok now we can talk about the Mahler.
The piece has been called "80 minutes of anguished, ultimately triumphant speculation on the meaning of life" and I think that that's just about right. Beyond the details of Mahler's program, (where the agnostics of the world – and I count myself among them – are, of course, free not to accept its theology) the fact we can sit there and hear such deep beauty regardless of our own personal speculations shudders my spine.
One of music's aspects that is forever a mystery to me is how it wields such power over us, the humans in the seats. Don't mistake me, I am grateful that it does, but with only 12 tones (given the musical language we're discussing right now) and a handful of gestures, it's a mystery how it can focus our attention like nothing else. And it's possible to spend a life time fully immersed in it with little fear of boredom or fatigue. Perhaps Schopenhaur was right, as it has nothing to represent, perhaps music represents nothing but the Will of the universe itself. It is one of the joys of living as it is at the heart of experiencing life.
Sometimes you just gotta let momma music take over.
Praise the lord. Hallelujah – you're alive!