A young(ish) opera singer's random thoughts and observations.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Where is the bile in classical music?

OK, so this is not a singing-related post, but these thoughts do (I think) inform me as an artist...

A friend told me recently that as said artists we should expose ourselves to as diverse a spectrum of art as we can. In fact, it's a line I hear a lot, but I'm afraid that what with my workload, I tend to revert to my tried and tested musical, theatrical and cinematographic tastes when I do have the time to relax. Luckily (or unluckily?) these are pretty far removed from opera, or in fact classical music in general. The music I listen to, specifically, helps me relax, clear my mind, or process my thoughts and feelings in a way that I can't seem to achieve with classical music. I need lyrics, but when listening to vocal music performed by classically trained singers, I tend to analyse more than listen. So for myself, my choice of listening music works well.

I recently had the rare chance of seeing one of my favourite bands perform live. This allowed me to see how they affect not just me, but other people. Also, a live performance carries a different impact. I know who's playing, but at a rock concert I don't know what they will perform, how I will react to the song choices, how the energy in the hall will flow...

Listening to New Model Army perform, seeing them sweep up the crowd with their fire and passion (impressive, with the band being in its 31st year of existence), I got to thinking about what emotions and experiences this music taps into, to move all these people, myself included, to a state of euphoria that at times borders on frenzy. And how does that relate to what I do? Will I ever reach an audience on that level, or is the music I perform too far removed, too irrelevant to pluck that string in a listener's mind or heart?

NMA's music draws on some very powerful emotions, with the lyrics quite often bordering on poetry (or at least that's what I like to fool myself into thinking). Disillusion, frustration, a sense of loss, futility, anger, resentment... and yet throughout all this negativity, a constant thread of appreciation and marvel at the beauty of life. Bilious music, often yes, but very human, and therefore moving and strengthening.

What emotions does opera tap into? Is there anything in operatic or song repertoire that draws on similar themes? What are the angry operas? The songs of revolution? The classical music of outrage? Or is it that through the sheer complication of form that composers cannot hope to reach those layers of people's minds in the same way as a self-taught musician from Bradford?

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