face the mirror: program notes (3/3/19)

I expect the program of face the mirror to fluctuate over multiple iterations; this version is the original, from my grad recital on March 3rd, 2019. These aren’t the program notes I included in the program (those were letters from my character to herself, and I expect they’ll appear in a bunch of future versions as well, so I won’t post them here), but if you’re curious about the thought process and/or origins behind each of these pieces, this is the webpage you’re looking for.

Haydn II.1: This movement of the Haydn trumpet concerto is near and dear to my heart. It’s probably not my absolute favorite slow movement in the repertoire (currently, that honor goes to Böhme), but I’ve used it at auditions for undergrad and grad school, and it’s a piece I enjoy coming back to every couple years to sort of check in with myself. That said, a lot of how the piece is structured doesn’t match up with who I am when I’m at my most musically honest, so I knew I couldn’t play it verbatim and expect it to fit with the rest of the show. Further, it serves a very specific purpose: it’s a beacon of perceived normalcy, of familiarity, of safety, that my character reaches for even though it’s unclear what role those things ultimately will (or should) play in her life.

Panic I: Haydn II.1 blends seamlessly into this piece, which also can stand on its own when presented separately. I wanted both Panics to give the audience a look not only at extended technique but at the demands it can make on a performer’s body. In more traditional trumpet pedagogy, there seems to be this unspoken thought that although injuries can and will pop up on occasion, if you learn techniques the way they’re taught you will ultimately avoid most damage. That doesn’t quite work out when you start learning extended techniques, largely because there aren’t yet systematized ways of teaching them, and what works for trombone might not work for trumpet (or vice versa). And if you come into that process already injured (like I did), it slows you down. So Panic I explores the things you can do when you’re already a little bit injured, but it uses these techniques in a gestural way that maintains a sense of character.

tell me about it: This is a little moment I made for my character and Sofia’s. It’s punctuated with a little voiceover, but I wanted it to be something that introduced a sense of safety, of something that’s maybe not beautiful and involved but at least isn’t dangerous. In the scope of the show, it’s a tiny little thing, but I wanted to have one moment between all the tense ones where both of my characters felt safe.

musica invisible (mvt. I): I fell in love with this piece by Cecilia Arditto three years ago and have been looking for the right excuse to perform it. This first movement uses writings from Da Vinci’s journals about drawing women, saying how they should be drawn with “their legs close together, their arms closely folded,” and lots of other *absolutely wonderful* things. It also intersperses quotes from the song Mona Lisa by Ray Evans and Jay Livingston, which give it an eerie, almost old-timey-radio effect. I really love this movement, but in videos I’ve watched, men who perform it often raise their voices to a falsetto-y register. Though this makes the words slightly more audible, due to the timbre of the voice, the vibe I get from it more than anything is mocking. Though I probably wouldn’t do it this way outside of face the mirror, in this performance I will be keeping that tone and making it a self-mocking thing: my character doesn’t want to be seen this way, but she knows that she is, and using these othered words is a way of deflecting from her genuine trauma.

The Witness: While Sofia and I were working on musica invisible and exploring the relationships between the performer and the text, one of our biggest challenges was that the words Ms. Arditto committed to the piece might not be fully understood by the audience—and because we’re making those words self-mocking, it’s imperative that we give them an opportunity to truly speak. I decided to repeat all the same text in the next moment, when my character is giving the more caustic, unfiltered answer to “what’s going on?”

Pauline Oliveros’ The Witness is written for “a solo duet with an imaginary partner, a duo or an ensemble.” This performance fits somewhere between the three—my character acts primarily as a solo, with the tape track functioning as the imaginary partner but also sort of as a duo partner. Sofia’s character attaches herself to my character’s motions and sounds, creating a strange sort of solo-duo-trio version of the piece that we’re using to explore visual noise as well as sound itself. Oliveros is known for her pioneering work with the concept of deep listening, so be sure to take in any sounds in tonight’s environment beyond those Sofia and I are creating onstage.

All of Me: This is a giant homage to a production of the play Women of War that my roommate was in while we were in undergrad. In the play’s version, Tess sang All of Me as her castmates tore at her clothes and smeared her with black chalk paint. We aren’t taking this piece in that direction, but it’s a great moment to introduce the rest of my dancers and get the emotional roller coaster that is Act II going.

Don’t Tell: I have written and rewritten the program notes for this piece about every six months for the past two years. Every time, I come up with something a little different. This time around, I’m very fortunate to work with a team of dancers who have brought their patience, kindheartedness, and empathy to the table in every step of the creative process. Our rehearsal spaces are among the most comfortable I’ve ever been in. As far as Don’t Tell the music goes, the notes I put up on my website last year still ring the truest for me, not only about the piece, but about my goals for Letters from the Aftermath, face the mirror, and my sexual assault work in general:

“As a survivor (or, on the worse days, a casualty) of sexual assault, it can be difficult to create work that addresses the topic with integrity without compromising my own self-care. Don’t Tell, the first piece in a larger endeavor to paint a well-rounded sonic picture of life after sexual trauma, is the result of almost a year’s worth of consideration. The piece focuses on the negative effects of victim-blaming, placing the audience inside the mind of an unknown narrator as she recounts the ways her world thinks she should have protected herself. The structure of the piece relies on text delivered by male and female voices as well as processed found sounds. In the concert hall, Don’t Tell creates an atmosphere of necessary confrontation, requiring audiences to consider their own roles in creating a future well-suited for the safety and wellbeing of the entire populace. It is my hope that Don’t Tell will foster open conversation about the effects of sexual violence and how to better protect those individuals who might not always be able to run from the things that go bump in the night.”

Haydn II.2: Would I really be a CalArtian if I didn’t take a time-honored classic and do awful things to it? No? I didn’t think so, either. This version of Haydn speaks a bit more clearly about my feelings re: playing classical music the same way every time, but within the context of face the mirror, I wanted it to highlight how far our main character feels (which isn’t necessarily the same as how far she is) from the life or mindset she’s looking to reclaim. I’m punctuating this with work by my wonderful dancers, who are echoing and suffocating my struggles with partner work and some lascivious mute work. I can’t finish this program note without giving Kezia a huge thank-you for all the work she’s put into developing this twisted partnership with me.

Panic II: Like Panic I, Panic II is a text score. In it, I wanted to give the performer(s) an environment, a setting. I said, “here are your start conditions; react to them.” And I stripped away the timbres and techniques that made classical music “beautiful” (but also maybe “classical”). The performance itself is entirely improvised.

Stanford swimmer: I’m neither the first person nor the last to comment on how Stanford rapist Brock Turner was constantly referred to by the press as a “former Stanford swimmer.” I’ve wanted to do a piece on the subject for a long time. This first iteration might grow into something much larger, but within face the mirror, I wanted it to serve as a rude awakening—our character returns to reality only to be swiftly reminded that it can be just as bad as anything going on inside her head.

stories/walk free: This is a long slow moment, a term Tim Feeney introduced me to in January. I didn’t realize that’s what I was writing until it was staring me in the face, but it’s an excruciating ten minutes in which my character succumbs to her thoughts. I’ll be frank: the stories I use in this piece are entirely autobiographical. It’s not pretty. I’m thrilled my dancers are joining me for this part of the show, as I’d have no idea what to do without them.

Instruction Number Two (Please Wash Your Face): Ben Patterson is known for his performance scores, particularly his work with the Fluxus movement. Instruction No. 2 (Please Wash Your Face) was released in a number of Fluxkits, collections of materials and scores so you yourself could realize these works in your own life. I can’t remember if this work first caught my attention in Michael Pisaro’s John Cage class last year or Anne LeBaron’s Concert Theater class this year, but I was fortunate to see a performance of it last fall, and I’m glad I could add it to tonight’s program as a sort of relaxing moment.

musica invisible (mvt. iii): This movement of Arditto’s work is really fantastic—it’s beautiful, almost haunting playing and a great way to close out the show. In my mind, it also leaves room for ambiguity; the movement’s title, Anamorphosis, refers to a gradual (evolutionary) change over time. That seems fitting for my character—she doesn’t know where the future’s going to take her or if she’s ever going to reach that simple life on the horizon, but she knows she’s not going to stay where she is forever.

Haydn II.3: I don’t have any answers. That normalcy, simplicity, perfection is still out there. Is it attainable? Should it be attained? Would it really be worth it?

Risk tolerance is the name of the game, friends.