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Meredith Monk and Vocal Ensemble perform with The Stonewall Chorale
by Gwen Deely for Vocal Area Network
Posted March 12, 2007

Meredith MonkMeredith Monk and her Vocal Ensemble will perform with the Stonewall Chorale, the nation's first gay and lesbian chorus, in celebration of its 30th anniversary at Merkin Hall on Saturday, March 31. We will premiere the choral version of music from Monk's award winning film, Book of Days, a work  dating from the 1980s long available on CD on the ECM label, now recently released on DVD as a "film for the ears."

Like most of Monk's works, Book of Days is a sonic tapestry not easily notated. We are being guided by roadmaps prepared by Allison Sniffin, a Monk Ensemble member who has prepared many of Monk's scores for publication and performance. It is a challenging experience to learn music by rote.  Luckily, we're being coached by Katie Geissinger, also a member of Monk's company, and, for two sessions, we will be coached by Meredith Monk herself. We're extremely fortunate that conductor Cynthia Powell has had first-hand experience with Monk's music. She toured with Monk's company as the keyboardist in ATLAS: an Opera in 3 Parts, in the revival of her opera Quarry and in A Celebration Service.

Because in Monk's world "the voice dances and the body sings," we are unlearning the typical choir stance of planted feet and stationary torsos and freeing our bodies to move melodically. Instead of listening for specific notes or harmonies for our entrance cues, we have our antennae out for specific layerings or a change in the keyboardist's left hand. It is a refreshing way to make music! I wondered how I would ever learn it, but after a few rehearsals, it's as if the melodies have simply emerged and been released from the recesses of my brain.

The first half of the program is the exquisitely dramatic (and very timely) Dona Nobis Pacem by Ralph Vaughan Williams, performed in the chamber version with piano, strings and percussion. The combination of Dona Nobis Pacem with Monk's music I find oddly compatible. Both pieces portray surreal landscapes caught in the normal cycles of dawn and dusk, sun and moon, past and present. With words by Walt Whitman and from Scripture, Vaughan Williams' keening melodies portray the aftermath of war, while Monk's modal tunes and vocal sounds flow in canonic waves equally descriptive of tranquility and toxicity. (Her Book of Days takes place in 14th century Europe at the time of the plague). Monk's syllabification--hers is a universal language of phonemes-- is in contrast to Whitman's powerful poetry in Dona Nobis Pacem.

For tickets and more information about the concert, visit www.stonewallchorale.org or call 212-971-5813. Tickets are $30 in advance and $35 at the door. Advance tickets are strongly recommended.

For more information on Meredith Monk and how to purchase the newly released DVD of Book of Days, visit her website at www.meredithmonk.org. Book of Days will be published by Boosey and Hawkes.

Gwen Deely is a member of The Stonewall Chorale.

Content Contact: Gwen Deely.
Revision Date: March 12, 2007.
Technical Contact: Steve Friedman.

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