Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Euphonic Epiphany

Alex Ross has been doing a series of posts on his personal musical epiphanies. I thought I would share a momentous musical experience of my own.

When I was a freshman at Lawrence University, the Conservatory of Music decided to stage a musical instead of the yearly opera. The opera director was on sabbatical, so this made some sense. They chose Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George, but decided to do it in a different way. Instead of using the typical pit orchestra that Sondheim had scored the musical for, the jazz director, Grammy-award winning Fred Sturm, had the students from his Jazz Composition and Arranging class each arrange a section of the musical for large jazz ensemble. The Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble (LUJE), a Down Beat award winner, was the pit, with Fred leading from the podium. The entire production was done by undergraduate students, include sets and costumes. My residence assistant, Joe Graziano, had the lead role of George/George (George Seurat in the first act, George's great-grandson in the second act) and did an incredible job. I went to all of the performances, and constantly got chills at two points - the finales of each act, both called "Sunday." Each finale starts with a simple oscillation between tonic and dominant chords on the piano, as George finishes speaking the word, "harmony." Just before this, as George is saying some other words, there are dissonant sustained notes in the strings (saxophones in the Lawrence production), very soft, but highly dissonant. When they resolved to the simple chords right on the word "harmony," I felt a rush going through my whole body, from the heart outward.

From this beginning point, the hushed piano and sotto voce vocal ensemble slowly build to a predictable yet very satisfying climax. This is followed immediately by a return of the dissonant intervals and a final tonic chord. When I listen to my recording of Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters (and Star Trek's Brent Spiner), I still get thrills, though not as great as those I had in Stanley Theater back in 1988.

No comments: