Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"Ondine" Likened

Back in July, I shared a dilemma I had between the new way I was mentoring in piano and the old reasons that were the only way I really knew for using my own piano skills.  I felt in need of a destination to journey toward. I shared here how witnessing a cellist's performance had reminded me of a purpose for music that became the seed of what led to this post and others that will follow (as I've decided to do this again with new pieces). 

I wrote:

"An idea keeps nudging me.  A destination I could give myself. . . Choose a piece. Set a date. Post it here. . . Ravel's Ondine. . . I'll record it without demanding perfection, but communication. I'll post it pretending that those who listen, do so not to put me down or prop me up on a pedestal, but to 'meet' and 'communicate' together."

And so, I chose September 25th to post the recording.  It's been quite the journey from July to now.  I will hold my tongue and not go into analyzing, apologizing or giving excuses as I'm tempted to do. That was the point of this experiment after all!

Instead, a quick word about the piece for those unfamiliar with it, or those unfamiliar with translating music into their . . . "native tongue."

Ondine is a piece I've wanted to play for years. I find that I am drawn to pieces that depict water, and pieces that have a relational element.  This has both and I find it very fulfilling to play and easy to find messages of truth in. It is by Maurice Ravel, written in 1908 and based on a poem by Aloysius Bertrand. You can google and find any number of explanations about this piece or the poem it's based on (and I suggest you do, like this one I found on someone's blog).

Here, though, I'm going to stick to the theme of this blog and share a smidgen of how I've likened this music to my own life (you can find the link to the recording at the end of the post). The way I play the piece might not be acceptable to other pianists, they might think I am not true to the way Ravel wanted it played.  That is partly intentional.  There are plenty of recordings that are "true to Ravel."  I believe the notes and rhythms composers organize have potential to say things to individuals that the composer never planned.  This happens when we share things in the written word as well, right?  For instance, did those that recorded the events in the scriptures know how many thousands or millions of different ways future readers would apply them to their specific lives? No. I believe there is a lot of untapped potential for communication in music. Yes, learn the "right way" to play the piece, but then experiment and ponder how the notes speak to you and if that means a different tempo, different dynamics or the stretching of a phrase that "shouldn't be" stretched - why not? The composers are usually long gone. If it doesn't mean anything to you, it won't mean much to others.  Maybe this is a reason behind classical music interest waning and popular music thriving? Well . . . I'm going off topic now. Back to "Ondine."

Somehow, what goes on in my mind (when I'm not hyper aware trying to record the piece and can lose myself more fully in that stream of sounds - the irony, right?) loosely combines the original water sprite idea of the poem with . . . well . . . caterpillars and the Garden of Eden.  Pretty strange, right?  I had three pages written up about triads and cool patterns I'd found and their symbolism, and a bedtime story version of what I'm thinking when I play, but I decided that would be the fire-hose approach. Instead,  I've whittled it down to three little "translation clues" you might find helpful (with a bit of what to listen for and minute cues) and then I'll set you free to try and decipher if those clues fit what you visualize in your mind as you listen and what it all might mean to you.  Remember - this is an exercise in communication through music! Not a "ta-da!" performance. Forget the person playing (and all their mistakes) and enjoy likening it to your life.

"Translation Clues"

#1. The motif that begins when the left hand first plays I think of as the seeking, searching voice.  You'll notice the same descending two notes often throughout the piece. In my mind, each time, it is a new question, a new search for truth. If the voice was speaking with words, what would it say to you?

#2. The constant motion throughout the piece (beginning with the right hand) is that watery, immortal element. Ondine in the poem was an immortal water sprite (fairy) and tried to persuade the mortal man to marry her. I picture the immortal element more as energies and oppositions we might face in life that can lead (if we navigate with God's help and grace) to an ever increasing knowledge of good and evil; a continuing process of being recreated, or reborn - just as the fruit in the Garden of Eden began such a journey for Adam and Eve.

#3. Instar =  The name for a stage of a larva's life. Each time it molts, it beings a new instar. A larva will generally pass through five instars before it makes a chrysalis or cocoon and becomes a moth or butterfly. I hear the main melody voice (in clue #1) going through a journey in this piece that includes:

  •  Moments of curiosity, wonder, and discovery (minutes 00:00 - 02:05)
  •  Moments of vulnerability and confusion (2:05-2:47)
  • Times of deep seeking (notice the conversation between the low and high voices 2:47-3:32)
  • Anxiety, fear, anguish (3:33 -4:38)
  • Seeking relief, a prayer offered three times (4:39 - 5:00)
  • A moment of cleansing, nourishing, and reassurance (5:00-5:43)
  • A point where it is possible to look back. The past begins to take on the look of Isaiah 61:3 (5:44-6:09)
  • The choice to view the journey through the lens of faith now brings a moment of gratitude and inspiration from a still, small voice (6:09 - 6:38)
  • Perhaps the darker energy that has been so constant in the journey now sees all its efforts only played into the hand of goodness and Light. It reveals its true nature in a sudden tantrum (reminds me of Moses 1:21-22), is washed away, and finally dissipates and fades (6:39 - 7:20).

Click here for the youtube link: Ondine

Many thanks to Steve Phillips (www.fullfidelitystudio.com) and Adam (videography, AKA Mr. Golden) for their help in this little project of mine.