Sunday, October 15, 2017

Tale of Two Performances

I guess the performances we saw were what my kids would call concerts, that is if they were outdoors and there were a few thousand people but these were much more intimate affairs. They took place in the Lensic Theatre which only seats 800 plus but audience member shouted out as they might in a stadium.

The performers were Robert Mirabal & Ethel and Loudon Wainwright III.  My father used to say that by being a pessimist and not expecting anything he was never disappointed.  That may have been wise advice. I expected to feel ambivalent toward the first but I loved it; and the second one that I was really looking forward to, I found disappointing.

In the case of Robert Mirabal & Ethel, I had no idea who or what Ethel was and found out they were a group of musicians who played string instruments.  They play several but the main ones are, violin, viola, mandolin and cello.  The group was founded in 1998 and they often collaborate with solo artists.  In this particular case it was Robert Mirabal, a Taos musician who not only plays a number of different kinds of flutes, he makes them as well.  For this performance he also played piano and the didgeridoo.  This latter instrument comes from the indigenous peoples of Northern Australia.   It was invented, according to various sources, either more or less than a millennium ago: in any case it has been around for awhile.  From what I could see it was as difficult to play as a shofar … it takes a lot of air to make a sound, which is not entirely easy on the ears.

Photo by Tim Black

I knew I liked Mirabal having heard him before.  I love Indian flute music.  Somehow it transports me to the Hopi Mesas in Northern Arizona.  I thought the different ways that Ethel made their instruments work together was incredible.  Having mostly heard string instruments in a classical music orchestra I did not think of them working in an innovative manner and not just all creating one harmonious sound.  This was so exciting.  The video below will give you a taste of the music we heard and most of the instruments including the didgeridoo.

The second performance was Loudon Wainwright III.  I was looking forward to a musician  whose sound was something between Country and Folk music.  It turned out that was not the performance he was doing for us.  Basically, we heard a comedian who did some of his own songs and recited stories his father had written (the latter was an accomplished writer who was on the staff of Life Magazine).  Unfortunately, I did not find him very funny.  My wife, however, loved the stories, which, I must admit, were often touching, particularly coming from the son of the author.  By the way, the audience obviously knew what to expect and just loved him.  He is, as I thought, extremely well known.  He has made 26 albums and his songs have been sung by the likes of Johnny Cash and Bonnie Raitt.  Here in a PR photograph ...

Photo by Ross Halfinn

That might explain my confusion.  At the age of 70 plus he may feel more comfortable not doing a great many songs.  We heard Joan Baez, some months ago, tell the audience that she would not do her songs with the high notes anymore and I remember a point at which Pete Seeger spoke more that sang his songs.  Below is an example of a song without the humor.

I first titled this piece, “That's What Makes Horse Racing” and decided that was too misleading a title.   My wife could well write a rebuttal to my opinion since she felt almost 100% the reverse.  When our son Hunter was still at home he would usually referee these discussions and try to explain it to us by saying things like “For the actor, it's a question of choices”.  Today he is an actor, writer and director.   As I said, that’s what makes Horse Racing” and can add to the enjoyment of art.  Having differences of opinion gets your mind working and can be quite rewarding.

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