Lìjiāng Studio weeks 19 & 20 – Nà Mǎ 纳 玛

29th June – 12th July (Written 26th August)

After I returned from Hong Kong, I had 8 or 9 days until our big concert. Just after I left for Hong Kong, Crystal Pascucci, a cellist and composer, had arrived from America, and then Jen Torrence, a percussionist, and Lizzie Peacocke, a public health worker, both from, well, Norway, via a lot of other places.

Crystal’s website: http://www.crystalpascucci.com/

Jen’s website: http://www.jennifertorrence.com/

And somehow I think I didn’t mention Michelle/ the weaver, who arrived shortly after Frog: http://www.ozzoombro.com/

I was so happy to come back – be back home; be away from the big stinky challenging city; see my family again; spend time with some lovely people and get to know them better; and perform some of my work in the place it was written.

Lesser Heat Festival poster, by Frog Wing.

Lesser Heat Festival poster, by Frog Wing.

I didn’t count on all of the time the others had all had together influencing my time with them so much, but it really did. Conversations were often continuations of events or earlier ideas that I wasn’t there for, and people had all fallen into the habits and the knowings of each other that happens when you live together. In a way, even though of course I was welcomed, I felt I’d disrupted the rhythms that they’d developed together and they never really got regained in a group sense. I actually feel (still, 2 months later) that I really missed out on something possibly more important than the Hong Kong Academy, not being here for the whole time that the others were. It was a risk I took because the opportunity to participate in the Academy seemed so great, and I’d never done anything like that before, and I was interested in the tutors. But I’d been looking towards this period and writing music for this group of people back at the Studio almost since I arrived in February, and I really think I did myself a disservice by missing out on much of that time.

Michelle/LìLì's homemade loom, with 2 works-in-progress.

Michelle/Lili’s homemade loom, with 2 works-in-progress.

Some things about the week building up to the concert were lovely. But other things were stressful. I didn’t quite leave myself enough time to learn the hardest part I’d made for myself, Crystal Ruth Bell’s piece. And then in putting the time I had into learning that piece, I didn’t do other important things like properly transcribe the part for dí zi (Chinese transverse flute with a membrane) into the right key for the dí zi I own for the Rhododendron piece. There were some disagreements about the venue. Rehearsals were challenging for me because I wanted to make a timetable for the week so that I could manage my time better, but no-one else wanted to. So we didn’t, and I didn’t manage my time well. Miranda wasn’t feeling great about her playing. The whole week was really just organising, practicing, and rehearsing. So I really didn’t get to spend much hanging out/bouncing concepts off each other/giving and getting feedback along the way time with Crystal, Jen or Lizzie. had retreated into quite an internal and ascetic place, and I was worrying about her. She was producing a lot of work, and fasting, and not sleeping a lot, and had really socially withdrawn too. Frog was trying to get her giant dodecahedron sanded, painted and installed in time, as well as doing a really beautiful flyer for the whole event as well, so she was also under the pump.

The orb is installed! Jen and Lizzie are taking photos. Dudu is along for the ride.

The orb is installed! Jen and Lizzie are taking photos. Dūdū is along for the ride.

But also: we had a walk every afternoon in rehearsal break through the village to buy an iceblock. Lizzie and I went to Fēng Le Market together on our bicycles. Lizzie bought a broom that subsequently faithfully travelled with her through Hong Kong, America and Europe and eventually back to Norway. The feeling of being amongst several lovely and hard-working artistic women was pretty great. I had some insight into how someone else (Crystal) composes, looking, listening to and discussing her score-in-process, which was valuable and not that common an experience for me. We were organised enough to rehearse enough for most pieces to be ready to perform.

Us all! Back L-R: Jay; Lili/Michelle; Lizzie; Jen Front L-R; Frog; Naima; Crystal; Miranda.

Us all!
Back L-R: Jay; LìLì/Michelle; Lizzie; Jen
Front L-R; Frog; Naima; Crystal/JīngJīng; Miranda/Shān Mù.

The pieces of mine we played are:

Crystal Ruth Bell: We Keep Going

flute – me;

tuned glass bottles – Jen Torrence;

cello – Crystal Pascucci; and

double bass – Miranda Hill.

Climate-Driven Change in Himalayan Rhododendron Phenology (sections 1-3 of 6)

pre-recorded sine waves;

dí zi – me;

cello – Crystal Pascucci;

double bass – Miranda Hill;

tuned percussion – Jen Torrence; and

harmonium – Frog Wing.

I felt we played both pieces well, even though we had played both better. But I completely messed up the Climate-Driven Change… piece, and because it seemed easy and I felt a bit embarrassed by it because I wasn’t yet used to how it turned out, I didn’t push enough practice time with it and so we didn’t record it either, which I’m a bit disappointed about.

I also played flute in an improvised version of “Bái Yún de Měi Lì” (“The Beautiful White Clouds”) with Jimmy / Yáng Zé Mín, Crystal and Miranda; harmonium in a movement of Crystal Pascucci’s “Flute Poems”; and metal bowl, pebble and lentils in Jenn Torrence’s “Women’s Work” piece.

One sad thing is that Miranda had rehearsed to play some of the First Impressions Family Portraits that I wrote in March/April. But dinner took longer than we allotted it, and we still had to finish at sundown, so the Portraits got squashed out. Also, Miranda was really taking on an organising and rehearsal-leading role, and so although she also has work that could have been played, she didn’t have the time to introduce and rehearse any of her stuff as well.

Rehearsal time.

Rehearsal time.

Highlights for me:

We were playing Jen’s piece (in which lentils are rolled and swished around in bowls), Ānǎi was sitting next to Miranda, and at first she was really dismayed that the lentils were going out onto the floor and being wasted as food – but then at a certain point she just shrugged and threw the handful she was retrieving off the floor into the air and started laughing. It was the best.

While folks were eating, a bunch of the Jí Xiáng Orchestra members had gotten the tuned bottles from my piece and rearranged them, and were playing Nàxī tunes on them.

Earlier in the day, Miranda and I went for a walk together and collected flowers and sheaves of grasses to put in Jen’s bottles for the piece I wrote for Crystal. It was a really lovely cycle to collect flowers from Lì jiāng Studio and Jí Xiáng Cūn, a place she had loved and had helped Miranda and I get to, as part of playing the piece I wrote for her. She helped me get here, and then I wrote a piece for her here, and we performed it here, with flowers for her from here.

Setting up ‘s work for the festival (she had to leave 2 days beforehand). She had completed a huge number of simple paintings, all in the same format, as well as a number of stunning woven pieces. We laid out all of the paintings on a wooden floor with pebbles holding them down, and it looked really amazing. Throughout the day, people came in and made a same-size painting of their own, left it behind, and took one of hers. So the shape and content of the laid-out paintings slowly changed over the day. I really liked going up to the room every so often to see what had gone and what had arrived.

At the end of Crystal’s piece, she had some troubles orchestrating a part for the harmonium simple enough for Frog and I to play for the final movement (we are not very accomplished!). So she made a last-minute decision to cut the final movement and just follow the penultimate movement with one chord to finish, following her lead for the fade-out. We had never rehearsed it and it was slightly nerve-wracking because I wanted to get it right, but I did, and even though it wasn’t what she’d wanted, I thought it was a beautiful ending to the piece.

Lizzie’s story about street-dental work. It was captivating, and I really loved her photos of teeth and things that reminded her of teeth that accompanied the story, too.

The Dōngbā ritual blessing of the giant dodecahedron/orb. Frog danced a Dōngbā dance inside the orb, at sunset, with a smoky atmosphere from burning green pine needles to purify the area, and it was just magic.

Our teachers from school came; the villagers came; Jay’s family came… there was such a festive joyful feel and I’m so glad we decided to put the festival on, in just the format we did. It really worked.

For a detailed program and more photos of the concert, you can go here: http://www.lijiangstudio.org/lesserheatfestival/

Finally, and perhaps most importantly of all, the day of the concert, it rained. And the villagers said that we musicians called the rain.

And then the next day, Crystal and her partner Mark left; and the day after that Jen and Lizzie left; and a few days after that Frog left to go to Lú Gū Hú (Lúgū Lake; home of the Mósuō matriarchal folk that we’ve been interested in visiting for months, but we couldn’t go because we had things to do); and Jay left to go to some appointments interstate, and it felt like a really fast exodus with no downtime or group debrief. For me, the whole period of time between returning from Hong Kong and doing our festival and the other 3 artists leaving was a bit of a gasp and a run and it’s over before I got another breath. I really do wish I’d gotten to spend the whole month with them.

But I won’t forget that the villagers said we musicians called the rain. To me, that is a huge compliment, and a blessing beyond any blessing I would hope to have.

Qíng Nà Mǎ

晴 纳 玛

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