In God’s Eyes, by Abbie Conant
In God’s eyes
I see my body
Running wild into the sea
In God’s eyes
I see a river
Sparkling dark over the rocks
In God’s eyes
I see a spring
Erupting sweet from red earth
In God’s arms sleep our mothers
And in their arms we sleep
Come young soul and drink from the spring
Come old friend and swim in the stream
Dance my feet and twirl into smoke,
Whirl my body back to the sea, the sea.
A genius has a knack for seeing the future, when others seem so deeply rooted in the past. Of seeing so far beyond the box, that the box never was. With integrity & heart, grit and wisdom, the implacable Abbey Conant advances. Beyond the horizons of New Mexico, and deeper than the Black Forest, she has sought expression, beauty and relevance. “1385” tm invites you to come along as she re-invents the trombone….enjoy!
1. If you HAD to choose…which would you live without, words or music?
Definitely words, though I love them too.
2. As an instrumentalist turned vocalist, what insights have the differing approaches to breath wrought?
AC Hmmm…There is wholeness to singing in that the whole body must participate. The sound is produced within the body and resonates from there. The empty spaces in the body create the resonance and every cell vibrates with the vocal chords. When we sing, billions of activities must coordinate and cooperate. The sound image in one’s mind makes the direct, instantaneous journey into material existence.
When we sing what we will then play, the integration that is necessary for making a whole, complete musical idea real has already been achieved. When we then play the same passage, so many subtle aspects of the music are improved, sometimes in indescribable ways. There is a richness added. The basics are all there, sound, style, phrasing, aliveness, connection, etc.
Many say, if you can sing it, you can play it. I guess I would say, if you can sing it, you can sing it. Why wouldn’t we want to sing with our instrument? To have that intimate, heart-connection with our listeners? To be moved and to move others just as singers do?
3. The instrumentalist then singer is a special category, Chet Baker, Nat King Cole, Sarah Vaughan. Have you found inspiration or interest with any colleagues in the club, either historic or living?
Well, the artists you just named all blow me away with their deep connection to their instruments. Louis Armstrong constantly demonstrated that trumpet and voice were just different timbres. Our instruments, our voices are crucibles that can turn our pain and sorrow into music. I hear many players who turn narcissism into music and it sounds like look what I can do instead of hey, listen to this beautiful melody, isn’t it miraculous?
In Winter Dog Time, by Abbie Conant
Though it is below zero I must walk.
This third day of the new year fell on Taos like Dorothy’s house. Whether it killed the wicked witch of 2010 remains to be discovered.
Paralytic, All numb except wild eyes set in a tar baby wired to a post.
Only January feels this way:
Aware but motionless.
A month of chrysalis and ice crystals.
Looking into the Snow Queen’s deep north blue eyes and dying there: a glass body splayed on dry powder snowy expanse.
Horizonless and dark as the pole star is bright.
The old black dog lies motionless in a pile of brown leaves.
I have seen him there many times before. Belly on the earth, his only chance to heal. Part spaniel, part shepard,
part shag rug. He becomes part of the pile of leaves, part of the snow patches, as silent as the line of trees that border his sagging house.
How many times have I thought, he is dead. Poor thing. And then the next day he is back, faintly breathing, passionate in his stillness, agog in sleep as if sleeping for the wintering earth herself.
I walk carefully so as not to slip on the ice. The small, tidy houses of Montoya Street look hermetically sealed, still as frozen toys, dreaming of spring antics and colored socks.
My winter dog lies as a frigid vision over the town which sleeps without knowing it, awakens into further dreaming.
Step after carefully prepared step I precede further into the stilled world of the dreaming dog.
I know that by the time I reach Kit Carson Road I will be in full immersion—in winter dog time. Knowing without knowing, I know. My ears loping toward every faint sound, my nose inhaling the palette of the bluish peach morning, stiff-legged, uncollared, prevailing toward someone perhaps calling my name as the cold settles further into the earth and the morning seems to stop time itself.
The heap of dog has not moved. Somehow I know he still breathes. I see the mountain now, indigo, watching, the only being awake in this season.
4. Can you discuss the development of your “out-of-the-box” approach to soloing-almost a new genre, “micro-opera”, with sets, plot and electronic accompaniment to your singing, acting and trombone playing?
It all started when my composer/husband, William Osborne, couldn’t find a soprano willing to sing one of his music theater pieces, called Winnie, a character portrait from Samuel Beckett’s play, Happy Days. He was originally going to have me play the trombone solos dressed as Winnie’s husband, Willie and a soprano would sing Winnie.
He said, ok you have a year to learn how to sing and work up this piece. Now, I hardly had a speaking voice, let alone a singing voice! But serendipity brought me to a wonderful voice teacher I met in the dorm at a music festival in Switzerland. It turned out she also lived in Munich and she offered to take up the challenge.
It took weeks before I could stop making an embouchure when I sang!
I had to learn to back off a lot in in terms of support so as not to force my voice and wreck my vocal chords. She was patient but relentless and taught me classic bel canto technique. She told me I was a dramatic soprano and that if I worked hard I could be an opera singer. My goal was specific and she brought me to the point where I could sing this difficult 45-minute-long piece and play the tricky trombone part as well, not to mention acting Beckett…a year later we premiered Winnie in Rome.
I should mention that I could not have done this without the Alexander Technique. It helps a person learn new things. One is then able to transcend preconceptions and assumptions about how to do something and truly open to the new. It allows you to be a clean slate. After Winne,came The Miriam Trilogy, a 90-minute program without pause that included: pantomime, having clamps come down on my wrists, and baring a breast for 25min…among many other things.
After Miriam came Street Scene for the Last Mad Soprano—about a homeless woman who thinks she has an audition for the Met. Then came Cybeline, an odd combination of Schubert, Electronics and cartoons. Cybeline is a cyborg who tires to prove to the scientists that she is human by being a talk show host. Wacky.
Aletheia is the new one we just premiered at the ITF 2017. She is in a cage the whole piece. She is an opera singer who doesn’t want to sing for the patrons and who searches for transcendence thought truly being herself and living her truth.
5. What is your voice type?
I started out as a soprano and I guess I am a mezzo now.
6. And are you concerned about the unique requirements of producing the music for its longevity, or does that motivate you to record, or seek proteges?
Unique it is! I believe that this kind of performance art is the future. Just playing the trombone seems so “one-dimentional” to me now.
I would love to coach students on these works!
It takes tremendous courage (or insanity) to undertake this kind of work. One has to play the trombone, sing, act and move—all at world class levels. No single aspect can be halfway.
William and I are busy making video documentation of our various pieces. Right now we are working on The Mirror which is all pantomime, mask-work and trombone playing. We want musicians of the future to be able to do these works. Every gesture I make is notated in each score. The scores are not just musical scores but also stage directions as well. It is all spelled out.
c. 2017 David William Brubeck All Rights Reserved. www.davidbrubeck.com
images courtesy of http://www.osborne-conant.org