Monday, October 1, 2012

Willkommen, Bienvenue...

I've found myself drawn into the orbit of New York City's enterprising operamission several times before, first when I helped tweet the opening evening of "Così fan tutte: Some Assembly Required" back in the summer of 2010, and one year later when I was inspired to create this kooky Schoenberg/Stravinsky mashup. For 2012, the debut of a new "cabaret song" competition seemed but a curiosity to me at first - until the fateful moment when I thought about writing some cabaret lyrics.

I suppose it's as simple as that: I'd never thought about writing cabaret lyrics, so I'd never done it, but once the thought popped up, I couldn't see a way out. To be precise, the overly clever idea that first trapped me had to do with the word "cabaret" itself. I've enjoyed creating "mad gabs" for some time, as I wrote in this 2008 post. (My own favorite do-it-yourself madgab creation is "Dew Witch Horse Elf.") It's a natural extension of a general interest in wordplay - seeing how one set of sounds can sound much like an otherwise unrelated set of sounds. Like, I inadvertently thought to myself: "cabaret" and "cap hooray." And, thus, a song was born:

I drowned myself in Cabernet,
then went to hail a cab away,
but though I waved my cap-beret
I could not tempt the cab array. 
The subway riders gab their way
through sunken post-nightcap soiree;
when exiting, "mind the gap," they say,
but without you, I can't bear the day. 
So all I do is mind the gap and pray
and hope and wish that you'll come back to stay
until you do I'll live my way without a sky or sober day,
you've left me nothing but the night – and cabaret. 
Verse 2: yes, my vocab's OK,
inspired by bottlecaps astray.
The critic tips his cap, "Hooray,"
when I lament in cabaret. 
You came along and captiva-
ted all of me; a captive may
be freed and yet still capsized stay;
I might as well recap this way: 
Perhaps I got too caught up in this attempt to sound out something close to "cabaret" as many times as possible. Perhaps I should've written "chic beret" instead of the awkwardly constructed "cap-beret." Perhaps we should all be grateful I didn't go full-meta and try to shoehorn "mad gab array" into these verses. Actually, I'm more bothered by the mundane refrain, but it's growing on me. I enjoy the transition from "mind the gap" as cautionary subway message to cautionary metaphor for lost love. At least, I think that's what this is about.

What will become of these lyrics? Well, I might just try to set them myself, although interested composers are welcome to inquire about a collaboration. Just as composers sometimes work with a "dummy lyric" to compose a tune, I'll admit that I used Britten's "Tell Me the Truth About Love" as a "dummy tune" for the verses, and imagine them to be similarly talk-y, with a more lyrical refrain. Various quasi-tunes have wandered teasingly through my mind. We'll see if I can catch one.

Meanwhile, I happened to notice not long after finishing the above that the contest specifies "for solo voice and piano (or voice and harpsichord)." Since we've been talking quite a bit about Historically Informed Performance Practice (HIPP) in my Music History class, I quickly found myself pulled down the following rabbit hole. What it lacks in the former's geeky phonetic wordplay it makes up for in geeky references to obscure musicological concerns. But I like it. Seems it should be written for harpsichord accompaniment, with a dramatic modulation down a half-step for the first transition to the refrain. (Often, Baroque performance practice calls for A to be tuned to 415Hz instead of the standard 440Hz, which results in music pitched about one half-step lower than usual.)

I used to vibrate night and day
and tighten up my bow
to make it easier to play
with steely strings in tow. 
I loved a chorus hundreds strong
for Bach’s and Handel’s scene,
until one day you came along
and tuned to Four..Fif..Teen… 
HIPP-HIPP Hooray for Historically Informed Performance,
It's not too late to be an early-music gal.
My playing's up to date, whether 1698
or a 19th century musical locale.
I've learned the ways of the days that came before us,
from tired traditions I have been set free.
What once was old is new, and now I'm telling you
the past is where the future lies with me.  
I sold my Steinway late last year
cause I prefer to drive
a double-manual clavier:
It makes me feel alive! 
I improvise and ornament
and realize figured bass,
and realize I’ve been heaven-sent
back to that time and place. 
I can't count the countertenors
I've had over to my place.
I can't deal with all those sinners
who think wobbling equals grace. 
Don't believe that propaganda
the Romantics left behind.
A theorbo or da gamba
is romantic in my mind. 
Notes inégales are just my style
My rhythms fairly dance
I would’ve been so versatile
In 17th century France. 
We’ve tuned our hearts authentically
to temperaments just and mean;
and now I know that every key
sounds best at 415.

No comments: