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Party/Willard White

9 January 2006

Ah, parties. Remind me again, just why it is that we do them? Twenty-four hours ago my house was very full of other people, almost all my favourite people in the neighbourhood, and I got to talk properly with almost none of them. I suppose the good-hostly thing is to provide them the opportunity to talk to each other, which they did seem to do. And they ate almost everything I'd cooked, which was gratifying; and now my house is exceedingly full of empty bottles, which is also gratifying, as I am not one of those modern creatures who believe that you can have just as much fun without getting pissed out of your tiny little mind.

Still, food is more important, if only because it has to be made first; drink arrives in bottles, food comes as ingredients and must be transmogrified. My faves were a pork pie - my third, and they do get better every time, though this one kind of fell apart in the cutting - and a torta di purra (one for the vegetarians, except that the carnivores ate most of it before their feebler brethren could arrive: leeks and rice and cheese, largely, in a filo pastry coat). Last year was officially Year of the Pastry, and it seems to have worked, at least to the point where I have confidence enough to risk it.

So that was yesterday, lots of cooking (I actually made the pork pie at 2am) and cleaning and then playing hostly; and today was appropriately quiet, but also utterly fabulous. I made vague gestures towards tidying up (I counted the bottles; you don't want to know), and then watched a TV biography of C S Lewis before I trotted down into town and over the river to the Sage, our beautiful new music venue. Where I met mífriend Gail and shared my final birthday treat, a concert given by Willard White with Carl Davis conducting. Someone (someone else, alas) said that listening to Willard was like bathing in chocolate, and itís exact - all that deep, dark richness, and the sense of utter indulgence and wellbeing both at once. His voice turns me to jelly when heís only talking; when he sings... Well. Go figure.

This was a playful concert, all his root material: Jamaican folk songs and spirituals, Broadway hits and tuxedo cocktail songs. I should've disapproved, because I have always asserted that opera voices do not work in the lighter register of popular music, it's all about over-egging the pudding; but there's something about Willard that overrides the rule. Gail says that the transposition works better anyway in the lower ranges of the human voice, that basses can walk where sopranos (soprani?) should fear to tread; this is true, but I think also that he is genuinely connected with this material, he's not just slumming or showing off. He's singing it because it matters to him, not because he thinks he matters to it. My favourite - or least-favourite - example of the converse, there's a late Bernstein recording of West Side Story where heís got te Kanawa and Carreras and such, all operatic voices and it is so utterly wrong, it's unbearable. They may be brilliant with the music, but they lose the narrative utterly, it makes no sense. That never happens with Willard, he inhabits the heart of the song, which is words and music both; and so it was a wonderful, wonderful gig. And I came home wishing I could sing, which is kind of like wishing I was a foot taller and drop-dead gorgeous - but then, I do that too.


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© Chaz Brenchley 2006
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.