Thursday, January 20, 2011
At the End of the Rainbow
One of the functions of this blog is, as I now realize, to chronicle the downwardly-mobile memoirs of a sort of anti-diva, which strikes me somewhat funny since Soprannie and I, back in the days of our high ambition, used to assuage each other's latest heartbreak or botched audition by telling one another it would all go into the diva memoirs. Now that I've moved far away from the capital of that ambition (which is also the capital of everything else), I feel like my own ambition needs to sink low rather than soar high, as if I, ant-like, should dig tunnels underground and put whatever it is that I have to offer as an artist in there, in the dark, and hope something good will come out of it. As Dar Williams says in the excellent song "What Do You Love More Than Love" (which, sadly, I couldn't Youtube for you):
I love the way the world is your garden
You plant your seeds and you let 'em grow
And you dig things out of the ground just like
You take what comes but you never know
You never do know, do you? You recall having planted a rose way back thousands of days and nights ago, before the snows came; but when winter thaws, you see that what you have is a cabbage, which, while not nearly as lovely as a rose, is infinitely more useful.
So, in spite of the fact that at a certain point in my life the idea of the glittering career that I had longed and striven for began to repel me, I kept singing. What else was there to do? I threw myself hard into scholarship and research, digging out, from the rich ground of library archives, dozens upon dozens of wonderful pieces that hadn't been heard in a hundred years or more, and making them the basis of my post-operatic performing career.
This career, such as it is, has brought unexptected, even bizarre, good into my life. There was, for instance, the strange reconciliation with the old flame I'd regretted treating shabbily as an undergrad. And now, there is The Autoharp.
I was all excited to go to my son's pre-school classroom last month with a program I'd worked up of Christmas music. I had all the accouterments in a big plastic see-through box: rhythm sticks, jingle bells, a length of white chiffon fabric that I'd fashioned into dozens of little individual scarves to stand in for snow. I had songs both sacred and secular for my young audience's delectation and participation. And I had my axe, i.e., my nylon-string acoustic guitar, on which I'd laboriously taught myself to play a chord progression in A major. I used the guitar on one song only, "I Saw Three Ships." And I played that chord progression badly. Luckily it wasn't a tough crowd.
I noted the experience on Facebook. My old voice teacher from my master's degree program, A.B., who has been perhaps the single most important teacher I've ever had, suggested that I needed an autoharp. The truth was, I confessed, I'd been coveting one for a long time. The autoharp is like a guitar, but for dreamy girls with long hair who don't have time to teach themselves a variety of chord progressions on the axe they really want to play, which is, of course, the nylon-string acoustic (and they really want to finger-pick it like Joan Baez or Mimi Fariña, but that will have to wait for another lifetime). In fact, I almost bought a used autoharp at a garage sale last summer, but at $175, I didn't think I could justify it.
So A.B. and his wife decided to make me a present of an autoharp.
It came in the mail yesterday. It is the Oscar Schmidt Ozark model. It is the most excellent thing ever in the history of the world.
This is what I aspire to (with all due respect to the comic geniuses Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara, from the great movie A Mighty Wind):