“Jewels of Music” is a new series appearing on Mittwoch Matinee. All performances are conducted by Susan Lees. Lees is a musician who has spent her career as a bilingual special educator, serving children with disabilities and their families. She uses storytelling and music to encourage friendship among special education students, their peers, and regular education teachers. You can reach her at “Contact” on the navigation bar above.
by Susan Lees
Recently, I spent time looking over the sketch book and art projects of a young friend for whom art has been a way of life and hoped-for professional vocation. My friend’s words summarizing her work come to mind often. “I’m trying to find my voice,” she said. I’ve heard these words uttered by developing artists, composers, and writers. Yet, it seemed curious to me that in all the years of preparation and practice to become a classical musician, “finding my voice” had not been a part of my own conscious journey.
“Finding your voice” is about discovering your unique way of expressing or responding to the world. Raising a child, educating students, offering hospitality of food and drink, writing a letter, or even packing one’s bag for a trip can reveal one’s voice. As can the “professional” pursuits of being an administrator, entrepreneur, or phlebotomist.
I began to question my voice at a time in life different from my friend’s. In my expression of and response to the world, I asked: What did my palette contain? How was this palette created and how has it developed? The hints toward the development of a voice can be revealed in a fleeting but powerful memory of the past as well as in the stunning, luminous experiences of a present–in a possibility undreamed.
In my late twenties, I performed a solo piano recital for a fundraiser for a small, Unity Church community that was hoping to build a sanctuary. Up until that time, I would experience such anxiety during recitals that a successful performance meant I had not developed a migraine, thrown up, forgotten the memorized music, or made obvious mistakes.
In this recital, however, as soon as I began to play, it was as if the audience and I were creating a dialogue together of a live musical journey, bringing the music to breath and life. Afterward, we knew that we had experienced the presence of music living and the purpose of music making. When we participated in such dialogue, shared mystery enveloped, enlivened, and nourished us as the barrier between musician and audience disappeared.
One of my favorite “jewels” is Romanian Folk Dances (1915) by composer Bela Bartok. Bartok was born in Romania on March 25, 1881 and died in New York City on September 26, 1945. He was a pianist, composer, and ethnologist.
Bartok said that he discovered his voice in the folk music of the rural villages of Hungary and Romania. He spoke of a breakthrough in his early twenties when he heard a peasant woman singing a Hungarian folk tune. From that time on, Bartok traveled throughout Hungary and Romania, recording the village folk tunes on an Edison phonograph and asking villagers to sing their melodies as he notated them in his notebook.
Considered one of the most important composers of the twentieth century, Bartok wove folk melodies in compositions for piano, orchestra, string quartet, and voice. Come join me now in his Romanian Folk Dances!
Image credits: feature and two dancers by Theodor Vasile on Unsplash. Want more? Go to Robert Brancatelli. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance, which promotes “alternatives to software, culture, and hardware monopolies.”