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A Tribute To Our Poets April 15, 2008

Posted by Peter Hornby in chorale.
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Last Sunday, my choir, the Saddleback Master Chorale, performed a concert with the title of “A Tribute to Our Poets”.  The program was an interesting collection of settings of poems, from John Rutter’s beautiful setting of Shakespeare’s “Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind”, from “As You Like It”, to Randall Thompson’s lovely treatment of Robert Frost’s “Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening” and “The Road Not Taken”, from “Frostiana”.  There’s a story about another “Robert Frost” piece we – kind of – did, and I’ll get to that in the next post.

First, though, I wanted to describe an experience I had in the concert.  We’d decided to interleave the songs with some readings, and I volunteered to start the program with the opening lines of “Twelfth Night”. You know the speech – Duke Orsino and “If music be the food of love, play on…”.  Well, it’s only fifteen lines, so I decided to learn the speech and attempt to actually convey my sense of what was going on in Orsino’s head when he spoke it.  I spent a good deal of time committing the words to memory, and trying to get a sense of the intent of the speech.  I practiced and practiced in the privacy of my shower, and it started to sound pretty good, at least to my own ears.  I thought I was communicating what I saw as a kind of sardonic bitterness in the first few lines, followed by a dreamy reaction to the music (“O it came o’er my ear..”), followed by a reversion into his bitter depression with “O spirit of love…”.

So, what happpened when I got to the stage?  Well, the microphone didn’t help.  I didn’t want it, but was overruled by our Music Director.  That’s not the point, though.  The majority of my homework went out of the window as I just wanted to make sure that I remembered the words.  I don’t think I got across a quarter of what I meant to.

And the point of all this?  This was fifteen lines of poetry. FIFTEEN LINES!  I have always respected the actor’s craft, but never quite as much as I did after finishing my thirty second performance on Sunday, and realising just how much I had failed to get across to my audience.  The Shakespearean actor is a breed apart.

 

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