Saturday, November 12, 2016

I Argue You Thee That Love Is Life

One of the most insightful and wise people I know, as he encouraged me to follow my dreams to make recordings, once told me that rather than thinking of recordings as definitive documents of an interpretation of a piece, I should regard them as snapshots in time.  To think of them as a freeze frame of an artist in a particular moment.  When viewed this way, it alleviates one of the feeling of pressure to make the absolute and to create perfection.  It frees one up to hear a recording as one would look at a picture of oneself from many years past.  We see the beauty and innocence (and sometimes folly) of youth.  We see how we are still the same person, yet evolved and changed.

Sifting through the selection of videos of American songs recorded live at a salon performance presented by San Francisco Performances at the Hotel Rex in January of this year, I find myself looking at all of these songs through a slightly altered lens after the events of this past week.  I had originally planned these programs as part of an expression of patriotism and love of country as we walked through a transition to what we all naively thought would be a giant step forward for us as a nation.  Now, in the wake of the results of this past Tuesday's election, I find myself looking at some of this music with slightly different eyes.

One of these songs that I programmed back in January was an incredibly beautiful setting of a poem by the great American poet Emily Dickinson, written by Jake Heggie - a man whom I consider to be a good friend as well as a deeply heartfelt and thoughtful composer.  When we filmed our performance of this piece earlier this year in San Francisco, I had a much more personal take on this poem, thinking more of a romantic love of one person to another.  After witnessing the anger of the majority that voted for progress as many protest through the streets of America's biggest cities, I wonder if Emily Dickinson's words also resonate on a broader level.  Seeing the numerous accounts of the rising voice of bigotry and xenophobia that has seemingly felt legitimized by Tuesday's election results, I wonder if the love that Dickinson is talking about is perhaps a different, greater kind of love than just the love of one person.  Perhaps she is talking about an unconditional love for all our brothers and sisters?  And perhaps, at the end of the poem, when she says that she will have nothing but suffering if the object of her affections doubts her unconditional love, is she presciently touching on the feeling those of us who voted for progress feel right now?  For it is clear that so many of our brothers and sisters doubted our love for them this past Tuesday, and because of their choices which resulted from that doubt, we now have nothing to show but grief, anxiety and fear.

Whether she meant it that way or not, it is difficult for me not to see it through this new lens after all that has happened this week.  Regardless of her meaning, it is vitally important now, more than ever, that we remember Dickinson's argument that Love is indeed Life.

I will perform the song again live on WFMT on November 21st.  When we perform the piece that night, it may not sound incredibly different from this performance below recorded in January. But inside my heart, my feelings about it are not quite the same.

Jake Heggie
That I did always love
from Newer Every Day

TEXT (Emily Dickinson)

That I did always love,
I bring thee proof:
That till I loved
I never lived enough.

That I shall love alway,
I argue thee
That love is life,
And life hath immortality.

This, dost thou doubt, sweet?
Then have I
Nothing to show
But Calvary.

Nicholas Phan, tenor
Robert Mollicone, piano

recorded LIVE at SF Performances Salons at the Rex, January 28, 2016

Executive Producers: Nicholas Phan, Philip Wilder

Producer / Recording Engineer: Lolly Lewis
Recording assistant: Emma Logan
Mastering / Mixing: Piper Payne, Coast Mastering

Cinematography: Catharine Axley, Kristine Stolakis
Editor: Catharine Axley

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