Some of you may be familiar with Anna Russell’s summary of Wagner’s Ring Cycle. If not, watch these:

Pretty funny, eh? The part that I want you to remember is what Anna says about the Prelude to Das Rheingold, where “the orchestra plays the E-flat major triad for six minutes.”

Last night my daughter’s junior choir (4th-6th grade) sang with the Symphony youth choir (7th-12th grade) on a concert featuring Adiemus by Keith Jenkins. We sat next to a friend of mine from our chaperoning of the junior choir’s tour to Chicago, who was working on a to-do list.

Adiemus (I’m not sure which one, as apparently there are several, god forbid) is 40 minutes of nonsense words sung over three or four melodic ideas. The entire piece is ninety percent sequential, and basically consisted of one fundamental harmonic progression repeated over and over and over and over. For forty minutes (in case you missed it when I said that the first time). The youth chorus sang for about seven of them, all told. Sometimes they got to sit down, but much of the time they stood there, waiting to sing nineteen repetitions of a melisma that sounded like it came right out of Lion King. They hit every entrance. This required a lot of patience and fortitude on their part, especially considering that the average age is eleven.

Both choirs did a beautiful job. The entire performance was from memory, and, seeing as how it was all basically the same thing, but not exactly, this would be incredibly difficult. They are very accomplished, and do all the right things.

Despite this, and at the mercy of extreme, frustrating boredom, somewhere around :35, I leaned over and whispered to my husband, “they’re playing this in hell.” We laughed quietly for a second, and then returned to our postures of attentive listening. Then he nudged me, and asked me if I had a pen. I dug one out of my purse and handed it to him. On the program he wrote “Your friend stopped working on her to-do list when she realized that she had written ‘kill myself.'” I am deeply and profoundly ashamed of my reaction, which included at least ten minutes of me coughing quietly to mask the urge to chortle. The ten-year-old girl in front of us watched us behave badly. Actually, the two year olds in the audience behaved better than we did. (We particularly enjoyed the toddler gabbering, as if on cue, during every affected pause during the Arvo Pärt piece, “Psalom for strings and toddler.”) I was trying so hard not to laugh I had tears streaming down my face. Much as I love the man, it’s probably a good idea if we don’t sit together at concerts any more.  Or at the very least, I shouldn’t hand him a pen.

Does minimalist music work better if you have something else to do? Maybe running loud machinery — jack hammers, electric sanders, lawn mowers?

(This event also brought back memories for both of us of times spent trying very valiantly not to laugh; usually in church. I recalled once when my brother and I had gone with my dad, and got giggling about something I’m sure neither of us can remember. Dad stood stoically, glaring at us from beneath his bushy eyebrows while we wrestled metaphorically for self control. Moments after we had climbed into the back seat of the car he reached back, quietly, and knocked our heads together. And here we thought we had gotten away with something. I was also reminded of one long trip up north to our second farm, when the same brother and I spent most of the drive “singing,” at the top of our lungs, along with Dad’s Kenny Rogers 8-track. You Picked a Fine Time to Leave Me Lucille stands out particularly well. My husband, on the other hand, claims that he was always a perfect angel, and any infractions were the fault of his younger brother, Greg. Right.)

5 Responses to “miscreants”

  1. May 2, 2011 at 5:46 pm

    My God, what happened to responsible programming? When I was in school we sang things the audience might actually LIKE. Who would choose such a piece for an audience mainly attending because their children are in the choir? Unbelievable. I won’t apologize for not liking minimalist music. It’s not what I listen to music for. I want MELODY, and harmony, and movement, and hopefully something that hooks into a deep emotion and makes me FEEL. :40 of what you described? Vomit. Unless I had a kid in the choir, I’d have been out of there.

    The children sound as they they were very disciplined, accomplished musicians. Imagine memorizing something like that? Bravo to them. What torture.

    As to laughing, I’ve done it myself. Once I was at an opera, a half staged, half concert style (it was opera scenes — a workshop — I remember now). I was sitting with two friends in the back (we’d gotten there late) of a church (lots of ability to pick up sound — everywhere) and the woman in this scene had on a wine-colored negligee – it was her ‘costume’, and at some point she crouched down on the ground and looked as though she was giving birth! My friend and I started giggling and couldn’t stop! Unfortunately the reverb in the church picked up our laughing. I laughed so hard I was doubled over with tears streaming down my face, and couldn’t move! My friend got up and, laughing, managed to walk out the back. Finally I made it out, too. We had to go outside to stop laughing. Our other friend was so pissed off at us, but honestly, it looked so silly onstage. We knew everyone in the group of performers, too, so we hoped no one identified us as the hysterical laughers.

    My dad used to get me laughing in church! He’d do some silly, subtle thing and I’d be laughing and my mother would give us the evil eye. Eventually she sat between us so my father wouldn’t make me laugh!

  2. May 2, 2011 at 6:05 pm

    I’d forgotten how funny Anna Russell was. It’s been years since I’d seen this. The amazing thing is, she actually makes sense of the Ring Cycle! It’s the only way I could ever remember the story. Thanks for posting it. Everyone should watch this at least once, it’s extremely witty.

  3. 3 Dorothy
    May 5, 2011 at 8:45 pm

    Ask your husband about the Tazmanian devil.

    • 4 guardo
      May 5, 2011 at 9:07 pm


  4. 5 Boston Margy
    May 5, 2011 at 8:48 pm

    Anna Russell! OMG, I haven’t heard her stuff in years. Thanks!

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