I went to see the Davidson College Symphony Orchestra perform Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5. The program started out with an overture from an opera called Die Loreley, which recalls a story about a siren who sings songs that incite people to drown themselves. This piece was really spectacular; the cellos led with long, flowing tones, in crescendos and decrescendos that sounded like waves crashing against rocks. The violins and violas worked together to create a wide, broad sound so as to resemble the dark vastness of the sea. I wondered as the piece unfurled in front of me if these low notes sang of the lonely siren who wanted others to join in her suffering, or if they cried for the victims drowning for an unknown cause. Then came Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony in E minor. The conductor told us before the start of the piece that there is a common musical phrase throughout all four movements that resembles a heart beating. She also told us that Tchaikovsky composed this piece to be like a narrative, for a story that is told by the listener. I thought this was an interesting piece to follow the overture, as this phrase could be like a resurrection of the people that the siren drowned. The horn led this symphony, playing its melody clearly over the busy violins and cellos that seemed to echo each other with their musical phrases. Like the overture, this symphony operated through a lot of contrast; there were many times where a movement would increase, getting louder and louder until suddenly it returned to piano volume. Other times, the piece would stop suddenly, and restart with a more urgent vigor. This piece enthralled me, captivating me with the stark contrasts and unhinged melody that wandered everywhere. Tchaikovsky’s use of the unknown in this piece was not used as a means to control the listener, but rather to encourage an active imagination, all while using a common theme to string all the movements together. It was a beautiful experience to hear a consistency within chaos, especially in this first semester of college where we freshman scramble to find a sense of normalcy in the confusion and upheaval of transition.
“OTHER VOICES: ROMARE BEARDEN AND BEING HUMAN”
On February 11, 2020, I went to Professor Shaw Smith’s lecture on Romare Bearden, an artist whose artwork focuses on collages evoking memorialized sounds. By joining together small fragments of different art mediums, Bearden reflects the human act of putting together small fragments of memory, such as a specific taste, sound, or smell, into one “coherent” memory. Through these paintings, such as the image of a jazz singer and a jazz band above, Bearden instills a kind of rite of passage for those with these memories, which especially point to the African-American experience in the South. I thought this lecture was particularly interesting, especially the fact that this visual imagery provokes the other senses like sound or smell. This idea ties really well with my research paper on Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”; experiencing art is all encapsulating, and requires the senses to work together to create an experience that the audience easily identifies with or rejects. Through his collections that are inspired by Western European art and music, especially blues and jazz, Bearden creates memories like the whistling trains of Dixie in his visuals. He defines one human experience and validates it through the use of every sense in his art, similar to the way that Billie Holiday uses “Strange Fruit” and its vivid imagery to validate the experience of African-Americans and the graphic horrors they experienced through lynching and white supremacy.