Sunday, September 20, 2009

This is Halloween, everybody make a scene!

On my way to work this morning, I discovered that they're putting a Halloween store in the building that used to house Pier 1 Imports. I had two reactions. My first was, "Yes! Now I don't have to go downtown to find accessories for my Joan Holloway costume!" My second was, "Right. Because Halloween costumes are way more important and useful than moderately-priced furniture."

Another switch took place in my own life this week (yes, you're just going to have to store away that story about the Halloween store--I'll come back to that). I'm planning on doing my senior recital on November 7th, and as such, I have to do a permission on October 5. In two weeks. Yikes! I decided, in the interest of time and my own fragile sanity, that it would be best to swap my set of waltzes by Chaminade, an impressively obscure French woman composer whose music was criticized for being too old-fashioned, for a set of Faure songs that I've been singing just for fun for years. Why not? Easier on me, and who doesn't like to hear songs they already know and love?

But one of my initial concerns was that a set of Faure would seem like the easy way out. What kind of impression would singing all of these old chestnuts put across? Wouldn't grad schools look at my recital program and say, "Wow, she isn't very creative, is she?"

Well, maybe. But I think it's also important to know all of the Greatest Hits. The French repertoire on my junior recital was cabaret songs by Kurt Weill, and I also sang Bernstein's Peter Pan songs. This year it's Faure and Barber, by way of filling out my familiarity with the standards as well as more obscure repertoire.

Not only that, but wouldn't we all rather hear a really well-sung "Ici-bas" than an obscure piece that sounds hard and stressful for the singer? I'm pretty sure the answer is yes. These songs feel like an indulgence to me, a nostalgic look back at all of our first forays into art song (see my earlier post about my Oberlin experience).

And that's why the Halloween store is a good thing. A silly thing, but a good thing. I'd be willing to bet that that Halloween store will do more business than Pier 1. College students are big Halloween people. Celebrating Halloween in college is like clutching at the last straws of childhood before we have to face the adult world. When I looked into the store this morning and saw the rows of wigs and costumes in plastic hanger bags, I had a little frisson of excitement and actually exclaimed aloud--"Ooooh!" Which is also the reaction I have when somebody sings one of my favorite songs on a recital. No matter how many times I've heard those old songs, a new rendition is always exciting and fun. It makes me think back to the first time I heard the song, the memories I associate with it.

Looking into the window of the Halloween store makes me think of all those times my mom wouldn't let us think about Halloween until after my brother's birthday on October 8th. I thought back on all of those costumes I wore--the bag of jellybeans, the Pillsbury Dough Boy ("Who're you calling chunky?"), the mime, Serena the Sorceress, the angel/purple-haired fairy.

But actually, singing familiar repertoire for the nostalgic and crowd-pleasing effect of it is more like buying furniture than shopping for Halloween (even if it resembles the latter in sheer happiness). Unlike a Halloween costume that we wear for one day and then never again, art songs can be forever. Even if I learned "En priere" for college auditions, there's no reason I can't sing it on my senior recital. I used "Vedrai carino" to audition for undergrad as well, but obviously somebody earns a living singing the role of Zerlina (and it will probably be me in the future). We can learn music at seventeen and sing it again at thirty. Once we've performed them, they're always in our repertoire, available to be dusted off and polished up should the need arise. Learning music is a free investment in our futures--just like buying furniture now means that there will be that much less furniture to buy when we move into our next apartments. The couch in my current apartment, which I purchased at nineteen from Pier 1, as a matter of a fact, will probably be with me until it falls apart.

There will be plenty of time later on to sing the complicated repertoire, the hard stuff that looks really impressive. But for now I'm happy to sing Faure's greatest hits and eat Halloween candy.

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