Posts Tagged ‘Music’

‘The Soprano’, a very short story.

September 30, 2011

She walked slowly to center stage, the hall empty, only the footlights on.  Rehearsing the Strauss, she struggled until it became second nature. Glancing into the dark she raised her eyes to the balcony, tears falling unheeded.

He left, calling her overly dramatic, insecure.  Right he was; the music did unbalance her. She was grasping at straws, her nerves raw. The Strauss tormented, pulled her apart.  All that Schonheit and Tod.


She remembered his lips on her breast bending her backward over the bed, moving into her, arousing a passion only the music matched. Climaxes, lyrically linked together, coached out by the maestro, his tongue a fleshy baton conducting the rhythm.  She missed his strong, elegant hands.

Now he was gone, choosing  this week to leave, wishing her ‘luck’.  Distressed, she floated in doubt.  Backstage a French horn softly played a passage of  this difficult, sublime music.

 Raising her head, she squared her shoulders. Fuck him. She was the Soprano.

She was in control of her life now, center stage.  Double fuck him.


He sat in the dark, eyes glittering like a garden snake, lips pressed tightly together.  He was still the maestro. He was still in control.  He would make her remember.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2009, 2011

More Good News From Dr. RK Singh….

June 9, 2009

Another letter from Dr. Singh this morning and this is not unusual between us.  When we write, we are like birds swooping in the air!  Then long stretches when we don’t write, but we get on with life.  But we think of the others poetry.  Most poets do.

I have more to think  of his than he has of mine.  Dr. Singh has many, many books published and many critical reviews.  The man is a powerhouse of poetry, and I stand in awe of his outlay.  He is a scientist, and his literature must mean his brain is fully functioning.

This morning he gave me permission to use his letters on my blog, which is of the most illuminating and gracious of permissions.  Every letter from Dr. Singh is an education in not only poetry, but humanism.  And of course, encouraging words to  a struggling poet.

Dr. Singh:

What you say about poetry, and especially tanka, is correct. What we read is generally depressing. As far as rhythm is concerned, I have been practicing free verse poetry and therefore free verse rhythm, which is  not free, as most people might think.
I had poet professor friend, LYLE GLAZIER, in Bennington, Vermont. I learnt from him how to edit a poem. Before I published my first collection, MY SILENCE, he edited almost every poem and showed me how he had done it, without damaging my own poetry in the poems. I also understood that if someone cared to count syllables of each line and maintained some kind of uniformity or pattern, he/she can ensure musicality in the structure. Later, it becomes ones habit, as it is in your or my case. You and i can write our haiku or tanka poems without  wasting time in thinking about words with certain number of syllables. These come to us naturally. Sometimes we may need to rewrite the poems for getting the (syllabic) balance (or musicality, as inherent in expression). The form takes care of itself when we are sure about our content. In haiku and tanka, it is what we call the perfect or haiku moment; the haiku or tanka poem happens naturally. By rewriting, however, sometimes we do improve the quality of what we compose. I maintain a variety with free form haiku/tanka and 3-5-3-5-5, 4-6-4-6-6, and 5-7-5-7-7 pattern–whatever naturally happens. Yet, one can make the poem better by editing, revising, rewriting, as and when feasible.
All those bred on English literature, including American lit., have metaphors appearing to them naturally. But the skill lies in creating images, the haiku or tanka becoming an image as a whole. Your poetry appeals to me because you are sensuous; the lines in each poem create a sensuous feeling and image when you are brief and effective. I am yet to achieve that level which happens effortlessly.
I will definitely write on the entries on your blog. You may also use the contents of my emails the way you like. Who knows whatever we do today becomes significant tomorrow?

Oh dear RK!  Although he refuses to allow me to think him a mentor in poetry, but says we are ‘colleagues’,  each email from him is a deeper education into poetry of all forms.  I especially want him to expound on this issue of “not free in freeverse”.  There is something very important in there.

His main blog:

I am so delighted that Dr. Singh will be contributing to the Lady Nyo blog.  This can only improve the issue of poetry and poetry discussion.

Lady Nyo.

A poem of Dr. Singh.

From ” Sexless Solitude and Other Poems”


It’s  all linked but I don’t understand
or don’t want to understand because

I am too much with me and worry
about her dying libido and my

own shrinking sex amidst salsa chill
Bihu fever, Vishu rituals

ringing emptiness day and night shake
the age-wrapped youth for single-edge play

in forked flame carve image of heaven
to challenge the jealous God undo

sins of races flowing in my blood:
I love Him through the bodies He made

but they don’t understand redemption
in churning and parting of the sea

they don’t rejoice in the flames of henna
on her palms nor let the lily bloom

in the valleys use the clefts and cliffs
To deface beauty and spike voices

don’t condemn me if I am not white
The water still flows in my river

RK Singh
Copyrighted, 2009

Violins and Head Wounds, Part II

May 11, 2009

I’ve already heard from some friends asking me where I got this ‘Head Wound’ part.  Well, it’s not entirely original to me.  I did suffer the usual head wounds of childhood, being dropped on my head by my mother, the single knuckle rap on the top  of my head by my father (the full extent of his discipline), the usual galloping beneath low lying limbs on my horse and getting bonked that way, but nothing really serious.  Perhaps that flying hockey puck to the back of the head on Madsen’s pond was the more serious injury of this period.  The bugle event was to the FRONT of the head, so that was special.

However, “Head Wound Hannah” was the sobriquet we gave to a woman we worked with at Emory University.  This was 15 years ago so perhaps she has changed.  We can only hope so.  This poor woman was so ditzy, so ‘childlike’, so…well, plain DENSE, we made up this story  she had suffered a head wound, probably from a riding accident, just to curb our anger at her…..embarrassing us.  We were creative, not kind.

However, there are these little ‘related posts’ that are fun to read after you post a blog entry, and so I did today and one story really moved me.  It was about a young woman who started violin at 4 and realized  around high school  it had eaten up her personality.  She skimped on everything else, including school work and probably social life to attend to this bitch violin.

I laughed  when I read:  “Only practice on those days you eat”.  I remember that one.

This article made me think about our only child.  He didn’t speak much at 3 years, and that is because he was adopted by us just at that age.  He came from a bad situation.  We didn’t know how to be parents, but we tried different things.  The only thing I could think of was food and music.

He was very tiny, only 24 lbs. at 3 years.  So we feed him three breakfasts… upon waking, one on the way to daycare next to the university where I worked, and his breakfast at the daycare.  I got fat, he just grew upward.  He  still didn’t talk much after a few months with us, but one day, snug in the back seat in his carseat, we were listening to music on NPR.

“Oh, Christopher! This is possibly  Mozart”,  I said, trying to interest him.

“Probably Haydn, Mommy.”

I almost wrecked the car.  And he was right.  Soon after I was talking to a child psychologist about our son, and she also was gifted in music.  Apparently children under the age of six…or until that age, have a remarkably keen ability to distinguish tonal patterns in music, and thereby can identify (in some cases) composers and pieces.

That settled it.  We would develop a little musician, and then he would blossom.  Yes, into a little monster until we all wised up.

We started with a tiny Suzuki violin.  Lunch was mommy and son in the conference room doing scales.  He was almost 4 and tiny, with tiny hands.  That Suzuki was an 1/8 of a violin.  He composed the “Dragon Opera” at 4, which was a hideous group of discordant notes and chords.  It was a “DRAGON”.  Of course, we finally got it.

Later he got a 3/4 violin, a couple of them.  We just collected 3/4 violins for some reason.  Not that any of them were better than the last, but we had about 3 hanging around. We could have made planters, but didn’t.

When our son started First Grade, we got a call from the principal.  That was the time period when schools still had music and instruments for children to try out.  There were two cellos and one kid had put his foot through one.  We were informed that our son was crying hysterically, with his arms wrapped around the remaining cello and he refusing to let go.  Luckily I could walk to school, and usually did, and retrieved our son with his big, wet eyes.

We promised him a cello, but it was years before he got one.  He then fell in love with piano….and we bought him a very old and heavy baby grand which still occupies a portion of the front living room.

He had a remarkable ear, and went through two teachers in a year.  One just disappeared (he was a trombone player anyway) and the other, a woman, was excellent.  Christopher couldn’t really read music, but picked up a large part of Mozart’s  “A Little Night Music” by playing it on the cd over and over until he had the pattern down pat.

He was a perfectionist and a grunter.  He would practice scales over and over, and get really fast on this very hard to play piano.  Hard to play because the action was heavy, not light and responsive like a more modern piano.  Our piano was from the 1920’s or so.  But an excellent sound because it was used as a concert instrument in a very small hall.   Dense, walnut and honey sound…just hard on the fingers.  You got really strong playing it.

He gave a couple of concerts to nice and quiet adults.  The Mennonite Church was a favorite place for concerts and he played some Mozart perfectly, and also an amazing A-B-A piece he composed when he was around 8.  I can still remember that piece, because it was very atmospheric….like snow falling…Beautiful.  Of course, his music teacher had to write it down, because he still couldn’t really read music, except for the Mozart he was learning.

His first competition was a scream.  Our 9 year old son was going to do the rather well rehearsed Mozart piece and his own composition, when a beautiful Korean girl played before him.  She was incredible.  He was so in love with her playing, and her image up on the stage, that it rattled him severely.  He got through 1/2 his Mozart, and started to stumble and walked off the stage in mid flight.  I was horrified and he was in tears.  Took a while for him to explain what happened, but it was a lesson to all of us.  Don’t play AFTER the Korean girl.

I did my own concerts for about 10 years, until around 2004.  I had my own accompanist, Dr. Guy Benian at Emory, a fantastic musician and one I worked with almost exclusively for those years.  But life changesd and I started to feel guilty about all the rehearsal time away from my young son, and I quit.  Other things came to the fore, like writing, so it was time.

We did attend some harpischord seminars those years, because I was also doing some very early music, and Christopher loved the harpischord.  The action is so damn easy with those instruments, and you fly over the keys.  And two keyboards to play with on the doubles.  We thought about buying a harpischord…and I even helped build one decades ago in college, but they are tempemental instruments and they really are hot house things.  One would have perished fast in our house. The cats themselves would have killed it.

However, Christopher still did my vocal warm up scales, and he was a demon.  He worked me hard most mornings, and we are thinking about going back to this a bit this summer.  We have to do it soon because he is off to Navy training in December this year for 4 years.

He got his cello about 5 years ago.  My brother, who plays the oud, lute, guitar, violin, piano, cello, etc.  …every stringed instrument…and a 12 string guitar, gave us a beautiful student cello from the 1940’s.  Japanese made, so I think it is a bit earlier. But it has a wonderful sound, deep, rich chocolate, a bellow like a bull, and except where the music hating cats knocked it off it’s stand and displaced the neckboard, it is a wonderful instrument.  However, we keep breaking strings, and I think it’s the repair job we did ourselves.  My brother thinks we are trying to tune it like a viola.  Perhaps he is right.

Our son took to the cello like a duck to the water.  And damn, if that isn’t a hard instrument to play.  It gets your fingers fast….they plumb hurt.  But he flies through  scales, and we play little …kinda….duets….me on the hated violin and he on cello.

He recovered his speech soon enough and I like to think that the music was key here.  I know that he has become very mouthy.  Perhaps it’s all in the plan.

Lady Nyo


September 26, 2008

This is an experimental piece, trying to describe the almost indescribable, at least for me.  It is the first part of several planned, and will depict the relationship that develops between the soprano and maestro over the course of working together on some difficult music in preparation for performance.  The ‘test of wills’ will be constant in the story, no real idea how it all ends.


Twenty minutes into the session and Eva knew she was lost.

She knew it was a test of wills.  You attempt to get your feet under you. You develop an opinion on what the music expresses.  That was crucial for interpretation.  But she couldn’t get to first base with this maestro.

He was coaching her, a well- known professional, also a conductor.  Eva was in London, her first time abroad under contract.  She was excited and nervous and sobering up fast under the hands and comments of Richard.  He worked her like a pony, and not with velvet gloves.

“Again, and this time open the mouth more.”

He flashed his eyes at her and she seesawed between annoyance and compliance. She knew there a period of adjustment between singer and accompanist.  Both of them would fight for dominance in interpretation.  Then things would settle down and they would begin to learn from each other. Once that began, she could turn her attention to the music, and sometimes magic would happen.  This session with Richard looked like frayed nerves and a coming train wreck.

Eva bridled at the ‘open mouth’.  That could go either way, depending upon the note sung.  Too open on the top would give a rawness, and perhaps sharpen the tone.  Pavarotti had just died, and a lot of tenors and a couple of baritones were glad of it.  In the last ten years his techniques were brutal. Some tenors were hurt vocally by his coaching. She was mindful of the lesson and mindful of protecting her voice.

They were working on a piece of Strauss lieder,  “Du meines Herzens Kronelein”.   The title was part of the first line, “You, little crown of my heart, you are pure gold; surrounded by others, you appear even lovelier.”  This was such an achingly beautiful melody, stroking like a lullaby, rocking like a cradle.  It was deceptive to sing because while lyrical in intent, the rhythm would push and flow with a constancy, surging on certain phrases, and falling back with a seductive curl around another phrase.  It was certainly emotive music, and really an advanced piece.  Commanding the German was another concern, but except some unexploded ‘d’ and ‘t’, she felt she had most of it.  It was all in the matter of placing it right in the bottom of the mouth and pursing the lips.

Two pages of unremitting agony!  The range was only Dflat to Gflat, no struggle there, but though she knew her intonation to be on the mark, Richard would find fault in the pronunciation of “Kro” with the umlaut. She wasn’t producing enough ‘cru’ for him. They were going round and round in circles and she was getting frustrated.  Even her breathing was off, a cardinal mistake and something that developed with nervousness.

“Look Eva, a break.”

Richard stood up from the piano. Taking her elbow, he led her over to the large window looking over the street.  They were in still in London, but in a quiet suburb with trees and sidewalk strollers under the leafy green canopy.   This apartment had been picked for the location to the hall.  She had three months to prepare, and she needed time to settle and dig into the music.  This contract was important.  She knew there were lots of other sopranos out there who could easily replace her. Eva needed to work her tail off.

Richard was tall, slender. He stood behind Eva, rubbing her shoulders, loosening her muscles. She let her eyes close and her head fall to one side. She needed this break.  It was an unexpected kindness, his hands working out the tension.  Eva felt him pull her back against him, whispering ‘hush, hush’. Both arms went around her waist and he settled his hands on her stomach.  A little strange, a little intimate, but in this business, the physical came with the training.  She had been told to sweep the floor, to rearrange books on a shelf, all the while singing a passage.  She even fenced a few stanzas while singing her head off. So, all in all, this really wasn’t unusual, just unexpected from this stern Maestro.  No sign of an erection poking her in the back, so she relaxed into his body.  This was part of “getting out of the way” something she attempted to do with every performance. Loosening the ego, the fear of failure, and allowing the music to course through her, to seep into every part of her body.

“Stay right here. Don’t move.”  Richard walked to the stereo and picked up the selector and again the disc of “Du meines Herzen Kronelein” started playing.  It was of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf recording in the late 1950’s when she had turned from light lyric soprano to lyric-dramatic.  Eva was at that stage now, when there was a significant extension in the middle workaday range, and she was enjoying it.  Too low, the voice fell out, she would have to be older to embrace those changes, but for now, she had extended her vocal range to enviable dimensions.  This piece of Strauss was perfect for this period of her vocal development.

Richard softened the volume, and came back behind her, placing his hands over her stomach, spreading his long fingers possessively over her lower abdomen. This time he moved with the swaying, lullaby rhythm, pulling her body with his in perfect unison.

“Close your eyes, Eva, trust me. Trust that I have you, I won’t let you fall.”

His voice was a low whisper in her ear, soothing, a soft chant she wanted to give herself to, a cradling lullaby, soft and calming her senses.

And so it began.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2008

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