A Singer's Notes by Keith Kibler

A Singer’s Notes 29: The Power of Music

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Samuel Johnson by Sir Joshua Reynolds.
Samuel Johnson by Sir Joshua Reynolds.

Dr. Johnson was much exercised by John Dryden’s ending his Cecilia’s Day Ode with the line: “Music shall untune the sky.” Ridiculous, said he. How can music untune something? Dryden meant the word to describe music as an apocalyptic agent, but as Johnson’s infallible ear heard clearly enough, the word “untuned” jars. Like many good things, music seems weak in any practical sense. Sometimes the idea of music becomes more interesting to us than the music itself. The idea of Glenn Gould has overtaken the performing of Glenn Gould. Maybe he even did this to himself. We must put music to the ultimate test — a yes or no test — no gray area. This is what happens at the end of Don Giovanni. Mozart constructs his greatest scene on stage out of no music, out of the destruction of music. The secret is, even the no music makes us hear music. The negative capability of it makes us know something immense that is not there but is imminent.  In the Colonial Theater’s The Music Man this happens again. Harold Hill, a shyster and a thief, gets a small town all worked up by proposing and outfitting a boys’ band. He provides them with no instruction; he has no skill. When finally they are faced with the reality of a performance, he can only say, “Think, boys, think!” The Think System, he calls it. Sure enough, the boys arrive in their handsome (and paid for) uniforms, and some kind of a sound comes out, mostly “untuned.” This is only the mundane result of Professor Hill’s method. The profound result of Harold Hill’s encouragements to believe is the affection he is finally given by the town’s librarian/piano teacher, Marian Paroo. She is a trooper, a working musician. She sees right through him, spends a brief time trying to bring him to justice, and ends up loving him. Loving him so much, she is willing to part with him.  His chicanery is truth. Imagining is having, is doing. After I got home I read a verse in the program given by the star of the show as his credo: Luke I:37 “with God all things are possible.” I tried to wrap my mind around a sensibility that would come up with a virtuoso performance of this role night after night, sometimes twice a day, and apparently think of it in religious terms. I realized later that this was the point of the role. Blake said it differently: “Anything which can be imagined can be done.” Bravo to John Adkison for a performance in which virtuosity became spiritual. Megan Buzzard as Marian Paroo looked right and sounded right. Some grotesque amplification matters aside, this was a really splendid performance.


The Cohoes Music Hall and the Colonial are theaters which are beautiful in very different ways. Every aspect of the Colonial seems finished. The old theater in Cohoes could use a little work. Still, like Hubbard Hall, it has a golden light in it that suggests that electricity has not yet been invented. It has become one of my favorite venues. One heard the power of music grandly vindicated in the “Into the Woods” sung by high school students in this hall earlier this month. This was a production which was auditioned. The kids had to compete to sing. And sing they did, with passion, which is to be expected, but also with style which says a lot about their mentors. It is wonderful to see that not all high school productions are pageants. This performance was taken seriously, and there were no weak links. Very gifted young singers got to sing with other very gifted young singers, and it worked brilliantly. Bravo to Tony Rivera for his unfussy and precise direction. The show had class.


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