Sunday, September 25, 2011

Cultural Misappropriation - Religious Anxiety?

This happened on the night of the 16th but I'm just now getting around to posting it....

Last night I woke up sweating from a nightmare at 3 in the morning and it was so strange a nightmare to have on the eve of a big gala performance of my opera in London that I would like to share it with my friends....

So in this dream I am conducting a performance of Bach's St Matthew Passion in a church.  It is a small church somewhere in Europe, with a steeple.  I am doing it as a special favor, it is some kind of very special occasion.

Well, in the middle of the opening chorus (Kommt, ihr Töchter) pandemonium breaks out outside the church.  There is a park there.  A group of Muslims is violently protesting my performance.  They are screaming that the music disturbs them and i have no right to perform it because it isn't my culture.  A big guy dressed in some kind of chieftain or sheik's costume begins to argue with me.    Finally I asked him what music he would prefer.  I said I could do some Muslim music if he wanted  I could sing a qawwali.  (This is sacred Pakistani sufi-influenced music ... incredible stuff.)

The chieftain said "I'm North African.  You're still wrong.  You think we're all alike."

Nevertheless to please him, I start to perform a song by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan called Allahu.  I enlist the help of one of the kids from the children's choir of Mae Naak.

"No, no," said the chieftain, "our music is tribal.  With big drums."  The entire crowd begins to pound on the drums, singing vociferously while I and the chorister attempt the transcendent ecstatic melismas of the qawwali.

And then I wake up.....


And you see this is intimately connected with a dream I had last month.   This is how it went:

I am performing in an opera which takes place in the parking lot of a church in suburban or rural England.  As I get to the last act, Stefan (the opera director) who is in the opera announces to me that he simply can't remember the last act and must go on stage with the score.  I realize that I too have forgotten how the piece goes.  However, I find an old airmail letter written in a meticulous hand in blue ink and I stuff it in my score so that I appear to be reading the letter during the scene, making it slightly more convincing.

However in the middle of the act I look out where the audience should be and I see a stone wall.

The final scene is a wedding and I play an Anglcan priest.  I have got into my black cassock and when I come onstage, I see that here is another priest dressed in the gaudy green and gold robes of a Catholic mass celebrator.  I wander through the pews trying to see who I am marrying while the other priest seems to get on with it.  Eventually I reach the altar and get to work.

At the end of the opera there has been an audience after all, including my old friend J William Middendorf II whom I haven't seen in 40 years.  To my absolute astonishment, he comments, with great earnestness, "It was 100% thin."

We go out into the parking lot as I wake up.

Both dreams are about performing, and somehow delivering something completely different from what was intended.  Somehow, a church is involved in both dreams.  Europe is involved in one way or another.

I find it all most confusing.... and this piece of art which is hanging from the side of a house in my old school (not there when I was there) seems to say it all.  For many it is a miraculous creature defying gravity, jutting out over the precipice of ... I don't know.

But to me the sculpture looked like someone about to commit suicide.

Today I am having serious doubts about the world.  It is something to do with my return to Thailand; I was only gone for two weeks, and I haven't spent more than a day or two in England in about forty years but coming to Thailand felt for the first time like it felt in the 1970s .... like I was leaving home, not coming home.  

I've been here for ten years now, and I'm suddenly worried about whether my head has dented the brick wall or not.  I suppose I shouldn't think about it too much ... 

It;s 5:03 am.  I think it will take a while to recover from this jet lag.  And longer to get over the post partum of our huge UK tour.

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