Tuesday, December 15, 2009


I have decided to scrap my "working" title for this blog (someone-needs-more-work) in favor of this one. Why the change of heart, after such a long and venerable history of posting? Let's call it Christmas spirit.

Whenever I hear a really powerful piece of music, suddenly the whole world is technicolor. The commute home is mind-bendingly brief. ("How does it feel," I ask my dad on the phone, "to live 15 minutes away from Carnegie Hall?" It feels less remarkable to him than it does to me, evidently. Though maybe it's 'cause he is not now, nor has he ever been, a resident of Brooklyn.) The sky over Union Square is crisp and clear and you can see Orion. The Bill Bryson essay I'm reading is the most hilarious thing I've ever read. People call me with their problems and I dispense good advice. There are too few hours in the day to do everything I mustmustmust do (please note that I finished this entry at 12:30 AM, and please note that I have work at 9). I'm Eloise, ready to drop some water down the mail chute. Wake up, everyone! Time's a-wastin'.

Sunday night I went to see John Adams's El Niño oratorio about the nativity. The venerable Mr. Adams (once described by the NYT as "the Care Bear of the American avant-garde"), for thems what don't know him, is a Minimalist-esque contemporary composer who has written a ton of works orchestral (check out Harmonielehre!), chamber (Hallelujah Junction!), operatic (Nixon in China's "News" aria!), and so on, as well as, lately, the hilarious Hell Mouth. His employment there of various links, both literal and not-so, has inspired this blog.

I tend not to be so good at listening to classical-music-with-words-in, as many of you fine music-makers/-majors/-ologists can attest. But something about El Niño let me stick with it, maybe because it was mostly in English and when it wasn't, Carnegie Hall provided a nifty side-by-side translation, allowing me to read along instead of tune out (as I do to such great effect with supertitles). The patchwork of sources Adams used really appeals to me--recitative from the Bible or Bible-studying sources, soloist poems by figures secular and religious, an ensemble piece from the Wakefield Mystery Plays. The most powerful (I think), as well as the final, source is Rosario Castellanos's "Una Palmera" (translated here a little differently from Adams's version). I'm fascinated by the idea of creation as a poem of sorts--see also the jawdroppingly beautiful conclusion of Chanticleer's rendition of John Tavener's Village Wedding and T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets.

But even more than the poem idea, I love how Adams weaves his idiosyncratic set of sources together into something more than the sum of their parts. I have sometimes described the works that speak most to me as "pieces with stuff in them" (never said I sometimes described them well)--to use Eliot as an example again, Prufrock gets to me because it weds huge concepts about modernity and futility and absurdity to concrete details like measuring a life in coffee spoons and gathering the universe up into a ball.

And so I dub this blog Patchwork Oratorio. I hope it will bring together a series of previously-unrleated sources (seems like they might often be objects; another title I considered was "The Object Lesson") and make some sort of cohesive crazyquilt whole. Not as beautiful as El Niño, to be sure, but I hope to operate somewhere along those lines.


  1. New blog title is love. As is your love of John Adams. Just sayin'. :)