A little stream of consciousness Blog reflecting on two great weeks in the Art Monastery as “Artist-in-Residence” from Joel Frederiksen, lutenist and singer:
Culture Shock…but in a good way. By birth a Minnesotan who lived in NYC for fifteen years before moving to Munich ten years ago, the culture shock was not really with the native „Umbrians“ , but rather with the Californians! From breathing meditation in the morning to group games in the evening, it was the Art Monastery „staff“ who rocked my world from the very beginning of my visit during the last two weeks of April 2009.
Nick Drake. Everyone knew his music! When I wrote an application to come as an Artist-in-Residence to the Art Monastery in Calvi dell’Umbria I was looking to work on a special project and I felt it needed to be in a very special place. The lovely violinist, Karen Walthinsen, also a displaced American (…from the West Coast) living in Cologne, told me about this interesting place in Italy and suggested I get in contact. After writing the project proposal to work on „Requiem for a Pink Moon“ and sending it in last November 20, I felt resonance from the Americans „Under the Umbrian Sun“. First of all, I was happy to learn that there was such an emphasis on Early Music, my specialty, and surprised that Nick Drake was familiar. Second, Christopher, also an early music tenor, knew me from Vancouver, Canada, where I sang the role of Plutone in a production of Claudio Monteverdi’s „Orfeo“ in 2000. The response I got to my project was enthusiastic.
The Art Monastery: Bed and Breakfast with a hammock and a view. Along the way I had the feeling that things were not moving along in Italy so quickly or smoothly as might have been wished. But that is no surprise…I know Italy. Things take their own time, rehearsals start when everyone is there, and renovations take as long as they take. When I arrived in Rome and was picked up by Christopher and Nathan I was driven to a picturesque hilltop with a view over olive trees to ancient neighboring Umbrian cities on adjacent hills. It’s a tough life, I thought, doing yoga the next morning with Luke and Jessica, two Americans visiting from Berlin. Or maybe I thought that later when swinging in the hammock drinking an Italian espresso.
The Work. It was the perfect way to get started. Concentrate on the breathing, let go, let the inspiration come…and it did. When I arrived in Italy I knew what I wanted to do: Work out orchestrations of Nick Drake songs for the lute and other Renaissance instruments and frame the whole thing with parts of the plainsong Requiem Mass. An idea was presented once—growing out of a misunderstanding with my Munich press team—to somehow combine Nick’s songs with those of Renaissance composers of lute songs. I corrected my press team and made them re-write the German project description…and then later used their idea!! I began by simply trying to adapt this folk-rock style of playing with open tunings that players like Nick Drake perfected on the guitar, to the lute. First I had to be able to do it. Then I started experimenting and looking for connections. Lots of questions including: How and why do this?? The Requiem came early as an idea, but then it didn’t seem to work. Experimenting, searching for a sound, a reason, not wanting to give it up just because I met some resistance but knowing I needed to adapt, improve and connect it. Lute parts came for songs by John Dowland and Thomas Campion, English composers, like Nick, but who lived 400 years earlier. To make connections I sought themes in the poetry to unite them. Thinking of comments that Nick made…reading a biography. He performed very seldom in his short life of 26 years and one reason was certainly difficulty on stage with nerves, but he also said something once, which was very revealing: That the songs he wrote were for recording, not for concert. He used so many tunings as to be impractical. Wanting to keep it workable, playable, performable….
Inspirations and surprises. The team was a big, colorful surprise at the Art Monastery, as were the guests. I wanted a place to be away from email and my telephone in a place which was quiet and where I could concentrate and be alone. What I got was in a way exactly that—but with wireless Internet service and interesting, creative personalities coming and going. I got intelligent feedback and support of a kind, which I could not have reckoned on. Christopher continued to rock my world with an open, honest life philosophy balanced by intelligence and ambition. The Americans were feeding me with their positive energy. Nathan gave of his meditation knowledge and enchanting Brittney of her lovely self…and knowledge of Italian! Unfortunately I suffered for most of my stay in the beautiful spring weather on the blooming hillsides from allergies. Sometimes it was really difficult not to be able to share more music with guests and staff, but next time!!! Yes, I hope to make the pilgrimage again to the Art Monastery. It takes vision and perseverance to make something so grand a reality and I wish Christopher and the entire team of people interested and in love with the idea of an Intentional Living Community in Italy for artists, all the best! The first performance of “Requiem for a Pink Moon” is scheduled for October 1, 2009, as the opening concert of my 2009-10 Munich series.