By Rebecca Nolan
I come from a world of classical music. Of Opera and musical theater. A strict, almost rigid view of the musical world. Don’t get me wrong, there was still a whole lot of passion and heart that went into my music, but it definitely strived to meet certain goals. I felt constrained to expectation. I was supposed to emulate those who came before me. To hit that high note exactly the same night after night. Anything less was failure.
Ultimately, this is why I left that world.
When I went to opening night at Sound Symposium, I was ready for that kind of music. For the defined and the predictable. Arpeggios and Scales. Instead, I encountered an outpouring of the soul. Of sounds that bordered on musical, and would sometimes dip into the uncomfortable. Things that made the hair stand up on my arms and sometimes made me squirm. It was both beautiful and terrifying.
One artist balanced on a single leg while playing different sized recorders. Instead of following a score, she improvised. Light, airy puffs that sounded like bird song. Her playing sometimes jived with, and sometimes beat up against the recorded soundscape that played underneath. It felt dreamy, and almost trance like. The sounds seemed to fill me up, and I felt deeply uncomfortable with the silence that followed her set. Lonely for the music that had been everywhere just moments before.
Later there was a cello that I could feel with my entire body. And a woman who played by tapping stones balanced on top of stings. All of this made up something haunting and beautiful. During a later set there was even a song called ‘VOWR a Portal into My Imagination’. It was a sort of ode to that weird and funky radio station, run out of a church basement here in St. John’s. The lyrics and melody were beautiful. But it also didn’t take itself too seriously.
When I would sing opera, I was always singing for the audience. Making sure my voice sounded like what they wanted to hear. But, at Sound Symposium, I got the sense that the artists were playing for themselves. Sure, it was nice to be appreciated by the people in the crowd, but it wasn’t necessary to their experience. The artists were there to experiment, to experience sound in a way that was totally personal and unique. Watching them reminded me of navigating the world of sound as a kid. Of talking into an oscillating fan just to hear what it did to my voice, or running a bow along two violin strings until they shrieked. I don’t want to make it seem like this comparison makes the artist’s music any less sophisticated. But they seemed to construct the pieces with young and open ears.
Appreciating the sound for its own individual beauty. Instead of how it fit into the fabric of experience and expectation.
Rebecca Nolan moved to St. John’s in 2013, where she discovered a love of storytelling, which evolved into a love of making radio. Now she works to find the little bits of magic hidden in people’s everyday lives.