Les Noces is possibly the most invigorating, challenging, confounding piece of music I have ever worked on. It is such a wild ride, I feel like bouncing out of my seat as we sing it. But it takes so much concentration that my brain is working overtime every single second. You cannot let your mind wander for an instant in this piece, or you’re done for.
Every moment, I’m engaging with the music on at least four different levels. There’s the melodic line, which occurs mostly at the phrase level and has lots of little motivic cells that repeat over and over—but with tiny variations that keep you on your toes. We might sing da-da dum dum dum dum dum six times, and the seventh time it will be da-da dum dum dum dum dum. If you’re not paying attention, oops! Too late.
Then there’s the meter: 5/8, 4/8, 5/8, 3/8, 6/8—or is that 3/4?—and the tempo that shifts from fast to insanely fast and back again in an eye-blink. I’m trying to learn the shape of each phrase, but we are in and out so constantly with the other voices and instruments that we’ll fall apart if we don’t count, count, count like mad!
For me, the biggest learning curve is the Russian, which has all these unfamiliar sounds that my tongue is struggling to wrap itself around. As I learn the text little by little, I’m picking up some Russian vocabulary and even starting to get a bit of a feel for the grammar. It’s a fascinating puzzle.
Most exciting, though, is the feeling of being plunged into the dramatic world of Les Noces. It’s like a big, chaotic, unrestrained reality show of a Russian peasant wedding, and we’re smack in the middle of it—lamenting bride, chattering bridesmaids, rowdy guests, the whole nine yards. And we haven’t even added the soloists and the instruments yet. I can’t imagine how crazy this racket is going to get when we put it all together!
-Phyllis Benjamin, alto
Catch a glimpse behind the scenes!