My two new heroes: Fleck and Bellini

August 16, 2012

Sometimes I’m a bit slow. Two great musicians have been pushed in front of me lately and I don’t know why I never knew them before. Silly me.

Peter Kazaras has encouraged me to investigate Bellini in terms of the way he handles dialog vs. arias. On the way I fell in love with a new composer. I relate to him a great deal and will relay a recent event in a subsequent post. Vincenzo Bellini’s effortless gift of melodic writing is thrilling. Here is one of his ‘greatest hits’ from the opera NORMA, “Casta Diva” with Maria Callas. This aria will knock you out, even if you’ve never heard it or think you don’t like opera. Try it.

I reward myself once or twice a week and allow myself to watch a movie or a documentary. This week it was about the banjo: a recent documentary with Steve Martin as narrator exposes us to the amazing and colorful history of the banjo. Along the way, I discovered Béla Fleck, an amazing musician who happens to play the banjo. Last night I found a movie that Fleck had put together about his trip to four places in Africa to play with musicians, and bring an African instrument back to Africa. OMG I have not experiences such joy in a half hour block in a long time. I had to stop the movie to make it last. To see the faces of a tribe listening to Béla play bluegrass and to see them watch Bela play his banjo along with their music was sheer joy. There is a scene where the whole village gathers around this giant tuned wooden marimba that is played by many people. Everyone plays, everyone moves, everyone smiles and plays along in their own way. Youtube happens to have an excerpt of some of my favorite music from the opening of the film. [Wait till 1:00]

Many remember composer Steve Reich’s famous trip to Africa. It resulted in a two LP set called DRUMMING. Steve brought back African timing, texture, harmony and synchrony; Béla brought that back, but also brought back great joy. You see it in the film and hear it on the albums he released: “Throw Down Your Heart.” Bravo Béla!

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