Blog / Soundtrack to my life


By Wendy

I saw the same North Carolina Symphony performance twice last week. Not something I normally do.
Both times, I had the weird sensation that composer Stephen Jaffe wrote his commissioned piece “Cithera mea (Evocations)” just for me. His music was inspired by “El Greco to Velázquez,” a project that has been a major motif of my life for the past seven months. His work translated important parts of my experiences into music. I guess that is true about any music that matters to me; it feels personal.

Jaffe arranged sacred and secular Spanish music from 400 years ago for this three-part work. He also included snippets of recordings from the present that I know: the voice of curator Sarah Schroth; the familiar clopping of a women’s heels on the wooden floor of a Nasher Museum gallery; the sweet little Spanish voice of Pete, the small son of my friend Carolina.

Maybe not everyone “got” these contemporary sounds.

“(T)hey are more distracting than edifying, especially in their seeming randomness,” wrote classical music critic Roy C. Dicks in Saturday’s The News and Observer.

I wasn’t distracted, though; I was fascinated.

The very real-sounding footsteps reminded me a little of the Cardiff and Miller piece The Paradise Institute, in which a female voice seems to whisper right in your ear: “Did you check the stove before we left?”

From the beginning, I saw pictures in Jaffe’s music.

Someone drinking too much at a party. Feeling sleepy. Drifting down, down. Spanish girls dancing in a line.

The music jogged my memories of driving through the Spanish countryside last May with Will and Scott, members of the UNC-TV crew that created the documentary about the exhibition. The music evoked the big sky, rocky hills and scrubby trees on the drives between Madrid, Lerma, Valladolid and Toledo.

For his piece, Jaffe recorded ambient sounds in Toledo Cathedral in Spain that he recorded in May; I was there a few days after he was.

The piece began and ended with images from German artist Thomas Struth‘s entrancing photographs of people looking at the famous Velázquez painting “Las Meninas” at Museo del Prado in Madrid. I love the Struth photograph that hangs at the Nasher Museum. I stared in rapture for at least 20 minutes at “Las Meninas” in the Prado on that same trip to Spain.

All day today, I kept thinking about Jaffe’s orchestra piece, and how music can bring a new dimension to visual art.

Image: Toledo Cathedral, by Wendy Livingston

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