l to r: Brian Quirt, Martin Julien, Steven Gallagher, Kate Hennig, John Millard, Neema Bickersteth. (photo by Lisa Rapoport / PLANT)
You can analyze and dissect a piece of music all you want, but the way it really works on a listener is emotional rather than intellectual.
That's also the case with Nightswimming's Blue Note, devised by director Brian Quirt and writer Martin Julien. Part of Harbourfront Centre's World Stage, the show was developed through the Centre's Fresh Ground new works series.
Presented in York Quay Centre's Main Gallery, the free show is part installation (designed by PLANT Architect Inc.) and part performance. You can wander in during afternoon rehearsals or for the 6:30 pm warm-up, but the performance proper begins at 7 pm.
The cast? A choir of seven singers who, we discover during the show, are missing their eighth member.
Can they perform properly, both in terms of working as an ensemble and in terms of creating the music they want to sing?
As individual ensemble members come over and share gossip and secrets with you -- jealousy, worry about the group's staying together, various insecurities, alliances that not everyone knows about -- you realize that all seven feel a sense of loss and discover what that loss means to them.
But there's also a lot of music, solo and choral, all gloriously sung by the talented company: Neema Bickersteth, Jay Bowen, Christine Brubaker, Steven Gallagher, Kate Hennig, John Millard and Jane Miller. The program covers centuries of compositions, including a Purcell song, Dave Brubeck's arrangement of Psalm 121, Rodgers and Hammerstein's You'll Never Walk Alone, gospels like Steal Away and a throwaway phrase from You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown.
Even some of the dialogue is spoken or intoned in a choral fashion, repeated and with overt attention to rhythm and accent; I've never before seen spoken dialogue literally conducted by a cast member.
The gallery's divided into two sections by a large oval structure covered with (mostly) white undergarments -- a visual parallel to the under-thoughts and secrets of the characters? -- and the action wanders from one area to another. None of this movement is strict, though -- you can make your own show, in fact, by choosing who to follow and whose asides you listen to.
There's an intentional sadness that infuses Blue Note -- the title refers to a note sung or played at a slightly lower pitch than that of a work's major scale for expressive purposes -- a sadness that lies beneath the words and the music. The seven characters aren't able to connect emotionally without their missing eighth; similarly, a musical scale doesn't seen quite right without the eighth note, the repeat of the home note, from (for example) C to C.
And like all good music, Blue Note works on the emotions and moves us in a way we can't express in spoken words, which are by nature rational.
Blue Note plays through Sunday (September 21). For details see here.