Monday, August 10, 2020

Quarentinewhile ...

Some collaborative piano geekery for you:

Covid19 has caused a lot of things (i.e. increased levels of anxiety and backyard vegetable gardening) and also launched a new trend: baking.  Nationwide, since March 2020, thousands of banana breads, vats of frothy sourdough starters and stacks of cakes have appeared.  Stress-baking, our new favorite way to kill time (some people invest more time than others).  Further proof (no pun intended*) of the trend was the widespread disappearance of flour and yeast from grocery stores for 3 months.  Stockpiling is another new hobby this year, apparently.   

I also have spent waaay too much time in the kitchen, and am primarily thankful that I haven't grated off my thumb yet (pianist, remember?).  Not that performing is much of an option these days - most musicians are presently muzzled, so to speak.  Live performances, any group singing or similar interactions are not the safest thing: Zoom, live streaming and outside performances from a distance are our unsatisfying alternatives.  Small wonder that 'comfort meals' are so popular now.  

Occasionally, culinary thoughts wander into the music realm - consider how recital programming is often discussed in terms of meal planning.  Other times, gastronomy veers directly into music scores** (or flat out T-bones the Mack truck that is opera in this case).  For example, Lee Hoiby's one-act opera Bon App├ętit!, pairs the sung text of a cookbook written by master chef Julia Child with a small chamber orchestra. The mezzo has to sing and bake simultaneously (its kind of like watching an operatic Rachel Ray episode). For those who'd prefer not to fling frosting onstage, there is no actual cooking in Leonard Bernstein's song cycle, La Bonne Cuisine (lyrics). There's still plenty of drama in the four French recipes: from the pressing urgency of the 'plum pudding' to the demanding 'rabbit in a hurry', the cycle is a great vehicle for both performers to channel their inner Gordon Ramsay. 

Some operas and songs favor specific dishes instead of list ingredients. Seymour Barab's one-act opera [parody], "La Pizza con Funghi" (Mushroom Pie) centers around Countess Formaggio attempting to kill her husband with poisonous mushrooms. Less homicidal but equally funny is William Bolcom's "Lime Jello Marshmallow Cottage Cheese Surprise"(lyrics). Its a hysterical romp that pokes fun at potlucks, the disturbing cooking trends of the 70s, and Ladies' Club norms. The "Ice Cream Sextet" from Weill's Street Scene also deserves a shout out (or a scream, I suppose). The strangest one in this category is Gabriel Kahane's "If Anyone Knows..."(Timestamp 1:58)(lyrics) from his song cycle "Craigslistlieder". I challenge you to find any other song about sandwich relish.

I was rather stunned to discover not one, but two song cycles about sentient vegetables. Daron Hagen's song cycle, "Vegetable Verselets"(lyrics) portrays a narcissist cucumber, militant corn, betrothed celery and more. Sure to make you cough loudly and knock several times on your fridge door before you open it from now on, is Danika Loren's "The Sex Life of Vegetables". You'll never look at your crisper drawer the same way again. Fruit has also received some attention in art song, like in Lori Laitman's song set, "Plums", which discuss the enjoyment (and theft) of ripe plums. Laitman also composed "Refrigerator", poem penned by Thomas Lux, a steamy ode to Maraschino cherries that is full of unrequited longing. Sadly, the only other time I've encountered fruit on a recital program was a song cycle by "Joseph Cantaloupe"***.

I'll end**** with the most eerily prophetic song yet, seemingly written to directly address Covid19: Pasatieri's "Overweight, Overwrought, Over You" (lyrics).


*I really tried to leave out obvious food pun references in this blog. Unused, for example, are the phrases 'food for thought', 'stirred/whipped/cooked up', 'half-baked', 'embroiled', 'on the rise', 'don't trifle with', 'has soured', 'the time is ripe', 'spills the beans' ... someone give me a medal.

**Parameters for musical choices were mainly 'stuff I like', but also the music had to actually discuss food on some level other than just using the word (for example, "If Music Be the Food of Love" isn't about food) 

***Just in case you didn't know, the composer's name is Joseph Canteloube

****Of course this isn't the end.  I've discovered a ridiculous amount of food-related music.

Further info left out due to lack of space/interest, but still worth mentioning:

Steve Cohen, La Pizza del Destino 

Jack Beeson, To a Sinister Potato (text by Peter Viereck)

Daron HagenThe Poetry of Sausages: Morcilla

Sergei Prokofiev, The Love for Three Oranges

Peter Tiefenbach, "Chansons de Mon Placard" or "Songs From My Cupboard" (subjects: seaweed, cornstarch, steak spice and Aspirin)

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