Hyper-alertness required

November 4, 2009

AMY MACPHERSON, Community Ensemble Participant

Last night was our second ‘proper’ rehearsal and for the first time I really felt that the work we’ve been doing with Joyce, who has been running through group movement exercises with us, are starting to pay off. I’ve also realised how much concentration is involved in just being part of a group, staying aware of all the other members and what they are doing, and moving in and around each other while using the full space available. It probably sounds pretty easy but actually it is not – there’s a sort of hyper-alertness required that also needs to look natural and unforced. Joyce started out last night by taking us through some ‘availability’ exercises – making us aware of how posture and tiny little changes in body position can trigger reactions in other parts of our body. We split into pairs and took turns gently moving each other’s heads while standing in different ways – I hadn’t realised that standing with your knees locked, or looking at a fixed point in the room, can make your head practically unmovable even though you are not consciously holding it still. The body can be a very mysterious machine. In some ways these exercises remind me of Qigong, which is a movement-based Chinese meditation practice.

By the end of rehearsal we had moved into some specific stage-based movements, and I probably can’t say too much about the actual stage directions but it really feels like things are starting to click into place already. I can’t wait to see what happens next!

Being involved in this production has made me more curious about the music of Messiah. Of course I knew and loved the Hallelujah Chorus and some other big choral numbers but other parts of the work were quite unfamiliar to me – especially the arias. However, the little bits of music that we hear at rehearsal – and the wonderful solos we have generously had performed for us – have really got under my skin. The other night I found a recording of Messiah on Spotify and have been listening to it a fair bit – I particularly enjoy “Every Valley Shall be Exalted”. The music seems increasingly less like a series of beautiful ornate baroque flourishes and more warm and human each time I hear it. The surface beauty is still there but I think I am getting a more rounded understanding of and appreciation for the music – perhaps being involved in this show is changing the way I listen.

I read an interview with the artist David Hockney over the weekend in which he said that Messiah was great for playing at top volume while driving through the American desert. I can’t drive and I’ve never been to the desert, but I think I know what he means.

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