4 Apr 2016

Afterwards: Big Thoughts on Doing Things Like This

So we did it. The performance happened and we had a nice-sized audience that actually clapped afterwards. Everything fell into place: singers sung, lights lighted, conductor conducted, musicians musicked and the page-turner turned pages. It felt great, and then we stood there in a row, relieved and bowing, fake blood all over our faces. That was the first performance.

(And there will be more: Tuesday 31st of May Jääkausi is returning in Hietalahden Paviljonki. More info is coming soon.)

Right-after-performance relief.

Now, looking back at the process leading to this first night, it's time for some Big Thoughts on Doing Things Like This:

1. It's possible. You can make a project happen if you work hard enough. It might not work in the exact way you pictured it at first, but somehow it is doable with persistence and determination. There are always obstacles and annoying things and downsides and wasted hours of grant applications and hardships, but if we could pull this off, then sure you can pull off your stuff, too.

2. But it probably won't happen fast. It is near impossible to get any funding in the beginning if you don't have anything concrete to show (a finished composition, performance locations etc). So don't feel disheartened if no money comes in; funding is easier to get with good promotional material and proof of some results. Also, if you only are interested in the money-side of things, I suggest you quickly stop being an artist and go into accounting or investment banking. And then hire me as your secretary, please.

3. Have high hopes but don't feel disappointed if they don't fully materialize. It's important to dream big but at the same time to keep a realistic view of what's possible and what would be nice but probably won't happen. I mean, we're ready to take over the world, but first you have to have the product finished. Then you have to learn it and perform it. Find some people who believe in it, and maybe they will tell others. Baby steps. Sure there are people who get famous overnight and who get a million-euro-grant just by snapping their fingers, but those are the minority. Others take baby steps, my friend.

4. Don't try to do everything on your own. Me, I am a control freak and had a tough time learning that sometimes it's a good idea to let other people do things. Lesson learned: when you delegate, then Really Delegate and trust that people will do what you asked them to do. Why stay awake at night worrying that the printing company will fuck up your poster's color scheme when there's nothing you can do about it? Those dark patches under your eyes are not worth it, I assure you.

5. Listen to advice. Sometimes other people know something you don't, or they have a better perspective, or they're not so emotionally attached to the project you're practically married to. Advice should never be rejected. I'm not saying that all advice is good or that you should change everything just because someone told you to. Just that every piece of advice should be given some thought first and then either taken on board or cast aside.

6. Only do things you believe in. People will have opinions, good and bad, they will criticize and judge you, and if you don't believe in what you're doing it's easy to lose your way in the hurricane of what-people-think. It comes with being an artist, no matter what kind: learning to know in yourself whether what you do is good or not. For me it has been one of the hardest things to take in - to trust my own judgement and not be so easily swayed by the criticism of others.

Numbers five and six might seem contradictory, but I believe that the magical balance between recognizing helpful advice and trusting your own vision is what makes a person grow. A work in progress, I'm struggling to learn to do just that.

7. Always, always remember to throw a good party afterwards.

1 Mar 2016

General rehearsal: Lights, action, panic!

Today's the day.

But yesterday was also interesting, since we had our general rehearsal in Camerata. Our visual designer, Eero Erkamo, was creating magic with the lights - it takes forever and is seriously hard work. We got to experience it now for the first time.
So everyone came and got dressed, instruments were tuned, makeup was added and the run-through could begin. Of course it was quite awful: everyone was nervous, the lights were new and unexpected, and things were not finding their places. The acoustics of Camerata had to be reconsidered and playing and the singers' diction had to be adjusted to our new surroundings. I had to come to terms with playing on a piano sans lid (surprisingly different, that). The lights were sometimes on time, sometimes not. Someone of the band would be off at any given time - and quite often it would be me. 'Twas chaos.

But we did it, and after doing it we talked, went through ideas and improvements, ate, and took a deep breath. We could do this. And then we went through it for a second time and things just fell into place. Tempi were stable and comfortable, singers did amazing things, lights were there, and players played their hearts out creating a really impressive soundscape. Itzam waved his arms and Aura turned pages and Eljas gave last-minute instructions and our two paparazzis captured it all and we got it, it worked, we were all super exhausted and happy.

Relieved, we packed our bags and went to sleep. I, for one, slept like a baby, knowing that the performance is in good hands. All these skillful people doing their utmost to create this spectacle - what's not to love?

Here's some material from our paparazzi Gustav Larsson:

Itzam armwaving.

Anna-Maija as the acquaintance.

Milla as the person.

25 Feb 2016

Final Countdown: Nightmares and vampires

Only a few days left to practice and a few nights not to sleep. What are your nightmares like before a big performance? I've had the classics: desperately searching for the stage door, but never finding it - having forgotten the music - not wearing the right clothes - and then some weirder ones, like having the hall filled with spiders and other unpleasant things. So that's the nights.

Latest in fashion: winter wear

The days have been more pleasant: we've been really working hard this week. Last week we had a break, since our soprano wanted to change her last name. So don't be surprised to read Anna-Maija Oka in the program notes; no-one was kicked out or replaced. Having returned to business on Monday we started to gather troops for the final battle. I have managed to buy fake blood, and Itzam has managed to get his arm seriously sore from waving it around in front of hardworking musicians. Milla has been down with a vicious flu, but thanks to the Benevolent Gods of Voice, she starts to be back in fighting form. And Anna-Maija sings just as beautifully with a shorter last name, too.

Today we took over Camerata for the first time, and went through all the motions and the running around. We won't have the actual lights until Monday, but today was anyway more about getting a feel of the hall and testing distances and suchlike. What you always should remember in staging things is that if you're not super-rich, you probably will have to practice in a place different to the one where you perform. That takes planning, caution and luck - for example, the Camerata stage was a bit narrower than we thought, so some things had to be reorganized. There's also one insanely heavy door, and some things had to be changed because that door takes way longer to open than we would've guessed. So remember: do your homework and leave room for surprises if you attempt something similar!

We asked for a sun and this is what Eero came up with..

Tomorrow the band will practice with the performance clothes for the first time, and it will be exciting to see what kind of a vampire army we will make. (Seriously, we're not going to be a vampire army, but it's a persistent joke. We don't really know what we are. You'll have to use your imagination.) Eljas will be making final tweaks and directional touches, and on Monday Eero will work his magic with all the lights in action. There is no way this opera could be anything but spectacularly awesome.

15 Feb 2016

Final countdown: Joining a band

Sometimes a person needs some arrows to survive.

A bit over two weeks left, and the band met for the first time to make art. If you've seen any posters or other advertisement, you probably know we're called Korwamato-ensemble. This group consists of
Johanna Kärkkäinen, flute; Kristjan Parts, clarinet; Natalia Vaskinova, violin; Iiris Tötterström, cello; and myself behind a piano. Itzam is conducting, since he's the one who made the stuff we're supposed to play.

So we met and we rehearsed, twice. For me it was a surprisingly big change to become a part of the band. Having been rehearsing with the sopranos alone for quite some time, suddenly I had to stop being the leader of the situation and start following Itzam's orders. I realized halfway through the first rehearsal that I'm sometimes just blatantly ignoring whatever Itzam's doing and taking my own tempi (a bit embarrassing, that). I also realized that I felt really defensive about my previous role as the person in charge - perhaps I was enjoying it more than I was willing to admit to anyone. However, as the rehearsal continued life got easier, and the second rehearsal was free from any personal crisis.

Here's a quick clarification about the life of a pianist:
Usually, when doing a full-scale opera, the pianist is the one rehearsing with singers, and then the band and conductor take over and finish the job. Our case is different because I'm also part of the band - and that's where my role changes.

Now enough about me. Rehearsals were first a complete chaos, as they always are. Luckily the musicians we've got are complete pros, and the second rehearsal was much more of a success. Jääkausi is not an easy piece for the players, let's get that straight. It's got microtones (Microtones are notes that exist between the notes you can play on the piano - they sound wrong but that's how they're supposed to sound. It's art.) - it's got complex rhythms (That's when people are playing really different things and it sounds messy but the mess is actually calculated to sound exactly like that.) - it's got fast things that change to other fast things. The other instruments have plenty of flashy and weird techniques to use, too, and sometimes we really sound like the army of the dead; which is what the director pretty much wants us to look like, too.

Today is yet another rehearsal, after which we will have a creative break for the rest of the week. That's due to a certain private event that needs some peace around itself. And then comes next week and that's the last and most intense one. Stay tuned.

9 Feb 2016

Final countdown: Three weeks left, and where's the fake blood?

Three weeks to the premiere looks like this:

Eljas and Milla finding meaningful things from the score.

Jenna pointing out meaningful things from the score.

So we've got the date, we've got the posters and we've got some publicity. 
(If you don't have anything too important to do tomorrow at around 14.25, tune your radio to Yle Radio 1 - or your computer to Yle Areena. We're performing an unforgettably shamanistic duet from Jääkausi.)
But what's really going on? - I thought I'd tell you.

I'm little by little hunting down things we will need in our performance, like red heels, fake blood and white overalls. I'm also finding out things about the things we will need in our performance, like how washable is fake blood really? (Answer: some brands are easily removed, some not quite so) and how noisy are the overalls in Motonet? In the meantime Eero, our visual designer, is coming up with solutions like how to have a sun in a bowl, or how to create the eternal spiral of time. Itzam is going through the score and learning how to conduct it, and the singers are trying to remember everything by heart.

In the rehearsals we're going through a mixed phase, which is beautifully reflected in the multiple schedules I've sent to people, depending on what they need to know. There are the rehearsals with only the band dealing with stuff; rehearsals with band and singers, tying to make music; then there are the rehearsals where only I'm playing and Eljas is making his staging art with the sopranos; and finally the full rehearsals with everybody and everything happening at once.

The staging side of things is slowly forming into a coherent whole, and music, too, begins to diminish. Diminishing in this context - for me - is as follows: When you start to learn a new piece of music, it feels huge. Moving from one page to the next is a lot of stuff, and the end seems to be very far from the beginning. Getting more acquaintanced with the music it starts to feel more like a graspable thing - you begin to have a sense of its structure, the overarching shape, and it really feels like the piece is getting smaller. You're not looking at it like an infinite field of notes, but more like a detailed map you know how to navigate.
(Reading this again I have understood that explaining myself clearly is a skill I'll have to develop further. But hopefully you grasp my meaning, or half.)

So. Having this petite piece in our hands and turning into an acted thing where players are also doing stuff, lights are on and a conducter is whirling his hands around - that's what happens now.

Ps. Have you seen a poster yet? I've heard they look amazing.

1 Feb 2016

Artistic director, the meaning of trying to be an

The rehearsals have begun in earnest and a lot of things are happening. Fast. Having appointed myself "artistic director" I think now's the time to look at that title and the things it entails more closely.

Artistic director sounds like an important person who does big, important things. Looks down from majestic heights upon common singers and musicians alike. Not really true, that. In reality I'm more like the janitor of this project: doing the bits and pieces that need doing, so others can make art happen. Of course I'm also the pianist of this extravaganza, but for me that's the easy part.

Being a janitor includes things like the poster (designing, creating, and printing it and spreading it around); program notes (what's in them, what's the layout like); being the contact person for press; being the contact person for everyone else; rehearsals (finding out schedules from 9 people, finding common times, booking rooms); the score (helping the composer edit, copying it, binding it); making sure everyone's informed about everything;... The list goes on.

As a janitor, I feel perfectly uncertain - I stress, worry, and occasionally panic. But someone needs to do that, too; and it's good that only one person out of thirteen concerns themselves with the panicking business.

However, I guess the point I'm trying to make is that if you ever consider doing something like this yourself, I strongly recommend you make a list first about all the little details that will need doing. Not just the performance, but the tiny details that someone will have to take responsibility of. Then understand that all of those take more time than expected and they can go wrong. Accept that. Accept that there also are many things that you don't yet know you will have to take care of, and they can go wrong, too.

But delegation is the new black: I get plenty of help from this wonderful group (and from an irreplaceable, fabulously helpful significant other). Doing everything alone and dying under the pressure maybe misses the mark.

These are the ramblings of a self-appointed artistic director, who's probably having a power high ;)

22 Jan 2016

A True and Serious Representation of Art

What really takes place in an opera rehearsal? What does contemporary music even sound like?
Here's a short example..

There are as many opinions of contemporary music as there are listeners. What's contemporary and what's music, anyway, you might ask - and you wouldn't be the first. As far as I know anything, I think that our opera is modern, but not in the screeching-banging-farting way that leaves the listener unsure of whether to flee or applaud. Itzam's composition contains all sorts of elements: melodic, singing lines, weird noises, humor, romanticism.. It moves from wonky waltz to smooth jazz to beautifully rich soundscapes. And now we are working our asses off to do it justice.

This excerpt, as you might have already guessed, is not a True and Serious Representation of Art. I'm taking the piss out of you. In a way that's what this blog is trying to do, though - to show that Serious Art, like opera or contemporary music, isn't really that serious. The forms of art are there to be used in any way we like; we can reshape and redefine them. Opera is a thing that includes music, singers and some stage-related stuff, for example. That's not a very narrow concept, is it? It doesn't really sound all that elitist either - all that could happen in a bar, swimming hall or subway.

So stay tuned - there's more piss to be taken out of you. Seriously.