I had been dimly aware of Meredith Monk for years, but only as an occasional comet I would read about streaking through distant avant-garde skies. I had never heard a note of her music until last March, when I heard her live. I had been following with interest the intrepid musical explorations of M. C- as part of the M6 ensemble, dedicated to preserving a performance tradition of her music, so I was curious to hear her.
The concert was at a Unitarian church and sponsored by some sort of holistic healing institute that seemed such an unlikely patron for this sort of thing that when I started getting postcards and e-mails from them several weeks afterwards it took me a while to realize they'd gotten my home and e-mail addresses from me and not from one of the many weird mailing lists I'm on. The Unitarian Church was packed that evening (surely an opening that would pique anyone's interest! I offer it gratis to any writers of thrillers out there). sfmike posted on the concert with the speed of which he is justifiably proud. I'd provide a link but there's a picture of me making a goofy face in there so I'll forego the pleasure. I'd be nice about the audience if they were a nice audience, but given the excessive whispering, especially in the second half, I feel free to vent some of my free-flowing rage on them. Most of the crowd looked like rejects from a roadside company chorus for Il Trovatore – bangles, amulets, shawls, string upon string of glittering necklaces wherever I looked, and lots and lots of overacting. And there were a few sturdy and drab souls who looked like – well, they looked like people who would be at a Unitarian Church on just about any Friday night.
Nonetheless I was dazzled by Monk's performance and vocal agility and imagination. There's a children's story – it's probably someplace obvious like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but you can supply the research if you wish – that describes a type of hard candy that changes flavors from minute to minute. Her music changed colors like that. I finally listened last night to the CD I bought back then and I ended up playing it three times in a row. I think what has struck me the most in the months since, as I've thought about that concert, is just gratitude to Monk for presenting a certain type of Americanness that has seem crushed out of the country, especially in the past eight years – the sense of someone who felt free and brave and open enough to strike out on her own path, and generously welcomed the rest of us to follow along if we wished. It might be eccentricity, it might be self-indulgent or weird, or it might be something that feeds your soul and speaks to you in a way nothing else has, and there's room for all that. It’s been an encouraging thing over the last few depressing months to see that there is still an alternative. I was very grateful to M. C- not only for bringing me to an artist I hadn’t known, but also for getting her to sign my CD, which she inscribed “with deepest thanks,” which sort of abashed me – ah, no, Meredith – thank you.