Mark (battered and fried)
As Verdigris considers how to elevate and expand the choral craft while also connecting the beauty of choral music with a wider audience, perspective from friends and colleagues outside the field have been sources of inspiration. Mark Zlotsky has wandered through the paragraphs of other blog posts (and the goofy picture in the previous post), so you may recognize his name at this point. An architect and generally creative, curious person, his perspective on the innovations possible in choral music have offered a valuable outside view into what is typically an insider’s game.
I’ve decided to batter Mark - who is currently sitting in our living room playing Mario Kart, like the best adults do - with some questions and share a bit of his perspective.
What was your experience with choral music before getting on board with Verdigris?
The only choral music I’ve experienced was your [Sam and my] work at Westminster Choir College. Other than that, not a whole lot.
Impressions of the choral music you’ve heard or experienced so far?
It certainly is dramatic in its performance. I could see it being enjoyed by more people if it were performed in other contexts. It’s put on this pedestal that it doesn’t necessarily need to be if you want it to be a medium that is widely appreciated. It’s just how it’s packaged that inhibits its own publicity. Wrap it a bit differently, and people will suddenly see it as something new.
Have there been any performances that have made a particularly positive impression on you?
I don’t listen to words much; it kind of bleeds together for me. I can’t think of an individual piece that stuck out to me, but spatially - I remember the spaces they were in. The one that we just saw recently [a candle-lit performance of Rautavaara’s Missa a capella by Highland Park Chorale], had a cool effect with the lights. When they started and ended, the simple act of turning on and off the stand lights made it more of a holistic experience instead of just an auditory one.
Choral music is definitely a fringe field that reaches a limited audience made up mostly of aficionados or fellow musicians. It’s rare to find someone just showing up to choral concert saying “I’ve never experienced this. I bet it will be fun!” As somewhat of an outsider to the field, what would make choral performance feel relevant and interesting to you?
Letting go of the desire to make everything legible. Like the audience doesn’t need to understand everything that’s there. But there can be different levels of legibility. On a very basic level, you can do things with sound and lighting to enhance the setting. And then you can layer meaning onto that. People are always going to read something different in a piece, and as long as you allow for different ways to approach it, whether that’s visual or sound cues, it’s a matter of leaving these clues for people to react to. I don’t think you need to shove down people’s throats what the music means; don’t tell people what it is. If you can get something across without having to explain anything, I think that’s a successful experience.
I worked on a theater performance piece that was super esoteric, and most people walked out not knowing what they had just watched, but a lot walked out liking it. It was intentionally mostly garbled collage, but the author had written an underlying meaning. And the audience walked out having pulled meaning from it through the various entry points (dialogue, set, props) even if they didn’t have a complete understanding of the whole. Just because it’s choral music doesn’t mean it needs to be treated differently than dance, or theater. It’s all a live-action, performative medium.
What is one project or style of project that you would love to see Verdigris do?
I think the first step is not making it some unidirectional performance where everyone comes in, sits down, and knows what to expect. For me, one image I keep moving back to is some smoky, dark space where all you focus on is the light and sound, and you don’t really know where the sound is coming from. The space is really neutral; there’s not one place you're supposed to be sitting or facing. It swallows you and lets you focus on the sound. It’s not about who's singing it it. It’s about being in a space and experiencing it. There are a lot of really neat performances that are low-budget, super simple, not huge production-value pieces. Why can’t it sometimes be where you show up and there’s music now?
One solution might be allowing choral music to not always be the centerpiece. You have to leave room for the other mediums part of the piece. Relieving it from its pedestal status.
Thank you, Mark, for your thoughts and creative energy!
We had our second launch event on the evening of May 26th at the home of Raguet and Tom Hall. Three new singers joined our midst as we made new connections, shared our program How to Fly, and further established our presence in Dallas.
Here’s an action shot of Sam during the event.