Tuesday, April 9, 2013

My Concert with VCME

I will be out of the country until late in the month, but before I go, I want to celebrate an occasion and give thanks for it.

Last weekend, I was honored to the point of bedazzlement to take part in a concert by the splendid Vermont Contemporary Music Ensemble. Its artistic director and clarinetist Steven Klimowski had contacted me over a year ago, suggesting that the ensemble commission five Vermont composers to write work prompted by my poems, and then to offer two public evenings of poetry and music combined.

My gratitude is indescribable to the composers, comprising Alex Abele, Lydia Busler-Blais, Michael Close, Erik Nielsen, and Thomas Read. At each event, I would recite a poem of my own, and one of their compositions would follow, as performed by first-rate musicians, to whom I am also deeply obliged: Nicola Cannizzaro, percussion; Rachael Elliott, bassoon; Berta Frank, flute and piccolo; Rebecca Kauffmann, harp, Bonnie Thurber Klimowski, cello; Steven Klimowski, clarinet and bass clarinet; Peter Matthews, guitar. Anne Decker conducted Mr. Nielsen's extended composition. The variety and unfailingly high quality of the compositions, the mastery of the players, the intriguing instrumentation: all these together truly thrilled me.

We often speak of poetry's "musical" qualities, but the term is a bit misleading. As my friend Marvin Bell once asked, "If poetry is only music, what chance dos it have against real music?" So I was especially pleased that the writers were not setting my words to music, but rather responding to them. Once I got over my nerves (which were jangled a bit by the novelty of this performance in my case, and by the nagging sense that I was whatever I was, whereas these were genuine professionals)– once I felt at ease, I had the curious experience of learning more about my own work by attending to the creations it had helped to motivate.

The whole affair was no doubt the high point of my tenure thus far as state poet, and maybe of my entire writing life. As we received our ovation on the second night, I found myself thinking, "How would I have dreamed, back when  I was a typically hyper-hormonal, hockey-playing, unbookish high school boy, that I'd be standing here after participating in such an affair?" But that's exactly where I did stand, and my indebtedness to composers and musicians alike is boundless.

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