If you want to sing out, sing out

Pasatiempo - - Onstage This Week - Michael Wade Simp­son

It’s a pro­foundly sim­ple idea: honor the el­derly. Lifesongs, a com­mu­nity-out­reach pro­gram cre­ated by the Santa Fe Opera and Lit­tle­globe, a lo­cal col­lab­o­ra­tive artists’ en­sem­ble, is in its third year. The pro­gram in­volves se­niors from the his­toric Bare­las neigh­bor­hood of Al­bu­querque, Santa Fe pa­tients in hospice care, and a group of res­i­dents from Santa Fe Care Cen­ter, a nurs­ing home. The re­sults of this col­lab­o­ra­tion are per­formed at the Len­sic Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter on Sun­day, May 2. The pro­gram is also per­formed at the Na­tional His­panic Cul­tural Cen­ter in Al­bu­querque on Satur­day, May 1.

Af­ter a van from Santa Fe Care Cen­ter pulled up in front of the Santa Fe Com­plex, where a re­hearsal was be­ing held, par­tic­i­pants were wheeled into a semi­cir­cle amid hugs and greet­ings from fa­cil­i­ta­tors, in­clud­ing Molly Sturges, founder of the pro­gram and a col­lab­o­rat­ing com­poser; Acushla Bastible, cu­ra­tor and stage di­rec­tor; and Zevin Polzin, the com­puter whiz, who was busy set­ting up equip­ment. Fran­cisco Romero, 92, who called last year’s per­for­mance “the best night of my life,” was given a spe­cial wel­come. He had been in poor health just a few weeks be­fore. “I thought I’d see if I can help out,” he said. All of the el­ders on hand had writ­ten songs with the help of the

Lifesongs col­lab­o­ra­tors. While mu­sic is part of the mix, most of the songs take non­tra­di­tional forms, with sto­ry­telling an im­por­tant com­po­nent. “We try and find the mu­sic that ex­ists be­tween us,” said Sturges, who has a rep­u­ta­tion as a mas­ter at draw­ing ideas out of peo­ple. “We start where some­body is. It’s their life.”

“They say ev­ery­body has a novel in them, but we say ev­ery­body has a song,” said An­drea Fel­lows Wal­ters, di­rec­tor of ed­u­ca­tion and out­reach at Santa Fe Opera. She is also a fa­cil­i­ta­tor with Lifesongs. “Peo­ple feel put aside at a nurs­ing home. I’ve been told that at Santa Fe Care Cen­ter, 85 per­cent have no one who comes to visit them. We are about re-en­gag­ing them. At­ten­tion must be paid! These peo­ple are in tran­si­tional states; they’re in life-re­view mode. It may be rep­re­sen­ta­tional or ab­stract, but what comes out is nar­ra­tive. That’s also the heart of opera.”

Jen­nie Gar­cia, who is 89 and in hospice care in Al­bu­querque, wrote a song 50 years ago: “This Is Good­bye.” Work­ing with com­poser Fred­er­ick Frahm and mezzo-so­prano opera singer Kath­leen Claw­son, the song has been re­vised for Lifesongs as a waltz. Dancers, a cho­rus, and in­stru­men­tal­ists ac­com­pany Gar­cia’s song in the pro­gram. For some­thing that starts, as Wal­ters put it, “as a quiet, in­ti­mate part­ner­ship be­tween the artist and the fa­cil­i­ta­tor,” the fi­nal prod­uct tends to be­come some­thing much larger. Sturges es­ti­mated that there would be 70 mu­si­cians ap­pear­ing on­stage at one point or an­other dur­ing the con­cert.

Your Song, a women’s cho­rus made up of hospice work­ers and nurses, par­tic­i­pates in the per­for­mance, and for the sec­ond year, the Uni­ver­sity of New Mex­ico cho­rus Dolce Suono also plays a role in bring­ing the sto­ries to life. Sturges re­ported that the cho­rus dou­bled in size af­ter word got out from mem­bers that the ex­pe­ri­ence mak­ing mu­sic with el­ders in Lifesongs was life-chang­ing. “The kids, many of whom were com­plain­ing up to the very end last year about hav­ing to work with ‘old peo­ple,’ ended up cry­ing dur­ing the per­for­mance,” she said.

An­other piece, “Light and Shadow,” was de­vel­oped with Thomas Vorce, a hospice pa­tient who worked as a pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­pher. His blackand-white pho­to­graphs will be in­cluded in a video that ac­com­pa­nies his piece, which was de­vel­oped in col­lab­o­ra­tion with poet and nov­el­ist Henry Shuk­man and pho­tog­ra­pher Ja­son Jaacks. A choir of­fers “im­pro­vi­sa­tional cells,” and the score in­cludes marimba and South In­dian per­cus­sion. “I sug­gested the rhyth­mic mu­sic to go along with his pho­to­graphs, and he loved it,” Sturges said. “These are vi­brant ex­changes. It’s hard to get your head around it; you just have to ex­pe­ri­ence it.”

One re­hearsal fea­tured “adap­tive in­stru­men­ta­tion.” Each elder sat at a spe­cial ta­ble. The move­ment of their hands along the table­top cre­ated mu­sic, thanks to a video feed and re­ac­tive com­puter pro­gram­ming (the work of Polzin). “Didn’t you go danc­ing ev­ery night?” Sturges asked Romero, the first to sit at the ta­ble. “Ev­ery week,” he cor­rected her. “What were the in­stru­ments?” she asked. “Vi­o­lins, gui­tar.” “We’re go­ing to make your left hand the vi­o­lin and the right hand the gui­tar,” she said. “Re­mem­ber, we’re look­ing for be­gin­nings and end­ings.”

Mu­si­cal mem­oirs: stage di­rec­tor Acushla Bastible, per­former Vir­ginia Gomez, and com­puter whiz Zevin Polzin; top, Bastible and per­former Paul Seifried

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