Friday, August 5, 2011

The Fire that You Light

Tany Ling displaying Michael Chabon's Yiddish Policemen's Union

I got to attend the second performance of the Hammer Museum's "Sing Your Favorite Book" series. This time the performer was Tany Ling, singing Michael Chabon's Yiddish Policemen's Union. I am so glad that I made it to the performance, back pain or no. Tany Ling has an angelic voice, absolutely breath-taking in its purity of tone and beauty.

I'm not familiar with the novel. It's an alternate history detective story set in a Jewish "reservation" in Alaska. That's sounds like it's made of fail to me, but I'm now fairly certain that I'm wrong in this shallow assessment. I had no narrative context by which to judge the passages chosen for the performance, but they were rich and evocative statements. This novel has popped up onto my "must read" list.

Because I was unfamiliar with the book, I focused more upon the singing and articulation of the words. When I heard Jessica Basta perform Lolita, my concentration was given to how she interpreted and arranged the narrative into a coherent performance piece. This made for a radically different listening experience. With Tany Ling, I was listening to the singer singing. With Jessica Basta, I listened to the song being sung. Both were excellent performances, but I was compelled to personally gush with enthusiasm to Tany Ling and take a photo so as to remember to write a blog post.

Michael Chabon's Yiddish Policemen's Union

I'm certainly looking forward to attending another performance.

I really wish more people would come by to check out these events. The two that I've seen have been exquisite. Even my aching back couldn't pull me away from the event. But attendance has been light. Well, that's the nature of performance art events scheduled during weekday business hours. It's too bad. Both singers deserved a larger audience.

"Yiddish Policemen's Union" illustration by Nate Williams, 2007

Now, to discuss the specifics of Tany Ling's performance. Her vocal framework was highly reminiscent of medieval "ars antiqua" motets. On occasion, her voice fell into a deeper tone, evocative of a lament structure. There was an occasional "Eastern" vibe that I mentally associated with quotations from sephardic sources, but may have been inspired from Indian chant, which she said that she used as one source to maintain a stylistic framework.

Over the past few hours, I've been looking around for a piece that captures a similar feel to Tany Ling's performance style. The best that I can do is this:

It's declamative style feels right, as does the purity of tone. It's gorgeous.

Here's the Hammer Museum website.

Here's the Yiddish Policemen's Union Wikipedia page.

And here's Tany Ling's MySpace page.


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