My mother was a fantastically creative but tragic figure. She pined away in a care center and eventually the hospital, after battling depression and other physical ailments (Parkinsons) quite likely caused by the copious amounts of medicine that she consumed to battle the demons inside. She died at 55 looking 90, alone in a lonely hospital room, unable to move.
Her story is an important one. Full of wit, intelligence, history, culture, she was. And yet life bludgeoned her multiple times. I have suitcases full of letters, a literary draft, pictures, articles of her life. It is my intention to use her words and her story to write an opera. The first steps are to go through all of her material and find a cohesive line to explain how her experiences made her unravel.
Part of the tragedy: she wrote this in 1984 and ended up exactly as she describes when she died in 1998. ----Heb drie dagen in een verzorgingstehuis voor zeer ouderen gewerkt, omdat ik dacht: zorgen dat heb ik mijn hele leven al gedaan, waarom er dus niet eens voor betaald worden! Het was erger dan het ergste dat ik ooit heb meegemaakt. De voorstelling van het werktheater was er een komediestukje bij. Meneer, ik wil niet meewerken aan mensen in leven houden. Zelfs niet door ze iedere dag vol met eten te proppen: Open your mouth Bee! Open up! Good! Now that’s a good girl! … tegen een vroegere onderwijzeres. Levende lijken die wakker gemaakt worden, gedoucht en aangekleed, eten erin gedouwd, voor de tv gezet, naar de kerk gebracht, jawel. Een kleine scheur langs een hand maakt een wond, beenderen zo bros dat een klein duwtje het laat breken, en hun ogen die smeken dat God hun zielen terugneemt. Gelovig en wel, jawel! Maar geen pilletje. Het leven is toch zeker heilig! Waarom zegt niemand verdomme eens, dat het helemaal niet heilig is? Waarom laat niemand het woord vallen dat er maar eens doodgegaan moet worden? Enfin, na drie dagen stonk ik zo naar de dood, was ik zo intens woest op onze immense dommigheid, dat ik per telefoon liet weten van deze carrière af te zien. Toch is het gek. Ik was er verrekte goed in, en voor zover ze er iets van in de gaten hadden, aanbaden mijn oudjes de grond onder mijn voeten. En ik hield ook van ze, al was het alleen al omdat die vermoeide ogen zoveel gezien hadden, zoveel. “Sister, will you call my daughter for me? She will get me out.” Met een zekerheid van dat kunnen ze me toch niet aandoen. En dat de hele dag lang, zeven dagen in de week. Ik keek haar in de ogen en zei: je komt er niet uit. Nooit. En toen huilden we samen. ---
2023 (the year in which I have the magical age of 42, a lucky number) is the year in which I feel I am at a great crossroad. The question that is dominating my mind at the present is in which direction I want to go. Every direction seems enticing in its own way. There are several which are pulling at me more than the others. First and foremost, it is imperative that "we" work at stimulating classical music, and music making in general, in the next generation. I want to play a large role in this. I believe that making music is a realistic way to inspire healthy communication and goodwill between people of all nations and ranks of life. The rather cliché "earth without art is just eh" is actually quite appropriate. Of course the earth could rather care less about the destructive humans rummaging about on it's surface, but for humanity itself, art makes one feel needed, alive, bound to each other and the cosmos, and inspires us to bring out our best qualities in a non-destructive manner.
My work with amateurs in the last decade has troubled me in the sense that there is very little inflow of younger people into ensembles that have proudly existed for decades, even centuries.
For this coming year, therefore, I will be expanding my work with children. The previous decades has allowed me to work with children as a conductor and teacher in various orchestras and choirs in Palestine and the Netherlands, and of course with my own wonderful children, Eva and Abel. This year I will continue to work with more groups at Nieuw Vocaal Amsterdam, Jonge Strijkers, and am looking into even further possibilities with other organizations.
The next directions that I am contemplating on pursuing are exciting and daring, but also needed for my personal development. My dream has always been to be an opera conductor (after having tasted it during my assistantship at the IU opera theater in Bloomington) and to step into the professional conducting world. It's time to really push for my dreams. I have applied for two conducting competitions this year, after having done two masterclasses with Jorma Panula in the past year. (for those who don't know me.. I have a masters in orchestral conducting from IU Bloomington and a bachelors in violin cum laude from SFSU). It's time to feel the discomfort of instability, and to push myself to welcome a new step in my musical career.
The last road which I am currently contemplating is management. This is a scary road which brings much responsibility and knowledge that I am not yet a master of. This might even be a complete step away from the musical world. As I know of myself, seeds of thought are planted and sometimes take years to germinate. We shall see.
There is a budding compositional idea being formed as well - Marijke. (my mother).
A lot of griping about leaders doesn't lead to any solutions if the problem itself are the constituents (or better said, their participation and behaviour). This is true for countries, businesses, schools, sports teams, and yes, choirs and orchestras. I've recently had a discussion with one of the amateur ensemble board members that I have worked with about the problem of a dwindling amount of players in a particular section. The blame was partly shoved to my plate, whereas the real problem lay in the fact that the players that felt uncomfortable and therefore left were 1. attending rehearsals where they were the only player of their section because the others didn't attend for various reasons, 2. or they themselves didn't attend enough rehearsals because of various work/family reasons. All in all, lax attendance was the real culprit, causing a downward spiral of motivation within that particular section. The rest of the ensemble didn't have any problems (except for the fact that that particular part was thinned out and sometimes completely absent or technically inadequate). It goes without saying that it makes my job as a conductor difficult to perform adequately.
One of the things that was stamped into our education in the USA not only during school, but also at sports activities, orchestra, and swimming, was the fact that participation and attendance was a large part of your grade. Perfect attendance was rewarded, absence was frowned upon, and only with a doctor's note could one get free. The USA (back then) knew that the group only functions as a whole when its constituents are dedicated to whatever goal it has.
I am constantly thinking about my role as a conductor, and I think (and hope) that I've evolved over the years. If that's for the better, I'm not sure. I'm sure that youthful enthousiasme and wit has its benefits. Age brings wisdom, sagacity, and understanding of the whims of man, but also fatigue and impaired mental capacity due to stress factors. It might might also bring a bore-out if one does not find the proper motivational freshness.
To not diverge too much, the point of this is that a certain simple saying has been my mantra for the past 6 approximate months. Make it better. Find a way with respect, calmness, and clarity to help the musicians constantly find a better sound to fit the score. When the personal ego gets in the way, one must remind oneself that the musicians are looking for your guidance to make the whole sound better.