People are sometimes interested in words that do not have single meaning: Kallisti is a Greek word that has its rich mythical origin imprinted in “the apple of discord”. Ether, for most individuals, represents the endless sky and universe; for organic chemist, it is a group of substance that was named for its anesthetic properties, creating alternative states of consciousness. Out of curiosity, I went to hear the concert, kallisti: Queen of the Ether, to explore how the performers synthesize mystery into their performance. I found out this concert was indeed filled with riddles. Its exclusive use of female singers reshaped my perception of them in the field of singing. Its experimental style also gave me insight into appreciating distinct music forms.
This concert took place in Conrad Prebys Concert Hall. The room was filled with irregular firm wood walls, creating unique effect to resonate the sounds. The platform was big enough to contain an orchestra of one hundred people. Near the front row, the platform also spans out to expand our vision, making the concert like a cinema. It is also noteworthy to mention that the comfortable seats were made of dark red color, hardly interfering with my focus on the performance.
One of the most interesting aspect of this concert is its lack of instrumental accompaniment. Except for the percussion that only appeared in third song, other things were merely the female voices. This setting makes the concert like a pure A Capella show. Though a bit disappointed at first, because I myself was fond of songs that have beautiful melodies played by instruments, I was progressively intrigued by the great virtuosity. I realized that the singers’ musical skills were the spotlight of the concert, and instrumentation would only hinder me to appreciate their skills.
Indeed, each performance had its characteristic virtuosity. The first song, Vive faville, seemed to toy with quietness. It featured four sopranos that has their own low-volume weird voices such as wind-blowing, chit-chatting, and pure singing. They often sung by themselves, with occasional unifying harmony and complete silence. The second piece, Sequenza III, was sung by an omnipotent solo singer. Besides her display of unstable emotions, from mummering and sighing to laughing and yelling, she also synchronized actions into her singing, thereby depicting a vivid person who was easily influenced by different events. The third performance, Puksanger/Lockrop, seemed like two country women, standing in both sides of a mountain, having a worldly conversation. There, the male percussionist helps to set up the grand scene. The fourth song, Vishentens lov, sounded like a group of scholars trying to answer philosophical questions. The fifth, Six Songs for Sirens, was set in a more celebratory tone. Afterwards, the encore Do Not Fear the Darkness lightened up the atmosphere, comforting me with the softening lyric, which is its title.
The program provided a pamphlet that was helpful for understanding the music. Even if it does not translate all the lyrics into English, I could confidently anticipate how the songs go down. The director of this concert, Susan Narucki, also aided my perception by telling stories. She also acted as the conductor when she was singing, which I thought helped her better direct the group.
From above experience, I learned that female voice, when played along, could go beyond the stereotype, and show many skills that I did not know before. Besides its commonly believed smooth nature, the voice could mimic an object perfectly, change its volume variably, shout out words recklessly, and do something usually done by men. The concert, by showcasing music pieces that can be described as different art forms, also broadened my vision of music. Not all beautiful music requires instrumental accompaniment or at least acoustics. In fact, as can be traced back to Hildegard’s work, only using female voices could be strong enough to vibrate people’s feelings.