28 February 2014

Music Day - Sanctuary

Having been a DA fan for a year now (it was a year last week), having at least listened to all of their catalogue (excluding the self-titled debut), and experienced the shades of their work amplified by/contrasted with the work of the Swirling Eddies, Terry Scott Taylor's solo/production work, and the Lost Dogs (it was a really expensive year), I think I can whittle down the list of DA songs to a (slightly) smaller list of personal favourites.

Certainly, storied cuts like Hollow Man and The Double appear high on the list, as well as the epic and soaring Dig Here Said The Angel, the infectious Darn Floor - Big Bite, the stunning When Worlds Collide, and the haunting Pictures Of The Gone World. (And, you know, pretty much everything else they've ever recorded.)

But I think this one may be my favourite Daniel Amos song of all time. (At least until their next album.)

I suppose this album came at the right time of my life. It was just starting to sink in just how drastically my life was about to change. The depression that had been lying dormant in my soul for two years saw its chance to get its hands round my neck again. In times like this, I need two things: humour, and to brood. Vox Humana provided both. Songs like (It's The Eighties, So Where's Our) Rocket Packs, Home Permanent, and Dance Stop made me smile, if only at their ability to turn a phrase, while songs like William BlakeWhen Worlds Collide and Sanctuary were soothing, poetic, and deep, with a touch of melancholy to keep them grounded.

Sanctuary in particular has made an indelible impact on my life. Sanctuary is the only song to which I have choreographed a dance, yet every time I hear it I get this intense desire to choreograph it again. It is that captivating. Sanctuary is the song that takes me back to that still, open summer night in Alberta when I think I really heard this song for the first time -- the night that the first choreographic puzzle piece fell into place (developpé kick, step side and back attitude turn). It was another solo drive home from town as the indigo sky stretched out above me and the poplar tree stands faded back into shadows, as the summer night dew fell on the grass and the last sounds of the frogs and crickets echoed through the ravine near our house. I remember imagining what it would be like to dance this beneath the velvet sky with the moist grass rustling under my feet. That's still what I think of when I hear this song.

Title: Sanctuary
Artist: Daniel Amos
Album: Vox Humana
Year: 1984
Label: Refuge Records
iTunes here; YouTube here.
Buy the album from DA's website here. (You'll have to scroll a bit to find it -- look for the yellow album cover. I've purchased through the site several times now and the service has always been great.)

Sit back. Close your eyes. Let this swirl around you, sink into your mind. The final minute, when they finally release up into the sky all the brooding tension that's been building for the previous five minutes, is perhaps one of the most beautiful passages of music ever recorded.

Should the stars get in your eyes tonight

Should you come into the promised land
From where you came

And if your greatest fears are realised
Your sanctuary

25 February 2014

The Invisible One

Even as a child, I was both shy and a perfectionist. Since I wasn't about to attract attention by being outrageous and I tried so hard to do everything perfectly, I was really only noticed when I did something wrong, and when that happened, I was noticed long enough for the chew-out and then dropped after that. Then in my teens, in the church youth group, they all ignored me. I was the definition of 'wallflower.' Even when I would try to insert myself into a conversation, they would just look over my head and keep right on talking to each other as if I had never made a sound.

When people ignore you that steadfastly for that long, you start to believe that you actually are invisible (in a 'if-I-close-my-eyes-you-can't-see-me' sort of way) and nothing you say or do matters anyway -- at least, not in a good way. You start to believe that invisibility, unobtrusiveness, is a skill to be prized and defended with your life and if anybody notices you, you must be doing something Incredibly Annoying and therefore they probably hate you for making their lives more difficult by being one more person they have to look at. You make yourself smaller and smaller, shrinking down, shrinking in, trying desperately not to get in anybody's way while at the same time desperately needing them to see you and tell you they care... I've always had this struggle of wanting to be noticed and liked, but not wanting to be noticed -- the logic being if I'm noticed, it must be because I'm being Incredibly Annoying or in someone's way.

All that preamble is so that I can say this: One of the strangest things about being at college is the fact that people talk to me.

Sure, people back home talk to me too, but you get the sense that a lot of them really only do it because they have to... because I live in their house and go to their church. But at college, I can walk down a hallway and have three people -- people I don't even hang out with or know outside of class -- smile and greet me by name. This sounds so minor, but it's so weird. I fully expected to be a number here. This is college, after all... this is a big place and everybody's busy. Nobody knows anybody's name in high school, never mind college... right?

Apparently this is not the case. This is a rather small school (by post-secondary standards), but still -- there's five hundred students here. And it's not just the students -- the profs will greet me by name in the hallways or at church (when you're in a Bible college town, you see profs at church). I mean, the profs! These people see how many faces in just one day -- the fact that they remember mine blows my mind. And even people who I swear I've never seen before in my life... they'll sit down beside me at the cafeteria, greet me by name, and ask how I'm doing. It's so weird. How is it that my face stands out to anybody as recognisable? Before college, I can't remember the last time anybody called me by name and was genuinely glad to see me (aside from three particular friends at my home church). But on the first day back at college after Christmas break, I had at least three people come up and hug me and say they were so happy to see me again. People don't tell me these things back home. I'm lucky to get asked if I could clean out the dishwasher before supper.

It's hard to know what to do with this. Don't get me wrong, I really appreciate being noticed and -- dare I say? -- accepted. But what do you do when suddenly you are no longer invisible and people know your name? I've been invisible for so long that I got used to being invisible. It became something that defined me. I could always hide behind this cloak of apparent invisibility if the world got to be too much for me. I can't do that here. Half the college knows me. I do enjoy it, but I'm really at a loss how to respond.

Is this what life is really like? If so... I could get used to it...

19 February 2014

The Performer, The Mask

People who know me will say I'm honest to a fault. I'm not bragging, it's true. Ever since I was a kid, I loathed above anything else a liar. I would probably give more grace to a murderer than a liar. Of course, since I hated liars so much, as I grew up I came to understand that if I hated it in other people, it should absolutely not be present within me either. So I make the effort to be completely, sometimes overwhelmingly, honest (as longtime readers of this blog can attest). It's been a way of life for long enough that I suck at pretending anything.

And yet... my dream is a career in the arts. Hm.

This has been probably my single biggest barrier to the stage. I probably could be a fairly good singer/actress/dancer, if I could just emote. I have heard from so many dance teachers that I have great technique, but I need to smile more. They tell me that 'that's the first thing people notice,' but I could never understand that because when I watch someone on stage, I'm watching the body language. I'm watching the dazzling footwork, the graceful line of the neck and arms, the hand gestures, I'm hearing the rise and fall of their voice. I'm not looking at their face.

But it's becoming more apparent to me that even if I don't actually smile, I will still have to do something to infuse my dancing with emotion. I'm aware that my performing is flat -- in my head I'm jumping up and down, screaming with excitement over the mere act of dancing (heck, just being on the stage), but in my actual face and movements, it's all just sterile technique, carefully meted out according to the beat. And I've finally clued in to why it's so hard to add the emotion.

It's because of my (by now) hard-wired hatred for lying and deception. Yet the very nature of the stage is deception. We put on makeup, we wear period clothes, we jump the same height every time even if we're exhausted... it's all deception. Yes, the audience knows it's deception, but it's still deception. Honesty has been so hard-wired into me that even acting is difficult -- it's like it goes against everything in the universe. How do you pretend to be someone you're not? How do you pretend to feel something you're not?

I spent years disconnecting my outside from my inside and the result is that my body is an emotionless mask -- like the mannequin on the Doppelgänger artwork -- as the mind within whirs and buzzes like the electronics in Youth With A Machine. I spent years separating the two (silencing the truth rather than changing it -- so technically not lying), and now I've been trying to make them line up again so the honesty is richer and deeper. I still haven't figured that out. And then, when I perform, I'm expected to show emotions I don't feel and sometimes haven't shown outwardly in over a decade.

Dance, I think, is the hardest because you don't have words to fall back on. In a song, you have the lyrics to help fill in some of the blanks. In acting, you not only have your lines, you have dialogue between you and another person, which fleshes things out even more. But in dancing you're on your own, and often there isn't even a basic plotline written out anywhere like there is for a play or a film. You kind of have to make up your own. This had never even occurred to me until last autumn, and I still have no clue how to go about doing it since it was only mentioned in passing.

It seems strange to me that I would find this so hard. Since I know I can effectively separate my mind and my actions, why can't I take it one step further and raise the actions from a mere empty shell to something with intent -- even if it's the intent of a character?

13 February 2014

Music Day - O Canada

In honour of our Canadian athletes in the Olympics... O Canada like you've never heard it before.

Title: O Canada
Artist: Angelica
Album: Rock, Stock, And Barrel
Year: 1991
Label: Intense Records
iTunes here; YouTube here.

I'm hoping to post something more than music day soon... it won't be this weekend (this weekend is a total writeoff), but maybe the week after or something. I miss posting.

07 February 2014

Music Day - Sympathy

Definitely my favourite Stryper song.

Title: Sympathy
Artist: Stryper
Album: No More Hell To Pay
Year: 2013
Label: Frontiers Records
iTunes here; official video on YouTube here.

I adore the harmony in the chorus. Michael Sweet is totally on form here -- I think I like his singing better now than his singing back in the eighties. It's still just as sweeping and powerful, but it doesn't sound as forced as it did then.

This is just a great straight-up rock song. It's still the Stryper sound, but it also sounds perfectly suited to today's sound. Sympathy would not be out of place on today's rock radio stations.