Saturday, April 18, 2009

Cantata No. 42 in Heerhugowaard

Right, so lately this blog has been less about love, life, art and cricket, and more A Diary of an Australian Tenor in Holland, but there we are - I'm sure I'll address the others in due course.

Had a rehearsal today for a gig that I'm singing tomorrow. It's in the middle of bloody nowhere - Heerhugowaard, which is an hour and a half by train from The Hague and then another ten minutes by car, so over three hours' travel there and back. I didn't know that it would take that long when I took the gig, and neither did I realise that they wouldn't be re-imbursing my travel expenses, either. Makes the €75 that they're paying me look even more paltry - I'm going to end up about €40 in front, and given the morning rehearsal and morning service, I'm foregoing two badly-needed sleep-ins as well. Hmph. Oh well - such is the life of a newly-arrived-on-the-scene singer: I'm loathe at this stage to turn anything down, particularly if it's a solo gig (which this is), because you never know who you're going to meet, and what sort of fabulous work you'll get from doing it. Today's €75 gig less travel expenses could be tomorrow's large-scale tour, recording deal and snorting crack off super-models' backsides.

Still, I continue to be impressed by what I see in this country, and continue to find very good answers when people ask me, round-eyed, "why did you want to leave Australia to come HERE???" - which happens more than you'd think. Heerhugowaard is NOWHERE, and I'm not kidding. It's a back-of-beyond, uninteresting, sparsely-populated, nothing sort of a place - an agricultural town that was established on account of the local cabbage-growing industry, or so the elderly parisioner that ferried me to and from the church proudly proclaimed. Population: fuck-all. Certainly no more than a couple of thousand, if that. And yet, despite all of this, they're remarkably well-equipped to put on Bach cantatas. The church boasted a very nice little organ, a harpsichord, a perfectly competent parish choir, and a small orchestra, who were probably all being paid but were all still local. And were playing on period instruments, for crying out loud.

This is pretty incredible, really, and more so when you consider that there are probably hundreds of churches just like this throughout the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. Can my Australian readers imagine this? No matter how healthy a parish is in a country town in Australia, you'd be lucky to find someone there who even knew what a harpsichord was, let alone for the place to actually have one. Things are better in the UK, but not much, really. This is the equivalent of someone turning up in the equivalent country town in Australia wondering if anyone plays AFL, and finding not only a club but a well-maintained ground, training facilities and a whole bunch of professional and semi-profesional players.

(.... Actually come to think of it, this probably isn't the greatest comparison. There are probably any number of places like that in Australia, and the same with football in the UK, that boast this sort of thing. But maybe it IS a useful comparison anyway, because you can see that the Dutch attachment to classical music is more or less the equal to the Anglo-Saxon attachment to sport.)

Classical music is just part of people's vocabulary here. Not EVERYONE's vocabulary, you understand - the Dutch do white trash just as well as anyone else - but it is very much part of the fabric of the community. That's why when I sang eighteen St Matthew Passions that almost all of them were sold-out, despite the fact that they're mass-produced and badly-directed. THIS IS WHY I CAME HERE. Not for the under-paid gigs that require lots of travelling nor for the bad direction of course, but for a world where classical music is part of everyone's vocabulary. A world where if I tell the man in the pub what I do for a living I don't reveal myself either as a "girl", "poofter", or at the very best, quaint oddity with the unusual taste in vocational activities, who then has to justify his career-choices to everyone. It's almost like presenting art and music actually holds relevance, somehow, as opposed being part of some sort of obscure niche.

I gotta tell you, it's awfully refreshing.

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