By Charles "Chaz" Hill
never had a Muse, and it never occurred to me to ask for one.
For one thing, we're talking daughters of Zeus here, and while
he might go slumming, it's simply not their style; for another,
they specialize in things like comedy and epic poetry and dance,
and so far as I can tell, the Greeks never assigned a Muse for
if I ever were to work up the nerve to put in a request, the
Muse of my dreams would be something like this:
She would have long ago put aside the silly "absolute"
vs "program" music debate, and will point out to
anyone who asks that every musical composition, no matter
how generically named, has a story to tell, if you just pay
She would be a synthesist on a grand scale: individual genres
mean nothing except to the extent that they can contribute
to something new.
She would fear no boundaries, be they musical, textual, or
And oh, just because this is a wish list, she would be implausibly
and agelessly beautiful.
as I know, she's not available for Muse duty, but otherwise,
this is exactly how I'd describe Deborah Henson-Conant, whose
Invention & Alchemy concert video, as mentioned here, arrived
this week and which absolutely flattened me. I have never seen
anything like this before. The influences are clear —
you can hear bits of Robert Burns, Raymond Scott, Rimsky-Korsakov,
here and there — but it's all Deborah and her amazing
harp and her marvelously-crafted orchestrations, telling stories
you had no idea you wanted to hear right up to the point where
you don't ever want her to stop. If this sounds like the Arabian
Nights writ small, well, there's a wonderfully-inventive number
from about a week before the end of the Thousand and One. (Call
it, as she did, "996.")
Deborah has many more stories to tell, from a shaggy-dog tale
about how she became a harpist, to an ode to someone who's indispensable
but whom you don't ever think about, to vector analysis of the
top half of an evening gown, to the best birthday song ever.
The music is sometimes soft, sometimes ferocious, but always
infused with the sort of spirit you'd want looking over your
shoulder. And when she sings — but never mind that; she's
always singing, even if it's through her fingers across the
strings. The verve is contagious: you can actually see it catching
the members of the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra as they play
along. The only problem with Invention & Alchemy is that
at 97 minutes, it's about a thousand days too short. Then again,
you need some time to catch your breath.