In a city where everyone is always trying to reach their full potential 100% of the time, it can be easy to forget to take in the beauty that is New York City. This IS one of the greatest cities in the world, after all. I think it’s good for even the hardest worker in the room to snap out of his or her focus long enough to appreciate his or her surroundings. So, after a week of auditioning (for Martina Arroyo’s Prelude to Performance program, wish me luck!), voice lessons, multiple recording sessions to create a CD to be sent into a competition, and coaching arias for a competition that I have next week, I decided to reward myself for being such a disciplined singer. I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to let my brain wander for an afternoon. Growing up on the Jersey Shore, I used to drive to the ocean and watch the waves crash when I needed to be zen. Now that I’m a New Yorker, I go to the Met.
I ended up strolling through the recently renovated Ancient Greek and Roman section. I wandered for a solid hour before coming across the Oceania section, where I had never been before. This includes the Pacific islands: Micronesia, Polynesia, and Melanesia, Australia and Southeast Asia. This art was unlike anything I had ever seen.
Three items that captured my attention were the Ambrym Slit Gongs. The gong in the center of the photo was huge, standing at 14 feet tall. This photo does not do it justice. They are among the largest freestanding musical instruments in the world and are carved from “…large breadfruit trees, hollowed out to create a resonating chamber with a narrow slit-shaped aperture. The edges of the slit are struck with club like wood beaters, producing deep, sonorous tones…These gong orchestras are played at major social and ceremonial occasions such as initiations, dances, and funerals” (metmuseum.org). The instruments have also been used to communicate between villages, since their sound is so loud, and they’ve also been used to represent the voices of ancestors or spirits.
I found a video on YouTube from the JVC Video Anthology of world Music and Dance of a Slit Gong performance:
It is so amazing to me how humans from all over the world have developed such unique instruments. The harpsichord, the ancestor of the piano, was invented in the Middle Ages in Europe, string instruments that led to the modern day violin are said to have been developed in the Mediterranean, and at the Met I learned that slit gongs are from Papua New Guinea and Ambrym Island. Music is such a universal mode of expression, and in this culture in the Pacific, music is clearly a significant part of daily life. The people playing the gongs aren’t churning out rhythms on their slit gongs for the cash cow that is the next up-and-coming pop star, they are doing this for its meaning. Whether it is for a funeral, initiation, a method of communication, or for sacred reasons, the music is being created for a deeper purpose than just to top the charts. I like that. I had a teacher in high school say that “the arts remind us that we are human in this technological world.”
So, to add to your to-do list for today: listen to music you’ve never heard before. Let it wash over you, don’t look at your phone or ipad the entire time it is playing, and by doing this, give yourself a reminder that you are human. Snap out of your focus long enough to appreciate your surroundings. Artists aren’t the only ones who should keep their creative souls inspired.