Beth Fleenor: The Discipline Of Being

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The level of focus is incredibly challenging. I have been lucky to work mostly with people who are incredible improvisers. I have done a little bit of playing around when people haven't improvised very much, but most of the work has been with people who are absolutely fantastic improvisers and really anything that they did is going to sound great. I am very curious about it, in its many forms, about how other people at different stages, and different genres too, react to it as a practice. For me it has been this great eye opener in terms of deepening my presence and my listening experience, and my support of other people.

One of the things that we practice in the ensemble is that when you are not playing, in addition to listening and taking everything in, you are conscious of offering your support to the rest of what is happening, if that is one soloist. In the case of the Workshop Ensemble, if there are 12 of us playing and the soloist steps forward, then that is 11 people who are offering their full presence and support of everything that person is playing and doing. It is the most amazing sensation, to be a part of that kind of an organization. It is hard work.

It freaks me out a lot as a leader because, again, it is not like I have answers about this stuff. I hope that 20 or 30 years from now I will have very different feelings about it, but at this point I am three years in and we are kind of stumbling around in the dark with the blindfolds and trying to listen to each other and communicate and learning amazing things in the process.

It is so much easier to move five people than it is 12 people. Each additional person that you add in feels like three or four other people. When it is all moving together it is like a whole other universe. We did blindfold for a Crystal Beth rehearsal which was incredibly intense. I came out on the other side and was like, "I don't really know what just happened!" (Laughter) It felt really heavy and really disorienting, and for me it is so much really visceral and guttural performance and full-on singing.

I went through the whole set and didn't drink any water, which was not good, but I was just in it and listening and kind of caught in this other state. Afterward we wrapped up rehearsal and I went home and slept for like five hours and felt really weird. It was interesting to me because it was because of the blindfold, this really simple thing and there was suddenly all of this extra information. It was very cool at the same time.

AAJ: What were some of the consequences of doing that with Crystal Beth?

BF: I felt like the output wasn't regulated. For me, personally, it was like taking the gate off or something and it was all coming through super strong and super fast. It was exhilarating. There is so much sound because it is all amplified, so there is tons and tons of vibration, and then listening to each other with the full body in this more intensive way, for me, I felt more open at the same time, and then not really taking breaks in between it. We ran straight through continuously, 45 minutes of super thrashy, heavy primal scream music. I felt like I had turned the waterfall on and then cleared it out entirely, whereas, moving through the etudes, it is more paced.

We dropped down into the middle of the maze and then went on turbo charge, driving through it. (Laughs) That's the best way I can describe it. It was disorienting. I would like to do more of it, and I feel like it is also a tool to open up communication. There are all of these hits and things that we normally are clued into each other for and cued into things that I will pause for an undetermined amount of time to hold the sound in a certain space.

It was interesting to do all of those things and what was amazing about it is that it totally worked. We totally felt each other and we were able to still do all of the hits without any of the seeing each other whatsoever, but then it was also a great amount of effort in terms of trying to concentrate and feel that, whereas without the blindfolds we can just rock out and catch things, and it is a little bit lighter. I felt like things got really heavy, energetically, when we put on the blindfolds.

It was like going down into deep territory and hearing all of these things in a way that I hadn't heard them before, which is also exhilarating. I wonder if it, too, is actually because I predominantly sing in that project. I sometimes will sing in the Workshop Ensemble with the blindfold material if I hear something, if an idea comes and it feels like that is the voice that it wants to be on, if it is the voice instead of the clarinet, whereas with Crystal Beth I am singing mostly. This is also the first time that I have mostly just sung at full bore in the blindfold, outside of my living room or by myself.

AAJ: The thing about Crystal Beth is that it is your personality, your musical voice. A lot of people don't have that.


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