This is the comic I thought of when first listening to Henry Partch’s The Bewitched.
I enjoy percussion music, but have never really be exposed to it, which is why I benefited from reading the insight Nick, as a percussionist, gave about the music. While I wouldn’t quite call serialism the “sliced bread” to Partch’s The Bewitched being “the best thing sense,” I would certainly say The Bewitched is the best thing since a lot of things in the twentieth-century.
I will admit, the first time I listened to the music, I didn’t get it. I thought it was fun, what with all the unusual percussion sounds and playful experimentation with various timbres and pitches. I let it sit for a while, until I decided to listen to it on my iPod while walking back from class through the Linda Hall Library parking lot. As I began listening, my eyes wandered more than usual. I noticed a beautiful tree with its boughs hanging, creating an umbrella-like sitting area. Straying from the usual path I take, I continued on and found a gorgeous flower garden that I had never noticed. To think that I had been attending this school for three years now, passed through this library parking lot countless times, and have never noticed! The sound swirled around me as I smelled the fresh flowers and felt the cool damp air on my skin. In that moment I remembered what Nick had said about the album:
“In the album notes Partch explains that we are all under some kind of spell. We are the products of our environments, cultural conditioning, and systematic brainwashing. While it may be impossible to completely untangle ourselves from such a bewitchment, pure experience and liberation can be found by breaking free into the moment.”
The concept of this freedom is heard in the solo part, the Witch herself, sung by a female vocalist. Her solos are flowing, with sudden dynamics and a pure tone, with occasional breaks to emphasize points. She is accompanied by the “Lost Musicians.” Partch’s inspiration for the sound of the instruments against the soloist is that they serve her as a Greek Chorus would; not only accompanying on instrument, but with sporadic body percussion as well.
The titles to the movements are wonderful, and give excellent imagery when linked with the music. My favorite is “Three Undergraduates Become Transfigured in a Hong Kong Music Hall,” not only for the song, but the title also. (Though my favorite title is hands-down “Visions Fill The Eyes Of A Defeated Basketball Team In The Shower Room .”) As one might guess, it is filled with Eastern inspirations, and on occasion include Eastern instruments. In this way, I would consider Partch Neo-Romantic in creating a specific scene and conveying it so precisely through the music.
The music to me now feels like the most natural music in the world. It is so free! The only place that mattered when I finally understood was in that moment, listening to that exact note and admiring that particular flower.
In many ways, I can understand why The Bewitched is not in the canon. I think that likely a large role in its small audience is because of the limitations on performing it. It’s nearly impossible to find venues to perform it properly, since so many of the instruments are inventions of Partch. Logistics aside, the concept of “living in the moment” is so incomprehensible to most listeners today. We, as a society, rarely take the time to, well, stop and “smell the roses”… sometimes literally!