Pat Blythe – SOUSATZKA
I woke up this morning (Sunday) thinking about music and the play I attended at The Elgin Theatre on Friday night. SOUSATZKA. In preview mode at the moment before heading to Broadway, I have every expectation it will be successful if the audience that night was any indicator. The play, based on the Bernice Ruben novel, Madame Sousatzka, evokes and elicits many feelings and mixed emotions. Love, pain, anger, hope, despair, disgust, fear, hate, family….and it is all tied together by music.
If music be the food of love, play on… — Twelfth Night, Shakespeare
Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent — Victor Hugo
Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything — Plato
You know what music is? God’s little reminder that there is something else besides us in this universe; harmonic connection between all living beings, everywhere, even the stars — Robin Williams in August Rush
Any descriptive you read about the play primarily focuses on the tug-of-war between a music teacher and the pupil’s mother. The summation in my local paper, Beach Metro News, runs like this, “Sousatzka is the story of Themba, a young South African piano prodigy who escapes apartheid in South Africa for London (England). Once there, the masterful piano teacher Madame Sousatzka takes him under her wing – causing tension in his relationship with his mother.” To me, the bones of the play, the real story is about tie that binds us all….music.
Sousatzka – Trailer
Music isn’t the keys and notes on the piano, nor is it the frets and strings on the guitar, or even the pounding of a drum. Those notes you were hearing inside your head and started to hum in the shower? The words that came to you in the middle of the night swirling around in your mind, keeping you awake until you wrote them down? The rhythm you started tapping out on your steering wheel? They are what you feel….when you place your hands on the keys, or the strings, when you put pen to paper….it is where your brain and your heart, working together in concert, take you. It is intuitive. Whether you are creating or interpreting, what you experience and what you hear is yours alone. Watch any musician as they perform, including singers….their eyes are almost always closed as their faces contort while their bodies begin moving…..swaying and dancing. They become an integral part of the music/song, they are no longer just “performing”, they are acutely but inherently aware of every note, every nuance, every beat. This reaches out and touches the listener(s) who begin to “feel” it too. Music “speaks” to us in a way that nothing else does.
This is what Sousatzka tries to teach her young protégée and eventually, through much frustration, anger, emotional pain and patience, succeeds. She quickly cuts him off mid piece when he begins to play for her for the first time. “Stop! You don’t do music, it comes from here, you must feel it,” she tells him as she places her hands over her heart. In an attempt to show him, Sousatzka comes up behind Themba and places her hands over his eyes, preventing him from reading the notes. He is startled at first but continues to play, slowly beginning to draw a different picture, the flow and the tempo changing, creating his own unique and distinct feeling to the piece. For me it was an eye-opener.
Under African Skies – Paul Simon (with Miriam Makeba)
Music. It is the one single, worldwide unifying force….for everyone. There are songs of hope, patriotism, love, hate, protest, longing, desire, healing, sadness, joy…. Sousatzka illustrates all of this…..in spades. It is the story of many broken lives, completely and utterly torn apart, healing through music….told through music. Music is the narrator. It tells us the story of countries and nations, of war and peace. It demonstrates how music unifies us and proves that music has no colour, no race, no religion, no country, no boundaries or barriers. It helps us to mourn, to dream, to laugh, to dance and to feel joy again. It teaches us how music draws us in, bringing us together. Eventually you just have to start tapping your fingers and toes.
Sousatzka is a lesson in love and loss, acceptance and understanding and most of all, humanity. Sousatzka is about the individual stories of internal struggles and pain after suffering horrendous loss and experiencing unbearable brutality. Sousatzka teaches us that hope, determination and love can never erase the memories, the emotional scars will forever remain, but music helps us cope, to overcome, to soften the edges, so we can live, love and move forward.
A introduction by Sousatzka producer, Garth Drabinsky describes the play in the following video. However, one quote (for me) stands out, “Their dreams are also built on a nearly religious belief in the power of music.”
Sousatzka Musical Press Day
The visuals during the play were beautiful. Outstanding and superbly creative, literally surrounding you, evoking many emotions, particularly two….. sadness and awe. The staging was inventive, imaginative and believable. The singing and dancing were exceptional, but the heart and soul of the play is music.
If you’re interested and would like more information on the show and show times, click here http://sousatzkamusical.com/about/ Is it the best play I’ve ever seen? No. Is it the most moving, compelling and deeply touching? Yes, and the cast translation of the music….excellent.
Madam Sousatzka – Movie trailer w/Shirley Maclaine, 1988
I have a very deep, abiding love for music. It touches me in places I can’t explain. This performance of Sousatzka put many pieces of the music puzzle together for me in ways I am unable to describe although I’ve made an attempt through this column.
A big THANK YOU to Gilda’s Club Greater Toronto who gifted the tickets to me and to their many other volunteers and members. https://gildasclubtoronto.org/ Also, thank you to the Elgin Theatre for donating the tickets to Gilda’s Club.
NOTE: I will not be producing any new columns for the next few weeks as a new project will be consuming about 120% of my time well into April. However, if you don’t mind, I will be asking my esteemed editor to rerun a few pieces I wrote from a couple of years ago. I am already committed to attend a number of evening events over the next few weeks so when I’m back to writing again, I will attempt to play catch-up with all the goings on in this wonderful Music City we call Toronto.
Here’s a partial list of what’s happening and where I’ll be:
Mrs. Henderson – Royal Alexandra Theatre, March 17
Sam Taylor – Scruffy Murphy’s, March 18 and at the Linsmore Tavern, March 19
Julian Taylor Band – Aoelian Hall, London, ON, March 25
Danny Marks – The Duke Live, March 25 (although I will be out of town, I highly recommend seeing Danny Marks, a personable, talented musician and performer)
Peter Kashur, Bob Segarini, Roxanne Tellier and others – Placebo Place, March 30
….there will undoubtedly be a few others in between.
YouTube, Sousatzka Musical website, audience member
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“Music and photography….my heart, my passions.” After an extended absence — 33 years as a consultant and design specialist in the telecommunications industry — Pat has turned her focus back to the music scene. Immersing herself in the local club circuit, attending the many diverse music festivals, listening to some great music, photographing and writing once again, she is eager to spread the word about this great Music City of ours…..Toronto. Together for 34 years, Pat also worked alongside her late husband Christopher Blythe, The PictureTaker©, who, beginning in the early 70s, photographed much of the local talent (think Goddo, Frank Soda and the Imps, BB Gabor, the first Police Picnic, Buzzsaw, Hellfield, Shooter, The Segarini Band….) as well as national and international acts. Pat is currently making her way through 40 years of Chris’s archives, 20 of which are a photographic history of the local GTA music scene beginning in 1974. It continues to be a work in progress. Oh…..and she LOVES to dance!