On Saturday 14th July, my latest adventure began when I flew to the US to start the Noh Training Project 2012. After a night hanging around Manhattan 24-hour fast food restaurants starting conversations with all kinds of strangers, and a 5 hour bus ride, I found myself in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, my new home for the next three weeks.
Technically, I was a 'first year' - I'd never studied noh on this course before - but unlike the me of last August, this summer I knew at least a little of what to expect.
So, I wasn't terrified when, on the first day, a ream of paper full of strange musical notation and numbered patterns whammed down infront of me
...I was used to the rather frantic sound of paper shuffling as the teacher announced the next song we'd be singing. I even had my own folder full of special compartments for different song books:
...I not only knew what Tabi were, but I had three pairs, one of which has the rather dubious honour of being irreparably dirty from use on fake noh stages (a noh stages is so clean that a surgeon could do an operation on its surface)
...and (perhaps most importantly) I was used to the utter humiliation of getting a dance or a line of sung text so wrong that you can see the teacher momentarily at a loss for where to even start correcting you.
So secretly, I was feeling rather smug. I was ready for this.
Or, so I thought, just before my first day in the NTP 'returning students' class.Within the first minute, sitting infront of two people who sang with a strength I would give three years of my life for, and danced dances I'd learned but with a weight and grace that I might dream of but only if I was having a daring sort of a night, I realised just how wrong I was. I was a caterpillar among giants.
I tried to escape into the first year class, which is really where I belonged. But I wasn't allowed. I was going to have to endure the humiliation, stick it out, and try my best. I set to it, practicing and memorising words, going to rehearsals, trying to sing in the noh version of 'in tune' and to at least keep my balance when I was dancing.
Today, two weeks later, when the sun is shining in the right direction and I'm in a good mood, I can just about see how much I've learnt. All the other times, my brain feels like it's gone from this:
to something more like this:
Noh is a truly wonderful, exhilarating, all-consuming art form (or collective of loads of them). But, working to get better at doing it rides so close to the precipice of 'shovelling shit', that I'm extremely relieved that noh, for me, is also an Addiction. So, onward, into the final week, a recital, a show, and all the fun of the fair!