On West 121st Street, just behind Columbia’s main campus, stereo beats from of a Friday night party are floating up from the parish hall at Corpus Christi Church. While generally neither problematic or untypcial for a weekend in an Upper Manhattan, a large stereo and the screams of 150 teenagers can make a continuo rehearsal a bit more of a challenge.
In baroque ensemble music, the harpsichord, along with a couple of theorbos and a viola da gamba are, for lack of a better term, the rhythm section for a group. They establish the harmony and provide a rhythmic impetus, working from bass part upwards (not too different from an electric bass and drum set in a garage band). Harpsichords and theorbos can pack a punch to make themselves more forceful: they can add lower notes, build more notes on top in between beats and physically create more sound to increase intensity. And yet, in rehearsing Giovanni Battista’s Giona, they’ve proven to be no match for a well-equipped stereo. Within a few hours, as Jonah is inside the whale’s belly, the continuo section was being swallowed by the quinceañera downstairs.
Chi mi sveglia? Dove sono? Son in mar? E che farò? (Who wakes me up? Where am I? Am I at sea? And what am I doing?)
Where am I, indeed? I’m on the Upper West Side.