Listening Party Podcast Episode 12
Nov 06, 2020 1:00pm
Listen as Miriam Khalil shares what it is to break down barriers for the next generation of artists and audience through music and conversations. Miriam is known for her non-traditional repertoire and her nuanced and moving performances, including her recently released music video recital Songs my Parents taught me, featuring traditional Arabic songs. In this work the personal and the cultural collide with opera as Miriam walks in all worlds as an artist. Continue the discussion by listening to the Spotify Playlist!
One of Rebecca’s favourite questions to ask singers is how they got into music in the first place, and Miriam’s answer does not disappoint. She explains how when she was young, she would spend her mornings singing with her dad, and then tells the story of how one fateful night around the age of four, she snuck into the room where her brothers were watching The Shining and saw enough of the movie to develop a fear of bathrooms. Whenever she was in the bathroom, she would sing songs that she heard at church, making her parents wonder why she was praying whenever she was in the bathroom! It was a story that she didn’t explain to them until she was much older.
Her project Songs my Parents taught me is a beautiful example of exactly what Miriam is known and celebrated for. In bringing together classic Arabic music, personal experience, and immense talent, Miriam creates something that is completely new, yet reflective of the past in a way that is deeply personal and heartwarming to all who see it. Miriam is currently mentoring our first Civic Artist Quartet to create artistic projects in the same style for our new Music Alive program. The video recitals are personal, authentic, and share the stories that are meaningful to the artists themselves.
When asked about diversifying the opera stage and audience, Miriam explains how opera is perceived as niche, but really, it’s universal. It’s a story told through emotional music, and who can’t relate to that? Engaging diverse audiences isn’t just about inviting IBPoC into the theatre, but it’s about going to their spaces, creating art that diverse groups are interested in and can relate to. It’s about getting to know a community and representing them in a way that resonates with them. Opera belongs to everyone, and we need to make sure those stories are told.
When I sat down to interview Miriam Khalil a few weeks ago, she was to be part of a podcast that featured three other people, but I knew after she began to share her stories, that she needed a podcast all to herself. Her reflections on her experiences bridging between her culture and the western world as an immigrant to Canada at age 7 offer insights and lessons for all of us who wish to understand what’s needed to move forward respectfully in our diverse country.
We talked a lot about music, and many kinds of music. Miriam offered several selections for the podcast, and I have added some from our discussions as well.
I was fascinated by the impact pop and rock and metal ballads had on Miriam as a young singer. I asked her to choose tracks to represent this part of her journey as a singer. From the power ballad work of Whitney Houston in The Greatest Love All, which she said taught her to just sing and let her voice go, to the tape of Bobby Brown that she was gifted by her brothers, all of it led her to the opera career she enjoys. Knowing the scope of opera, in music and drama, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that she also found freedom in the rock and metal ballads of Aerosmith, Tea Party and Guns and Roses. The following are the pop/rock selections that Miriam chose:
- Greatest Love of All-Whitney Houston
- My Prerogative-Bobby Brown
- Vision of Love-Mariah Carey
- The River-The Tea Party
- Black Hole Sun-Sound Garden
- Dream On-Aerosmith
- Nothing Else Matters-Metallica
- Sweet Child O’ Mine-Guns N’Roses
Miriam told a great story of taking her mom to see Salome with Opera Lyra at the National Arts Centre. Her mom was not an opera goer at all, so that is an adventurous operatic choice. When we think of a first opera, we think of Mozart or Puccini, but not usually Richard Strauss with his 20th century harmonies. Her mom knew the story of Salome, and gamely agreed to go! She loved it! If you wonder what Salome sounds like, and why it might have been a stretch for a non opera goer, you can check out two selections on this Spotify playlist. Miriam had asked for the recording with Karita Matilla, but I couldn’t find it on Spotify, so instead, I’m sharing my favorite Salome, Birgit Nilsson. You’ll hear the Dance of the Seven Veils, and the final devastating scene of the opera where Salome’s final kiss of the severed head of John the Baptist leads to her own death.
Salome Op.54 by Richard Strauss
- Dance of the Seven Veils
- Ah! Ich habe deinen Mund gekuesst, Jochanaan
From her childhood memories, singing with her dad, and the music at home, there are selections I have chosen by two artists she referenced.
- Ya habibi taala
- Enta hataraf
- Saalouny El Nas F
- Nassam Alayna El Hawa
- Sallimleh Alayh
Miriam told a story of a very successful concert she was part of that was hosted by the Canadian Arab Institute in Toronto in 2014. It was called Sultans and Divas. It featured two musical groups she really loved, the Sultans of String and OktoEcho.
From the Sultans of String
- The Power of the Land
- I am a Refugee
- Improvisation Oud/Piano
- Passage du nord
In the opera Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail, Mozart introduces us to the character Osmin, who is the Pasha’s security chief. This opera is a Singspiel, and puts forth several cultural tropes, including a harem, a stereotypical angry raging guard, Osmin, and music that is meant to be Turkish. To Mozart, in that time period, that meant the orchestra included a big drum, cymbals and a triangle. Miriam tells the story of a production of this opera by The Canadian Opera Company in which the director chose to insert a Muslim song of prayer in one of Osmin’s scenes. It struck her deeply and gave context to the culture and the character. I can’t share that musical moment, but to give you a sense of how Mozart interpreted Turkish culture, I’ve included the overture.
Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail
- K384 Overture
I’ve also chosen to share two selections from Ayre, by Osvaldo Golijov, featuring Miriam in a live performance. Miriam performed this work in Victoria in 2018 and it was an unforgettable experience for me. In describing the text and music for Ayre, the composer, Golijov says “”With a little bend, a melody goes from Jewish to Arab to Christian. How connected these cultures are and how terrible it is when they don’t understand each other. The grief that we are living in the world today has already happened for centuries but somehow harmony was possible between these civilizations.”
From Ayre by Osvaldo Olijov, Miriam Khalil soprano
- Una madre comio asado
- Wa Habibi
- Aiini taqttiru
And on Youtube
From the night Sultans and Divas, Miriam and Julie Nesrallah sang an Ave Maria that is a beautiful example of cross cultural creation. You can view this haunting performance here
Remi Bandali, a singer Miriam knew from childhood, can be heard in two Youtube videos, singing about the loss of childhood during the civil war. She’s about 5 or 6 in these, and the songs are in Arabic, French and English.
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