Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012...10:02 pm

Chant Macabre: Songs of Death and Enchantment

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Thanks to Professor Healey of Introduction to Theatre Design at Queens College, I know of a really quaint museum in NoHo: The Merchant’s House Museum.  “The Merchant’s House Museum is New York City’s only family home preserved intact — inside and out — from the 19th century. Built in 1832 just steps from Washington Square, this elegant red-brick and white-marble row house on East Fourth Street was home to a prosperous merchant family for almost 100 years” (Merchant’s House Museum).  Because I’m a crazed lover of the old, I decided I’d get a student membership to the museum and go to three events that they’re holding in one month (though I must cancel one of my reservations due to a prior obligation)!  The first of the three events was Chant Macabre, a vocal concert performed by the Bond Street Euterpean Singing Society.  Follow me on a journey back in time, a journey to a 19th century parlor filled with macabre music.

Let’s fill our tummies before we go back in time!  I’m just going to put in a little plug here for the B Bar & Grill restaurant which is right across the street from the Merchant’s House Museum (along with many other eateries that I must try in the near future).  The floor plan of the restaurant is really spacious and there’s more than enough tables to go around.  They serve brunch, lunch, and dinner, along with drinks.  There were too many things on the menu I wanted to try (macaroni and cheese, a lamb burger, pizza, just to name a few), but I ended up tasting their Fish ‘n Chips.  I have a question, why are Fish ‘n Chips portions always so large?  Anyway, the food was delicious, and their french fries are to die for (like my little death joke there?)!  Definitely a recommended spot for food before any event at the museum.

Okay, now that our tummies are full, let’s venture in to the world of the 19th century!  If you like haunted houses, you’re in for a treat because the Merchant’s House is known to be filled with ghosts.  Many strange things happen there all the time.  The parlor room was a bit busy due to all of the events that are happening at the house in the next couple of weeks.  At the front of the room was a big coffin covered in black fabric – getting ready for the 1865 Funeral Reenactment I see!  There was an authentic piano from the 19th century in the corner, but due to its pristine condition, the Metropolitan Museum has said it can never be played (after the house raised money to refurbish it!).  So we had to make do with an electric piano and multiple technical difficulties – I’m telling you, the ghosts were playing with us!  The Bond Street Euterpean Singing Society sung many 19th century parlor songs by a myriad of composers including Schubert, Debussy, Mussorgsky, and Saint-Saëns.  I was really glad to see that the program included the words and translations to most of the songs that were sung.  It was almost humorous at times how morbid the songs were!  In The Gravedigger’s Song, the chorus goes as such: Dig, spade, dig!/Everything I have/I thank for you, spade!/Both rich and poor people/Will be my prey/Will come one day to me.  Another one, Walpurgisnacht, was a dialogue between a scared son and his mother.  The son is afraid of the noises outside and believes there are witches.  The mother tries to console him until he finally realizes… his mother’s a witch!  The songs were really nice to listen to and the humor and occasional sadness was really brought out.  As I have said in another post, singers must act as well as have good voices – and these singers definitely acted!

Sometimes, it’s a little difficult to get back into the swing of things once you’ve been in the 19th century for too long.  Coming back on the subway was not an easy feat!  A warning that everyone should take seriously: read the service changes – you may miss your stop and travel into the future!  It might be wise to act like a NYC dweller of the 1800’s and just walk.

Marina B. Nebro

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