My name is Michael Akyuz. I was born an raised in Brooklyn, NY. I am a child of divorce. In my immediate family, I have my mother, sister, and grandmother. I’m a guy surrounded by women, and I can honestly say that it is not always easy. Uhy! I started playing sports when I was about 5, mainly basketball and tennis. There were times when I peaked at each sport, and then all of a sudden stopped playing when my father left. I went to P.S. 99 for elementary school, and Cunningham Junior high for middle school. From the ages of 7-14, i was an active Boy Scout. Once I began high school at Midwood, though, i left the Boy Scouts, which I feel like was a mistake. I miss all the community projects and the fun events I used to participate in with the the scouts. I excelled in high school, eventually participating in the science intel program, where I spent my time researching animal cognitive behavior at a Brooklyn College lab. I graduated Midwood as the Arista leader with academic honors, as well as recognition for my participation in Archon and peer mentoring. After graduating, I worked at the Shoprite in Monticello, which is about 10 miles from my summer house in upstate NY. I can honestly say that from the age of 14, almost all the girls I’ve been involved with were like bad apples in some way. Now that I’m almost 19, I think it’s time to change it up a bit and find some nicer girls to involve myself with.
After visiting the Fluxus Gallery and BAM, attending more traditional art performances, namely the Tokyo String Quartet and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, was a treat in itself. The familiar harmonies of stringed, wind, and percussion instruments were a welcome change from the funky, bizarre, and abstract cacophonies at BAM and the Fluxus Gallery. The Tokyo String Quartet and Orchestre Revolutionnaire performances were beautiful and enthralling, drawing in audiences with masterful musical techniques and graceful interpretations of pieces. The music selection ranged from Beethoven to Bartók, from the conventional to the more revolutionary. Each venue offered its own “flavor,” shaping the audience’s experience of the performances through the space in which the pieces were performed.
The 92nd Street YMCA offered the most intimacy without discomfort. The Tokyo String Quartet performance was far more intimate than the Carnegie Hall performance as it the 92nd Street theatre was a small auditorium with wide aisles, low seats, and a large stage. Being a small auditorium with spacious seats close to the stage, the 92nd Street YMCA allowed for its audience get close to the performers, not to one another. On the other hand, the Carnegie Hall auditorium offered little in terms of personal space as well as a view. Unlike the 92nd Street YMCA, the seats were dense and far from the performers.
Proximity to the stage plays a critical role in the experience of watching a performance. The close distance at the YMCA allowed for the audience to view the performers’ actions and techniques, adding an extra dimension to the performance. While the acoustics at Carnegie Hall were fantastic, the distance of the nosebleed seats from the stage detracted from my overall enjoyment of the experience.
The performance of The Cherry Orchard at the Classic Stage Company was different than any other performance that we had seen throughout this semester, and it was by far my favorite. As soon as I walked in, I was surprised to see how the room was set up; there weren’t too many seats, the stage was in the center and was surrounded by a sheer cloth, and the sections of seats on each side of the stage were facing each other. The two aspects that I loved most about this performance were how close we were to the stage and also how the actors interacted with the audience members.
In contrast to the other performances that we had gone to, we were actually close enough to the actors to see their facial expressions. Facial expressions often convey emotions more effectively than speech; therefore, being seated close to the actors allowed me to more fully understand the emotional state of each character and what he or she was going through. This made the play more clear and enjoyable. I also enjoyed how the play was altered in order to get members of the audience involved. Prior to this play, the closest that we had gotten to audience interaction was when one of the dancers of the performance I Don’t Believe in Outer Space attempted to get the audience members to scream out “hello.” But that was nothing compared to The Cherry Orchard. In this play, one of the actresses handed a member of the audience her cucumber, and later on, she even danced with another audience member. Interacting with the audience keeps them interested. I wasn’t just seeing everything that I had already read about come to life. On the contrary, I was seeing everything that I had already read, plus more. This kept me wanting to stay alert so that I wouldn’t miss any additions that made the performance different from what Chekov had written.
I enjoyed this play immensely, and once it had ended, it finally hit me that The Cherry Orchard had been the last performance for the class. I realized that although attending all these events may have been burdensome or inconvenient at times, I would miss them; I would miss everyone in the class sharing the same experiences together. I really appreciate being given this opportunity, and I hope that everything that I had gained an appreciation for will stick with me.
On that Saturday night in November, I remember staring at the clock impatiently as I held my ticket in my hands and waited for my father to return home from the synagogue. After he came home and recited Havdallah, a Jewish prayer that marks the symbolic end of the Sabbath, I was finally able to begin my way to 92nd street Y. However, as much as I tried to get there on time, I had arrived around ten minutes late and was told to watch the performance in the waiting area until the end of the first piece. To my surprise, I actually enjoyed listening to and watching the string quartet much more in the waiting area than in the auditorium. In the waiting area, I was able to see all four musicians up close and did not have to deal with the discomfort of sitting in a tightly packed auditorium. I was impressed at how the two violinists, the violist, and the cellist all moved in unison. Their arms swayed back and forth together, and they each paused and turned the page at the exact same time. I was especially amazed by how quickly the cellist moved his fingers as he played. Although seeing their movements allowed me to gain a better understanding of how talented and adept these musicians were, it was also a bit distracting. At times, I found myself focusing on the flapping of the violinist’s hair and on the movements of their arms more than I was focusing on the actual music. Looking back, I wish that I would have closed my eyes from time to time in order to be able to take in just the music.
In the string quartet, even though there were three different types of instruments being played at once, each sound was still distinguishable among the others. However, in the orchestra that we had attended, I often found myself not being able to tell which sound was coming from which of the instruments. There were just too many of them to keep track. Another difference between the string quartet and the orchestra was the presence of the conductor. Watching the conductor of the orchestra was extremely interesting; he looked as though he was performing a dance routine as he moved his entire body to the sounds of the music. At times, his twitch-like movements reminded me of some crazy mad scientist.
After attending both the string quartet and the orchestra, even though I have not yet fallen in love with classical music, my level of admiration for musicians has certainly increased. If I had to listen to classical music for over an hour straight, I would probably get bored within the first few minutes. However, being able to watch the musicians as they played the instruments not only made listening to the music bearable, but it also turned it into an enjoyable experience.
As I entered the Metropolitan Opera House, I was immediately stunned by everything that surrounded me. The magnificent chandeliers and red carpets made me feel as though I was a celebrity. Unlike the other events that we had attended, most people were more formally attired. Men were dressed in suits and ties, and many women wore dresses and heels. I definitely felt under dressed, considering that I had gone to the opera straight from school. As I began walking up the stairs…then some more stairs…then even more, I was soon reminded of my fear of heights. Nonetheless, I got used to sitting so high up and eagerly awaited for the performance to begin.
At first, it felt as though the music was overpowering the voices of the actors. I couldn’t help but think that if this performance would have been in English as opposed to Italian, it would not have been as enjoyable; the words would have been swallowed up by the music. However, since I couldn’t understand the words anyway, this circumstance did not affect my overall satisfaction. The entire opera, from start to finish, was truly awe-inspiring. I was especially fond of the joyful and uplifting scenes, such as the scene of Zerlina’s and Masetto’s wedding. Their wedding followed the scene in which Donna Elvira, upon hearing Leporello recite the list of Don Giovanni’s numerous lovers, had announced that she hoped to take revenge. I enjoyed the transition from the more sullen and gloomy scene to a more joyous one. The stage changed from being serious and dark to being jubilant and brightly lit. Boys and girls danced, Zerlina and Masetto joined them, and everyone looked like they were enjoying themselves.
As the performance continued, I kept looking at the subtitles from time to time in order to get the gist of what was going on. I didn’t find the subtitles distracting because I had already read the libretto beforehand and therefore, I only had to glance at them momentarily in order to understand what was happening. Prior to seeing the opera, I thought that Don Giovanni was more tragic than it was comedic. However, my opinion had changed after seeing the performance. It proved to be quite humorous and I even found myself chuckling during several of the scenes. I was completely astonished by the ending of this performance. I would never have expected that Don Giovanni would be surrounded by fire, or that the floor of the stage would open up as he was being dragged into Hell. I was able to feel the heat of the blazing fire from my seat, and I was completely amazed. This was undeniably the most unforgettable and best possible way to end off. Don Giovanni was the first opera that I had ever seen and it definitely left me with a good first impression. I gained an appreciation for operas, and I hope to see more in the future.
Though I don’t outright dislike classical music, I’ve never been particularly fond of it either. And while I hate to admit it, I did find the Tokyo String Quartet to be rather unexciting, and left my house with low expectations. However, I found my expectations defied and enjoyed a fantastic evening.
Walking into Carnegie Hall I prepared myself for the lengthy walk to my seat, and I was reminded immediately of Don Giovanni. Going up the steps I saw what appeared to be an attractive woman ahead of me, and gentleman that I am, thought of giving her the pleasure of my acquaintance. But, as she rounded a corner I caught a glimpse of her face, and decided against it. “Love may be blind,” I thought as I disappointedly continued the arduous climb, “but unfortunately, I am not.” Finally reaching the top of the steps, I was reminded again of Don Giovanni, and laughed as I thought about how the eponymous character probably would have hit that anyway.
The orchestra was magnificent and I enjoyed it far more than I did the string quartet. There may have been something intrinsic to the pieces themselves that made them seem better to me, but I think part of the reason for my preference was that the number of instruments involved in the orchestra made everything sound grander. My favorite part was what I believe were the French horns. Although I tried to take in as much of the performance in at once – the sounds of individual instruments and of combinations, the movements of the musicians and the conductor – I couldn’t help but pay more attention to the horns. I tried to anticipate when they would play, and was oddly fascinated with whatever it was that their musicians were doing as they occasionally turned and shook their instruments. The only negative comments that I can make are about the seating arrangements, and what I think was one foul note played at the end of the performance. Still, I was thoroughly satisfied coming out of Carnegie Hall.
However, the evening was not yet over. I’ve been to restaurants that use attractive service to entice customers, and I’ve been generally unimpressed, so my expectations were low when some friends and I went to the nearby Hooters after the show. However, I was pleasantly surprised by my experience. The fries were unexpectedly good, and the wings were delicious, even though the last of mine was actually a fried pickle that got mixed in with the order. Our waitress overheard me recount the story of the woman on the steps from earlier in the evening and told me that I was full of myself. To which I responded, “I suppose I am full of myself, and hey, if you play your cards right, maybe you could be full of me, too.” She slapped me. Hard. But not being one to hold a grudge, I still left my phone number on the check before leaving.
Even before writing this response I noticed the parallels between the orchestra and Hooters. My shattered expectations, my encounters with women, the last sour note and the pickle. Uncanny, yes, but it does seem that, indeed, Hooters is the Beethoven of restaurants. I’ve since changed my ringtone to the Fifth Symphony in remembrance of this night, and cannot help but be overwhelmed with nostalgia every time it is the waitress that calls me.
Settling into my seat in the Metropolitan Opera House, I attempted to work the screen in the seat in front of me so as to have subtitles available, however, it did not function. There were two possibilities. Either I did not know how to properly work the screen, or the screen was broken. Considering my competency with almost all things, I am forced to assume the latter. Of course, this made little difference to me, as I took it upon myself to date a dozen or so Italian girls during the first months of the semester in order to learn Italian prior to the performance.
My only prior knowledge of the Don Juan legend was Lord Byron’s epic poem. It is truly ironic, that Byron’s interpretation of a Byronic character would make him so un-Byronic. Keeping this in mind, along with our class discussion on Donna Anna, I considered different ways to interpret many of the characters in the opera. Was Donna Anna raped/nearly raped by Don Giovanni? Or was she actually seduced by him? Is Zerlina an ingénue being taken advantage of by Don Giovanni? Or is she more of a coquette, who aims to leave behind Masetto for the Don’s charm and rank? And Masetto, is he rash and needlessly jealous? Or is he genuinely worried for Zerlina but feels inferior to Don Giovanni?
There were two parts of the performance that most impressed me. The first, Leporello’s Catalogue Aria, was incredible not just as a musical piece, but also as an aid in the characterization of the Don. Who knows, if Giovanni did not meet his demise at the end of the opera, he might have lived to reach numbers rivaling my own. And that brings us to the end of the opera. It was spectacular. The flames were intense and entirely unexpected, but even without them, the commendatore’s part alone was enough to send chills down my spine.
Edwidge Danticat’s visit to our campus to discuss the first year common reading provided some wonderful insight into her memoir Brother, I’m Dying. She opened the discussion by reciting five Haitian proverbs, explaining the meaning of each and how they related to the themes present in her book. For example, the final proverb was “When you see an old bone on the road, remember it once had flesh on it”. The saying’s message was a caution against looking down upon those in a worse condition than yourself, as they could have once been the same as you. This, of course, relates to her two father figures, who were left in incredibly unfortunate situations toward the ends of their lives. The event continued with a reading by Danticat, who chose two excerpts that dealt with life and death, prominent themes in Brother, I’m Dying. The first was about when she began the “transition” stage of labor. Danticat likened the separation of a child from it’s mother during birth to other times of significant separation in life and theorized on there being a similar stage when one exits life as opposed to entering it. The second reading was a folk story she included in the memoir about a daughter mourning the loss of her father. The daughter, terribly upset over her father’s passing, is unwilling to go to a wake celebrating his life. A village elder, though, convinces her otherwise, imparting the lesson that it is “not our way to let our grief silence us”; a lesson that Danticat herself must have come to terms with before writing Brother, I’m Dying.
Before book signing began the discussion was ended with a question and answer section. Danticat answered many different questions concerning both the book and herself. Some of which revealed that she was able to begin writing soon after her father died, and that the process was cathartic, but did not provide full closure. It was this section of the book discussion that most reminded me of the previous author reading we had attended: Jonathan Foer’s reading of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Both of these events revealed a lot about the authors and their works, but I preferred that of Edwidge Danticat. Though Foer was witty and intelligent throughout the interview and Q&A, there was something of a “pretentious artist” attitude present that rubbed me the wrong way. Danticat, on the other hand, was very down to earth, humble, and even calming to listen to.
In classic novels and movies taking place before the casual days of movie theaters, the opera was the biggest and most exciting event one could attend. The characters would sit in their boxes all dolled up looking around at everyone in the other boxes. In mysteries, the detective is searching for a suspect or a clue; in romances, the characters flirt with their eyes. My experience at the opera was nothing like that.
Outside of the Metropolitan Opera, on my way in, I recalled those books that I enjoyed so much where the naïve girl looked forward to the opera as if it was the fulfillment of her existence. After climbing flight after flight of stairs I squeezing into my seat, I realized that those girls weren’t sitting in the family circle. They also probably had some knowledge of Italian and had a clue of what was going on. Unless they spent the whole night looking around at the audience, as I unsuccessfully tried to do once I came to the conclusion that I would never understand what was going on on stage. From my birds-eye view all I could see of the singers were flashes of color representing their clothes. That, combined with the fact that I couldn’t discern any of their voices and that the subtitles didn’t say who was saying what left me thoroughly confused, even though I knew the story.
The opera was a cultural eye-opener that should have impacted me more. However, because of my lack of appreciation for the fine art, it is an experience I am unlikely to repeat.
On Friday September 16th I went to the Grey Art Gallery in Manhattan and saw the Fluxus exhibit. This exhibit was one of the oddest ones I’ve ever visited. Entering the building seemed normal enough, a security guard sitting in the front and a woman taking my bag for security purposes. This is where the normality ended. I felt like I was in a different world. The idea of Fluxus is to go against the normal notions of art and create something that makes the viewer think and hopefully upsets some established artists and art critics at the same time. The man who started the entire Fluxus movement, George Maciunas, basically wanted to start an artistic revolution to combat the growing “commercialization” of art. What he and a group of other artists ended up creating was an incredibly bizarre collection of pieces that focused around some of the many aspects of life that the pieces were associated with, like love and happiness. Some of the art pieces were very creative and interesting, like Yoko Ono’s Painting to Be Stepped On and Robert Watts’ 10 Hour Clock. Ono’s painting was hilarious in my opinion; at first I actually walked around it to avoid stepping on it because I hadn’t read the title, and I thought Ono did a great job in doing exactly what the Fluxus project centered around, which was being different and the foil to mainstream art. The clock piece was clever and wasn’t quite as unique as Ono’s idea, but whenever I see a clock that doesn’t have 12 hours, I can’t help but find it hilarious. I thought the exhibit was fairly controversial, from suicide kits to film of a naked woman’s body being played on repeat, but if the point of the entire project was to completely differ from what everyone expects art to be, then I think Maciunas and all of the artists who contributed did just that.
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