R.I.P. Anne Berven

I sang in Anne’s chamber choir all four years of college. I think it might have been the most enriching artistic experience of my life, and my college years certainly would not have been the same without it. I have many things to thank her for, foremost of which is introducing me to some fantastically beautiful music, and teaching me to listen to it, as well as sing it. I’m sure anyone lucky enough to have sung with her, been coached by her, or studied in her music class would concur. Her ear for how a piece should be sung: in what voice, which sections should stand out from the others and when in order to “tell the story” more clearly, how to keep from going flat when singing in French—was masterly. Perhaps these are all prerequisites for musical directors, but it’s surprising how many professional choirs sing Rachmaninov as if it were Mozart, or Palestrina as if it were Poulenc, or why some of them bring out the tenors in Russian music when the bassos clearly have the melody (that is if one should ever bring out the tenors over the bassos in Russian music).

Anne also taught me a lesson for which I’m grateful. Sometimes she reproached me for not having continued my music studies after college. She asked me once a few years ago, “How could you treat music like it’s this thing you can dabble with and then throw away, like it’s not worthy of a place in your life?” I bring this up because for me it was a new way of thinking about art—it is not just something to amuse yourself with while you pursue things you respect more; an art form such as music is something towards which one has a responsibility, like a person, or a political cause—not to be treated lightly. People often talk of theatre and responsibility, but the context is usually that of rescuing that art form from failure-by-inanition, or that of an artist’s responsibility to the audience, to move, to educate, to provoke. Anne was speaking of music as though it were itself a human being with a soul and dignity, and that to love it meant to honor it somehow—through continued consideration, examination, participation. It is not just something to entertain yourself with when nothing’s on TV, but something requiring an active and sustained, intellectual as well as emotional (and physical, for practitioners), study. I believe she felt music to be as much of an educator as are books, and that to disrespect it is to let a major aspect of one’s self, of one’s soul, atrophy. It might say something more about my own retardation that I hadn’t considered this until given a talking-to in my mid-twenties; nevertheless, I’m grateful that Anne was as critical as she was generous, and taught me this lesson unasked, which she did over chocolate martinis at Geronimo, a posh restaurant in Santa Fe where we sometimes went when we wanted to feel glamorous and get drunk.

She was also one of the funniest people I’ve known, and her humor added another delightful aspect to our rehearsals, which were never without laughter. I shall miss her.

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3 Responses to R.I.P. Anne Berven

  1. jack says:

    Hey Larissa,I so much wish you and more of the old choir gang were here to go raise martini’s at Geronimo together. Or sing Sicut Cervus in the stairwell in her honor. They’ll be having a memorial for her at the college soon – but it won’t be the same without you, Katherine, Katy, Juliana, etc. I haven’t written anything on her website yet – I’m still trying to find the right words that don’t sound cheesy or cliched or whatever. Besides, almost everything I’m wanting to say has already been said by someone. I can’t believe she’s gone. When someone goes, especially unexpectedly, you always hear alot about, “remarkable person,” touched so many people,” blah blah blah, it becomes a cliche. But with Anne it’s so true. Every time I sing something at church, she’s in part behind it, and whenever I get a compliment about that singing I know a good part of it goes to her. She was one of the most dedicated, honest people I’ve known. I don’t think she could lie to herself, which is remarkable. Most people (myself definitely included) manage to lie to themselves all the time, or at least convince themselves things are not “really” like that. But she’d just call it like she saw it and she was usually right on.She will be missed.

  2. maya613 says:

    Dear Lu,I am sorry you have lost what sounds to be an amazing instructor. I feel that any artistic endeavor that one pursues beyond nagging and homework deserves the thought and consideration you mention. That is why I am mangling the English language to this day–in hopes of somehow and someday, producing something worthy of my medium. I really liked your piece.yaya

  3. juliana says:

    Oh my GOSH!It is March and I am just finding out about this!This is SO incredibly sad! Anne was simply amazing – just so talented, funny, and a genuine person. I will never forget her expression when I gave her edible body paint for a Secret Santa gift – she was just so funny!I know what you mean Jack – it is hard to put into words just how wonderful she was.She will be missed indeed.

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