Pianist and psychotherapist Marilyn Lerner merges her two professional pursuits in a show with the New Upstream Ensemble, premiering this weekend at the James Dunn Theatre.
Lerner’s composition—combining written score and improvisation—is called Ding un Sich, a phrase taken from psychotherapy. Translated from German, the phrase means “the thing itself,” explains Lerner, from home in Toronto. “They’re the things that can’t be subjectively known.” They’re the things that are felt but not easily explained in words at all.
This is par for the course for an musician who collaborates with poets—including Patrick Friesen. “There’s a connection I can’t really articulate,” Lerner says of poetry and its place in her oeuvre. Each of the four parts of Ding un Sich takes its name and thematic cue from a concept in psychotherapy. For example, “Wit Work” sprung from the practice of using jokes or humour in therapy. Freudian slips, Lerner mentions, are a type of wit work. “I wrote a piece that was much faster.” Another piece is called “Figure and Ground.” What is in the fore, and what is in the back provide the structure of that composition.
Lerner’s compositional style is mobile. “Some music is done away from the piano, walking down the street or taking a swim.” It takes special players to understand and appreciate this—to go with the flow, so to speak. Founded in 1990, the New Upstream Ensemble will outfit Lerner’s vision on stage. The ensemble is made up of original members Paul Cram (tenor sax and clarinet) and Jeff Reilly (bass clarinet), with new players Lee Park (violin), Rick Waychesko (trumpet), Lukas Pearse (bass) and David Burton (drums).
“We’re trying to create a new vocabulary,” Lerner says.