Balancing Film, Music, and Emotions in Mother


Written by TeenTix Newsroom Writer MICKEY FONTAINE and edited by Teen Editorial Staff Member AUDREY GRAY


In every human life, there is a mother. It’s a foundational experience for most, but that doesn’t mean it’s one free of complexity or hardship. In the final concert of their 8th season, Mother, Emerald City Music combines film and music into a flawed but impactful meditation on the relationships we have with our mothers.

Mother’s program was made up of five short films and five relevant musical selections, each told through interviews with a diverse group of subjects, varying in age, race, class, and background. It began with a simple and familiar lullaby, “Wiegenlied,” by the mid-romantic icon Johannes Brahms. This gentle piece segued into the first film, “Mother is…” which explored that very question by simply asking the interviewees. Answers varied greatly, ranging from “a monster” to “an adventurer.”

This pleasant starting point evolved throughout the program, departing from the happy memories and moving into a darker, deeper place, grappling with subjects such as rejection, body-shaming, and economic struggle, scored with the more modern, tragic aural world of Amy Beach’s Three Songs, op.2 and Anna Clyne’s “Within Her Arms.”

From a critical standpoint, this program wasn’t easy to approach. Mother seemed to evade a concise definition, flitting between film screening, musical performance, or even multimedia experience. Apart from the evolving form, it omitted a defined point or thesis. Rather, it settled into non-closure and presented a gradient of personal experiences, from which a “point” emerged. Mother’s message felt like it grew rather than was made.

This organic feeling can be partially attributed to the creative process behind the program. It wasn’t a single artist's vision, but rather a collaboration between multiple creative sources. Mother began as a musical program, put together by Emerald City Music, and grew into a melange of ideas and themes spanning across both music and film with the commissioned work of filmmaker Carlin Ma.

Ma described her naturalistic creative process in a post-show Q&A, saying it was built from “patterns that emerged” throughout the film's creation. This fostered a casual atmosphere in the interviews where Ma left enough space for the subject's thoughts to naturally flourish and take the stage. She omitted follow-up questions or intrusive narration and left in long pauses, laughter, or second thoughts from the interviewees. She described how she left this space, saying “You can’t fit these stories into slots. These are people’s lives, not me saying ‘I need to fit this into the script.’”

Of the show’s themes, Ma said “[Mother is] about learning how to reconcile things and overcome conflict as a good human being.” This idea echoed through the program, emerging triumphantly even in its darkest moments. The ideas that Mother presented were deeply impactful, but all of the program’s weight was carried by the documentary. It was the disproportionately important conveyor of meaning, and the music was the ornamental appetizer of the evening. This felt unusual for a supposedly musical program and created a lot of structural division.

Mother followed a surprisingly strict back and forth pattern, opting to abruptly trade between film and music rather than unify them. Just when I started connecting with the stories being told, or began bobbing my head to the music, it got cut short to make way for one or the other, creating a lot of anti-climax.

The music could have been used to convey the more complex feelings and ideas that the films couldn’t, possibly underscoring and intersecting their visual counterpart. Instead, I was frustrated with the show’s unfulfilled potential. It begged to be fully realized, but its two halves were unfortunately held together solely by the abstract, ending up more as a Mother-themed collection of disparate artistic snippets rather than a singular experience.

There were certainly points of thematic resonance between the two halves, which were the best moments of the evening. Everything seemed to come together during Anna Clyne’s “Within Her Arms,” which called for a full chamber orchestra that towered over the restrained duos and solos in the first half. The dense, tragic, almost fugal writing of this piece cradled the fourth and darkest film, “Consequences,” giving weight and emotional vigor to the complex subjects it grappled with.

This program was more than the sum of its parts, but they were presented like a charcuterie board from which one could freely sample, with a narrative that had to zig-zag back and forth to fit in everything it wanted to say. Some parts hinted at what Mother could have been that were grand, rousing, and profound, and in them, I was truly moved, but they were fleeting. I wanted to be taken on a journey through Mother’s beautiful ideas, but it left me to find that path on my own.

Lead Photo Credit: Emerald City Music

The TeenTix Newsroom is a group of teen writers led by the Teen Editorial Staff. For each review, Newsroom writers work individually with a teen editor to polish their writing for publication. The Teen Editorial Staff is made up of 5 teens who curate the review portion of the TeenTix blog. More information about the Teen Editorial Staff can be found HERE.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

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