"When I was a child, very young," said Meredith Monk a few years ago in a talk she gave, "I was always singing because my family is a family of musicians. My mother was a singer on the radio. She sang the Muriel cigar commercial, Duz soap, Schlitz beer, Royal pudding. So a lot of my childhood was spent in the control room of a radio station watching people do soap operas."
From these mundane beginnings was to grow one of the most extraordinary performing arts careers of the past two decades. It was Monk who launched the Brooklyn Academy's 1984-85 "Next Wave" series last month, with an apolcalyptic sci-fic dance/theater piece called "The Games," created in collaboration with performance artist Ping Chong. Several weeks ago, her award-winning film "Ellis Island," earlier shown by PBS nationally, was screened at the Hirshhorn Museum.
Tuesday evening in the Hirshhorn's auditorium, Monk will present a solo performance in celebration of a double anniversary -- Monk's 20 years of activity as a seminal force in avant-garde dance, music, film and theater, and the Hirshhorn's 10th birthday. The program will consist of songs -- some accompanied by Monk herself at the piano, others a cappella -- composed between 1972 and 1981.
In some jottings on her use of the human voice, Monk has referred to "the dancing voice . . . the voice as a tool for discovering, activating, remembering, uncovering, demonstrating primordial/pre-logical consciousness." Like every other medium of expression she has touched, music has been transformed in its very nature by Monk, in ways that have had far-reaching influence on composers ranging from Philip Glass to Laurie Anderson.