A Review of Jeeyoon Kim’s Over.Above.Beyond. (Namus Classics, 2018)

Jeffrey Hampton
Covering Contemporary Classical Music Artists
TDR Regular Contributor / June 21, 2021

Over.Above.Beyond. is the 2018 release from pianist Jeeyoon Kim on Namus Classics.  I bought my copy of the CD from the pianist’s website, but it is available on most music streaming platforms.  The liner notes open up with a user’s manual for listening that gives several easy-to-follow steps, providing an original way to enjoy the album.   This user’s manual encourages the listener to take a moment to breathe and be present while listening to the music, cultivating the perfect environment to engage their imaginations. It is recommended that the listener read the liner note for each individual piece which shares Kim’s thoughts and feelings while encouraging the listener to imagine their own scenes that they can look for when out in the real world and share on social media with #OverAboveBeyondProject.

This is a great idea! Listening to classical music can sometimes feel intimidating. But Jeeyoon Kim’s liner notes provide a rather original way to engage with the music for those who want to take the musical journey with her.  The first time listening to this album, I found myself enjoying the small anecdotes from each piece and imagining my own scenery and stories over the music.

The pieces chosen present a variety of composers, displaying some of their easily digestible, shorter works instead of hammering the listener with one titanic warhorse after another.  The first three pieces—Nikolay Medtner’s Forgotten Melodies I, Op. 38, No. 8, Edvard Grieg’s Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, Op. 65, No. 6, and Frederic Chopin’s Nocturne in D-flat major, Op. 27, No. 2—are wonderfully played, showing off fine attention to melody in all three works.  The works are played without an overwrought sense of sentimentality, which could drag the pace of the music.

The next piece, Johannes Brahms’ Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 21 No. 1, spans almost 20 minutes, making it the longest piece on the album.  Kim’s liner notes make clear her love for the piece, which is not often performed.  She encourages the listeners to imagine something different for each variation.  This piece is an emotional journey that needs unpacking, and Kim is up to the task.  The opening theme, easy to follow, is given to us with a thick, full-bodied harmony of luscious chords. Each variation grows organically from the last, and Kim never loses sight of that original theme from Brahms.  The piece, despite its length, never grows dull and is full of many wonderful surprises.  When one reaches the end, they can almost feel the sun on their back after an incredible journey.

The following two pieces are from the famous French impressionist composers Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy.  The pieces are not as heavy as what has come before and are both popular piano solos wonderfully realized here.  “Pavane pour une infante défunte” is both powerful, yet tender.  The music paints a picture of elegance fitting of a pavane, a dance that used to be performed by young princesses in the Spanish court.  Golliwogg’s Cake Walk is a playful romp full of humor.

The next piece is a rarity of a piece by Giuseppe Martucci. The Nocturne in G-flat major, Op. 70, No. 1 is wonderfully melancholic, with once again great attention paid to making the melody sing. Kim’s liner notes describe this one as an image of an old man remembering his past—an apt description of this nostalgic work that could have been written off if played by a lesser musician.

The album ends with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Twelve Variations on “Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman” K.265, a famous set of variations based on a melody most commonly associated with “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” This is the perfect lighthearted way to end the journey.  The playing here is dazzling—playful but elegant and ultimately delightful.   It is the second-longest piece on the album, but that does not weigh it down, as it leaves us feeling refreshed.

The “User’s Manual” provided in the liner notes gives a perfect way to listen to the record overall.  I found myself more engaged as I connected both with the playing shared by the pianist as well as the guidance offered.   I found it easy to picture various images of nature and even some of my own stories with the music. Many times a classical record gives us either a concert program or a collection of pieces all from one genre with no clue of how to engage in it. Personal preference for more programmatic presentations in albums, the idea of the user manual was a breath of fresh air.   None of the music is overwhelming, and it is all aesthetically pleasing to the ear.  Jeeyoon Kim’s playing shines here. It is confidently assured and beautifully realized; the pieces played are melodic and beautiful, but not overly sentimental—a guilty pleasure of a lot of musicians who will drag and distort a melodic line until it is unrecognizable.  For anyone who wants to embark on a thoughtful musical tour, this is the album for you.

How Darkness Enters a Body by Sarah Nichols

For art enthusiasts, the name ‘Diane Arbus’ instantly evokes an image – stark, minimal, haunting, and focused on an individual – a unique individual. As the quote by Arbus at the start of Sarah Nichols’s collection of poems inspired by Arbus images, How Darkness Enters a Body (2018, Porkbelly Press) keenly reads:

“Nothing was ever the same as they said it was. It’s what I haven’t seen that I recognize.”

“Five Photographs by Diane Arbus,” ArtForum, May, 1972

The quote reflects the curiosity about her work and reinforces her mantra and perspective for the strange.

Nichols’s writing echoes Arbus’s approach: intriguing depth of content, with a release by focusing on the fleeting, often peculiar moment, captured. 

The images are not included in the book—for this visual person, I had to seek them out and, at first, over-analyzed – but it’s unnecessary and not an apt interpretation; the enjoyment lies in flashes of authentic, sometimes odd, humanity. Querying deeper intent in either the poetry or the photography does not yield deeper appreciation.

Most admirable about Nichols’s minimalistic poems: each stanza can work on its own.

In “Etiquette for a Headless Woman,” after Headless Woman, NYC, 1961, Nichols writes: “…Now I sit on a pedestal, waiting / For an audience, your invisible / finger pressing on my spine.” In context, Nichols refers to the haunting portrait of a woman sitting atop a pedestal upright with a gown, without a head, in front of a velvet curtain—perhaps as a sideshow. Nichols’s refined description presents a strong woman whose mother’s pressure led to her disappearing head. The aforementioned lines reflecting the mom’s continued tenacious presence, even as the star of a show. As Nichols relates, this feeling of the mom’s pressure—is too relatable, even in reference to a figure we may not typically connect to.

“Something Was There and No Longer Is,” after Inadvertent Double Exposure of a Self Portrait and Images of Times Square, NYC, 1957, is as immaculate as the image. “I haunt this place now,” it begins… “I pass between worlds.” Again – so simple, yet every line can read alone. The poem exudes the artist’s confidence, courage, and unapologetic blunt perspective. Closing with a stun, Nichols’ articulates Arbus’s often-eccentric subjects, “I don’t dare to shut my eyes.”

The title poem, written after Kiss from “Baby Doll,” NYC, 1956, is almost a mini-manifesto from the moment the camera clicked. The photograph depicts a movie still, mostly black with only whites showing a man and woman’s noses, nearly touching, a pose implying embrace and romance. However, the text exudes the darkness of the photo, relaying the mystery of the media’s results—“…every contact sheet a specimen case, / every camera a killing jar…” It is tempting to search between the lines. As with the imagery, overthinking detracts from the intent. Appreciating the poignant, few words of Nichols, as the striking black and white images of Arbus, is enough to realize the value of both.

There are seven poems in this tight collection, each with their own exquisite, modest little moments around Arbus’s curious work—all images of which can be found in Diane Arbus Revelations (New York: Random House, 2003).

The cover art – a black circle covering what appears as light emitting onto a black field – like a cap covering a camera lens, curiously shows no body. Though perhaps its significance lies in the perspective and moment of the capture. The photography, by E. L. Trouvelot, “Total eclipse of the sun. Observed July 29, 1878, at Creston, Wyoming Territory,” from the New York Public Library’s Rare Book Division – is, to boot, a very old image of an eclipse – not an abstract work at all. Much like the works in the book, so much between the lines, but maybe just appreciate the lines themselves.

How Darkness Enters a Body by Sarah Nichols
Porkbelly Press, 2018
$7.50, 15 pages

Sally Brown Deskins is a writer, artist, and curator who focuses on feminist and women artists. Her writing has been published in Hyperallergic and Artslant, among others. Her artwork has been exhibited in the US and UK. She edits Les Femmes Folles, a blog supporting women in art.