Communal Orgies of Emotion

Evan Bortnick

Gesangsunterricht Wiesbaden

I don’t exactly know where I heard this expression for the first time; an article, a speech, a dream? I wrote it down as a metaphor for good singing and promised myself I’d blog about it someday. That day has come.

I’m sure all of us can think of dozens of negative expressions of Communal Orgies of Emotion; Witch Hunts, Nazi Rallies from the 30s, Bloodlust war scenes from Vietnam, Riots, Hate speeches from one or the other ultra-fundamental religious group, Klu Klux Clan rallies and so on. How many positive expressions occur to you? Depends on how you’re wired, I guess. Those independent Thoreau-like spirits will probably have trouble associating anything positive to the “Communal”. I can sympathize. There is probably no single expression of communal orgies of emotion which cannot be ‘spun’ or ‘framed’ into a political, religious or commercial usage. Still, at least for me, Gospel Choirs, sports events, peaceful demonstrations and Family Constellations are some examples of the positive expression of communal orgies of emotion.

Evan Bortnick    Wiesbaden

“There are within us dimensions of which we cannot become aware except through symbols” Paul Tillich

Positive means, for me, that after the ‘orgy’ I feel uplifted, cleansed and more cognitively, emotionally and creatively intelligent than before.….brimming with ideas, motivation and love. In a negative expression, it feels for me like the world is split into “US” and “Them”. It feels like I’m being invited to ‘dumb-down’ the complexities of my own sense of morality, of my integrity. A positive expression has a sense of the group dynamic somehow supporting me as an individual. A negative expression has a sense of me as an individual losing something innately personal in support of the group dynamic. I have to admit, I’ve never hung around long enough at one of the negative expressions to describe it in much more detail.

Evan Bortnick    Wiesbaden

“….. it is dangerous to ignore the existence of the irrational. The more cultivated a person is, the more intelligent, the more repressed, then the more he needs some method of channeling the primitive impulses he’s worked so hard to subdue. Otherwise those powerful old forces will mass and strengthen until they are violent enough to break free, more violent for the delay, often strong enough to sweep the will away entirely.” Donna Tartt

One thing’s for sure, whether ‘positive’ or ‘negative’, all human beings in all cultures are exposed to, and invited to participate in, these communal, emotional orgies. Implied in this statement is an assumption that there is both a communal and an individual need which is fulfilled by communal orgies of emotion. What might that be? Much has been written and much has been said about excesses in this area. Entire psychological models and hierarchies have been constructed to understand and explain them. An important part of maturity, of becoming a man or becoming a woman, involves conscious introspection regarding these group phenomena. I’d maintain that anyone who has reached the age of 30 without in any way deeply reflecting on, modifying and transforming their place in family, religion, political party, race or nationality is still in important ways a child! This need for revision, for transformation, for adequate adjustment is, I believe, an important part of what these communal orgies of emotion do for us.

On the most superficial and possibly harmless of levels, we can see this in sports events. Viewed through a purely rational lens, you might have asked yourself what all the excitement is about at sports events. I know I have. A bunch of people running around intensely with a ball or a puck with a larger group of people watching and getting inordinately exciting by it all. Perhaps because it is so harmless and relatively easy to laugh about, it serves as a good observation point for the less harmless examples. You really have to be something of a Thoreau to not be caught up in the enthusiasm of world cup soccer here in Germany or the baseball or football playoffs in the US. It’s like a drug. The entire atmosphere of the culture transforms to THE most positive during this time. I’ve had friends come over from the states during the world cup, who have said things like: “Germany is one big party town”…”what happened to the stereotypical aggressiveness, humorlessness and sternness that has become associated with Germany over the years?” It’s better than Christmas. Whatever it is that makes Germany Germany, the world cup brings out THE most positive attributes of that. Of course a part of it is because they do tend to win a lot. But even when they lose, this positive, playful, party atmosphere remains. This is my point about “Communal Orgies of Emotion”. Something happens to us when we experience coherent and similar intense emotions in a group. And it has a different quality than when we experience it alone.

As you can probably guess if you’ve read ANY of my other posts, I’m leading up to singing generally and OPERA specifically as THE most positive “Communal Orgy of Emotion”! I’m biased. I admit it.

Evan Bortnick     Wiesbaden

“Opera once was an important social instrument……. With Rossini and Verdi, people were listening to opera together and having the same catharsis with the same story, the same moral dilemmas. They were holding hands in the darkness.” Luciano Berio

Yet theater over the years and opera as a very emotional variation has its origins in group catharsis. The Oracle at Delphi was said to have prescribed theater to seekers of truth. This oracle served “Gnoti Sauton”; KNOW THYSELF. What better way to know yourself than to experience yourself as an emotional being and PARTICIPATE in this emotion with like-hearted individuals. The seeker, after stating his question, was told to attend a performance of a very specific play, like “Prometheus Bound”, “Antigone” or “Oedipus the King”, identify strongly with the protagonist, suffer through the protagonist’s dilemmas and emerge somehow cleansed at the end of the play.

Evan Bortnick      Wiesbaden

“. . .from their earliest years children live on familiar terms with disrupting emotions, fear and anxiety are an intrinsic part of their everyday lives, they continually cope with frustrations as best they can. And it is through fantasy that children achieve catharsis. It is the best means they have for taming Wild Things.” Maurice Sendak

Our rational modernism, at least in some forms, throws this baby out with the bath water! It’s understandable. As I’ve said, much has been abused by the excesses of these Orgies of Emotion. Without preparation, emotional stability and presence it’s all too easy to merge into a “Herd Dynamic” with its reduced will and morality. Imagine for a moment taking a post-modern perspective on this. How might we embrace the positive within these emotional orgies, without fear of “brain-washing” or manipulation? Making this more specific and more intense on a personal level, I’ve found that going just a little “META-“ (read: ever so lightly dissociating) on the audience while participating fully in the operatic drama (a juggling act, I admit) REALLY intensifies the group orgy experience for me. How this might look on a group level, I’ll leave to directors, conductors and intendants. I’d love to hear all ideas any of you might have on this. I’d like to illustrate one as a possible example and/or generational idea…

Staatstheater Hamburg, Wednesday, September 12, 2001, a day after the WTC collapsed. Hamburg was papered overnight with American flags. Stoic, reserved people were openly weeping on the street. Final dress rehearsal for H.W. Henze’s “We Come to the River”, an intense piece to begin with. Before we began the open dress rehearsal, the Indendant came to the stage and delivered a moving speech, then asked us all, soloists, chorus, orchestra, audience, stagehands, EVERYONE to take two minutes of silence in honor of the victims. I’ve rarely experienced a deeper stillness. Out of this stillness, the conductor gave the downbeat. WHAT A REHEARSAL! Singers out there know how hectic and chaotic a final dress rehearsal can be. Nothing like that here. Such focus. Such Intensity. Such artistic commitment. Such congruent group concentration. Of course it was a special occasion. But imagine calling forth this kind of emotional intensity and concentration on the stage and in the audience FOR EVERY PERFORMANCE. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one….

Evan Bortnick

Gesangsunterricht Wiesbaden


About evanb54

I'm a passionate, curious learning junkie--- an X-Opera Singer turned Voice Teacher, Voice Teachers Teacher, NLP Lehrtrainer, Off-Path Coach, Cranio-Sacral worker and a few other even less mainstream things. Everything I've learned or taught revolves around THE VOICE. The Voice as a tool of artistic expression. The Voice as a tool of emotional transparency. The voice as a tool of flexible communication. If you're interested in voice lessons or vocal pedagogy, please visit this site: There's an English and a German version. If you're interested in voice coaching, public speaking, trainer skills or presentation skills, please visit me here: ..and feel free to send any questions. Looking forward to hearing from you! More information can be found at my Institute Site: The Wiesbaden Academy of the Vocal Muse Gesangsunterricht Wiesbaden, Coaching, Voice Pedagogy
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