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We have art so that we may not perish by the truth. (Friedrich Nietzsche)

The Point of View from Here

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I met the late American poet, Mark Strand (April, 1934-November 29, 2014) at the American Academy in Rome when he was the poet-in-residence and I was a lowly fellow in music composition.  I say this with mirth because when I was awarded the Rome Prize I immediately thought I was invited to embark on a creative journey of self discovery.  That was certainly true, however, what I did not expect was the continuous illumination of my creative ideas through the insights and perspectives of the other artists and scholars in the Academy community.  I specifically  remember meeting Mark Strand for the first time at  concert at the Villa Aurelia.   After the concert I overheard him commenting on the music that had been performed by a guest ensemble from a university in the U.S.  I remember the music was severe avant garde music, rather raw and abstract. He thought it was “just a series of tricks and musical jokes without a thread of narrative”.   Perhaps his remarks were a little reactionary because he was not familiar with the genre.  However,  his spontaneous review stuck with me over the years and I have discovered the importance of a telling a story with my music no matter what the chosen language.

Years later when we collaborated on At the Edge of the Body’s Night, my setting of his Seven Poems,  I asked him to share with me the meaning of the opening line:  “At the edge of the body’s night, ten moons are rising”.   I was already to create some ominous music that would conjure a mystical universe engulfing a Gaia-like earth surrounded by ten magical moons, and I thought a few words from the poet would really push me over the edge.  He simply showed me his ten finger nails and said, “I see these first when I awake and rise each morning”.  So, I was relieved to learn from this poet-sage that the human experience is not all together meaningless, but often has an unexpected meaning.   And so, I will miss his brilliant verse full the most unexpected perspectives on the human condition.

Audio from I. At the Edge of the Body’s Night for piano and digital acoustics featuring the recorded voice of Mark Strand.

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Why I Compose for the Theatre

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Tennessee William’s The Glass Menagerie in its original production  featured original music composed by the American composer, Paul Bowles.  The author envisioned music underlining almost every important transition in the play.  For example,  in the opening monologue, Tom, calls the play a ” memory play”  -”In memory everything seems to happen to music,-That explains the fiddle in the wings.”    The published play calls for 30 music cues, many of the cues underlying  for extended dialogue or monologues.    Music in this play is inherent in the text:   the victrola on stage that Laura plays to escape from the overwhelming disfunction of her family , sounds from the dance hall outside the apartment that intoxicates Tom, and the music that is remembered or imagined by all of the characters.   All of these moments with their emotional overtones inspire music.  When I began working on the sound design last summer for the In Tandem production that opened last week in Milwaukee,   I encountered some rich resources that fueled my inspiration.  I found myself exploring music of the late thirties,  archival 78 recordings, and what music can be made from the breaking of glass or the rubbing of wine glasses. These  all conjured a rich supply of imaginative music and sound.   However, inspired as I was in this creative process, my music seemed to float above the imagined space of this drama.    Even though, the emotional content of my compositions were  right on target, it was not until the music was tailored to fit seamlessly in the drama that it began to actually mean something.   Thanks to the director,  Mary MacDonald-Kerr’s sagacious grasp of the emotional pace of  the drama, the timing and dynamics of the musical cues we perfectly placed.  The music then came  alive and the sound coming from the stage whether it was from words or music became one vivid,  coherent, message.   In compositional terms my  music became just the right music at the right time.  This sounds like the definition of a good piece of music:  the right music at the right time.    So, I look forward to composing and designing for live drama because it is my highest choice to compose music that creates its own tightly organized and executed drama of sound.

 

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