A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, opera a cappella now available at Albany Records

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

How much of SPEED DATING TONIGHT can I do without a grand rights license?

Thanks for clicking on this post. Here's your answer until I decide otherwise: FIFTEEN MINUTES. SPEED DATING TONIGHT! is protected by grand rights licensing. That means you can't do it with staging unless you've contacted me and I say you can. Even if you have the pdf of the whole thing. So what I'm saying here is if you want to do up to fifteen minutes of the show, go ahead without contacting me.

The good news is that you can download a perusal copy and it will cost you nothing. Why? I'm the composer and librettist and publisher so I get to decide if that is ok or not. And I believe that for a composer, "the big problem isn't piracy, its obscurity."  (Tim O'Reilly via Cory Doctorow) I want you to do an excerpt and have that make you want to do the whole thing, so you can get the satisfying arc and closure that you'd get from a full production and then I get a fee. Plenty of folks are deciding to do the whole show and I want you to join them.

So go ahead and do your fifteen minutes of favorite pieces of SDT!. There is a small catch--the perusal score doesn't have every version of every song in it, so if you want that fifteen minute excerpt in a certain key range, unless you are lucky, you're going to have to contact me and let me sell you the versions you need. I will charge you for those, cause of the time involved.

Here's a further explanation of grand rights licensing. It's what a traditional publisher like Boosey and Hawkes might do, or a licensing organization like MTI or Tams-Witmark. But in this digital age, it's gotten simple enough for business minded creators to do it themselves. I love the fact that SPEED DATING TONIGHT! has filled a niche implicit in opera production--shows that fit available personnel. It's kind of how the composers in the 18th century wrote works that showed off the particular singers available at an opera house. But it would have been a pain to do on any scale before computer music notation and things like pdfs made information so easy to share.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Everybody can (and should) write music and words

Although I love collaborating with professional writers, I also like to work with untrained folks. In Memphis I the opportunity to write songs with students, teachers, and even a group of adult offenders. This is an example from 2003, written with a group of elementary students from Orange Center Elementary

I miss my family
I miss my mother
I miss my home in Mississippi
I love my brothers
I love my sisters
I lost my home in Mississippi

Grandma's got her teeth in a jar
Uncle's looking up at the stars
Grandma's in the garden picking roses
My sister's folding up the clothes
Baby brother's saving souls
Everybody's having family dinner.

Here's an link to audio. You can feel the nostalgia, and the uprooted hurt in this.

Untrained writers take you to unexpected places. They say what they feel, and don't default to rhyme. The challenge is they don't always understand the need for tight forms, especially in songs. I need to keep a wild, untrained spot in my own writing, lest it become too predictable. 

For the writers, it's exciting and empowering. I remember the teachers I worked with at the Memphis Arts Council's summer institute. Whenever we saw each other we'd be able to sing the things we collaborated on. It was a special bond. 

I've been in Iowa a good while now and I'm starting to reach out to a group of non-professional creators to see what can be accomplished. 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

And Beyond

I have been trying to learn how to play the guitar in public. It will add some nice variety to a program of originals, mostly done from the piano. Still can't play bar chords without looking at my right hand. This was from a recent evening at a wonderful little place called Byron's in a very little town called Pomeroy, Iowa.

Sunday, November 15, 2015


Had a lovely couple of days watching rehearsals of both of these shows and interacting with the student singers and composers at Opera McGill. Although they don't belong together, the two operas should still make for a fun evening. Seeing BUOSO (1996) is like seeing a grown up child. It's completely familiar, it's part of you, but it's also at least a little bit distant. 

The collaborative nature of SPEED DATING TONIGHT! with the selections and assignments varying from production to production makes it seem almost like a new show every time. In this version, for example, the pathological liar is played by a female, and a couple of the shows most standard songs "I've always liked this bar," and "Do you like cats?" were both cut. 

Thanks to bearded old friend and colleague Patrick Hansen for programming the two works. Patrick actually directed the premiere at the Pittsburgh Opera Center at Duquesne. And thanks to Jonathan Patterson and Stephen Hargreaves for their parts in the directing and music directing.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Alice review

Here's a link to a review of ALICE RYLEY from last week. The good news is that Savannah VOICE Festival will remount it in August during their annual festival.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Speed Dating Tonight! at Missouri State University

Talkative Girl orders her triple vodka?

Thanks to professors Ann Marie Daehn and Amy Fay Muchnick for programming SPEED DATING TONIGHT! at Missouri State University. Performances are the 6th and 8th of November in Springfield, Missouri. Looks like the bar has a nice big organ. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

An honor to do the honors

This past Saturday in Savannah, the Savannah VOICE Festival and VOICExperience presented their annual Milnes Award. The honoree was Carlisle Floyd and as a former student I was given the chance to introduce him and to present the award along with Sherrill Milnes and Maria Zouves. Work with Carlisle, along with training to write songs, were the two things that gave me the courage to be a composer/librettist, something I turn out to be pretty good at. 

If you're interested, you can read my remarks. It was a wonderful chance to thank a teacher in public, something we don't often get to do.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, if I were to tell you that Edgar Allen Poe or Herman Melville was here to night to receive an award, you'd be impressed. Well, unlike American literature, American opera is less than a century old and its first generation of creators are still within living memory. Here's an example. Although, there aren't many people still around who were at the 1936  premiere of Gershwin's PORGY AND BESS, last month in Amarillo, I met a couple who were at the premiere of Douglas Moore's great American opera, THE BALLAD OF BABY DOE. That was in 1956. And Although Gershwin and Moore and others like Robert Ward or Gian-Carlo Menotti are gone, Carlisle Floyd is still with us, is with us here tonight, and has even just finished a new opera.

Floyd's 1955 opera SUSANNAH is one of the first four or five full length American operas to enter the operatic repertoire. What does it mean when I say that? it means that it stands up to THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO, RIGOLETTO, or CARMEN. It holds its own, alongside THE FLYING DUTCHMAN or MADAME BUTTERFLY. It is a breathtaking accomplishment. It's like being at the top of a high cliff where most of us can only stare up from the bottom and shake our heads in astonishment. And Carlisle's initial success was no mere stroke of luck. He has built a body of works that will last, works such as OF MICE AND MEN, COLD SASSY TREE, WILLIE STARK and the upcoming PRINCE OF PLAYERS which will have its premiere in Houston this Spring, sixty years after the premiere of SUSANNAH. Comparisons with Verdi are, in my opinion, inevitable.

Carlisle's work has set a high standard for those of us who would try to follow him and his advice to would-be opera composers and librettists has been outstanding. Here are just some of the tips: find the crisis and passion, map it all out carefully in a synopsis ahead of time, and my personal favorite--avoid cliches.  Ladies and gentleman, I don't know if you are aware of this but I am a student of Carlisle's. And the fact that ALICE RYLEY seems to be working as well as it does, is in no small part due to my study with him.

It is my pleasure, honor, and sheer delight, along with Sherrill Milnes and Maria Zouves to bestow the Milnes Award for 2015 to composer Carlisle Floyd."

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Orlando Montoya's Savannah podcast about ALICE RYLEY

I am a big fan of podcasts and regularly download Freakanomics Radio and This American Life. While in Savannah for the August workshop of ALICE RYLEY, I got a chance to record a podcast interview with Orlando Montoya who does a regular podcast about Savannah. He did a great job making me sound articulate.

One of my favorite points in the podcast was being able to emphasize that opera is an entertainment medium as well as an art form. We take ourselves way too seriously and need to concentrate on things that work as live lyric theater. I also finally say in public what I've thought for years, that the MET HD is a mixed blessing for regional opera. You can also hear where I've borrowed a phrase of Gershwin in the new opera.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Meanwhile, over at Schmopera

A little guest blog over at Schmopera about the healthy input I have received about ALICE RYLEY from singers and singer/producers at Savannah Voice Festival.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Pictures from the workshop of ALICE RYLEY in Tarpon Springs

George Konstantinidis took some great photos of the presentation of ALICE RYLEY in Tarpon Springs. A polished workshop is about the audience reaction and it was gratifying to see the piece was engaging, gripping even, all the way through. 

William Wise (Cody Austin) lords it over his two indentured servants Alice Ryley (Ashley Dannewitz) and Richard White (James Wright). White is about to strangle him...

Alice (Jessica Ann Best) looks back in horror at what has happened.