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

Monday, February 20, 2017

Speed Dating Tonight! at WTAMU in Canyon, Texas

This weekend, SPEED DATING TONIGHT! plays at West Texas A&M University in a production directed by Suzanne Ramo. The production features two faculty members, Lyndi Williams Krause and Christopher Meerdink in guest appearances.

Monday, February 13, 2017


Thanks to my old friend and colleague Allison Charney for commissioning my ARRANGEMENTS AND DERANGEMENTS OF SCHUBERT for her group, the Ark Trio of soprano, cello, and piano. The premiere is tomorrow in New York. 

The Schubert songs in the set are   Nacht und traüme, Sei mir gegrüsst! Die manner sind mechant, Die forelle, and Rastlose liebe.
Here's my composer note from the score:

Franz Schubert's songs are so perfect that they are hard to adapt without feeling like you might be defacing them. So there are two impulses at work: 1) a very careful, respectful, almost reverential arrangement and 2) an aggressive reinterpretation or commentary which I've called "derangement" which is a jumble of de-arrange, deranged, and French déranger (disrupt, disturb). 

The arrangements of three of the songs are clear. Create a cello line that meshes with the intent of the song and enhances it. Create a cello line that is fun to play and has melodic integrity.

The derangement of  "Sei mir gegrüsst" reflects a 21st century view of the text. What may have seemed Romantic in Schubert's time, seems to me obsessive and even deluded. The cello plays Schubert's melody and the voice reinterprets Rückert's text. It is almost as if the singer is conjuring the words from hearing the song played by the cello.

As for "Die forelle," even Schubert in his own Trout Quintet, sticks to the jolly trout swimming in the brook. The English speaking audience glosses over the information that the trout is caught and dies. The structure of the original song reinforces that--it goes back to the swimmy, brooky music at the end. In this derangement, I've loosely translated the text and forced us to deal with the fish's demise. Like it or not, humankind can admire a creature's beauty and then turn around and catch it, shoot it, kill it, photograph it, and now post it on social media. 

Allison Charney had patiently waited for me to do something with Schubert's songs for the ARK Trio (voice, cello, and piano). Finally, she did the best thing, scheduled a concert which imposed a deadline. I'm grateful to her for waiting me out and grateful for the opportunity to interact with these great songs. The delay was only because I wanted to have my arrangement-cake and then eat it too--derangement!

Hopefully Schubert is laughing, nodding, or humming along. And even if he's not, why should the regietheater directors have all the fun? 

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Meanwhile up in chilly Fargo...

Click here if by any chance you want to go see it up there. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Spring productions of SPEED DATING TONIGHT! are about to begin

It was a pleasure to go to Syracuse University to help them get going on their production on January 27 and 28 with works by Tom Cipullo and Steven Serpa. Soon after that will be productions at Emerald City Opera in Colorado and Gulfshore Opera in Florida. 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

New dates for SPEED DATING TONIGHT! at Emerald City Opera in 2017

Artistic Director of Emerald City Opera, Andres Cladera has been very loyal to SPEED DATING TONIGHT! He was involved in the production at Microscopic Opera in Pittsburgh which commissioned and premiered the first orchestrations back in 2014. Last season Emerald City Opera did a production of SPEED DATING TONIGHT! and this season they've commissioned some new dates for their 2017 production.

There were specific instructions to include cannabis and skiing. I've also included a food truck owner, a hiker, a UFO believer, a furry, and a duet for people two people of faith. The opera now has over forty dates to choose from. Using all forty will make for a full evening.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Hold On - Performed by Clare Gormley and Kevin Murphey

Clare commissioned this spiritual arrangement for her album. Where are you Clare?

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Speed Dating Tonight! for the second time at Amarillo Opera

Photos by Bill Byrd

Last night we closed a three performance run of SPEED DATING TONIGHT! at Amarillo Opera. It was the second time we have done it there--the first being back in 2013. The production had six new pieces--"Carrie," "Do you like kids?" "Nosy Parent," "Bar Bugs," "Break in the Action" and a trio called "You have lovely eyes." We now have two opportunities for older singers with "Nosy Parent" and a club owner who can sing "I've always liked this bar" and/or "Break in the action."

The production also included a group of about half a dozen musical theater students from West Texas A&M so it had a different vocal color at times, which worked great.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Speed Dating Tonight! at UNC-Greensboro

Here's a nice little review from the student newspaper at UNC-Greensboro from their recent production of SPEED DATING TONIGHT!.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Letter about style from Iain Hamilton, 1978

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I'm trying to clear out my archives. Scan it, digitize it if it's interesting, and usually throw it out. Every now and then something pops up that is worth looking at, listening to, and cherishing.

I found a letter from 1978 from my first composition teacher at Duke, Iain Hamilton. He had resigned his position to focus on composition. Until Duke figured out what to do about a composition teacher (eventually they hired Robert Ward, for which I am eternally grateful),  I went over to take composition at the North Carolina School for the Arts and one of the teachers there I found nettlesome because of his modernistic, atonal approach to composition. Back in those days, writing in that style was more de rigeur than it is now, thank goodness. I love rereading his words:

"Indeed never allow any style to be forced on you. We must attend to technical skills especially those of the great periods of counterpoint in the 16th and 18th centuries but those essential disciplines are something different from being channeled into a particular style in our own time--that is something we must discover for ourselves and I have often said whatever one writes it will be new and fresh if one has originality within oneself."

In opera, I've always found style to be a situational device, to be influenced by the story line and characters. Shows like SPEED DATING TONIGHT! deliberately juxtapose a variety of styles to match the variety of daters. Other operas like my recent ALICE RYLEY, CORPS OF DISCOVERY, or SLAYING THE DRAGON deal with cultural clashes that are depicted through musical styles.

Dr. Hamilton was a shy, formal man with a twinkle of humor. I always remember him letting me into his office for a lesson and then scurrying behind his desk to look at my weekly scribblings. A catchphrase I remember was "There's nothing you can't learn from ____" (Mahler, Bach, Mozart). His operatic work was not done all over the US, but there was a production of his ANNA KARENINA at the Los Angeles Opera. Here's the last page from the piano vocal score in his tight, efficient calligraphy.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Albuquerque Speed Dating Tonight!

Shea Perry and Ian Johnson star in “Speed Dating Tonight!” (Courtesy of Mary Brzezinski)
(Courtesy of Mary Brzezinski)

Here's a nice article in the Albuquerque Journal about the upcoming production of SPEED DATING TONIGHT! at the University of New Mexico. It refers to SDT! as "wildly popular." I guess it is. The actual information is forty two productions since the 2013 premiere, with eighteen this season.