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

Saturday, January 20, 2024

The vocal recital transformed

Jamie Barton and Kathleen Kelly with
TOI's Mark Craig after the concert in Taos 

Last week in Taos, I heard what I think was my favorite recital/concert ever. Taos Opera Institute (TOI) presented mezzo Jamie Barton with pianist Kathleen Kelly at the Taos Center for the Arts. The program was wide ranging yet never incoherent. It included German, French, and Italian sections, with the duo providing friendly, inviting commentary rather than formal program notes. This gave the event a welcoming, cabaret feel, which drew in the audience in a way that I've never seen in a program that had the likes of Purcell, Schubert, and Mahler. The closing English group of Libby Larsen and Jake Heggie songs had us enraptured in a way which said "and now let's add the extra layer of instantaneous, immediate comprehension to go along with the musical and vocal beauty and perfect ensemble supplied by their earlier foreign language selections. Songs in English should always provide that... like adding a wondrous fourth dimension.  I arrived at the concert something of a jaded skeptic and left with a sense that Barton and Kelly have shown us how to transform the old "art song recital," into something vibrant, vital, and fun.

Bravo to TOI for bringing this program up the mountain. 

Monday, November 27, 2023

String Quartet (1987) now at IMSLP


I've uploaded another piece to IMSLP. It's a String Quartet. It's Creative Commons, so free to download and perform. As I mentioned in the post about the Fanfare for Orchestral Brass already up at IMSLP, I'm an opera composer and songwriter now and will not be going back to write pure instrumental music. There was still good stuff along the road, so why not share it? 

I urge composers to make long term plans for their work and not trust it alone to fate, family, or publishers. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Notes on Viardot piano vocal score


Notes on Viardot, or in this image, Viardot on notes

The piano vocal score for NOTES ON VIARDOT has been delivered to University of South Dakota for its April premiere. A perusal version is now available for download. Thanks to Florida Grand Opera, Taos Opera Institute, and Missouri State University, for the workshop/readings

The first act is about a half hour and the second/third acts combined are about 45-50 minutes. I will be finishing up a 1/1/1/1 0/1/0/0 percussion, keyboard and strings orchestration. The first act will be available on its own. I'm proud to have written a full length opera that takes place on a unit set--projections desirable in one spot!

A homage to Pauline Viardot, NOTES makes lively and frequent use of pastiche, quoting over twenty works by the likes of Chopin, Gluck, Saint-Saens, Clara Schumann, Rossini, Mozart, Donizetti, and several pieces by Pauline Viardot herself. I envision the work allowing lots of cross curricular programming, both within a music department and outside of it. 

It is 1905 and Pauline has granted an interview to a reporter. She talks about her famous singing family, her debut and rise, her many famous collaborations, her salons, and finally--and reluctantly--about her personal life. 

If you have ten minutes, here are four short excerpts:

Act I “Characters” Sung by the Young Artists at Florida Grand Opera (PV 6-11) 2:13.

This will give you an idea of the extensive use of pastiche in the opera

Act II “Calling Cards” sung by Emily Owings at Missouri State University. Emily sang Pauline at the reading at Missouri State University. Solo version of a duet, giving you the breadth of Pauline's influence in her day.

Act III “Hermann and Dorothea” duet for Younger Pauline and Younger Turgenev (PV 153-160)

(ends at 3:35) Performed by Sophia Vidali and Colin Clark Bracewell at Taos Opera Institute. 

Act II “Chere madame Viardot” Turgenev writes to Pauline from Russia. Audio Sung by Peter Lake  (PV 87-93) 3:11 Aria has been adapted for solo voice


Saturday, September 23, 2023

Fanfare (1991) now over at IMSLP


Most composers specialize and I am no exception. That specialization usually doesn't occur until a bit later. Our training doesn't encourage us to specialize too soon--after all we need to learn how to write in lots of different styles and with different combinations of instruments before we can tell what really ignites our passion to write. In my case, by the mid 1990s I realized that I really needed my music to go with words. So I have stopped writing instrumental music. 

The question then, is what to do with these other things, things for which, frankly, I have no reputation? My solution is going to be to make most of my non-vocal works available freely for download and performance. I have started here by uploading the score and parts to my 1991 Fanfare at IMSLP. This piece even got a nice review back then. So if you happen on this blog, feel free to download and perform this! 

Back in '91 I foolishly wrote this piece in B major, which isn't the greatest key for brass. Here it is, now living happily in B flat, a classic key for brass.

Friday, September 15, 2023

Dad's Old manuscripts


Most of you never met my father, James Christopher Ching, who died right after I graduated from college. He was a professor of what now would be called communications, but was called speech back then. Although he had some early successes, his career stalled and he wrote a couple of books that didn't get published. He did write a play, AWEOWEO, that was produced by the theater company at Hamline University where he worked. 

These manuscripts have worked their way into my storage room and I have been loathe to throw them out. But last week I digitized them and uploaded them, so the typescripts will make their way to the waste management system here where they will be burned to help produce power. 

AWEOWEO is about the overthrow of King David Kalakaua, the last monarch of Hawaii. And the other manuscript, THE MERRY MONARCH, is a biography of Kalakaua. If anyone happens to come upon this blog post and wants to download them and have a look, please feel free. My father was born and raised in Hawaii and passionate about the fate of the islands and their people.

Another unpublished manuscript is called CONFRONTATION:A RHETORIC OF CRISIS. My father taught public speaking and coauthored a textbook about it. The book is about the rhetoric used in the social protest movements from the mid fifties through the early seventies. 

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Taos Opera Institute (2023)


Taos Opera Institute has a new director, Mark Craig. He has been there a couple years, staging the final showcase and helping the founders, Mary Jane Johnson and Linda Poetschke. I have been there for two productions of Speed Dating Tonight! and one of RSBE. The students there have regular voice lessons and coachings, with the requirement of performing a new song or aria every week in Italian, German, French, or English. 

Now officially their composer-in-residence, I was fortunate that they did a staged workshop of some of NOTES ON VIARDOT.

pictured: Colin Clark-Bracewell, Sophia Vidali, Marjorie Sheaff, 
and Shaul Leket-Mor as the younger Ivan Turgenev, younger Pauline, 
and older Pauline and older Turgenev.
This included a completed draft of the first act (previously read on book at Florida Grand Opera) and some new sections of the final act. The opera is loosely inspired by an interview Pauline Viardot (1821-1910) gave late in her life in the early 20th century. In the first act Pauline recalls her early life touring with the family's opera troupe; her debut in Brussels; her friend, mentor, and admirer Georges Sand; and her triumphant European tours. The second act (not done yet!) will focus on her midcareer, her salons, and her family life, including a filtered version of her relationship with her friend Turgenev, who often lived nearby and eventually moved in with Pauline and Louis Viardot. Both men died in 1883. Finally, in the last act, the reporter asks her to explain the relationship between the three of them. Annoyed, she dismisses the reporter, and in the last act will recall Ivan and Louis with love, fondness, and loss. 

The premiere of NOTES ON VIARDOT is April 2024 at University of South Dakota-Vermillion.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

22-23 Thank yous


As the 2022-23 season comes to a close, I want to thank the following places and people for performing my work--Cal State Northridge, Butler University, Iowa State University, Trinity University, Florida State University, University of Connecticut, University of Central Florida, Keene State, Vanderbilt University, Midwestern State University, Boise State University, Eastern Michigan University,  University of Lynchburg, Whitworth University, Montclair State University, Boston Conservatory at Berklee, Taos Opera Institute, Shreveport Opera, Fargo Moorhead Opera, L'Arietta Productions, Amarillo Opera, and Florida Grand Opera. Special thanks to Savannah Voice Festival, Fargo Moorhead Opera, and Amarillo Opera for premieres and to ECS for a new publication. Special thanks to this year's lyrical collaborators Reg Huston and Steve Aiken; and thanks to producer and tenor David Hamilton for over twenty years of collaborations. 

Monday, May 1, 2023

A short description of all my operas

A list of my operas, and a little bit about them. I'm working on making this list more interactive. Perusal scores are available for some of these on the right hand side of this blog. 

Speed Dating Tonight! (2013) is my most popular work with over 130 productions on the books from 2013-2024. It's an imaginary speed dating night at a bar. It is flexible--I call it a "New Numbers Opera," with each performer getting a little solo to talk about their character. Most of the dates are not gendered and available in a variety of ranges. SpDT! can be as short as 30 minutes or a full length evening depending on how many dates you want to include. Commissioned by Janiec Opera.

Buoso's Ghost (1996) is a sequel to Gianni Schicchi. It has the same cast and set, so it makes for a very practical, fun evening. Buoso is easier than Schicchi too, being in English. The orchestration matches the reduced version of Schicchi (2/1/2/1/2/2/1/0) Premiered at Opera Memphis and Pittsburgh Opera Center. Recently done at Florida Grand Opera. Buoso is published by EC Schirmer.

RSBE is a structured like Speed Dating Tonight! but is deeper and has a bit more ensemble singing. It was premiered and commissioned by University of Alabama. Like Speed Dating the casting is very flexible and usually not gendered. Don't get thrown off by the great video from the premiere. This opera can be done very simply such as in this version at Amarillo Opera.

A Midsummer Night's Dream (2011) was premiered as a completely a cappella opera, but thanks to Towson University, it's available with a small orchestration which keeps everybody in tune. There's still "voicestra" in the pit. All the text is Shakespeare's and, frankly, it's easier to understand than the classic Britten. A great recording is available of the original version. Here's an article about Towson's preparation.

Thrivers is an opera for high school performers about teen depression. Written for the Palm Springs Opera Guild, the subject was suggested by the students themselves.

Notes on Viardot (2024) is a work in progress about the life of Pauline Viardot. The premiere is in Spring 2024 at University of South Dakota-Vermillion, which commissioned it. The opera makes extensive use of quotation from what she sang as well as her own compositions.

Dinner 4 3 is a wicked little three-some opera written for Fargo Moorhead Opera. Adult content, although nothing over the top. The original version on idagio is spectacular! Written with Deborah Brevoort.

Leo is a 10 minute opera about a man who is angry with is cat. It was commissioned by the old Texas Opera Theater in the '80s and toured by them, but is still very viable. 

Three Pigs Remix was written for the Opera Memphis touring/outreach quartet. S/A/T/B with piano. Irreverent and amusing. For elementary grades. Toured for two seasons by Fort Worth Opera cause they loved it so much. 

Alice and Anna is actually two one act operas, Alice Ryley and Anna Hunter. They are each about famous women in Savannah. Alice is dark and sad; Anna, light and witty. Commissioned by Savannah Voice Festival and premiered together in 2022.

Slaying the Dragon sounds like a joke set up--a rabbi and his wife make friends with the grand dragon of the KKK. A serious opera, written with Ellen Frankel, that I'd love to see up again. Here's a brief clip.

Birthday Clown is a short opera about a clown who is tired of performing for birthday parties. The guest of honor cheers him up considerably and a drone makes a flying appearance. Written for Savannah Voice Festival.

Corps of Discovery commemorates the Lewis and Clark expedition. There is a grand opera, a smaller version, and a mini version. Written with Hugh Moffatt. Commissioned by the University of Missouri. Here's a sample

Eight Woods and a Van is a bio-opera about the American painter Grant Wood and uses a series of his pictures as the inspiration. Commissioned by Cedar Rapids Opera Theater. Here's a sample.

Faith is a one act "science fiction romance" based on a story by James Patrick Kelly. It was actually performed at Worldcon. (You'll be impressed if you know what that is.)

Completing the Picture is a short S/A/T/B opera that celebrates the Chinese who helped complete the Transcontinental Railroad. Written for Utah Opera.

King of the Clouds is an S/A/T/B Piano opera about social issues for teen audiences. Commissioned in the 90s by Dayton Opera. Still very viable! Written with Hugh Moffatt.

Out of the Rain uses some of the same characters as King of the Clouds and was written a few years later. It is about the AIDS epidemic. Clouds and Rain can be done together. Commissioned by OperaDelaware. Also written with Hugh Moffatt. Audio link.

A Royal Feast, is a work in progress. It's a one act sequel to Rossini's La Cenerentola. Written with a team of middle school advisors from Savannah, the opera puts the magic and creatures back in to Cinderella.
By length and type (some of these operas are listed in more than one category depending on how they are used)

Full length operas:
Corps of Discovery, Alice and Anna (see one acts), A Midsummer Night's Dream, Notes on Viardot, Speed Dating Tonight! Slaying the Dragon, King of the Clouds and Out of the Rain (see one acts), RSBE

One Act Operas
Faith, Eight Woods and a Van, Thrivers, King of the Clouds, Out of the Rain, Three Pigs Remix, Buoso's Ghost, Alice Ryley, Anna Hunter, Speed Dating Tonight!, A Royal Feast, RSBE

In between
Birthday Clown

Leo, Dinner 4 3, Completing the Picture

School shows--all shows except A Royal Feast are S/A/T/B piano. Feast is larger. Thrivers is for teen performers
Three Pigs Remix, King of the Clouds, Out of the Rain, Completing the Picture, A Royal Feast, Thrivers

Monday, April 24, 2023

Arrangements and Derangements


EC Schirmer has just released my ARRANGEMENTS AND DERANGEMENTS, a song cycle for soprano, cello, and piano based on five Schubert songs, including Nacht und Träume, Sei mir gegrüßt, Die Männer sind méchant, DIE Forelle! and Rastlose Liebe.

The cycle was originally commissioned by Allison Charney and the ARK trio. Their recording of four 

of the songs is available from Navona

You can see the two "derangements." Sei mir gegrüßt...

and here is DIE Forelle!

The other three are more respectful "arrangements."

Right now these are available together or separately for soprano, but we are planning on making some of them available in other key ranges.

Tuesday, March 28, 2023


ALICE RYLEY (2015) and ANNA HUNTER (2017) are my two operas set in Savannah. Both were written while I was composer-in-residence at Savannah Voice Festival. Both of these pieces were workshopped and premiered separately and then performed together in 2022. They are now available separately or together. ALICE is over fifty minutes; ANNA is around 40. 

Alice is a dark ghost story lifted from a few paragraphs from the annals of Georgia. An indentured Irish servant in the early days of the colony, she is accused of murdering her master. When they discover she is pregnant, they allow her to have her baby and then hang her a few weeks later. A guilty conscience is one of the reasons that we imagine ghosts, and that is the case for Savannah here. The legend is that if you encounter a young woman asking "Have you seen my baby?" that's Alice. 

Anna Hunter is the story of how a group of women in Savannah kept the city from modernizing itself to the point of losing its historic character in the mid 20th century. After the demolition of the city market, Anna energizes a group to save the historic Davenport house. Anna is a comedy, as light as Alice is dark. 

ALICE RYLEY (about 50 minutes)

Soundcloud Playlist and Perusal score (Direct Download)

Tour guide, (speaking), Jailed Alice (M), Young Alice (S), Mary (M or S), A Sailor/Edward Canon/William Wise/The Recorder (T-can be divided), Richard White (B). Ensemble.

Orchestration: Flute, Drums, String Quintet, Piano. (There is also a Vln/Vc/Piano version)

ANNA HUNTER (about 40 minutes)

Soundcloud Playlist and Perusal score (Direct Download)

Anna (M or S), Louise (M), Mrs. Davenport (S), Mr. Davenport (T), Mr. Progress (B), Quortina (M or S, should be African American, separate keys available), Lucy (M), Jane (S or M), Kass (M or S), Ensemble. 

Orchestration: Flute, Drums, String Quintet, Piano.

I'm very grateful for to Maria and Sherrill and SVF for commissioning these two operas!