Wednesday, October 19, 2016

9 CHURCH WALK - A TWO-WEEK RESIDENCY


On Monday, I arrived at 9 Church Walk in Aldeburgh, UK.  It is the former home of Imogen Holst, daughter of Gustav Holst and long-time assistant to  Benjamin Britten.   Imo lived in this small bungalow, built in the 1960s, that has a sound-poof room with a piano where she worked.  The bungalow now belongs to and is managed by the Britten-Pears Foundation, and composers are sometimes invited to come and work here.  I happened to be so lucky.

Many of Imo's books and furniture are still here ... and thoughout the day, I have the distinct feeling of walking in her footsteps wherever I go in Aldeburgh, and whatever I touch in the house.  Black and white photos of Imo are in the kitchen and living room ... The one in the kitchen gives me the most pleasure because she is smiling and holding a cup of coffee.   It feels like she is smiling at me, and I feel encouraged ... like I am doing what I was called to do.

The quiet is a gift; every day here is a gift.   With this time, my hope is to finish The Song Cycles of BEACHY HEAD.  I appreciate being here and thank the Bitten-Pears Foundation for their generosity and this gift of time.


Monday, August 29, 2016

THE SONG CYCLES of Charlotte Smith's BEACHY HEAD



Hearing the Intricacy of Charlotte Smith's Beachy Head:  

A Collaboration 
by Elizabeth Dolan, PhD


One of the most fruitful outcomes of our Visiting Fellowship programme is the varied and multidisciplinary collaborations that can result of different scholars having time together in an inspiring environment away from their usual lives. the musical interpretation of Charlotte Smith’s poem Beachy Head is one such collaboration. Elizabeth A. Dolan, Associate Professor of English at Lehigh University, tells us more.

At the end of a gloriously sunny July 2015 fellowship month, the JASNA international fellow, composer Amanda Jacobs invited me to collaborate with her in setting some of Charlotte Smith’s poetry to music. Charlotte Smith shaped Romantic-era poetry by initiating the sonnet revival, celebrating subjective experience as a legitimate poetic topic, and boldly experimenting with poetic form. Her 731-line poem Beachy Head (1807) depicts the landmass of the same name on the eastern coast of the British Isles, the coastline that was once joined to France. Writing the poem during England’s long war with France, Smith poignantly articulates themes of separation and continuity in the very spot the British expected an invasion. But the poem’s exploration extends well beyond Smith’s immediate historical moment to investigate the geographical, paleontological, botanical, commercial, and martial histories of this iconic landform. solitary figures wander in the landscape, including a shepherd, a smuggler, a heartbroken poet, and a hermit who recovers bodies from shipwrecks to bury them in the chalky coastal cliff. 

We felt that Beachy Head ’s formal variety, thematic complexity, and range of voices would lend themselves to a song cycle. At least one of Smith’s short poems has been set to music, yet no one has attempted Beachy Head. Indeed, very few Romantic-era women’s poems have been set to music, although poems by Blake, Byron, and other male poets have long been celebrated in this way. Amanda and I hope that our collaborative project will offer additional insight into Smith’s impressive contribution to the British poetic canon.

Although I teach Beachy Head regularly, this magisterial and capacious poem became more vivid to me in July when I visited the ‘stupendous summit . . . o’er the channel’ that inspired the poem (ll. 1-2). the sun-drenched white cliffs of the ‘projecting head-land’ came alive through smith’s lines (ll. 12). the air was filled with the ‘shrill harsh cry’ of ‘terns, and gulls, and tarrocks,’ punctuated by the vocalise of the ‘bleating flock’ (ll. 21, 23, 28). even today, the sheep farms seem to run up to the edgeofthecliff,sothatonefeelstheperilof ‘the little careless sheep/ On the brink grazing’ (ll. 684-85). Watching the ‘changing colours of the sea,’ one imagines smith’s hermit on a stormier day scanning the water for bodies to recover (ll. 693). Beachy Head calls one to these cliffs and these cliffs invite one more deeply into smith’s poem.

As Amanda and I read Beachy Head aloud to each other via skype, we began to hear the poem’s intricate structure. Although they are not explicitly marked, discrete thematic cycles in Beachy Head emerged, which we are translating into song cycles. We have identified and named both the cycles and the individual songs. the ‘Beachy head Cycle’ contains a prologue and 4 songs (ll. 1-117); a long, single song interlude, ‘historical Contemplation,’ follows (ll. 117-166). next smith takes up ‘happiness’ in a 5-song cycle (ll. 167-309), and then begins the 7-song ‘nature Cycle,’ which includes lines that speak back to ‘historical Contemplation’ (ll. 309- 505). Five songs make up the ‘stranger’s Cycle,’ one of which harkens back to the ‘happiness Cycle’ (ll. 506-671). Finally, three songs comprise the ‘hermit’s Cycle’ (ll. 671-731). In all we identified 5 song cycles containing a total of 26 songs, a major undertaking for Amanda to set. With this framework in mind, we worked through the poem again, examining each line to extract lyrics for the songs. In order to preserve the integrity of the poem, we did not add, but only took away smith’s words. As Amanda has
taught me, the music can fill in for words so that nothing is truly lost, just translated.
With a draft of the lyrics in hand, Amanda began to compose. Amanda first sketches the melody and chord progression, and then formally sets the song with the full piano accompaniment. smith’swordsspeakinanewwaywhensetto Amanda’s beautiful music. Quite different from anything literary critics might write, the musical setting offers insights based more in feeling and the senses than in analysis. For example, in the song ‘Afternoon,’ the line ‘the sloop, her angular canvas shifting still catches the light and variable airs’ begins in Amanda’s setting with a whole note, then moves to a two beat triplet voicing the word ‘angular,’ then ascends a half step, goes down a whole step, and up a half step through ‘canvas shifting still.’ the rhythm and intervals together capture the visual, auditory, and kinaesthetic sensory experience, including the angular shape and small movements of the sail. the piano accompaniment flows beneath these lines with the repeated oscillation of eighth note intervals.


As she was composing, Amanda noticed a thematic rupture in the lines we had identified as ‘evening.’ the magic of the collaborative, cross-disciplinary process lies in moments like these. Amanda’s observation that the lines about commerce and slavery did not fit with the emerging sunset clarified another aspect of smith’s structure: in the ‘Beachy head Cycle’ smith alternates evocations of the landscape at progressive times of day with recreations of the activity or industry in that landscape. to be specific:

‘Prologue: Fancy’s day’ (the titles are ours) locates the poet on the ‘stupendous summit,’ then depicts the work of ‘the Omnipotent’ rending england from the continent (ll. 1, 6). First smith describes place and then work.

‘Morning’ lifts the ‘glorious sun,’ to illuminate the daily labour of the chattering birds, who ‘seek their food,’ as well as that of the ‘lone shepherd, and his baying dog,’ who, together, ‘drive to the turfy crest his bleating flock’ (ll. 16, 23, 27-28). the beautiful light reveals the noisy industry of the birds, shepherd, and sheepdog.

‘Afternoon’ stretches out lazily at first, the ocean ‘murmur[ing] low . . . upon the level sands’ (ll. 31-32). Yet the eye is drawn to the distant ‘ship of commerce’ that carries the pearls and adamantine collected by slaves’ ‘perilous and breathless toil’ (ll. 42, 53). With this juxtaposition, smith suggests that the leisure evoked by the quiet afternoon is made possible by the violation of ‘the sacred freedom’ of ‘fellow man’ (ll. 59).

‘Evening’ bursts open, shifting from the underwater darkness where slaves dive for pearls to the jewel tones of the sunset, whose ‘transparent gold / Mingles with ruby tints, and sapphire gleams’ and the rise of the early moon, who throws ‘her pearly brilliance on the trembling tide’ (ll. 81-82, 99).

‘Night’ shifts from the sunset scene to labour, bringing not the expected quiet of night, but instead the return of fisherman from the sea, unloading their boat ‘with loud clamours’ (ll. 108). Amanda has brilliantly set this final song in the cycle as a sailor’s song to capture the feeling of camaraderie and industry.
together the song cycles illuminate the deep structure of smith’s posthumously published Beachy Head. An advertisement for the volume
in which Beachy Head was published, probably written by smith’s sister Catherine dorset, asserts that the poem was ‘not completed according to the original design’ (215). stuart Curran observes that ‘it is unlikely... that we will ever be able to determine whether her masterpiece Beachy Head was as unfinished as the introductory note to the volume assumes it to be’ (xxvii). nonetheless, Curran argues ‘a work that begins atop a massive feature of the landscape and ends immured within it bears a remarkable coherence’ (xxvii). And, indeed, Amanda and I are excavating an intricate internal coherence that reveals Beachy Head as a complete and refined work of art.
We were delighted to perform excerpts from the song cycle as a lecture recital at the Romantic studies Association of Australasia’s July 2015 meeting, with Amanda playing piano, mezzo- soprano Jeannie Marsh singing, and me
introducing the song cycles with short lectures. We also presented the the song cycles at Lehigh university, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, on september 11, 2015 with Kathryn Cowdrick, a mezzo-soprano at the eastman school of Music, singing with us.
Works Cited
Smith, Charlotte. Beachy head. The Poems of Charlotte Smith. ed. Stuart Curran. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993. 214-47.
Curran, stuart. ‘Introduction.’ The Poems of Charlotte Smith. ed. Stuart Curran. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993. xix-xxix.

There will be a conference on Charlotte smith’s work at Chawton house Library in 2016 organised by Profs Elizabeth A. Dolan and Jacqueline Labbe. details will be added to our website as they become available.

The Female SpecTaTor from Chawton house Library 

A MONTH IN NEW YORK CITY

In a few days, I will leave my home to spend the month of September in New York City ... It is really exciting because instead of spending my time there as an artist, I will be working as a scientist gathering research for my dissertation about LEARNING IN MUSICAL THEATRE PRODUCTION.

My research will be gathered through interviews of people in the BROADWAY and OFF-BROADWAY communities and through my observations of a Musical Theatre show in its rehearsal process.   Instead of looking at a show as a work-in-progress, my intent will be to examine the interactions of people as they are learning 'in the room'.

Being 'in the room' is a term professional actors and creatives use to describe the time spent in rehearsal and preparing for a show, and it is undefined by scientific standards ... so every minute I spend watching the interactions will work to shed light on a process I hold dear--a process that will illustrate yet again how valuable the Arts are beyond the Aesthetics they teach.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

CALL FOR SCORES - SIOUX CITY, IOWA

Today at composerssite.com, I encountered a CALL FOR SCORES from the Sioux City Symphony Orchestra.  http://www.siouxcitysymphony.org/call-for-scores  

From what I read in the description/rules, in order to be COMPOSER OF THE YEAR 2017, this organization REQUIRES a composer to: 

1.  PAY for entry into the competition.  ($25)
2.  PROVIDE the printed scores to the orchestra FREE OF CHARGE  (printing + postage $250)
3.  GIVE UP  his or her premier WITHOUT BEING PAID for this work.  ($1,000 to $2,500)
4.  PAY for his or her transportation costs to Sioux City ($500 from NYC) 
5.  PAY FOR food costs while there. (5 DAYS $50 = $250)
6.  PROVIDE additional time BY GIVING lectures and talks to the community/college (a lecture will be anywhere from $75 to $100/lecture) —all WITHOUT PAY
7.  If the composer has to take time away from a PAYING job, the composer incurs additional loss of income.  Most young musicians I know are fighting for financial survival.   

HOWEVER... 
In return, Sioux City Symphony Orchestra  promises that THE COMPOSER GETS a concert performance of HIS/HER work, transportation in Sioux City, publicity (which is billed alongside the publicity the organization is already doing to promote itself), and the right to be called COMPOSER OF THE YEAR in a city that is on the border between Iowa and Nebraska.   

ON TOP OF THIS
The Sioux City Symphony Orchestra will sell TICKETS to the April 29th, 2017 concert featuring the work.  So they will GENERATE INCOME for their organization USING the work of the composer WITHOUT the burden of paying the composer.  This is OUTRAGEOUS.

How can this competition be a commitment to educate, develop and promote American composers as they claim?  Is this really how this organization wants to treat a young artist?

From my perspective, this competition is robbery --plundering of the creative --because this competition makes the organization look like it is preying on early career composers who are desperate for their work to be heard.  

How can 'new and upcoming' composers be 'new and upcoming' if the established music organizations do not invest in them with REAL MONEY instead of taking it from them? Why not instead ask for a corporate sponsorship so that the young artist can be treated like a respected artist and BE PAID?  

How can The Arts EVER be respected and considered valuable in our society if The Arts organizations THEMSELVES do not lead by example--with RESPECT and APPRECIATION for whom and what they claim is valuable?



Monday, June 6, 2016

Group Creativity



Over the past several years, I have been working on my PhD in Educational Psychology.   My work has concentrated on the Arts in Human Development because I believe that the Arts hold their greatest value beyond the aesthetics they teach.  My PhD work has only confirmed this.   For example, group creativity is one aspect of this 'greater value' I am talking about, and what Education today aspires to teach.

Group creativity requires a community; Musical Theater is a community of learning.   It requires a group of people (with multiple areas and levels of expertise) to come together in order for it to be created, and Musical Theater teaches so much more through the creating of the show.   It is why in completing my coursework and comprehensive exams, I chose to write my dissertation: THE PROCESS OF LEARNING IN MUSICAL THEATER PRODUCTION, A GROUNDED THEORY STUDY.

Today, in preparation for writing Chapter 2 of the dissertation (Literature Review), I read a peer-reviewed article called "Group creativity: musical performance and collaboration" by R. Keith Sawyer.   Through his research on Jazz improvisation and theatrical improvisation, he identifies three characteristics of group creativity: Improvisation, Collaboration, and Emergence.   Sawyer also mentions how group flow is at work, and that this emerges through the process of creation.

These observations are similar to much of what I have observed in the creation of a musical theater production.   The creative team, the actors, the stage management--everyone involved--is open and listening, while simultaneously performing their designated job.   Every person in the group is important, engaged and necessary to the overall outcome.  Through interaction and communication each person is inspired to bring their creativity to the creation.

Throughout his paper, Sawyer illustrates how group creativity aids the teaching of interactional skills--listening and how to respond appropriately, as well as how collaboration requires communication in social contexts--necessary life skill.  Sawyer vicariously demonstrates how VALUABLE the Arts are beyond the aesthetics they are teaching thus arguing for and supporting the need for the Arts in our education today.

Below is the reference.  It's a great article--well worth the read.




Reference
Sawyer, R. K. (2006). Group creativity: Musical performance and collaboration. Psychology of Music34(2), 148-165.
 

Friday, January 2, 2015

Six Weeks in Chawton

Many American women like me are passionate about Jane Austen, and often dream of visiting Chawton.  So when I applied to the International Visitors’ Program, which is sponsored by the Jane Austen Society of North America, with a project proposal to set Jane Austen’s prayers to music for congregational worship and was chosen, my dream of living and working there became a reality.  For six weeks, I was composer-in-residence in the village of Chawton. Through the process and my time there, I learned so much about myself, and what an artist can do when artistic needs are met and fulfilled.
Everywhere I looked in Chawton, there was beauty: a white rose growing up along a brick wall, a tobacco flower peeping into the office window, a nasturtium plant flowing over the edge of an old watering trough.   This kind of beauty inspires sound in me because beauty makes my artist heart sing.  In Chawton, this was overwhelming and completely unexpected.  

Because I found manuscript paper (music staff paper) in the office, this provided me the tool to compose sketches of the tunes I felt and heard in my heart and head. These sketches became my “Chawton Notebook”, which now provides me with valuable melodic material that I can and will incorporate, or use in future compositions.
Also, because a 1928 Steinway is beautifully maintained at the Chawton House Stables where I was living, I practiced.  I reconnected with Chopin, Beethoven, Mozart, and Mendelssohn, which led to opportunities to play historical instruments including the 1810 Clementi piano at the Jane Austen House Museum, the refurbished 1828 Stodart grand piano at Chawton House, the extraordinary opportunity to play Chopin’s piano (among others) from the Alec Cobbe Collection at Hatchlands Park, and a Broadwood (Beethoven’s preferred instrument) at The Vyne.

Due to the nature of my project, the prayers generated opportunities to connect with the 18 Austen-related churches throughout England.  Prior to my visit, the JASNA Churches Committee provided me with contact information that created opportunities to visit nine of the churches, which led to opportunities to set up, produce and perform a concert in Godmersham, and premiere the prayer settings at St Paul’s Church Covent Garden in London.  These concerts connected me with musicians and talent throughout England, which is now creating more opportunities.
Chawton inspired me.  It still inspires me.  When I think of my time there, I am empowered by those thoughts.  My success happened because everything I needed as an artist was provided and available to me.  I know I ‘hear’ my first symphony there and very soon I hope to go back and write it.  Until then, I will work to create an environment like that for myself here in the United States.  By doing this, I keep Chawton alive in my heart and continue to empower myself to do what I do best.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Being Part of Something Great!!

This spring, I have had the extraordinary privilege to visit many high schools throughout Washington State who are taking part in this year's 5th Avenue Awards and to see their musical theatre productions.   I have seen some GREAT theater, great acting, and wonderful music making and imaginative  productions … I APPLAUD them all and my hat is off to the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle.


For almost fifteen years, the 5th Avenue Theatre has been honoring High School Musical Theater with "Tony" style awards to high schools.  These awards recognize the astounding talent in this state.  Based on its history and continued improvements to the program over the years, it now serves as a model for other theaters around the United States.

Its impact is far-reaching.  These shows are more than just a show.

Theater has the power to bring together a community of people -- as a family.  Through the process of production, the act of making theater is what creates the community of people who are learning and working together to achieve a common goal.  When the goal is achieved, they present their collective learning to an audience who appreciates and learns from them.

These awards recognize and encourage the amazing talent!! … and …  What these teenagers can do is absolutely incredible.   With the guidance and support of talented school teachers and administration, they achieve and learn about themselves and what they can do as an individual and as member of a community.

I rejoice!  What a marvelous thing to be part of something so great!!   … something that encourages and brings out the best in all of us!!

Yay!!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

In absentia … SIMON'S ROCK CHAMBER ORCHESTRA


Last Thursday, The Simon's Rock Chamber Orchestra premiered "Nestis"  one of my pieces from The Four Elements of Empedocles.  This is a two-year project where I explore Fire (Zeus), Air (Hera), Water (Nestis) and Earth (Aidoneus) --one each semester.

The challenges of writing for this awesome little orchestra are that the members are at varying ability and their participation is largely volunteer.  … and yet in composing for this ensemble, it created a lot of joy for everyone involved.

My daughter is the flute player and had one of her friends send me a YouTube video of it (below) so I could hear it as soon as possible.  (The school  is sending me an archive copy).  It was truly satisfying to hear it … to hear the ensemble's success at realizing a piece written especially for them …

And now … Onward!  Fire, Air & Water await!








Friday, September 20, 2013

Baking Friends


This morning I made a batch of Lemon Pine Nut Biscotti … As I pulled out the little battered recipe book, I couldn’t help but think about my friend, Tony Day.  He gave me that biscotti recipe book years ago when I first moved to Rochester, and Lemon Pine Nut Biscotti was the first biscotti I ever tried to make.  It was a success, and over the years, biscotti became one of my favorite things to bake.

Tony died in the Fall of 2008, and I have missed him very much.  He was a wonderful person who had a way of making people feel successful. When I met him in 1996, he had retired from the Rochester Police Department.  In his retirement, he took on the job of looking after the neighborhood and everyone in it.   The neighborhood where I live was like his “Beat” and we all felt safe and cared for as he walked the street and talked with all of the neighbors.

I especially appreciate all the things he did to help me learn how to be a homeowner. He would often come to my house to help me because he enjoyed my creativity and wanted to help me realize my dreams of a beautiful home.  He seemed to intuitively know what I needed and helped me because he seemed to know that I would never ask anyone to help me.

He would do things like … bring me a better tool, give me unused building supplies he had in his stash or had scrounged up … or he would show me how to do something … like tiling, or changing a light fixture.   He would put me in touch with good repairmen and others who could help me get the work done if it was beyond his knowledge or expertise. 

So today, as I work in a new house, and I bake biscotti, I think of this wonderful man and how he touched and changed my life –and so many lives –in so many ways.  Thank you, Tony Day.  Thank you for helping me.  With every bite of my biscotti I thank you for showing me how to do things and for helping me succeed.  Most of all, thank you for being my friend.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Revisiting the Work

Last Wednesday, my friend Steven Daigle gave me three CD copies of MAYTIME by Sigmund Romberg.  The CD's mean a great deal to me because they contain the orchestrations that I created and re-constructed from a piano/vocal score for the Ohio Light Opera's 2005 Festival Season.  It was a cathartic experience to listen to the recording because I had not heard them since the opening performance in 2005.

As I listened, I was overwhelmed by what I actually accomplished eight years ago.  The way I remember it ... in 2005, Steve called and asked me if I could re-construct/create orchestrations from a piano/vocal score ... that it was an emergency.   He told me that the original Romberg scores no longer existed--that they had literally crumbled and the show was set to go into performances within about three weeks.  I told him I could try ... and spent the next two weeks reconstructing a score of a much larger show than I anticipated.

What AMAZED ME in my listening is that the orchestrations are very, very good.  AND  how much I LOVE TO ORCHESTRATE.

I realized too, how wonderful Time can be.  For in the reflection, I can see that I am a skilled orchestrator ... and an even more skilled composer today than I was then ...  I can acknowledge --without bragging --that have great skill because these CD's are evidence.  Time shows me that  I can look back with greater knowledge and acknowledge (and in this case applaud) something that I did ...


Monday, July 29, 2013

Artistic Journeys

This past weekend, I took the early train from Rochester, NY to New York City, and arrived around lunchtime.  The trip was easy and relaxing.  With the added bonus of wireless Internet on the train, it enabled me to review notes, read online scholarly articles, and make notes in books about Emily Dickinson.

The trip became an artistic journey in and of itself because my time was spent preparing for a project I have begun with the great actress/writer Sarah Dacey Charles.    When I arrived at Penn Station, I was prepared … and I could feel my joyful anticipation of working on the project combine with the pulse of the city. 

In any artistic endeavor, it is a marvelous experience to be in the same room with an artist you respect and admire because there is an almost palpable excitement in gathering talent and ideas together to create something meaningful.  Faith is at work because an understanding already exists before the meeting—the understanding that something magical may happen.   

Faith is present too when there is recognition of the extraordinary gifts of each other and what we each can contribute.   And … in this case … how could we ‘go wrong’ when respect for each other was/is present and the poems and letters of the extraordinary and enigmatic genius of Emily Dickinson were/are our source material?

The hours flew by, and through our work, next steps became clear:  We meet this week via Skype; we visit ‘The Homestead’ (Emily Dickinson’s home in Massachusetts) later this month, and Sarah attends the Emily Dickinson International Society conference in D.C. to hear lectures about Dickinson.  The gathering of knowledge about Emily Dickinson fuels our creative process.  And so, our artistic journey begins together. 

Experience has taught me that whenever next steps are identified, a new work can emerge.  Next steps empower the artist and make a project real because they reveal parts of an undiscovered path. 

They allow the artist to dwell in the possibilities.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Satisfying Moments

There is something so incredibly satisfying when I complete a composition project.   During a very long holding pattern with our show Jane Austen's PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, A Musical and its anticipated move forward into a UK production, I have taken this time as an opportunity to complete projects that have been in folders atop my piano ... a new Christmas Carol called "Noel" arranged for unison voices and then a more complex arrangement of it for SSA, and now another art song for my Garden Verses.  At the moment, I am also almost done with a new melody for the dark Advent hymn: O Come, O Come Emmanuel for SATB and flute.

As I complete each one, I realize what an astonishing thing it actually is for a composer to create something--especially since on paper, it still really lives in an abstract form  ... I am also astonished to recognize that as I bring every creation into this realm, I never really know if it will ever be sung, performed, or enjoyed.  And yet, I still create ...

This is why I am so grateful for all of the opportunities I have been given to have my work heard.  Each time anything is performed, the work is given a chance to live ...

It is why today I am so extraordinarily grateful for all of the people who believe in me and the work that I do.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Encountering “Unexpected” Genius


Last night, I was supposed to meet a friend in Tacoma, Washington at The Grand Cinema to see the movie “42”.  However, plans changed unexpectedly as traffic was unkind and we were delayed.  Instead of being upset about missing the movie, and not waiting for the next showtime, we opted for the very next movie “whatever it was”.  At the time, we didn’t realize that the movie we were going to see would be “Caesar Must Die” (Cesare deve morire), that it was part of a film festival with only one showing at The Grand, and that it was an Italian film about a theater program where prisoners learned and performed Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”. 

It was awesome!   … and I truly mean AWESOME.  Not only did we see the genius of Shakespeare’s play of Julius Caesar and his murder (in Italian and with English subtitles), but throughout the film, we witnessed the miracle of what theater does in our lives, whether through observation as audience or participation in the production process.  Based on a true story, it was clear that the men who portrayed Shakespeare’s iconic characters saw their lives reflected in the art.  They “got it”, and lives changed.

Theater has the power to bring us into community, into harmony and to understand ourselves.  This was never more evident in the story telling of this film … and I was never more uplifted than through this unexpected encounter with genius.  Serendipitous too, it was Shakespeare’s birthday!

Here is a review from the New Yorker
If you have a chance, see it!!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Encouragement and Appreciation

Last week, I had the pleasure of returning to my alma mater, Wesleyan College, as a guest composer/playwright.  In celebration of a centennial year, the college collaborated with the Morning Music Club of Macon, Georgia to present a musical review of our show, "Jane Austen's PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, A Musical".

One of my responsibilities during the week was to give a speech before the opening performance.  I was delighted that after the show, I was asked to submit my speech to the Morning Music Club for their archives.  I called the speech,  "Encouragement and Appreciation" and share it with you now.

*****
It is a great pleasure to be with you tonight, and to celebrate with you the centennial year of the Morning Music Club.  It is an honor to be here.


Throughout an artist’s life, there are several things an artist must be given.  Two of the most important things are encouragement and appreciation.

About thirty years ago, the Morning Music Club encouraged me by presenting me with a scholarship … and tonight I am encouraged even more by the fact that you have included my work in this celebration.  The very act of producing my work, validates my artistic life and I feel appreciation.

It is amazing to me to think how I performed on this stage for the first time in 1983 for my Junior Recital.  Throughout my artistic life, I have always held great reverence for the stage and what a stage represents. 

Some of you who knew me when I was 18 know that my earliest dream was to be performing artist, a pianist, and … in the years that followed, my life as that performing artist dramatically transformed into who I am today, a composer, a playwright, and an artist educator.  I now have the joy of working professionally within three artistic disciplines: music, theater and the visual arts.

I marvel at how all the artistic disciplines are connected, how they inform each other, and what they teach me.

The visual artist uses tools and materials— paintbrushes, pencils, a blank canvas, clay, paint, etc.  Through her work, the artist transforms those materials into a work of art, and when she is finished with a piece, the work becomes tangible--something lasting.  The cycle of her creative process is complete when her work is displayed within a frame on a gallery wall or placed upon a pedestal. 

The act of displaying the work is remarkable because an audience viewing the work can visit and revisit the work again and again, judge it, criticize it, admire it, and decide whether or not to develop a relationship with that work of art through purchasing it or displaying it.

Within the other three artistic disciplines, this isn’t possible.  The work of the dance, music and theater remain within the minds and memories of its creator, the performer and within the mind of the audience.  The dancer dances, the musician plays an instrument, the thespian tells a story before our eyes.  For the creative artist, it is the live performance that completes the artistic process as a composer, a playwright and a choreographer..  While recordings and videotapes are possible, they are mere shadows of their work.

Like the visual artist, each of these three disciplines requires a platform or a place to display.  And, that platform is a stage.  This is why a stage is so important.  This is why the stage in Porter Auditorium means so much to me.

Tonight, you will have a window into my life as a composer/playwright through a musical review of  “Jane Austen’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, A Musical” , which is a work I share in collaboration with Lindsay Warren Baker.

When Lindsay and I began writing the show in 2000, we wanted to create a show that we wanted to see.  Throughout its development, the show has seen several incarnations … productions, workshops, and staged readings.  We have researched, written and rewritten, cut songs, added songs, rewritten songs.  And today, we are under commercial option with producers in London who are working toward a West End production.

Throughout our process, Lindsay and I have generated and amassed lots of material.  In celebrating the centennial of the Morning Music Club, we prepared and created a production especially for  Wesleyan College and its Music Department.   (As a side note) We thought it serendipitous too that 2013 marks the 200th’ anniversary of the publication of Austen’s novel … Pride and Prejudice.  So … The show you will see tonight is a musical review of our work.  It draws, from both current and earlier work—work that helped create the commercial show we have today. 

Many many thanks to Nadine and Ellen—all of the young women involved, and everyone who made tonight possible.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Making Things


This past week, I spent a few days at my sister's in Macon, Georgia.  She has two teenage daughters and I enjoy spending time with them because they both like to "do" things.  Margaret is especially interested in trying things and together we explored the art of making origami book marks out of her old french assignment papers.  After folding them, we then proceeded to decorate them using pencil, watercolors, and crayons.  Very simple art supplies ... and yet how fantastic they turned out!

What I loved most, however, was spending time with Margaret and learning about the kinds of books she enjoys reading.  What I realized is that the act of making something together created an activity not only for our own self-expression, but it also gave us a window into each other's lives and the things we like to read.  I plan to incorporate this activity into the YOGA-GIRL curriculum!