News from December

The Giver
January 14, 2012 Lyric Opera of Kansas City (world premier)
April 27-29, 2012, Minnesota Opera

After nearly two years of living inside the fascinating and troubling universe created by Lois Lowry, I completed orchestrations for the opera in September. Now, in December, Jonas and his family and his friends, as well as the Giver himself and little baby Gabriel are all coming into musical and theatrical life as both commissioning companies create and rehearse their productions. I loved writing the opera, finding the musical voice of each character, writing the music I hear when I read Lowry’s descriptions of the memories Jonas receives, going inside Jonas’ thought processes and awakenings, tracing the growing relationship between Jonas and the Giver, and especially musicalizing the great escape at the end.

The commissioners tell me the music is “very challenging, especially rhythmically, but so beautiful.” It is being performed in Kansas City by three adult professionals and trained young people, principally high schoolers. The Minneapolis production is being performed entirely by trained high school singers. The opera is musically challenging, as the novel is challenging, and not just for young readers. The show runs roughly 80 minutes, with a chamber orchestra of 10 players (2 vln, vc, harp, pno, fl (picc. Alto), clar. (Eb, bass), trb, 2 perc.) For story reasons, it is recommended for audiences age 10 and up.

It is my hope that opera companies seeking a main stage family offering will find it appropriate and challenging for an adult cast as well (young people’s roles aside) or mixed adult/trained young people forces. (As The Giver is about a whole community, all ages should be represented on stage.) College and university vocal arts departments as well will hopefully find it useful.

I think my program note will tell you much more:

Ask anyone under age 28 about The Giver and you’ll get a strong response. For many young people, The Giver is the first book they read that truly talks up to them. It demands a level of both outward observation and inward reflection that is new and, judging from the passion so many feel for the book, thrilling. Why was it so clear to me the book wanted to be an opera? First and last, it is filled with musical moments. Every time the Giver transmits a memory to Jonas there is an outpouring of descriptive text crying out to be turned into orchestral music. There is no stage action: only music. Every time Jonas has a moment of reflection or realization, this is the expression of the inner voice that is the very stuff of opera. The characters each have utterly distinct voices – including Mother, Father, Lily, Fiona, Asher – who sang to me in distinct rhythms and styles. The vagaries of the story itself, its largeness and opacity, the fact that much about The Community is not articulated, the continuous thread of question marks for both Jonas and the audience, all these are made to order for dramatic music theater.

What the Giver does not have that I needed for this adaptation was a large role for Chorus. So I invented one. Or rather, I went back in time to create a piece of theater that the ancient Greeks would find completely familiar. When we read the novel, we assume – though Lois Lowry never explicitly states – that the story is set in the nebulous future. But this is just an assumption. So I have chosen to set the story in the nebulous past. Today is the one day each year that this cautionary story is retold “to our children, to our children’s children.” The Telling, as it is called in the opera, is done by a Greek-style Chorus. Just as in Euripides, the Chorus frames the narrative we are about to witness; it reveals the thoughts of the characters to us; it discusses events and characters amongst itself, even to the point of squabbling; it entertains us; it carries the action forward, sometimes even physically; it sets the stage and creates theatrical effects; it provides the actor/singers for all but the principal roles.


One last little note: Ms. Lowry planted a little throw-away bit in the story that was a sparkling gift to a composer. During his training, Jonas asks the Giver, When you were my age, “did you see beyond like me?” And the Giver says, very simply, “No. I heard beyond,” and they move on to other things. Well, the fact that the Giver retains musical memories was just too compelling to pass up. I had a lot of fun with Beethoven’s Ode to Joy (keep your ear on the Community’s ‘Patriotic Hymn’.) Listen also for Mozart’s Voi ché sapete, a bit of Schumann’s Märchenbilder, a little Brahms Symphony #2, and a beautiful American folk song. Some are obvious, some not so much. Thank you, Ms. Lowry, for agreeing with me that music is part of what makes us human.

Loose Cans Music – my own music publishing company
I am very pleased to announce that as of April 1, 2011, my opera catalogue, including the upcoming The Giver, is available from Loose Cans Music, with distribution through Subito Music. Now all my music will be available in one place. My experience with Subito makes me confident that programmers will now find it much easier to locate the operas online, order them, and receive timely information, materials and invoicing. In addition, there is now a link for for inquiries about pretty much anything. Progress!

New Work
A Garden’s Time Piece
for soprano and violin

I took one week off this summer between finishing the piano/vocal score of The Giver and starting the orchestrations to write this 8-movement, 10-minute piece. The texts are by artist Leslie Laskey. Using just the two voices, I really enjoyed a streamlined, elemental approach to setting these simple but evocative lines. The piece enjoyed a very nice performance in St. Louis in September. The score is available from Subito and a demo recording will hopefully be made this spring.

Older works

Postcards from America
This work has just been released on a lovely recording by commissioner Michele Fiala entitled Overheard: new music for oboe and english horn. It is an MSR/Albany recording and is available from MSR, or all the usual internet sites.

P.S. That’s me doing the readings before each of the three movements. (For more about this piece, go to the work’s page.)

The Lunch Counter
Bassoonist David Sogg sent me the following link to a business web page that features his performance of this piece. Scroll down the page to the guy in a tux in front of the WAFFLES sign. Cool!

Bassoonist Christin Schillinger, professor at Ohio University (Miami), performed this piece in a series of concerts across Texas prior to including it in her lecture/recital at the 2011 Double Reed Society International Conference in Arizona. Back in her home turf her performance of the piece, subtitled “A character study in seven movements,” included two improvisational actors. I love that! (For more on this work, go to the work’s page)