Monday, August 10, 2015

MAKING A MULTIMEDIA SONG CYCLE

Photo by Dr. Youngmi Ha
If Time Remembers exists only as a song cycle because of Rick Hartung. He even suggested the title, which was a solo piano piece composed about 30 years ago for our current Chair, Dr. Ron Sadoff, when he joined the faculty as Director of Piano Studies.  He played its premiere at Merkin Hall. It was based on my experiences of growing up during World War II and the songs that inhabited those years, especially one that has always been a favorite, As Time Goes By.  We had thought we might use the piece as an overture, to this cycle, but it is much too long to serve such a purpose.
The songs of this cycle came into being as a private journal in which I wrote the lyrics and then improvised the song. They were never intended for an audience and I seldom performed them exactly the same way twice. It was a way of reflecting upon my experiences. There are three exceptions. The Way They Ought To Be and I Never Knew are from a musical I composed years ago and that had several incarnations. I was fortunate to find Rick Hartung who played the leading role based on Don Quixote. Whatever Happened to Might Have Been is from a musical The Marvelous Multicolored Maze that received a stunning performance at Texas Tech University as commissioned by the Texas State Council on the Arts.  It never had another production, perhaps deservedly so as it was ephemeral and fleetingly embedded in the 70s.

The other journal songs existed as lyrics on a page, which lived only when I sang them while improvising at the piano. The songs in this cycle are selected from songs spanning more than thirty years.  Must You Go? was composed for my jazz quartet in college. I remember when I finished the song in the practice room, the lead tenor came in and listened. He was so excited, and said we needed to get the “other guys” and try it out.  We sang the song over and over in a car, driving around Lubbock, Texas until about 5 a.m., where we went in to a Toddle House for pancakes, and started remembering portions and saying to each other that although we had stopped singing, it was still sounding in our heads, and we were still drunk from the music. The Four Freshman heard the song and wanted to buy it, but I was young and foolish and the deal never happened. It wasn’t until about 20 years later that I thought it would make a good solo piece, and I began improvising it as a journal song. I discovered that this song was not just about losing a girlfriend, but it was about my family and my close friends. Inevitably we are on a journey where we lose all of our loved ones. The haunting phrase of “must you go” affected me profoundly, and as a solo, the work ends with an E-flat augmented triad. Leaving the answer open, but inevitably we are always saying goodbye to those we love.
The final song of the cycle, Where is the Music? was composed or “resurrected” two weeks ago. In 1998, I suffered a stroke in which many of my journal songs were lost from my memory. I slowly began to recover that song and the form that is in the cycle is still emerging and growing, but was especially created for this cycle.

The journey between dissonance and resolution underlies all the songs. And in the final song Where is the Music?, the cycle comes to a close with a struggle for resolution between E-flat and A-Flat Augmented triads.  It ends not really resolved, but possibly intent on some future quest, “somewhere”.

My life has always been a quest for beauty, spontaneity, and excellence. Affecting the video stream of the Poet is the Italian film, The Great Beauty.  I call the main character of the cycle, the poet.  This name was derived from a madrigal cycle I published in 1969 called The Loves of a Poet.  I never published another thing, and my life has always been creating and moving on to the next thing… and noticing. For me one of my purposes in living is to notice and have reverence for all I notice. That is why I love to teach, because I strive to notice the sheer beauty and potential of all those that I am lucky enough to encounter. Noticing becomes a way of creating spontaneity, but also a way of documenting our experience of our world.

The Great Beauty is about a writer who publishes one of the greatest books of Italian literature when he was twenty-five and never published again.  Always the question from everyone he met was “Why did you never publish again?” He couldn’t find the answer. But in the film, one sees his quest for beauty, always inspired by his muse who was also his first love. The film is about the quest for beauty and excellence. He never had an answer to the question. But after a profound series of events, all about the essence of beauty and excellence, he discovers his answer in remembering his muse. 
In this performance, the left screen is the Poet’s stream of conscious and the right screen is the stream of consciousness of the The Woman. The center screen is the live action that has the power to enter into the streams of consciousness. This is determined by an artist at the technology console making decisions that interact with the stage action.

In starting an opera project several years ago called A Song for Second Avenue, I developed, through dialoging with friends, a concept of the MoviOp.  The MoviOp involved the creation of streams of consciousness of characters in prepared videos and projected with the live action on the stage, coordinated, but not meant to connect directly to the live action. In addition, live video is captured in the moment on action on the stage, and such action can be manipulated and invade the streams of consciousness. This meant to be a live and improvised experience

I abandoned A Song for Second Avenue two years ago. It seems as though I am veering on returning to the libretto and resuming a revision of the text and writing the music. For me the question is slightly different than that of the writer in The Great Beauty. I have wondered if I can go into the isolation required to do such a work. I enjoy the act of noticing being in the moment with those I know and encounter.
On the other hand, I always have admired Rossini. The great composer was a friend with Balzac and both had become addicted to coffee. In those days coffee was considered a drug and both Rossini and Balzac had become addicts. Balzac wrote:
Rossini has personally experienced some of these effects as, of course, have I. "Coffee," Rossini told me, "is an affair of fifteen or twenty days; just the right amount of time, fortunately, to write an opera." 

Without Rick’s encouragement and friendship this song cycle would not exist. Working on it has opened the door to completing the opera. I’m no Rossini, so the idea of finishing A Song for Second Avenue in about 20 days is an inspiring challenge. If I could do it, I could get back to noticing the beauty around me much sooner.

1 comment:

Rick Hart said...

We know you can do it! Rossini, as was the wont of his day, cribbed not only from himself, but others as well. You certainly have amassed such a compelling body of original work, that using some things to validate others wouldn't be held against you. The key is finding that value in creation that impels us to finish a subject - in white heat (or on coffee) as it were - as though our life depended on it. It's what we find in a book that we have to finish in one sitting.
Your songs came from the heart and were received as such. No matter how long they were in progress, I'm sure most were inspired and complete in a moment. We struggle for a lifetime to find that moment, and you have found so many! Just go for it!