A SPREE FOREST MUSICAL EXCURSION Part 2

Welcome back to the Spree Forest and the Spreewaldlieder song cycle for flute and harp.  (Head here for Part 1 if you missed it.)

SW 9When I got the commission from the Duo Elysée I was excited to compose for flute and especially harp, for which I had never composed before, and whose particular properties I had only just recently coincidentally studied.  Dividing the composition into twelve short pieces each devoted to a different aspect of the Spree Forest experience allowed me to explore a variety of colors and playing techniques for both instruments in discreet sections.  I wasn’t necessarily intending to paint musical pictures with the pieces, although the titles for each piece certainly suggest that some of that is going on.  I was more interested in allowing each of the twelve titles or images to elicit an organic, internal musical response, influenced by a particular tack of expressive playing.

Let’s continue our day trip in the Spreewald(lieder):

SPREEWALDLIEDER – SPREE FOREST SUITE (continued)

IV   Senf- und Knoblauchgurken – The Pickle Barrel

SL 4The main food delicacy of the Spreewald is pickles.  This detail usually provokes a wince whenever I tell people, but the thing is those Spreewaldpickles are GOOD!  I’m not a big fan of pickles in general, but these varieties are superb.  I especially love the honey, mustard, and garlic pickles, so I named this duet after two of those.  Throwing in a piece about pickles also allowed for some lightening of the mood after all the languorous beauty of the landscape.  It also inspired some cheeky technical flourishes for the musicians, in particular the flutter-tonguing on the flute and the rapid up/down strumming on tone clusters on the harp.  Trying to capture both the sweet and sour nature of those delicious pickles.

Ed:

Ed: ” Mmmm, Pickles!”

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A SPREE FOREST MUSICAL EXCURSION Part 1

SW 1

Painted map of the Spreewald

Let’s take a musical trip to the one-of-a-kind Spreewald.  The Spreewald (AKA the Spree Forest) is a gorgeous region, a kind of rural Venice located an hour southeast of Berlin, Germany in the source of the Spree River (which flows straight through Berlin).  We all know Venice as a city in the water, with impressive architecture crisscrossed by canals and waterways large and small.  The Spreewald is the farm country equivalent, with picturesque farms, fields and villages crisscrossed and accessible only by canals and waterways.

Elysee picIn 2007 the Duo Elysée, the flautist Ulrich Roloff and the harpist Eva Curth-Ignatjeva, commissioned me to compose a duet for flute and harp.  Inspired by a recent trip to the Spreewald I decided to compose a suite of 12 short pieces, a song cycle for flute and harp musically describing a day in the Spreewald.

I called it Spreewaldlieder – Spree Forest Suite.

In this four part blog series (it feels kind of highfalutin to use the term “four part blog series”, doesn’t it, or should I say in this case: high-flutin’?) let’s take a musical as well as photographic trip through the wonderful Spreewald.

SPREEWALDLIEDER – SPREE FOREST SUITE

I  Ankunft – Arrival

A little fanfare for the arrival by train (or car) of the day trippers at Lübbenau, the main access point into the Spreewald.  We’ll hear that theme again near the end of the song cycle, albeit transformed.

“Little Spree Palace”

SL 1

——

II  Kahnfahrt – Boat on the Wide Canal

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OUR DAY HAS COME – a personal marriage story with musical accompaniment

Our wedding photo as displayed in our living room

Our wedding photo as displayed in our living room

Ed and I got married in 1998.  And again in 2011.  Then our marriage got federally augmented in 2013.  And now finally in 2015 the state of our union will be fully recognized in every state of the Union.   It’s been a long time coming but our day has come.

Let’s start the celebration with the original recording of “Our Day Will Come” by Ruby and the Romantics.

 

Today, June 26, 2015, in fact just minutes before I posted this piece, the Supreme Court ruled that the United States Constitution guarantees a nationwide right to Same-Sex Marriage. 

This Sunday’s Gay Pride marches will be especially festive.  It has been a long time coming, for the LGBTQ community and for the nation as a whole.  It has been a long day coming for Ed and me too.  During our now 22 years together the nature of our relationship has grown and changed, but not nearly as much as the legal nature of our marriage.

Ed and I met April 25, 1993 in the back of a greyhound bus returning to New York from the large March for Gay Rights that had just taken place in Washington D.C.  It was my first LGBT march, after having just attended the First National Bisexual Convention.  The greyhound bus only had one seat left in the back when I got on, the seat next to Ed.  Neither Ed nor I are the gregarious type likely to chat up strangers on a bus, but today we both made a conscious exception, each thinking it might be nice to meet someone.  For the next 4½ hours we sat side by side getting to know each other.  It was only after we got off the bus that I got a good look at Ed’s face from the front (rather than a ¾ profile) and noticed his height (six foot one) and broad shoulders.

Wedding photo 2After a year of dating Ed and I came to the mutual understanding that the anxiety of losing the other was now equal to the anxiety of facing a whole life time together, and that with every following day the former would grow and the latter would fade.  In other words we were in love!  After four years of toggling between a Chelsea and an Upper West Side studio apartment (our two bedroom unit connected by a 50 block hallway and the C subway line) we finally moved in together in Brooklyn and set the date for our marriage ceremony: April 25, 1998, the fifth anniversary of our meeting on that greyhound bus.

Let’s celebrate that day with Karen Carpenter’s smooth rendition of “Our Day Will Come” (and ignore the awkward radio announcer that mars the end of this track from the concept album “Now and Then”).


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GETTIN’ WITCHY WITH IT

Above is the first video I ever posted on YouTube, and easily the most visually fun of the ones I’ve posted so far: a demo recording of three songs from the musical “Witches” enhanced with 105 illustrations of witches past and present, art historical and trash cinematical.

Witches 1When I made the “Witches” video I was just looking for a way to share the recording of the Witches demos with singers without needing to post a cd in the mail.  The audio files were too big for email (and I still don’t understand zipmail) and this was a time before OneDrive or Dropbox or Soundcloud.  So I thought it might be fun to take a deep dive into google images and play around with my laptop’s Imovie function.  I think you will see I had my fair share of fun making this (I hope you’ll have fun watching it) but I don’t want to make any great cinematic claims here, the point of the video is still to showcase the songs.  (I think you will also see that the dubious pixelation quality of some of the images suggests it’s better not to watch this using the full screen function.)

Witches 5I have since learned that to “succeed” on YouTube it is better to post short clips, not 10 minute song cycles.  But that’s OK.  I posted my YouTube videos in the pre-Soundcloud, pre-Dropbox era to give people who want to check out my music a place to give it a listen, not to drive up “hits”.

“Witches” is the second musical I co-wrote with the German playwright Peter Lund.  He first commissioned me to compose the music for the first original musical his theater company Comp & Co was producing in 1989: “Wir pfeifen auf den Gurkenkönig”.  All of 1990 was taken with several theatrical runs of that musical in Berlin.  In 1991 we discussed a second collaboration.  We thought perhaps an adult fairy tale.  I had a bunch of song ideas from a musical project I had recently abandoned, music that sounded like a modern riff on folk songs.  Peter had two female singers of dramatically and vocally opposite temperaments for whom he wanted to write.  Peter also had a sister who was deeply into Witches, in history and legend.  These three strains came together in what would be our second musical collaboration.

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Rest in Peace, James Horner

images

May you soar in the heavens with your melodies.

(Hymn to the Sea – James Horner (from Titanic)

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MERMAIDS AND WIZARDS AND DRAGONS: The Kindergarten Fairy Tale Opera Project

mermaid and dragon

I have already written about how First Grade Operas are created by the students at the Brooklyn Children’s School, and posted one, two, three examples.  If the First Grade Opera Project is the creating original music theater equivalent of riding a big kid bike, then the Fairy Tale Opera Project in Kindergarten is when creating original music theater gets its training wheels.

I join the Kindergarten classes just after the children have been learning all about fairy tales and folk tales.  Together we make lists of the elements of fairy tales, the kind of characters, places and magic we find in fairy tales, and then choose the characters, places and magic we want to include in our original fairy tale.

Each new fairy tale gets three songs the children create themselves.  When getting a group of five year olds to write songs they themselves will sing, it helps to encourage repetition of phrase or sentence structure as well as repetition of melodic ideas.  (Just as with first grade, when the Kindergarten Fairy Tale Operas are performed for their families, the Kindergartners all sing each song as an ensemble while individual children act out the song.)

mermaidFor our first example, let’s meet our heroine the mermaid who lives in an underwater castle.

A Wizard is besotted with her, and showers her with gifts:

THE WIZARD’S GIFTS

 

I WILL GIVE YOU GIFTS IF YOU MARRY ME PLEASE

I WILL GIVE YOU GIFTS IF YOU MARRY ME PLEASE

I WILL GIVE YOU A CROWN

IF YOU MARRY ME PLEASE

I WILL GIVE YOU A SEA PUPPY

IF YOU MARRY ME PLEASE

I WILL GIVE YOU MAKE-UP

TO POLISH YOUR FIN

I WILL GIVE YOU HAIR CHALK

TO DECORATE YOUR BANGS

I WILL SHOWER YOU WITH ROSES

IF YOU MARRY ME PLEASE

I WILL GIVE YOU A GOLDEN CLIP

IF YOU MARRY ME PLEASE

I WILL GIVE YOU GIFTS IF YOU MARRY ME PLEASE

I WILL GIVE YOU GIFTS IF YOU MARRY ME PLEASE

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Jacqui Sutton waxes musically about Mark Twain and American Anthems

Jacqui Sutton

Jacqui Sutton

Jacqui Sutton isn’t merely a performer who has sung my music at numerous occasions, she is also a friend whose wedding to the writer Edward Porter I have attended (with my husband whom I call “my Ed” to distinguish him from “her Ed” when Jacqui and I wax lyrically about our hubbies).

We met 14 years ago when she got cast in “Brooklyn Tales”, a Brooklyn set fairy tale play anthology for which I’d composed the music for Marjorie Duffield’s update on “Lucky Hans”.  Jacqui later sang in concert performances as well as fully staged productions of my music theater works “The Song of Job 9:11″, “beTwixt, beTween & beTWAIN”, and “I TOO SING AMERICA – The Blues According to Langston Hughes”.  Lately she is based in Houston where she has formed the Frontier Jazz Orchestra and released two albums that blend Blues Grass and Jazz idioms.  She recorded three of my tunes from “beTwixt, beTween & beTWAIN” on her first album “Billie & Dolly”.  We are currently collaborating on the writing of an original song cycle “American Anthem”.

Jacqui Sutton (and her work with me) is currently being featured in the online Literary Journal Waxwing.  The article includes three music tracks, the beTWAIN songs on the “Billie & Dolly” album as well as a sneak preview of “American Anthem”.  Here are some highlights in Jacqui’s own words (click here for the full article):

beTWAIN”  “Keeper of Your Love” is set in Gold Rush California and recounts the story of a man whose wife has gone off by stagecoach to visit family.  She posts a letter on her way home, but she never arrives, having been killed in an ambush.  The husband waits, year after year, for her return.  When I chose to record it, I wanted to add something that hinted at the couples’ courtship — a happier time.  I got to sing “Sweep Me Off My Feet” in the production, and when I ran the idea by Danny of combining “Sweep” with “Keeper,” he felt it made sense.  This version of the combined songs was effectively our first collaboration.”

(Let me quickly insert: Jacqui also asked me to write new lyrics that explained in song how the wife disappeared years ago, a revelation that in the stage version is communicated in dialog.  You will hear those lyrics in the mid-section that starts with “Endless years…”)

Keeper of Your Love (Sweep Me Off My Feet):

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SPEAKEASY – Dream a little Dream of Dreams

sleep

When we first meet John and Jane Allison in the musical Speakeasy they are making love. We don’t see them actually.  The lights are out.  We just hear them, some faint sounds of intimacy followed by a post-coital conversation in the dark, until Jane turns on the bedside lamp.

John and Jane are young newlyweds around 1930, and still sexually somewhat inexperienced.  They start talking about why they never seem to make love at night:

JANE: And then, some mornings, still half dreaming, and you’re so passionate…

JOHN: You’ve surprised me too mornings… It’s nice, right?

JANE: Well, yes. But isn’t it odd?

JOHN: Hmmm.

JANE: What do you dream about when…

JOHN: Dunno. What are you dreaming?

JANE: I don’t remember.

Dreams are a major theme in “Speakeasy – the Adventures of John and Jane Allison in the Wonderland”.  This first scene suggests that there may be aspects to John and Jane’s erotic make-up that they are not consciously aware of, that speak to them in dreams they don’t recall in their waking moments.  And just like Alice in Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass”, Jane and John Allison will find themselves slipping into a fantastical dream world, a world that will challenge their understanding of their own identity and sexuality.

sleepJust like Alice in both of her books, Jane and John will not be aware of when or how they slipped into this dream world.  The actual point of falling asleep will be hard to pinpoint while within the experience.  Eventually, after a series of strange and improbable experiences, they tell themselves this must all be a dream.  And just as in the conclusion of the Alice books, the point of John and Jane “awakening” from the dream and finding themselves back in “mundane” reality will be much clearer than their entry into the dream world was, will constitute a more definite break in the narrative.  However, unlike Alice, Jane and John are not individuals who experienced their dream on their own.  They suspect that they both had dreamed the same dream, or rather two conjoined halves of the same dream, experienced both separately and together.  Unlike in the Alice books, in the end of “Speakeasy” there is no reassuringly clear border between dream and reality.

Alice and Rabbit

Alice pursues the White Rabbit

Lewis Carroll does not describe Alice falling asleep before she spots and takes off after the White Rabbit who leads her down the rabbit hole into Wonderland.  Carroll does write that “Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do”, leaving open the likelihood that Alice might be dozing off by her sister’s side.  Similarly Jane may have fallen asleep on her couch before her neighbor Roberta White visits her again in the evening with some illegal hooch and a penchant for dancing to the music on the radio.  After an unexpected kiss between the two women Roberta rushes off and a flustered Jane runs after her, all the way to the basement entrance of a speakeasy, the musical’s version of the rabbit hole.

Alice goes through the looking glass

Alice goes through the looking glass

In “Through the Looking Glass” Carroll also doesn’t write that Alice falls asleep before discovering she can travel through the sitting room’s mirror into a magical world.  The only hint at sleeping is Alice telling her cat Dinah “I’m sure the woods look sleepy in the autumn, when the leaves are getting brown” a few pages before the looking glass slide-through.  Similarly, John in “Speakeasy” nods off while riding the subway with his friend Dean, but doesn’t slip through the mirror of a public men’s room until several minutes later, after a startling sexual encounter in a bathroom stall.

Before Jane and John make these dramatic entrances into the world of Wonderland magic realism, “Speakeasy” might seem as realistic as any kitchen sink drama.  There are songs that are performed, but each within the context of a played record or radio broadcast.  John and Jane get out of bed and get ready for the day while continuing their conversation about dreams, which takes on a lighter tone as they discuss their favorite singers and movie stars.  Jane puts a record on the phonograph and it plays the song “Dream” sung by Chet Cheshire :

DREAM

DREAM A LITTLE DREAM OF ROMANCE

DREAM OF BEING HELD IN A SUDDEN TRANCE

MEETING SOMEONE’S GAZE IN A DANCE

QUITE BY CHANCE

DREAM

DREAM OF STEPPING OUT OF THIS WORLD

DREAM OF FINDING LOVE WITH A BOY OR GIRL

LETTING ALL YOUR WISHES UNFURL

IN A WHIRL

DREAM

DREAM OF BEING CAUGHT IN A SPIN

DREAM OF TURNING OUT AND WITHIN

DREAM OF ALL THAT LOVE TO FALL IN AND OUT

ROUND ABOUT

DREAM

DREAM I’M LOVING YOU IN A DREAM

DARLING WHEN YOU DO

YOU’LL FIND LOVE IS TRUE

LOVE WHEN YOU

DREAM

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SNOW WHITE and the SEVEN HOS: an SCA Benefit Performance

Dwarves

Be warned.  This will not be the Disney Musical Fairy Tale of your or anyone else’s childhood.  For one, Snow White is a recovering sex addict, and the seven dwarfs she meets all struggle with sex addiction and a variety of accompanying conditions: Dopey abuses marijuana; Happy is a loud drunk; Sneezy is a coke head; Sleepy is up all night trolling for sex on the internet; Doc is constantly catching STDs; Grumpy has anger management issues; and Bashful is a “sexual anorexic”, he has a porn addiction but can’t relate to actual people.

“Girlfriend!”

I quickly realized I was going to learn a lot of new things (and I know things now, many wonderful things, that I never knew before… wait, no, that’s a very different fairy tale musical) at this benefit performance of “Snow White and the Seven Hos”, a fundraiser for S.C.A. – Sexual Compulsives Anonymous, a support group that primarily serves Gay Men with Sex Addiction issues.  Ed and I were invited to attend by a friend who knows the amateur performers, all of whom are listed only by their first name and an initial in the program.  Evidently this fundraiser is an annual affair.  Previous musical appropriations included a legendarily hilarious “Sunset Boulevard” as well as “The Sound of Music” (with the Van Tramps).

Snow White & dwarvesIt was a fun, clever and bawdy affair.  The level of bawdiness reportedly did cause a bit of controversy within the group.  Although the musical parody’s message was clearly about overcoming sexual addiction and destructive behavior, the very ribald nature of some of the dialog and rewriting of classic Disney tunes caused some SCA members to question whether or not some of show would not actually act as “triggers” for some in the audience.  As the program preemptively stated: “In future show planning meetings, we will take group conscience on the use of graphic language in our shows”.

I however in good conscience had a grand old time with the spirited performances, the very clever rewriting of the Disney Songbook, and I learned some things too!

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Like me, really like me, on FACEBOOK! :-)

There is now a Facebook page for “Notes from a Composer”.

All new blog posts will also be listed on the “Notes from a Composer – Danny Ashkenasi” Facebook page:

Notes from a Composer – Danny Ashkenasi FACEBOOK PAGE

So please go there and “like” the heck out of it if that is your preferred method of receiving blog post updates!

And invite your Facebook friends to like the heck out of it too!  Thank you!  :-)

music fanned

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Lisa Kron’s acceptance speech must be heard and shared!

Lisa Kron won a Tony for writing the book of the musical Fun Home.

She gave a wonderful speech with a fantastic extended metaphor that just needs to be heard and shared.

No one saw this on CBS.  They aired commercials instead…

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TONY! TONY! TONY! Just Live-Blogging it is Reward Enough!

Tonight are the Tony Awards!  Woo-hoo!  The Second Gay High Holy Day!  (Well, let’s face it, the Oscars are indisputably the #1 Gay High Holy Day, Gay Christmas!  But the Tonys are a close second, right?  Gay New Year!  Day of A-Tony-ment!)  Join me here for the fun starting around 8pm Eastern Standard Time, or come by later for the recap!

Tony

Tonight’s hosts are our favorite diminutive diva dynamo Kristin Chenoweth and our favorite prolific pansexual Pan Alan Cumming.  Both are previous Tony winners.  Kristen won for her performance as Sally in the revival of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” (the producers liked her so much they created the role of Sally for her in the Peanuts musical that originally hadn’t included that character), was nominated again for playing Glinda in “Wicked”, and is nominated again tonight for her performance in the musical revival “On the Twentieth Century” (which I am desperate to see.  If only I had the budget to see every show on Broadway I wish to at any price…)  Alan Cumming previously won a Tony Award for his take on the M.C. in the revival of “Cabaret”, successfully creating his own legendary performance of the role, quite an achievement considering the very long shadow cast by Joel Grey’s performance.  Alan Cumming returned to the role in last year’s revival of the revival of “Cabaret”.  By all accounts his dressing room was party central for the best and brightest of Broadway after every show.

Tony Hosts

At the bottom of this post is a list of all the Tony nominees.  I will update it with the wins as quickly in real time as I can from my command center on the couch in front of my television.  Which means I may be slow on the uptake regarding those less sexy awards (according to CBS) given out before the live telecast (actually I will end up posting those stats long before the telecast finally announces what happened three commercial breaks earlier, so there!  ;-)  ).

An American in ParisMy biggest focus when it comes to the Tonys would be the new musicals, of course.  I am a composer of musicals, so naturally the state of original musicals with new scores on Broadway is of particular interest to me.  This year appears to be a good one, at least statistically.  By my count there were ten eligible musicals vying for the Best New Musical slots, with eight of them boasting original scores, which is a lot more than I remember there being in previous years for a long time.  There were years in the past where there were hardly enough shows to choose from in either category (remember the annus horribilus 1995 when only 2 musicals were nominated, and only one had an original score…?).

Fun HomeThis year’s four Best Musical nominees could hardy be more different in character and tone.  You have the elegant Gershwin dance musical “An American in Paris”, the poignant family drama “Fun Home”, the over-the-top musical spoof “Something Rotten” and the dark revenge romance “The Visit”.  All four are also nominated for Best Book of a Musical.  All three nominees with original scores are also nominated in the Best Score category.  Taking the fourth Best Score slot is “The Last Ship”, which is a testament to how well respected Sting’s score must be, since this show sadly closed in January and Tony nominators usually (but not always) will favor shows still running over shows that have closed in Something Rottennearly all categories and there were four other scores to choose from, three from shows still open when nominations were cast.  In fact eight of the 10 new musicals were still running the day nominations were announced (“Doctor Zhivago” closed soon after).  The two that had closed, “The Last Ship” and “Honeymoon in Vegas” had been well-respected and even raved about by critics, and yet they unhappily couldn’t attract enough audience support to keep going.  I saw both shows and feel they deserved longer runs.

The VisitI have managed to see three of the four Best Musical nominees before the Tony telecast, which is extremely unusual for me, since, as I have already mentioned, I don’t really have the budget to see everything I would wish to see on Broadway, and especially not immediately.  But I am lucky this year to have seen “Fun Home” when it played last year Off-Broadway at the Public, and to have managed to procure discounted tickets for both “Something Rotten” and “The Visit” in previews, while they were still relatively unknown quantities.  Not so with “An American in Paris”, which I would love to see, but who knows where or when I will be able to afford to now, it’s such a hot ticket.  (And maybe I shouldn’t quote Rodgers and Hart’s “Where or When” when referencing a Gershwin musical…)

Alright.  I’ll be back before 8pm EST to “be your host, und sage Willkommen, bien venue, welcome to the 2015 Tony Awards telecast!”

7:55 – Five minutes to showtime! OK.  Got my chips (with hint of lime), got my chunky medium salsa, got my hard cider.  So bring it on Tonys!  Looking forward to the big opening.  Neil Patrick Harris and Hugh Jackman have spoiled me with years of greatly entertaining openings.  I have high hopes for Alan and Kristin!

8pm – And we’re off!

Kristin is in a mini-skirted suit, and Alan is in puce shorts.

K: Tonight is so big it’s begging to be handled by both a man and a woman.

A: I can relate.

So can I.

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