My Week with the Army
Well…that’s a bit misleading…I didn’t just come back from some undercover Anderson Cooper like embedding overseas. Last week, members of the United States Army Soldier’s Chorus joined librettist Jerre Dye, conductor Tyson Deaton, director David Gately and myself at the beautiful Seagle Music Colony to workshop our new opera “The Falling and The Rising”.
The Falling and the Rising centers around a strong female hero known only as “Soldier”. After sending a video message home on the eve of her daughter’s thirteenth birthday, our soldier is severely wounded by a roadside IED. Doctors quickly place her in an induced coma to help minimize the extensive trauma to her brain. The soldier must now make an arduous journey towards both healing and home. The Falling and the Rising chronicles the imagined journey of a soldier suspended inside a coma. We follow as she makes her way through a miraculous coma-induced dreamscape- one punctuated with the lives of other fellow service members, each on their own individual journey toward healing and home. Together, they must move toward clarity, comfort, consciousness, and communal hope during a time of adversity. This operatic soldier’s odyssey was created in hopes of capturing the indomitable spirit of our U.S. military veterans and to shed light on the inspirational power of their often overlooked stories. The Falling and the Rising is a story of family, service, and sacrifice inside a period of great uncertainty. (Jerre wrote this beautiful synopsis).
About two years ago Staff Sergeant Ben Hilgert attended an Opera America conference with nothing but a seedling of an idea/question: could he (the Army Field Band and Soldier’s Chorus) commission a short piece for chorus about pride in service to one’s country? That's it. No grand schemes, no plot/content suggestions…just a spark. He found Jerre through a New Works presentation; Jerre suggested that I write the music (Jerre and I worked together a few years earlier at Opera Memphis on “Movin’ Up In The World). A year later the piece started to become a reality when Ben, again at an Opera America conference, met, possibly new American Opera’s biggest champion, Darren Woods (formerly of Fort Worth Opera and currently the Artistic Director of Seagle Music Colony). Darren quickly assembled a consortium of co-commissioners (Seattle Opera, San Diego Opera, Arizona Opera, Opera Memphis and TCU) and soon Jerre and I found ourselves in Washington DC interviewing veterans at Walter Reed, Ft. Meade and Ft. Myer. (That was the first week I spent with the Army…I’ll get into that in a later post).
Fast-foward to “present day” and we now have a gorgeous 70 minute opera!
One of the Soldier’s Choristers likes to say how their fans “know how great they are.” Well…that may very well be the case, but I am going to offer my two-cents just in case there are any potential fans that may otherwise have not gone out to see them perform when they come to their city: These singers are unbelievable. Most of them haven’t been involved in a new opera, at least in the recent past. Not only did they arrive unprecedentedly prepared, but between day one and two of the workshop we handed out about 40 or so new pages that they incorporated without blinking twice. In fact, we gave them changes up until about 18 hours before the presentation. Their willingness to go with the flow allowed us to leave the workshop in much much better shape than we started. On top of that, these amazing performers put on a eye-watering (to put it lightly) presentation.
These days I’ve insisted on downplaying such presentations because, at least for me, the important work happens in the room the week leading up to the presentation. However, this one was special. An audience - a ridiculous smart, seasoned and attentive audience - of about 50-60 Schroon Lake residents and Seagle Music board members showed up to hear our little piece. Afterward Darren moderated a wonderful talkback where the audience members shared stories of their own service and how much this piece means to them. It went above and beyond the hopes we had for its first public performance. I’m hoping to cobble together a few short teasers to post soon. Look out for the premier in April in Fort Worth! Stay tuned… :)