Traffic Jam

It’s pretty safe to assume that adjusting to life in Los Angeles is difficult for most people. It has certainly been the case for me, even though I lived here while I was an undergraduate at UCLA. Traffic, smog, and dinginess are just so pervasive here. It is a challenge to see past it all when attempting to settle in.

The transition from the Northwest to Southern California had its most profound effect on my compositional output. Week after week, I labored to commit a mere few measures at a time to the page. I spent many hours writing but ended up with very little to show for it.

The past has brought periods of low creative energy, including strings of days consisting of little-to-zero output. But until now, I had never tried so hard to get music on the page to no avail. Not only was it discouraging and embarrassing (especially at a new school with a new teacher), it is also left me overwhelmed with a desperate sense of doubt. I wondered if I would ever be able to write again, truly.

It wasn’t until my friend, Christopher DeVage, came to me with a beautiful Dickinson poem that my creative jam began to weaken. The poem is, in fact, a profound expression of doubt. During the process of its composition, I did not consciously apply the poem to the doubt that I was experiencing at the time, but in retrospect, in the present moment, it uncannily occurs to me how relevant the poem was to my state-of-being while I composed it.

The poem reads:

Will there really be a “Morning”?
Is there such a thing as “Day”?
Could I see it from the mountains
If I were as tall as they?

Has it feet like Water-lilies?
Has it feathers like a Bird?
Is it brought from famous countries
Of which I have never heard?

Oh some Scholar! Oh some Sailor!
Oh some Wise Men from the skies!
Please to tell a little Pilgrim
Where the place called “Morning” lies!

– Emily Dickinson

Perhaps what I was feeling at the time helped me to understand consciously and subconsciously the heart of Dickinson’s message. Other musical settings of the poem seem to ignore the fact that it is written from a position of darkness, and the poet is left wondering if the sun and its light will ever be experienced by her again.

The song is scored for baritone and piano, but the baritone line also works nicely on a melodic instrument. Last Friday, my good friend, Brett Banducci, and I recorded the song with Brett on the viola and me at the piano. Enjoy.

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A Successful Premiere

Last night marked an important moment in my life and career, as my oratorio, Such Beautiful Things, was brought into the world through a stunning premiere performance by Vince Peterson’s Choral Chameleon in New York City. Joined by Choral Chameleon was Christina Borgioli (soprano), Colleen Coussinat (mezzo-soprano), Kannan Vasudevan (tenor), Christopher DeVage (baritone), and Brad Whiteley & Jason Wirth (pianists).

The house was fuller than expected, and extra rows of chairs were added just minutes ahead of the performance to accommodate the large crowd. At the end of the performance, the audience burst into applause, and immediately rose to their feet in a standing ovation.

The performers certainly deserved the accolades. The choir fully embodied the dramatic nature of their role(s), and communicated each and every note, gesture, and sentiment masterfully. The soloists blew away the audience with their gorgeous sound and range of expression. The pianists were hard at work for the entire duration of the hour-long piece, and did it with jaw-dropping artistry and technical facility.

None of this would have been possible without Vince Peterson, whose remarkable artistic vision served as the impetus for the project. Nor would the piece have been so successful were it not for Tony Asaro, whose masterpiece-of-a-libretto inspired every note of the oratorio. His gift of prose and theatrical intuition is nothing short of genius.

A million thanks to the fantastic audience for being a part of last night’s premiere, and for the openness and enthusiasm with which the piece was received. I would also like to thank Choral Chameleon’s board, donors, and patrons for all of the time, energy, and resources they’ve invested in the group, and for making all of this happen.

I am utterly and eternally grateful for the work of each and every artist involved in the performance. From the bottom of my heart, thank you Choral Chameleon, Vince, Tony, Christina, Colleen, Kannan, Christopher, Brad, and Jason!

If inside your open ear,
There’s an open heart and mind there,
Then you will clearly hear
Such beautiful things.

(from the very last lines of Such Beautiful Things)

Must see!

It’s nearly 3am in New York City, and I am just too excited to go to sleep. Tonight was the first time I heard Such Beautiful Things realized with real voices and a real piano. I am stunned. Choral Chameleon and Vince Peterson have risen to the challenge, and will be putting on a spectacular show. The soloists are mind-blowing, and the pianists could not be more masterful. If you can come to the show, please do! Here’s the info:

Sunday, 18 April 2010 @ 5pm
Fourth Universalist Society
Hymns for the Amusement of Children160 Central Park West
New York, NY

Such Beautiful Things
Music by Jeffrey Parola
Libretto by Tony Asaro

Choral Chameleon
Vince Peterson, conductor
Christina Borgioli, soprano
Colleen Coussinat, mezzo-soprano
Kannan Vasudevan, tenor
Christopher DeVage, baritone
Brad Whiteley & Jason Wirth, piano