16 nov 2014

White Gloves and Party Manners

I just got back from hearing Clio Montrey perform my song cycle White Gloves and Party Manners (based on Marjabelle Young's children's etiquette book of that name). Katherine Yeager premiered this piece in Colorado earlier this year. I thoroughly enjoyed both performances, but I was astounded at how different they were.

Katie sang it as if the singer were the book's author, giving advice to the audience. When the lyrics offered instructions for doing a curtsy, she executed one flawlessly. Clio sang it as if the singer were a reader of the book. She read from the book as she sang, sometimes with a perplexed expression. When the time came to execute a curtsy, she stumbled through it, as if trying her best to follow the instructions but suffering the awkwardness of any first-time endeavor. Each interpretation is perfectly valid. There is nothing in the lyrics or the music to suggest one over the other. And, frankly, I, as composer, have no preference.

Experiences like this are exactly what make composing so rewarding. When you write music, you bring something new into the world. Then you get to watch a performer breathe life into it, often in a way you did not anticipate, and turn that "something new" into a work of art. It is, in many ways, like watching a child you brought into the world develop into an independent person. You feel a mixture of pride at your own contribution and awe at the wonderful results you know you cannot take credit for. Katie and Clio each turned this piece into a different "independent person," and I am in awe of both of them.



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