Some of my favorite pieces of music come out of the lied and opera traditions. I’ve composed a number of works in these two traditions, with varying success. But I don’t have the kind of allegiance to either tradition that allows me to overlook their shortcomings.

I gave the second performance of Singing Silver on Tuesday night. It took me a few months to realize that the piece really wants to sidestep these two traditions – lied and opera – and connect with a much older tradition of blending music, poetry and storytelling.

Singing Silver is really a child of the troubadour tradition.

The singing in Singing Silver is part of the instrumental texture; the essence of the piece is in the interplay between spoken text and music. It’s at once a more ancient and more contemporary way of combining words and notes.

First performances are often opportunities for me to workshop pieces, to find their kinks and fully understand their strengths. The first performance of Singing Silver on the Sequenza21 concert last fall was an excellent case in point. I had an opportunity to feel and understand the music from within a specific performance.

I’ve reworked much of the piece, integrating and clarifying the roles of text and music. For the second performance, or the first performance of the newly constituted work, I had several hours of rehearsal in the hall over two days – an impossible luxury at the Sequenza21 concert – with people I trusted giving me feedback on balances and interpretation. I was able to watch a DVD of a rehearsal, in order to make decisions about sound quality, stage setup, and overall artistic impact. We had the chance to design the kind of amplification that would work best for the environment and for the communicative needs of the piece.

For Tuesday’s performance, I was seated in a spotlight stage left, performing the text from memory, with the four musicians (soprano, cello, horn, amplified guitar) seated together stage right. Between us, the stage was dark, with fragments of the text projected onto a screen, fading in and out as I recited the words.

For the performance, the 300-seat hall was practically full, and it felt like I heard positive feedback from everyone who was there.

I’ve had my music performed all over, and there have been some mighty fine performances through the years, for which I’m truly grateful. But nothing beats the kind of oversight I had for every parameter of the performance on Tuesday night, an oversight that is tough to find on the road. To get that kind of control, I would have to be the kind of selfish, demanding person I wouldn’t feel comfortable living with. Here, I get what I want because people trust me, they trust the product I’m working toward, and they honestly wanted to help – and that’s truly gratifying.

Not that everything came out perfectly, of course — there are a couple of small things I would do differently next time — but on the whole, a very satisfying event.

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