I recently scored a feature-length documentary on post World War II printmaking in the American Midwest. Somehow, in my mind, Midwest printmaking meant clarinet. And that meant I got the pleasure of recording the principal clarinetist from the Kennedy Center’s opera orchestra, David Jones. What a delight it was working with such a talented multi-instrumentalist. We used clarinet, flute, tenor sax, and bass clarinet in the studio, and David managed to give me every tone color I needed. I could have dug through every synth patch I have to score this and never come up with what that David was able to give me in one beautiful recording session. The film, Midwest Matrix, directed by Susan Goldman, was screened last month in Milwaukee.
This past weekend, triple threat theatrical talent Gia Mora returned to the DC metro area with her one woman cabaret act, interestingly titled Einstein’s Girl. Local theatregoers who have frequented the likes of Signature Theatre, Metro Stage, Ford’s Theatre, the Kennedy Center, Arena Stage and more likely know Ms. Mora for her strong, high soprano belt, and equally strong dancing and acting skills. It’s less likely they know that Gia is a bit of an amateur theoretical physics geek.
Physics and singing? Who would have thought? It’s certainly an unlikely mix of interests yet Ms. Mora beautifully brought these two passions – and more – together in her unique and highly original cabaret, which is making the rounds in venues in California, New York, and the DC area. With it, Ms. Mora delivered a mixture of contemporary patter songs and standards, along with original stories and commentary that explore the science of love in our increasingly interconnected yet lonesome world.
Clearly, the topic of love/romance has served as a foundation for many a cabaret. Though not a completely tired topic – after all it is universally relatable and multi-faceted – it can be met by many a groan for those looking for a cabaret that’s a bit different. Ms. Mora managed the unthinkable here – putting a fresh spin on the subject of love. Melding intellectual thoughts on topics as varied as black holes and supercomputing and devilishly funny commentary on the intersection between American obsession with technology and the search for love with sultry, jazz-infused vocals, she provided a convincing argument for why a cabaret about love/romance might not be so tired after all.
The success of Ms. Mora’s self-penned cabaret (with additional material from Brad Brown) is not only due to her strong thematic structure – though that’s certainly a key ingredient – but also her immediately relatable persona. From the time she appeared on stage to the encore number, she naturally commanded the stage and made one take notice not only when she was singing, but when she relayed her thoughts on the admittedly varied, yet connected subjects with spoken word. Having seen many a cabaret where the ‘in-between-songs’ banter was downright painful and awkward – and left me wondering when the performer would just sing – I am happy to report that there’s very little of that (if any) painfulness in this performance. She was simply charming.
Yet, sing she did. Backed by her equally talented music director on piano, Charlie Barnett, she more than proved her vocal versatility. From comedic, contemporary musical theatre-like numbers such as “Oh, Internet” (Hannah Hart), “I Google You” (Amanda Palmer/Neil Gaiman), and “The Facebook Song” (Kate Miller-Heidke), to more traditional standards like “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” (Harry Woods) and pop-rock numbers like “Fools in Love” (Joe Jackson), Ms. Mora comfortably delivered emotionally on-point vocals with technical precision.
While it would be difficult to point out some highlights, three particular numbers caught my interest for different reasons.
“Glorious Higgs,” (Michael Flanders/Donald Swann with lyrics by Danuta Orlowska), first performed by a bunch of physicists at CERN (a hotbed of physics research in Switzerland), comically considers issues of importance in – of all things – quantum physics. When’s the last time you heard a song about that? This song gave Ms. Mora an opportunity to ‘geek out’ so-to-speak on a subject of interest to her in an accessible way while entertaining the audience members with her playful vocals.
Though more than a few Broadway divas have included John Kander and Fred Ebb’s “The World Goes Round” (from New York, New York) in their respective cabaret acts, I appreciated that Ms. Mora put her own unique vocal spin on this fantastic number. As a result of her unique phrasing, textured vocals, and apparent connection with the lyrics, it was like hearing the song for the first time. She followed up this sensational vocal performance with an emotional take on “Second Star to the Right” (Sammy Fain/Sammy Cahn). This number displayed her quiet and contemplative side and was a perfect ending to her delightful act.
Running Time: About 90 minutes with no intermission. Einstein’s Girl was a one-night-only performance at the Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club – 7719 Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda, MD – on April 13, 2013. For a listing of Gia Mora’s upcoming performances, visit her website.
Read more about BWW Reviews: Gia Mora Brings EINSTEIN’S GIRL to Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club by cabaret.broadwayworld.com
If you’re a composer, there is a moment when you are laying out ideas for the first movement of an orchestral piece that has serious consequences for all the following movements. You must decide whether you want to use a contrabassoon. Or a bass clarinet. Or a piano. Decisions like this can affect who will eventually play, or even look at, your piece.
I’m told there is nothing more infuriating to a conductor than finding out that the composer has written for contrabassoon for only one movement–and that the part is crucial to the overall feeling of the score. This means that the other movements will feature a fully paid contra player sitting on his hands in the woodwind section. For most of the orchestras that play my work, this is a couple hundred bucks that could be used for something else. I have learned my lesson: I don’t include a supplementary instrument in a piece unless I am going to use it throughout.
As for piano, I have found that most rehearsal halls for community orchestras do not have pianos, and that many concert halls have horrible pianos. Including piano in your score–no matter how Copland-y you are feeling–could preclude having the piece chosen for a performance. You are generally better off writing for marimba or harp.
I resisted using Sibelius notation software at first. I was very happy with my Judy Green score paper and Judy Green pencils. But the software has some features that help me keep music directors happy. Chief among them is the program’s strong preference for consistent orchestrations in a piece. If you try adding instruments midway through, you are asking for a world of trouble. Ten years of Sibelius–and even longer working with the conductors of academic, regional, and community orchestras–has made me a better, more consistent, and more user-friendly composer.
Starting an album is easy. Finishing it is hard. After some really fun and completely exhausting work, we’re done recording and mixing the next Chaise Lounge CD. The album, Dot Dot Dot, features some of our most-requested songs, including “The Coolest Car,” which has already been played on NPR’s Car Talk, and “My Losing Streak,” a show-stopping instrumental featuring our sax player, Gary Gregg. Along with nine of my originals, the CD includes covers such as Leonard Bernstein’s “Cool” and a terrifyingly fast version of Jerome Kern’s “Old Man River.” The album should be making its way onto record store shelves by mid-May. Oh wait…there aren’t any more record stores. But you’ll be able to find the CD at chaiseloungenation.com.