We live in an amazing time. You can see something you want online, press a button, and receive it in the mail in a day or two. Some things, like Chinese food, arrive even more quickly. And now I have found that high-quality adult education can be instantaneous: You can sign up for an online course and start taking it right away. I might be one of the last people in America to find this out.
A few weeks ago, I was having a conversation about the musical Gypsy (yes, this is related) and I tossed out a showy thought that Mama Rose was something like a modern-day Clytemnestra. The person I was talking with was moderately impressed with my reference, but I realized, in a rare moment of self-awareness, that I just barely knew who Clytemnestra was, and that my attempt at erudition was largely BS.
I became determined to fix this. After poking around the all-knowing internet, I found a class on Coursera.org called Greek and Roman Mythology taught by professor Peter Struck from the University of Pennsylvania—an all-star classicist. It is amazing and, unbelievably, it is free. I’m about halfway through and thoroughly obsessed. For the first time in my life, I really read The Odyssey. In two translations! And I am forming my own thoughts about the meaning of myth in modern life. This all has no bearing on my music career, at least for now. But if you see me at a cocktail party, look out. I’m on the long, slow path to becoming a modern-day Coeus (the Titan of intellect).
I was recently commissioned to write a choral work for the Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church in Bethesda, Maryland. This church is in the forefront of the sanctuary movement in our area, and the piece honors that impulse to protect the vulnerable. The libretto for Sanctuary, by Sandy Shaw, is a direct and heartfelt appeal to the best of our natures. It’s scored for choir, oboe, horn in F, bassoon and piano and will be performed at the church on November 3rd. Here is a link to the score.
As you may know, I’m working with partners to develop a musical about the 19th Amendment, which gave American women the right to vote. In the course of getting the show, 19, ready for full performances, we have played parts of it in all sorts of spaces, but none of them grander than the Great Hall in the Library of Congress, where we were honored to perform for the women of Congress on June 4.
It was memorable. And daunting. The Great Hall is 100% marble. If you are playing a piece for solo flute for a very quiet audience, maybe that space works acoustically. But for an audience of fired-up Congresswomen, led by the redoubtable Nancy Pelosi, I was worried our choral vocal numbers would turn into sonic soup.
Luckily, the sound crew at the LoC has a lot of experience with the logistics of this space. So even though my piano was literally 200 feet from Katie Ganem, who stars as suffragist Alice Paul, it worked! Her voice came floating over the audience, and they could hear every word. The effect was magical and could not have happened in that way in any other building. We’re planning the first full performances of the show this November, with more slated for 2020, the centennial of the Amendment’s ratification.
I have been working on this musical for nearly two years now. It is an important topic. It might be as important today as at any time over the past 100 years. I’m happy to work with the talented Jennifer Schwed and Doug Bradshaw, my creative partners, on this. Last week we performed songs from this show at the Library of Congress. Nancy Pelosi was the keynote speaker for this opening of the exhibit on women’s suffrage. Here are two songs: one of celebration and one of heartbreak. Millicent Scarlett( pictured) plays Ida B. Wells and is a force of nature. She is as compelling an actor/singer as I have ever worked with. Hers is the second song: “Will You Be Here for Me.”
19: A Musical About Women’s Right to Vote at the opening of the “Shall Not Be Denied” exhibit at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC