I’m currently writing the score for a new musical theater piece called Nineteen. Jennifer Schwed and Doug Bradshaw are my collaborators, and they’re the ones who came up with the idea for the show, which is based on the life of suffragist Alice Paul, a leading figure in the push for the Constitution’s 19th Amendment—that’s the one that granted women the right to vote. This is the first time in a long while that I have collaborated with a lyricist, and I’m loving the challenge, and the fun of bouncing ideas off one another. Right now, we’re working on a song called “I’m Prim. So What?” There’s a 30-minute preview of this work scheduled to be performed in Alexandria, Virginia, the first week of November.
I’ve just finished a new piece to be premiered next spring under the baton of maestra Victoria Gau. When I wrote it, I was going for a retro-modern, sci-fi, Jetsons, mid-century vibe, so naturally I called it Rocket Ship Model X-14z19 (Personal Space Vehicle P-90). This 12-minute work is for a standard big orchestra. I hope it’s a blast to play—pun intended—especially for the entire brass section.
For decades, my city didn’t have a baseball team, and I didn’t miss it. I was not a ball player when I was young—well, certainly not a good one. But in the dozen years since the Nationals arrived in DC, I have become a true fanatic. I think it’s because for me, baseball has a lot in common with jazz: both pursuits combine a predictable structure with an unpredictable outcome. When you listen to Art Tatum playing “Honeysuckle Rose,” you know he is playing variations of the song’s structure, AABA, over and over, but you don’t how he will sail away from the melody, from the original harmonies, from the key center, to unexplored places. Baseball is structured like that: 6 outs an inning, 9 innings a game (barring a tie). But from the umpire’s “Play ball!” until the last out, no one knows how the game will unfold. No two games are the same. And a game can last one hour, or eight. When my beloved Nats were off for the night recently, I found myself happily watching the women’s NCAA softball tournament, with the same enjoyment of the gentle journey that every baseball game takes. I hope your summer, and your musical life, are taking you to a few unexpected but reassuringly familiar places.
The play I wrote last year about George Gershwin and Arnold Schoenberg, 12ness, is having its first production soon, and I was lucky enough to get to see part of a rehearsal last week. The director is a total pro named George B. Miller who seems to instinctively know exactly what I had in mind for each scene. No, actually he seems to know much better than I how each scene should appear on stage. Suffice it to say, I can hardly wait to see what the final production looks like. If you happen to be in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley next week or the one after, I hope you consider seeing it. The play is being produced by the Crowded Kitchen Players. It opens on June 9.