Finding a Voice

Preparing for a classical music concert has a number of factors involved; only one of them is finding the talent. While I have been blessed with both the Edinburgh Symphony Orchestra and the Edinburgh Quartet agreeing to work with me on this concert, I am also attempting to put on the work-in-progress opera "It Must Be Fate". This requires not only singers but instrumentalists (and, even though we're staging it oratorio style - long list of reasons why) the piece needs movement - dance).

The original concept for the opera was a blending of urban styles with more classical lyric lines (you'd be surprised how similar some of the urban lyric lines are to classical ones). But, urban music style really needs drums, bass and effects/amplification and more. The music was progressing nicely, but to accomplish it on stage we were talking about pre-recorded music. This was possible, but not right for the oratorio style performance. One of the reasons we're going with the oratorio style performance is the music is just too difficult to learn/memorise in such a short time frame considering all the other things we are attempting to achieve. We could probably get professional singers to master the music, but that would dramatically increase costs. Add in a sound system to reproduce the pre-recorded music and costs continued to skyrocket. Plus, we'd have to put the speakers on the stage in such a way they didn't interfere with the orchestra late, or the speakers would have to be moved - a logistical nightmare. As we approached closer to the concert it became apparent that attempting this for a work-in-progress was unreasonable, unfeasible, and very unaffordable! So, we opted for a less "concert" approach and working with just a piano. The sound isn't quite right, but the singers are much happier with having a live musician - sort of a security blanket.

Then we get into the actual composition. When working with a fuller sounds (drums, bass, electronics) there are a lot of things the accompaniment does that translating it to the piano doesn't seem to work. To have a driving bass line thump, thump, thumping away is one thing, but to ask the pianist to thump, thump, thump with the left hand - while filling out some of the harmonies was a bit much, not to mention my love of rhythmic complexity meant the pianist was having to deal with 3, 4 and 5 rhythmic lines all at the same time. We have an amazing pianist, but this was really asking too much - particularly for a work-in-progress performance. (note: it also didn't sound right as all the lines were in the same instrument so they blended together too much. When they are done by very separate sounds, the rhythmic lines can each be distinguished, but not so when they are all played by one instrument).

So, the composition had to change - and this proved to be a good thing. I was forced to take a look at the music again, to really think about what I was trying to say with the music behind the words, what the words were trying to say but not vocalising. A number of elements came out that were not part of the opera before - and that's a good thing.

However, another element was added that wasn't - and that was a similarity of sound. As I mentioned earlier, I had to trim some of the lines from the piano reduction. But I had to do more than that. In a club, you can dance to the same basic rhythm, the same pulse for extended periods of time, because the timbre changes, the piece(s) changes and so there it does not become monotonous. When it's just piano it does. This isn't to say all the music sounds the same - but the plan for the piece was to have a thread of an underlying pulse throughout the opera. The pulse does shift, but subtly and not by accelerando or rallentando.

Part of the problem is the style of the piano arrangement. So, I am going through the music and seeing where a different sort of layering is possible, moving the tessitura to a new area of the piano - and yet still keep the focus on the voices. Obviously the re-working of the music isn't done yet. But we'll find out how well I do come 4th of June.


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