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Into the woods

It’s been two weeks since I returned from MacDowell, and the withdrawal period was not pretty. Aside from the family separation, the place is pretty much paradise, and much like after lost-love & heartache, it seems to take just as long to get over as it did to experience. As both the two weeks of residency and reintroduction into normal society are over, it’s now much safer to bring it up without breaking down into hysterical sobbing.

Despite the short amount of time, I wrote a ton, and how could one not? All day (and night) long, all you have to think about is whatever navel-gazing project you’ve got going on (in my case, an opera), and whether or not the fire might need another log thrown on. Right. Composer Heaven. Quite deserving of temporary lifting of the no-picture rule:

That’s the general idea, as captured by a cellphone. Here’s what my desk looked like at the apex of work:

It was quite a lot of manuscript paper to keep track of. I brought along a laptop with notation software installed in order to copy in material as I finished, but there was something about the setting, the desk, the ghosts in the studio, that kept me from ever booting up the thing. It felt like a violation of the space somehow to noodle around with pixels, and only pencil and paper felt right. Inevitably, with the fireplace, there was the occasional Brahmsian urge to toss it all into the flames. When one felt particularly unworthy of writing in the same frickin’ room as some particular others, this is a surprisingly strong and giddy notion. Imagine how much cooler I’d be if I hadn’t quickly dismissed it.

The studio is about a mile from nuthin’. In fact, it might have been the furthest of all of them from the main colony buildings. Which made it all the easier to sing bits of newly-formed opera like a bloody idiot at the top of my lungs while I banged on the piano like Ben Folds on a bender.

Eventually people did get to experience the glory that is Newman channeling lead sopranos and character basses … on my last night I played and sang what I had written for for the other colonists at a shindig in the library. They were all very nice. I’m pretty sure the weeping I heard was due to the beauty of my performance.

In the end, the bulk of 3 scenes are finished, and approved by the librettist, and we move onward and deeper into the piece. And if you hear wailing tears around noon, that’s me, missing my lunchtime picnic basket.

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One Comment

  1. Jason Hoogerhyde

    I’m glad the MacDowell experience was such a positive one! Two weeks is not much time to make substantial progress. I remember in my month-long residency at the Ucross Foundation (Wyoming), it took me almost a full week just to get into a groove…

    You spoke of the likely composers who shared your piano over the years. When I was in residence at the Dorland Mountain Arts Colony, I got a month to compose on Rachmaninoff’s concert grand… best low A I’ve ever heard!!

    Posted on 15-Apr-09 at 2:12 PM | Permalink

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