Tax Day & Shakespeare at John Mackey's Blog

March 28, 2005

Tax Day & Shakespeare

I found out last night that Gary Hill is conducting another performance of “Redline Tango” at Arizona State in a few weeks — on April 15, Tax Day. I’m excited that Gary is doing the piece again. ASU played the hell out of it in December (as I wrote in the blog), but through a mix-up, no usable recording was made. This time around, though, they plan to make a good recording. Although I can’t be there for the performance this time — I’ll be at Lamar for the premiere of Sasparilla — I’m excited to hear the recording.

Also on Tax Day, the band at Bowling Green State University will play “Redline Tango.” This is an exciting one because I’m originally from Ohio, but I haven’t had a performance there since I graduated from the Cleveland Institute of Music. It’s weird that I’ve had many more performances in, say, Dallas, than in my original home state.

Speaking of Dallas… I know that most readers of this blog don’t visit much of the rest of this site. Granted, a bunch of people have downloaded Redline Tango — over 1900 people this month alone — but there aren’t a lot of hits to some of the other music, like the songs for the Dallas Theater Center’s production of “Twelfth Night” from a few years ago.

So here’s my plan. Since the blog is the entry page for a lot of you, I’m going to start linking from the blog to a specific work elsewhere on the site. It’ll be like a “featured work of the week” or something. (Doesn’t this sound exciting?)

This week’s featured piece is what I just mentioned — the music for “Twelfth Night.” This was the first – and, unfortunately, remains the only – theatrical production for which I’ve written music. I worked on this show in 2001, spending six weeks in Dallas writing the various cues for the show and the music for the songs. (Shakespeare wrote text for the songs in the show, but most productions commission music for those lyrics, as the original music is long lost.) It was a wonderful experience, spending every day watching rehearsals and writing music for each scene.

It was also eye-opening writing for theater rather than a choreographer (or myself). As in film, in theater the director is The Boss. I learned this the hard way when I wrote one song for the show and watched as the director changed it during tech. Granted, he was right in the context of the play, but at the time, I was pretty upset that the music was changed. (I wanted to pull the song entirely out of protest — I was young(er) and a pain in the ass (believe it or not – ha) — but the assistant director talked some sense into me.)

That minor blip aside, it was an amazing 6 weeks. I hope that if you’re bored, you’ll take a few minutes to check out the music.

If you’re curious to see how things changed during the production, follow along with the PDF files of the scores while you listen. Although “The Wind And The Rain” is essentially the same, you’ll notice that a cut was made between the creation of the score and opening night. (The recordings were made just before closing night, so they reflect the “final versions” of the songs.) The changes to “Come Away, Death” were not as major, but you’ll see how Jesse Lenat (who appeared in the original production of “Floyd Collins“) influenced the song after I wrote the original version, with subtle changes to the phrasing, and his own additions to one of the mandolin parts. (Jesse — in the role of Feste — played one of the two mandolin parts that you’ll hear. Jesse could play guitar but couldn’t read music, so I taught the part to him by rote, but we changed it as we worked.)

The “Top of Show” cue was just that — the music at the very beginning of the show. After the little music that introduces the tune for “Wind and the Rain,” there was a thunder clap, and the lights slowly came up to reveal a dim, foggy stage. The director wanted music to set that tone — mysterious and foggy. What you’ll hear — if you listen to that cue — is my attempt, with high accordion playing clusters, and the guitar playing quotes of the song to come later, “Come Away, Death.”

This blog entry has been brought to you by The Music for “Twelfth Night.”

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