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Monday, October 22, 2012

The October Resolution

I hardly ever make New Year resolutions. I believe that you make a resolution when you are ready to make it, no matter the time of year. And I am ready to make this one.

Currently, I have committed myself to an enormous project of my own conception - the largest, most ambitious, most personally exciting of my career, and one that is hopefully going to earn me a doctorate from an Ivy League university. When I finish writing/composing it, a dauntingly Herculean task that will take a considerable amount of time, energy, and unbroken commitment, I am planning on undertaking a further full-time commitment to the recording, distribution and promotion of that project.

To that end, in quasi-legalese:

I hereby declare that for a period of not less than two (2) years, I, Melissa Dunphy, cannot and will not accept any offer or request to contribute to other projects such that I would be required to answer to the owner of the project creatively. Until the year 2015, with the understanding that the term of this moratorium may be extended, I will not under any circumstances become involved in employment (other than self-employment) the nature of which includes, but is not limited to:
  • composing for theatrical productions
  • sound design
  • musical direction
  • composing for film
  • composing for dance
  • creative consulting
  • recording or other audio production
  • acting or other performance
  • workshopping
  • public speaking
  • educational programs outside of Penn or private teaching
  • web design or other graphic design
  • writing
  • publicity or promotion
  • casting or booking
  • coordination or other administrative tasks.
Commissions of concert music will be considered on a case-by-case basis, and only if the completion of such a commission would not interfere excessively with my own work.
The sole exception to the above is anything involving Up Your Cherry.
If you are asking me to become involved in your project in any of the above capacities, thank you - I am almost certainly very flattered and wish I could help. It is not easy to decline interesting creative opportunities. However, I must regretfully turn you down. I hope you understand. You may try again in 2015, but until that time, I offer no assurances whatsoever that I will commit to your project. Good luck in your own endeavor.

Signed: Melissa Dunphy
Date: October 22, 2012

Friday, October 05, 2012

So much to say! So much to do! AAAARRRGGGHHH look at it all!

It's going to be a very busy few weeks. But gee, Melissa, isn't that what you always say? Yeah. Yeah I suppose I do. I'm working on this in therapy. Seriously, one of the primary practical reasons I am getting my head shrunk is to break my habit of being unable to say no to opportunities. The habit is starting to become a real problem now not only because I'm lucky enough to be getting too many offers, but because I'm getting old and can no longer stay up for 72 hours straight without feeling much, much older.

When I hear people say "Wow, you're so busy!" I no longer take it as a testament to my work ethic and can-do attitude. I just get mad at myself. They might as well have said "Oh look, your nails are bitten down to the quick!" or "Gosh, haven't you been using an impressive amount of heroin recently!"

The first step is to admit you have a problem. But the problem led to some pretty neat things. Here is a brief rundown of the publicly accessible fruits of my labor.

Up Your Cherry
Puppet Manualfesto

On Saturday, our band Up Your Cherry will be playing again at Philly's puppet slam, Puppet Manualfesto at Walking Fish Theater. We've done this a couple of times now, and we embrace the Spinal Tap implications.

Some wicked pre-show publicity has led to Up Your Cherry's first mention on today. Hilariously, they've captioned the photo above with my name.

The Voice Electric

Network for New Music and Voice of this Generation (and of the big lips) have joined forces with the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts for a really cool concert of electroacoustic works for voice called The Voice Electric (you can also download program notes from that link, how handy). I have a world premiere on the program: June, which sets a poem by Lauren Rile-Smith. Here, watch this video; it explains it all much better than I could in text:

You can read the entire poem by Lauren Rile-Smith on her blog.

Captain Samuels Speaks to the Sea!
Ensemble Epomeo at the Newburyport Chamber Music Festival

Over the summer, I wrote a 20-minute piece for string trio and narrator called Captain Samuels Speaks to the Sea! for a commission by the Newburyport Chamber Music Festival and the Two Rivers Festival in England for Ensemble Epomeo. As suggested by the title and the picture above, it's about the record-breaking 19th-century clipper ship the Dreadnought and her captain Samuel Samuels, who in 1887 wrote a memoir called From the Forecastle to the Cabin (here, read it for free) that is far, far better than Moby-Dick (aside: I have no idea why Moby-Dick is classified as a Great American Novel. I enjoyed reading it about as much as I enjoyed Atlas Shrugged. I blogged a little of my experience reading M-B here.). The Dreadnought was built in Newburyport and was the fastest sailing ship between America and England before steam power came along.

The narration is based on a poem by poet/librettist and Two Rivers artistic director Peter Davison, who has written an entry describing his process on the Epomeo blog Broken Thirds.

Next week, Captain Samuels Speaks to the Sea! will be given a preview performance at the Amado recital hall at Penn on Thursday night (at which I will be providing the narration), then its official premiere will take place on Saturday at a black tie event at Custom House, Newburyport, Massachusetts, with Peter Davison as narrator. Prior to the performance, Davison will give a reading of the long form of his poem (the text for the trio is abridged), with accompanying sea shanties sung by yours truly.

Punk rock to sea shanties in a week.

If you are keeping score, this means that I have first-time performances on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of next week, and in between Friday's and Saturday's performances, I have to drive six and a half hours. No problem; the roadtrop has me well-trained.

Behind the Eye
Gas and Electric Arts

I am currently putting together an original score for Gas and Electric Arts' upcoming production of Carson Kreitzer's Behind the Eye. The play is about the fascinating photographer/model/muse/etc. Lee Miller, whose life was far more exciting than mine. She worked with Man Ray (it's criminal that she isn't as well known), posed for her good friend Picasso, and was a WWII photographer (Here she is taking a bath in Hitler's bathtub. Crazy.), among about a billion other things that I could only aspire to.

There's more about the play and the production in BroadwayWorld.

ALSO! If you would like to see this show for free by volunteering to usher, let me know and I will put you in touch with Gas and Electric Arts!


OK, this isn't a preview, it's a postview. In the last couple of weeks, my solo violin piece has been getting some play. First at the Clearfield Salon by Caeli Smith (sister of my poet Lauren Rile-Smith; the talent in that family is amazeballs and I haven't even begun to tell you about it):

Then kommós had another airing at a NOW music society concert at West Chester University by violinist Hope Linton, who also played it for a lunchtime recital at WCU last week.

The two performances were very different, which is wonderful! The piece always feels a bit like an acting monologue to me, and seeing two performances was like watching two very different actors take it on. Both violinists are extraordinarily talented and musical, and both did bang-up jobs, but best of all, I could hear their individual voices. So cool.


I'm going to stop. This entry is too long already. There's another premiere coming up of a commission I completed over the summer, but it's not for some weeks, so I'll talk that up later.

And I haven't even mentioned Ayn.

I leave you with this tidbit from Atlas Shrugged, in which John Galt demonstrates that he is no better than that stalky vampire in those vampire books, or vice versa:

Dagny: "How did you know what I look like in ... my office?"
John Galt: "I told you that I've watched you for years."
"How were you able to watch me that thoroughly? From where?"
"I will not answer you now," he said simply, without defiance.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Elegy for a Soprano

As you can probably tell, I've been doing an awful lot of Ayn reading these past few weeks; I realized there are some slippery things about the material and the dialogue and the characters' voices that I need to get a handle on before I can continue with the opera.

One of the books I whipped through was The Ayn Rand Cult, which was a fun read (even if there were a few weird misspellings like "Dagney" and some stretchy conclusions and assumptions):

I can't seem to definitively find Jeff Walker, a Canadian journalist, on an online social medium where I can casually interact with him, which is a surprising and a little disappointing, because if nothing else, I want to thank him for alerting me to the existence of Kay Nolte Smith's novel Elegy for a Soprano, which I cannot believe I didn't know about until now. That will teach me to stick to the non-fiction shelves.

Dinah Mitchell is saddened when she learns her favorite opera star, Vardis Wolf, has been poisoned - especially when she discovers that the woman behind the beautiful voice was her natural mother. Dinah journeys into the dark world of genius, driven to find out the truth about the singer's life ... and death.

Why is this so exciting? I hear you ask.
From the wiki of the author, Kay Nolte Smith:
She was for a time friendly with the philosopher-novelist Ayn Rand, who was her leading literary and philosophical influence... Smith launched her literary career after her separation from the Ayn Rand circle... Her novel Elegy for a Soprano is a roman a clef inspired by Rand, Nathaniel Branden, and the circle around them.


So I bought the book on Amazon, and I hardly dared to hope, but YES YES YES the stand in for Ayn Rand is the eponymous soprano! OMG SO PERFECT! She's like Rand crossed with Callas. As the wiki suggests, other lead characters including a very obviously drawn pseudo-Frank, pseudo-Nathaniel, and pseudo-Barbara, and a possible pseudo-Leonard.

AND HOLY SHIT the novel opens with Vardis/Ayn singing Salome, and of course the whole story is soaked in opera. So freaking perfect. It's also an easy-reading page-turner, especially for someone like me who has a thing for mystery novels, and it takes an unexpectedly moving left turn into the Holocaust at the end.

In case you couldn't tell, my Ayn is also a soprano. I feel quite validated that someone who actually knew her would also portray her as a soprano in pseudo-fiction.

Monday, October 01, 2012

What the hell kind of music does Richard Halley write, anyway?

Last week I read Atlas Shrugged, and I have so, so many things to say (or rather "scream" as EVERYONE IN THE BOOK DOES, CONSTANTLY) about so, so many things, but as a composer, I wanted to point this one out in particular.

There is, remarkably, a composer woven into the narrative named Richard Halley. Although we don't know the exact nature of his music, it is evidently so wonderful and heroic that a mere melody written by him, whistled by a stranger completely without context, transports hero industrialists into ecstasies of delight that cause them to extrapolate an entire orchestration in their imagination. No, really, that happens.

Later, we get to meet Richard Halley, who has withdrawn completely from the world and is hiding out in Galt's Gulch, much to the delight of fangirl Dagny. He furnishes her and us with an explanation for his disappearance (see below for TL;DR, because omg writing):
"I would have forgiven men for my struggle," said Richard Halley. "It was their view of my success that I could not forgive. I had felt no hatred in all the years when they rejected me. If my work was new, I had to give them time to learn, if I took pride in being first to break a trail to a height of my own, I had no right to complain if others were slow to follow. That was what I had told myself through all those years —except on some nights, when I could neither wait nor believe any longer, when I cried 'why?' but found no answer. Then, on the night when they chose to cheer me, I stood before them on the stage of a theater, thinking that this was the moment I had struggled to reach, wishing to feel it, but feeling nothing. I was seeing all the other nights behind me, hearing the 'why?' which still had no answer—and their cheers seemed as empty as their snubs. If they had said, 'Sorry to be so late, thank you for waiting'—I would have asked for nothing else and they could have had anything I had to give them. But what I saw in their faces, and in the way they spoke when they crowded to praise me, was the thing I had heard being preached to artists—only I had never believed that anyone human could mean it. They seemed to say that they owed me nothing, that their deafness had provided me with a moral goal, that it had been my duty to struggle, to suffer, to bear—for their sake—whatever sneers, contempt, injustice, torture they chose to inflict upon me, to bear it in order to teach them to enjoy my work, that this was their rightful due and my proper purpose. And then I understood the nature of the looter-in-spirit, a thing I had never been able to conceive. I saw them reaching into my soul, just as they reach into Mulligan's pocket, reaching to expropriate the value of my person, just as they reach to expropriate his wealth—I saw the impertinent malice of mediocrity boastfully holding up its own emptiness as an abyss to be filled by the bodies of its betters—I saw them seeking, just as they seek to feed on Mulligan's money, to feed on those hours when I wrote my music and on that which made me write it, seeking to gnaw their way to self-esteem by extorting from me the admission that they were the goal of my music, so that precisely by reason of my achievement, it would not be they who'd acknowledge my value, but I who would bow to theirs. . . . It was that night that I took the oath never to let them hear another note of mine.

(TL;DR I suffered for a long time because my music was so innovative that nobody liked it. Then one day, I achieved acclaim with one of my pieces. But while they were cheering, the audience didn't once apologize for not liking my music before! Instead they acted like it was my job to teach them how to enjoy my music! They thought I was writing my music for them! Those looters! I will never let them hear my music again!)

Well! Let's put aside what I might think of this attitude for a moment, because I am clearly an immoral moocher-lover. Given that Ayn was writing this in the 1940's and 1950's, one might assume that she is portraying a composer of modern music, right? It makes sense. I mean, if anyone could be accused of writing music that audiences had to be taught to enjoy, it would be the Second Viennese School (and I think it could be argued that audiences still haven't learned to appreciate them). And "Who Cares If [They] Listen" anyway. So in my head, Halley was a mighty expressionist. Let's hear a hearty cheer from the atonalists out there! Ayn Rand, for all her faults, is championing your music and your struggle!

You can guess where this is going.

What's this? From the book What Art Is: The Esthetic Theory of Ayn Rand (good lord):
A brief word about so-called modern music: no further research or scientific discoveries are required to know with full, objective certainty that it is not music. The proof lies in the fact that music is the product of periodic vibrations -- and therefore, the introduction of nonperiodic variations (such as the sounds of street traffic or of machine gears or of coughs and sneezes), i.e., of noise, into an allegedly musical composition eliminates it automatically from the realm of art and of consideration. But a word of warning in regard to the vocabulary of the perpetrators of such "innovation" is in order: they spout a great deal about the necessity of "conditioning" your ear to an appreciation of their "music." Their notion of conditioning is unlimited by reality and by the law of identity; man, in their view, is infinitely conditionable. But, in fact, you can condition a human ear to different types of music (it is not the ear, but the mind that you have to condition in such cases); you cannot condition it to hear noise as if it were music; it is not personal training or social conventions that make it impossible, but physiological nature, the identity, of the human ear and brain.


I find this deeply hilarious.