Thursday, May 06, 2021

Slaving over hot staves


Today I am exactly 15,000 days old, so happy birthday to me! A much cooler milestone than my 41st birthday last month.

Last week, I got my second Pfizer vaccination, so in one more week, I will theoretically have a decent level of immunity against the pandemic that has been ravaging the world, and particularly the nation where I live. Getting vaccinated at this point is not only the smartest choice, but an act of patriotism, a whole new way of getting shot for your country, so to speak. I hope you got yours!

Before I begin on the laundry list of things I've done since my last newsletter, a note to everyone who has been trying to contact me lately: I am ***overwhelmed*** with work and struggling to keep my breathing holes above water, so thank you for being patient with me! I have hundreds of e-mails in my inbox that require replies, and if I replied to all of them in a timely fashion, I wouldn't have any time left over to write music, which is a problem because writing music is my actual job and I am over deadline on several projects.

The good news for my mental health is that I have deliberately scaled back my work commitments after the summer to give my brain some time to recover, because I am teetering on the brink of burn-out—ach, who am I kidding, I am totally already burned out but I am pushing through it, which is not the healthiest choice, but the only thing I can do to meet my current contractual obligations. How did this happen? Welp, even though I had reached a point in my career where I had gotten much better about saying no, when the pandemic hit last year, I panicked and said yes to pretty much every paid opportunity that came along. They are all great and exciting opportunities! But under different circumstances, I would have looked ahead and realized my schedule of cascading deadlines was psychologically unfeasible.

I've been loath to say too much about this situation because even though it's hellish, it feels insensitive to discuss openly; I know plenty of colleagues who have no work, or not enough work, and who are dropping out of our industry in droves. Seems kinda gauche to complain about being overwhelmed with work while they struggle. But even though my bank account is surprisingly healthy (after all, it's not as though I can spend any of my earnings travelling or eating out, and I don't even have time or mental space to organize construction on the Hannah Callowhill Stage right now, which is another problem), it's not much fun to be composing for literally 18 hours a day. Yes, literally 18 hours a day. I get six hours' sleep a night because I'm slaving over hot staves constantly, and I barely even have time to talk to my husband. And I'm still behind because creativity has been a much slower process than usual.

Anyway, I know several of you are sending follow-up e-mails and leaving voicemail messages, and I will get to them as I am able, but gosh, it's a lot right now, and UGHGHGHGH I WANT A VACATION. I'm sure we all do!

Here, in no particular order is, a round-up of some of the results of this flurry of career activity:


Totally out of the blue, this month I found myself on a list of Philly Power Women, curated by the editors of Metro Philadelphia. Please imagine the expression of disbelief on my face! There are some amazing people on that list, like councilmembers Helen Gym and Kendra Brooks (who helped to lead several protests I attended last year). Also some people with whom I have absolutely nothing in common. But it's a list of "power women," and remember, power is not necessarily always a good thing, hahaha.

(I don't feel particularly powerful, except when I am using a circular saw.)


What did I do for fun this month? I wrote an article for VAN magazine. Please enjoy my impassioned defense of Ravel's Boléro, which is a very good piece of music, actually. Non-musicians sometimes find it hard to believe, but among classical musicians, this is a controversial view. However, I'm pleased to report that I have not heard a PEEP from the Boléro-haters since this was published, so I assume that my arguments are unimpeachable and shut them all up.



Some of these are new, some are back-accouncements from the previous newsletter which have now premiered and are available for you to watch:
I am such a huge fan of the LA-based choir Tonality, and they've created yet another stunning video—but this time, I'm extra thrilled because it's my song #UnitedWeDream from American DREAMers, with text by Claudia D. Hernández (btw, you should buy her book Knitting the Fog, which is gorgeous.)
Did you miss the premiere of Remember the Ladies last month? Never fear! See the video above, or settle in and watch the whole event with fascinating guest speakers on Vimeo.

The Broad Street Review gave it a glowing review!

P.S. When you're done, I encourage you to take this survey to encourage the museum to engage in more of this creative programming.
The DIVINE Raehann Bryce-Davis put together this heartbreakingly beautiful and powerful recital for the Schubert Club, and included Come My Tan-Faced Children on the program!
If you missed the premiere of Amendment: Righting Our Wrongs last year, the recording of Chorosynthesis performing it is now available on YouTube. The fourth movement is the weeper, if you're looking to get your eyes wet.
Choir Matrix's premiere of Witch-Wife is also now available on their YouTube channel. This is a treble-chorus setting of a text by Edna St. Vincent Millay, and I'm so proud of how it turned out! The score will be available once Choir Matrix have had a chance to premiere it in person.
Here too is the Seattle Pro Musica performance of another of my treble favorites Wild Embers. Includes an interview with yours truly for their Choral Tapas series. 
This was a surprise for me, and what a delightful surprise! Legendary conductor Philip Brunelle chose to highlight my music for this Musical Moment YouTube series. I screamed when I saw this! Such an honor. He plays my choral works on the piano straight from the score! *I* can't even do that, hahahaha! Yes, I suck at the piano.
The Parish Choir of Christ Episcopal Church, Los Altos, under the direction of Eric Tuan, put together a virtual performance of A New Heart. I know how much effort goes into all these virtual choir projects (it's so much more than you think), and it's amazing to see church choirs connecting to the music and going to the trouble even when they can't rehearse in person.


Even though I've been too busy to do my own podcast this past year, I've been talking more than ever in interviews and other people's podcasts. So if, for some reason, you need to hear my voice and I'm not returning your phone calls because I'm chained to my mouse in agony over the next double barline, try one of these lol

            -   An interview with Alexander Lloyd Blake of Tonality, in which I discuss music that engages with issues of social justice

            -   An interview with Toni Marie Palmertree of Berks Youth Chorus about my experiences as a female composer

            -   An Irish-coffee soaked interview with Brad Pierson of the podcast Composer Happy Hour  (you can
also watch the video version on YouTube)

            -   An interview with Keturah Stickann of Words First podcast about creating my own libretto for the Gonzales Cantata, and opera composing in general

            -   An interview with Zane Fiala and Giacomo DiGrigoli of In Unison podcast, along with the always kickass Zanaida S. Robles and Christie McKinney, about the Black Voices Matter pledge and our work in choral music.


A work I wrote a couple of years ago, confusingly called Work, has been released by Galaxy/ECSchirmer and is now available through them! I wrote this initially for the Bradley Hills Presbyterian Chancel Choir,  and the text is adapted from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran.

The score for Remember the Ladies is also now available on my website. It's self-published, so you can download the PDF right away! Spread the word to your SATB choir directors and friends...


I've been putting the finishing touches on the first draft of my score for episode six of Everything for Dawn, a huge collaborative project for the NYC-based company Experiments in Opera. The first workshop will be later this year, and I can't wait to see it up on its feet. Everything for Dawn explores the complicated relationship between a daughter and her mentally ill father, a story which resonated intensely with me as someone who also grew up with a mentally ill parent. Although I didn't choose the story, I was surprised at all the coincidental similarities between Dawn's life and my own. My episode is set in 1995, when 16-year-old Dawn visits her father in a psychiatric hospital for the first time; I was 15 in 1995, and although I was a practiced old hand at psych hospital visits by that age, so many of the conversations Dawn has with her father in the libretto echo actual conversations and emotions I experienced back then. I think (hope) it's going to be a really meaningful work (with some surprising humor too). Oh, and without really intending to at the outset, I think I injected some of my love of nineties rock/punk into the mix? You'll see ;)

I'm writing a song for soprano Laura Strickling's 40@40 project, setting a wonderful poem by my regular collaborator Jacqueline Goldfinger. Stay tuned!

A final note, and a sad one, I'm afraid: last week, one of my teachers at Penn, James Primosch, passed away. This has been such a cruel and bitter year for so many, and I was particularly heartbroken last year when I heard Jim was sick—I found out when I was tapped to take over one of his classes. You can read his obituary in the Inquirer, and I posted some of my remembrances on Twitter, and I also encourage you to donate in his name to the neighborhood charity he supported, Face to Face.

Please be well, and be safe, and get your vaccination if you can, and I hope to see you in person sometime soon...

Till next month-ish,
Melissa Dunphy
Copyright © 2021 Mormolyke Press, All rights reserved.