Tuesday, May 16, 2023

A Very New and Exciting Newsletter




It’s been one of the most B-A-N-A-N-A-S springs of my life, and I have been running myself ragged, which is why you haven’t heard from me since I groused about the BBC Singers attempted disbandment back in March. Those of you who were following that travesty know that the BBC walked back their decision, in part thanks to the immense public outcry so that’s some good news! The fight is not over, however, and I hope you’ll join me in being vigilant and rising the hell up when incredible arts institutions like the BBC Singers are attacked (as they are apparently constantly by people who don’t understand the necessity of art to human civilization and well-being).

First order of business: since my last newsletter, in response to the burgeoning administrative responsibilities of my career, we have welcomed a second assistant to Mormolyke Press at the Hannah Callowhill Stage! Meet Kira Mahoney, whom I first met as a composition student when she was finishing her degree in Music and Technology at Stevens Institute of Technology. Kira was initially supposed to come on board late last year, but she was working as an audio engineer for the Philadelphia Eagles and needed to wait until their season was finished. “I’m sure that will happen soon,” I figured. Reader, it did not. But now that that’s all done with, I’m so happy to have her in the office with Adah and me!

Kira Mahoney headshot

The biggest news since my last proper newsletter, of course, is that my one-act opera, Alice Tierney, with libretto by Jacqueline Goldfinger, premiered at Oberlin Conservatory, and then received its professional premiere at Opera Columbus in late March. It went SO WELL! I cannot tell you how life-changing it was to see Jackie’s words and my music brought to life on stage by these incredible young artists. 

Curtain call of Alice Tierney, opening night premiere at Oberlin Conservatory

More Alice Tierney news: I recently commissioned UK-based artist Caroline Church to create cover art for the score in the style of a 19th-century engraving. If you compare the faces in her illustration below to the cast above, you might notice that Caroline was able to incorporate Oberlin’s three versions of Alice into the art, so the singers who premiered the roles will be immortalized on the score cover forever.

Curious to see a full video of the Oberlin production? Shoot me a reply and let me know, and I’ll see what I can do ;)

If, on the other hand (or additionally) you want to see a copy of the score, I can help you out there too! Adah, Kira and I have been busy printing and binding scores to hand out at the Opera America conference in Pittsburgh this week—they’re literally hard at work binding scores as I type this newsletter—and we have extra copies that you can purchase on Bandcamp at basically cost. It’s $10 for the piano-vocal score, or if you are a soprano and want some ready-made excerpted arias to sing at your next recital or audition, here’s a collection of three arias for only $3 (plus shipping in both cases).

For good measure, I also threw the organ score for the Gonzales Cantata up on Bandcamp, since we’ve been printing those out for distribution at Opera America too ($8 + S&H).

More info about new scores towards the end of this newsletter, which is going to be way too long, apologies in advance.

One of the reasons I am losing my mind and physical health right now (I’m doing my best to get over an allergy-assisted respiratory infection as I type this) is that this spring has been jam-packed with travel. Round-up incoming…

I did a week-long residency at Seattle University, whose choirs performed a concert that included a bunch of my works, including American DREAMers. Coincidentally, the AWP writers conference was happening at the same time, so in an amazing bit of kismet, I was also able to run into Janine Joseph and Claudia D. Hernández, who wrote two of the texts included in American DREAMers! Claudia attended the Seattle U concert, along with two of my best friends from Australia, Jason and James, who were also coincidentally in town. Seattle, you are kind of magic!!?!?

Selfie with Seattle U choirs

Adah and I traveled to the American Choral Directors Association conference in Cincinnati (too much to say, not even going to try to recap), and to New York City with Matt for a performance of Eight of Swords at Carnegie Hall.

Carnegie Hall

In my first ever trip to Vermont, I traveled to Yellow Barn for a residency with Glass Clouds Ensemble, culminating in the delivery of a fun little commissioned work for soprano and two violins, Decomposition—score available at that link if you’re interested. The score cover art is a sketch I drew when I was a 16-year-old baby goth who dreamed of becoming a forensic pathologist:

Decomposition cover art

A few weeks ago, Matt and I drove to Allentown for a whole concert of my music with the choirs of Muhlenberg College, including Amendment: Righting Our Wrongs. Their chapel is a beautiful venue that makes every photo look like a Dutch group portrait:

Posing with the choirs of Muhlenberg College

Two Saturdays ago, I was in Alexandria, VA, for the premiere of You Birth the Seeds with the Alexandria Choral Society, with text by Alexandria’s Poet Laureate, Zeina Azzam. Recording coming soon, but you can check out the score at the link above.

Chorus director Brian Isaac, me, and poet Zeina Azzam

Matt and I drove home at midnight after that concert, and by 5AM, I was at the airport for a trip to Duluth for a workshop with the Lake Superior Youth Chorus, who premiered a new commission Change this past Sunday. Honestly I was too busy meeting the fabulous young singers to remember to take a selfie, but check out this cover art for my score drawn by choir member Lexi Gustafson (more singer-created artwork inspired by Change at the score link above):

Change cover art

And as I already implied, tomorrow Adah and I are hitting the road again for the Opera America conference. If you’re in Pittsburgh and want to connect, stop by my exhibitor table next to the elevator to meet me and Jackie Goldfinger! I printed out this giant banner, so you won’t be able to miss us. Also I am getting over laryngitis, which is good news or bad news, depending on whether or not you think I talk too much.

Giant Alice Tierney banner and unwashed composer

Let’s see, what else?

In addition to a new TTBB arrangement of Halcyon Days, I am the World, the song I wrote for the BBC Singers, has been published by Edition Peters. Listen I would be lying if I said it didn't give me a FEEL seeing my name in THE FONT:

I am the World

Couple delayed premieres! First one I should mention is Mabel Lee, 1912, whose first performance was cancelled by COVID back in 2020. It’s been premiered now by the William and Mary Botetourt Chamber Singers, so the score is newly available for you to download! This was a collaboration with poet Esther Lin, and I can’t wait to share the recording once the Bots post it. I remember writing this song during some of the darkest days of the pandemic, and when I heard a rehearsal recording, I had a really cathartic cry.

Mabel Lee, 1912

Next premiere is really delayed: I wrote a short and sweet little art song back when I was in undergrad fifteen years ago (!!!) called a summer more like a song (poem by Sueyeun Juliette Lee), and it’s never been premiered—until now! Never lose hope, better late than never, etc. Performed at a BIPOC Voices Showcase in Vancouver by baritone Henry Chen, with Francisco Barradas on violin, Judy Lou on cello, and Rich Coburn on piano:

Soundcloud link: a summer more like a song

While you’re in a listening mood, why not check out Everything for Dawn, now on the Opera Philadelphia channel if you happen to subscribe (which you should). This video opera series is also available on NYC’s ALL-ARTS, but I’m pretty thrilled to see it on my hometown opera company’s streaming service:

Everything for Dawn at Opera Philadelphia

And finally, Kira’s helped created a score follow video for Songs for the People, which I wrote for Seattle Pro Musica last year. Hear them perform it here, and download the score for free here.

Songs for the People (SATB)

Is that everything? Well, no. Like I said, it’s been OUT OF CONTROL around here. I’m hanging on for dear life, as are Kira and Adah! But a final fun thing: we’re still doing archaeology stuff, somehow. Right before we drove down to Alexandria last week, Matt and I did a walking tour for Hidden City. Matt did most of the work, prepping lots of information and history about our neighborhood (see the mobile-friendly slideshow he created here!) but I also had an opportunity to yap about 18th-century privy artifacts to a super friendly crowd of interested folks. I’ll leave you with this last image as I dive back into my massive to-do list…

Wow, you made it to the end! Thanks for reading this long thing.

Melissa Dunphy

Tuesday, March 07, 2023

Rabble rousing: save the BBC singers


Hello! Melissa Dunphy here, interrupting my usual sluggish newsletter schedule because I woke up this morning to devastating news: the BBC, in its infinite wisdom, is disbanding the BBC Singers.

I'm so upset, I'm practically vibrating. The BBC Singers drew some of my best work out of me last year when they commissioned me to write I am the World (published and due to be released any day now by Edition Peters). They are one of the only professional choirs in the world to truly care about gender equity on their programs—they always have an even split of male and female composers on their programs, and they've commissioned so many works from composers such as Joanna Marsh, Cecilia McDowall, Roxanna Panufnik, Sun Keting, Errollyn Wallen and Roderick Williams. Their impact on choral music in Britain and internationally is immeasurable.

I have to (slightly facetiously) wonder if this announcement was timed to drop after the ACDA conference in Cincinnati last week, when 10,000+ choral directors and singers gathered in Cincinnati (along with Adah and me and our Hulken bag full of scores). Personally if I had known about this, I would have done my utmost to turn the conference into a solidarity protest march, and converted my table at the Composers Fair into a rabble-rousing situation room. While I've seen many British people on social media react with sadness, I'm livid. You know Americans, we have a history of causing impolite trouble; if I lived locally, I would be taking to the streets right now (perhaps the BBC would be forced to censor my sign again, lol).

Anyway, I never know how much good online petitions do, and maybe this is all done and dusted, but if you love choral music as much as I do, consider signing this petition to at the very least tell the BBC how much this sucks:

I mean, if I had known this was coming down the pike, I would have followed my irresponsible impulse last year to hop on a red-eye to London and see one of the three concerts where the BBC Singers programmed my music at the 900-year-old Temple Church or the Barbizon Center, but I foolishly assumed there would be future opportunities, and now I have to regret till my dying day that I'll never see the BBC Singers perform my stuff in person. In the scheme of things, of course I'm more upset on behalf of the singers and others who are directly impacted, but the heartbreak is real.

Here's audio of their premiere of I am the World at Temple Church in case you haven't heard it and want to understand wny I'm so heated right now:

Signing off from Seattle, where I'm currently the Composer-in-Residence at Seattle University, whose choir is performing a bunch of my stuff on Friday night (if you're around, come see!).

But seriously, sign that petition, just in case.

Melissa Dunphy

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Composing Life

Melissa: If you know a composer, you’ve probably heard them complain about parts. Creating individual parts for orchestral performers is *no fun*. It’s a tedious and lengthy process, and no matter how much time you spend making them and checking them, you always, always find proofreading errors that throw all your formatting off and cause you to have to start from scratch.

But for the past three years at least, I’ve written exclusively choral music. Choral singers read directly from the score, and I never really thought about how lucky I was to not have to prepare parts every time I finished a commission. When you finish a choral score, you are done! You can let the feelings of relief and accomplishment wash over you as you immediately send the score off to the commissioner and collapse in a heap in front of a whole season of some terrible true crime show on Netflix (my usual means of decompression). Last month, when I finally finished the complete orchestral score for my new chamber opera, Alice Tierney, I nearly followed this same routine … until I remembered that my job was not done. Noooo! Parts!! My December was spent in a fever of part creation, checking (and rechecking) and tweaking well over 200 pages of parts for the chamber orchestra accompaniment. This is my excuse for not putting out a newsletter last month, in case you were wondering why I’m banging on about parts.

 (I could not have done all this and emerged sane without the help of my incredible assistant Adah, by the way! I think she probably knows Alice Tierney better than I do at this point, haha.)


In any case, the parts are done and delivered, rehearsals are well underway at Oberlin, and I’m ridiculously excited to be on site right now for the PREMIERE PERFORMANCES! If you are in the Cleveland/Oberlin area, you can attend in person; here are the details:

January 27 – 8PM EST

January 28 – 8PM EST

January 29 – 6:30PM EST


Finney Chapel

90 North Professor Street

Oberlin, OH 44074, USA

Tickets are free, you just need to register at this link.

And if you are not in the Oberlin area, you can also watch a livestream, hooray! It’s live watching only (afaik you can’t view it after the fact, at least not right away), so put it in your calendar and click here at the above times. 

If you want to learn more about Alice,  Oberlin student Joshua Reinier wrote an awesome article about the inspiration behind the project: Oberlin Opera Theater Presents World Premiere of "Alice Tierney" Jan. 27-29 “Alice Tierney excavates the stories we tell about the past, and gives students a unique Winter Term opportunity to develop an opera from the ground up.”
And an article just dropped today on Cleveland Classical which goes into even more of the process and includes interviews with me, librettist Jacqueline Goldfinger, and director Chris Mirto, check it out here.
And stay tuned, because there are already future performances of Alice planned at Opera Columbus later in the spring! I am so excited about all of this. Matt and Adah are also flying out to Oberlin and will be there for the premiere tomorrow!
Adah: Actually, Melissa and I are going to be flying to Ohio twice in the span of a month – you can catch us in Cincinnati February 21-26 for the American Choral Directors Association conference. We have a whole spreadsheet of people to look out for, so please let us know if you’ll be there and want to connect! If we haven’t already bothered you about it, of course.
Melissa: The ACDA conference hasn’t happened for four years because of COVID, so I’m imagining it’s going to be pretty wild for everyone to see each other in person again. Also, there’s a Composer Fair, held in conjunction with the conference Exhibit Happy Hour on Wednesday, February 22, 2023 from 6:00pm-8:00pm. I paid for a table, so you’ll be able to find Adah and I there for sure.
Adah: We’ve been printing multiple stacks of scores to give out at the composer fair and also to any of the 15,000 choral directors and singers who pass us in the hallways of the Duke Energy Convention Center, so look out for us.
Melissa: I am especially excited to finally put my huge fancy Hulken rolling bag to good use after being **aggressively** marketed to by Hulken on Instagram, hahaha.


Adah: In somewhat related news, we just opened up a shop for Boghouse merch on Instagram and Facebook – so if you are looking for some mugs inspired by 18th century privy finds, or jewelry made from ancient teeth, check out the page!



Melissa: We don't want to take up too much of your time, so here’s a roundup of other composition news:

My new double-song set for SATB chorus and piano The Canticle of Hannah (about Hannah Callowhill Penn, whom you will know all about if you follow the Boghouse!) was premiered by Singing City at their fall concert, which was a great success! Yo can see video of it here: 
The Canticle of Hannah
Singing City and Melissa Dunphy
YAY!!!! Opera Philadelphia is picking up Everything for Dawn by Experiments in Opera for their channel next season! So thrilled to have more of my stuff available for streaming through my hometown opera company 🤩

Lara St. John’s album She/Her/Hers, on which she performs tracks by both Adah and me, is getting radio play all over the place! Here’s an interview she did with player.fm about the music.

And here are two opportunities with upcoming deadlines that you should apply for and/or send to all your composer friends!

The Eugene O'Neill Theater Center National Puppetry Conference applications are open till the end of this month! Join Melissa and Matt in the music strand, it is A BLAST!

This spring, Wildflower Composers are conducting workshops for early-career composers, and I’ll be teaching one!

You can register for the courses here: needs-based scholarships are available.

That’s everything (or as much as we could fit in this issue)! Hoping we see you at Oberlin (in person or on the livestream) or at ACDA, otherwise, catch you in 4-6 weeks for our next newsletter!

Melissa and Adah