The Caucasian Chalk Circle

The Caucasian Chalk Circle opened on Saturday at Dordt College. There are four more shows in the next week, two of which I plan to attend. I’m told the two performances on Saturday went well and were well received by sold-out audiences.

While I don’t have an exact count, all told I ended up with somewhere just over half an hour of music for the play. I intend to excerpt four or five numbers as a song cycle of sorts (all from the main character, Grusha), which are scheduled for a performance in December here in Kansas City on a KcEMA concert.

These are a few notes I wrote for a lobby display at the college:

Although he called for singing throughout The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Brecht provided no music for its production, instead making just a few limited and rather broad comments about what it should seek to accomplish in the context of the story. This allows for a great deal of freedom on the part of the composer, but also requires a substantial investment in the story and characters themselves. It was an investment of time and care that has been deeply rewarding for me, and I thank Teresa for providing me the opportunity to work with her and her cast in this production.

The audience will hopefully notice that there is one major distinction that organizes the music here. Throughout the whole play save one moment, the music of The Singer is performed with accompaniment by live instruments, while that of Grusha is accompanied by prerecorded, electronically generated music. The only other music sung as part of the story itself (rather than as narrative or commentary, as in Azdak’s music) is that of the sore-footed soldier, and is unaccompanied. This division serves a dual purpose: first, to set off music about the story from music in the story by making the former “real” and the latter somewhat less so (something like the imaginary harp glissandi used in television to signal a switch to a dreamlike scene); second, setting only Grusha’s music with electronic accompaniment unifies her music, underscoring her character’s centrality and that of the texts and themes of the songs she sings. There are other aspects of the music that reinforce this duality, and the attentive ear might discern distinctive harmonic and melodic qualities in the musics of the different characters.

The text I set for this production is from an adaptation/translation by Frank McGuiness, and I hope to make it available to other directors who may be performing that version. It’s always nice to be able to have something performed more than once, and there’s a lot of music in this play!

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Composer of music and sonic art. Percussionist, guitarist, computer musician. Composition/theory/electronic music professor. Husband and father. Catholic. Food and beer enthusiast. Perpetually dissatisfied with the contents of my sock drawer.

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