“O heartless blackbird, how dare you pierce my sorrow with your song?”
I wrote that lyric years ago, for a one-woman, one-act opera called “Persephone Lost.” It’s sung by a woman who’s lost her child. A goddess. A powerful woman who’s suddenly powerless to find what she most loves. For her, deep in pain, any expression of joy becomes a stab of anguish. I wrote the text long ago, but never really ‘heard’ it until soprano Jeila Irdmusa sang it to me at a rehearsal for the 2014 “Mythic Women” concert at Boston University. I went to many rehearsals while working with this group of women musicians through the B.U. Ensemble department in Fall of 2014 – but in the last few rehearsals, as they started to really make the music their own, so I started truly ‘hearing’ it.
It’s Not A Mirror
As a composer & librettist (which is a fancy word for the person who writes the words), the experience of hearing my own words coming back to me through another artist can be dramatic, and deeply personal. “Duh!” Yeah, I know – you’d think I’d know that. But it never occurs to me that when I’m ‘channeling’ a piece, I’m in a kind of waking trance, ‘in the zone’ – and I’m only experiencing the work in one direction: coming out of me. As I write it, it can be like riding a wave. I feel its power moving me forward – but I don’t see it. I’m inside it, moving with it. When an artist interprets it powerfully, her artistry reveals my own work to me. It comes back at me. Not like a mirror – but as human expression: a personal story I’m listening to. I hear her words, her story, her emotion. It’s familiar but heightened. As if, on the page, the music, the words have been slumbering and only truly wake when they’re performed by artists who make it their own. Several times in this project I’ve had that experience with every player in the ensemble. As the performance gets closer, it happens more and more.
The Two-Sided Voice
With singer Jeila Irdmusa, I often get the eerie feeling that she and I are two sides of one voice. As the composer, I give her a voice: the story, the words, the music on the page – and as a performer, she gives me my voice. And for the first time, outside the page, as my words become hers, I truly hear the piece. I hear myself. I finally get what I was aching to say. And it often pierces me to the core.
This show was on Thu. May 1, 2014 • 8pm • Boston University “Mythic Women” – Two dramatic works of music theater for Soprano & Chamber Ensemble by Deborah Henson-Conant CFA Hall – 855 Commonwealth Ave. Boston, MA 02215. Phone: (617) 353-3341 https://hipharp.com/blog/8616