Sunday, September 6, 2009

On a Personal Note...

I've been hearing a lot about the Gonzales Cantata lately. That's the piece playing at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival that takes Gonzales' own words from his Senate Judiciary Committee testimony and sets them to music. From what I've heard, composer Melissa Dunphy tries to make the piece sound like a Monteverdi opera. It's all quite interesting. To be honest, I'm quite jealous of the publicity she's gotten for it. You see, I did something similar more than two years ago. It was called Mackris v. O'Reilly. It had to do with the sexual harassment lawsuit brought against pundit Bill O'Reilly by Andrea Mackris, one of his show's producers. I wrote it as a neo-baroque oratorio in 31 parts. The damn thing lasts almost two and a half hours. I'm pretty sure that the Gonzales Cantata is much shorter.

When I hear Dunphy talk about her work, I'm struck by how similar our approaches are to the material. I saw essential drama in Andrea Mackris' "she said" charges. Dunphy saw the same possibilities in Gonzales' testimony. From what I've seen, it appears to be a fairly compelling work - although their performance space has the acoustics of a train station. I've searched for reviews of it, but have thus far found none. Mackris v. O'Reilly was reviewed twice; one review was positive, the other was not. To this day, I still believe that it's a good piece. Yes, it's long. Yes, it has its flaws, but it works well as a character study of a charismatic, craven individual. Trying to get it performed was a nightmare. I finally had to spend my life savings to put it on - and it proved to be a financial disaster. But I knew it was going to be like that going in. I had been warned by everyone. It didn't matter. I was determined to stage its performance even if it killed me and it damn nearly did.

The reason why it was so difficult is that I did it all wrong. I did nearly everything myself, because by that point, I trusted no one. In contrast, I see that Dunphy is doing many things right: Her piece is doubtlessly more manageable in scope, she has the Philadelphia Fringe Festival organization publicizing it, she has a preview clip and an interview up on YouTube and the piece's website is a very good Drudge-parodying resource. Mackris v. O'Reilly was none of those things. Despite its rather intriguing (or so I thought) premise, no local media outside of newspapers were even remotely interested. The premiere was sparsely attended owing in part to the fact that it snowed on both performance days. When it snows in Seattle, chaos ensues. Yeah, my timing was awful. Also totally my fault was that people merely thought of the piece as a sex joke that went on for two and a half hours. Try as I might have, it was very difficult to dispel this impression. People were supportive, but they weren't about to devote an entire evening to what they thought was sleazy nonsense.

Since then, I've written a huge amount of music. But I still love this piece like the Dickens. I hope that Dunphy feels the same about her work. She did everything right, and I congratulate her on all the publicity and opportunity to have her piece performed. As I said, I'm a little jealous. But more than anything, it's good to see classical music by a living composer getting some attention. My goal with Mackris v. O'Reilly was to lend some contemporary relevance to a moribund art form. I felt that I accomplished this because the arch-classicists howled at its very existence. But those days are over. My plans are far more modest these days. Honestly, I don't have the money to revive Mackris v. O'Reilly and even if I did, there's no guarantee that the outcome wouldn't be identical to the premiere.

Anyhow, I just felt compelled to do two things: 1. praise Dunphy's acumen; and 2. lament my fate. Here are the clips, side by side. First, here is Part #27 from the Meany Hall performance of Mackris v. O'Reilly:

And here's Dunphy's much slicker clip:

I wish her tons of luck.

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