A howdy to all friends in the form of a meander through recent activities:
Scoring a Circus!
Thanks to all the pals who checked in with birthday wishes! I’m back from my month with the Big Apple Circus http://bigapplecircus.org at their home base in upstate New York. This year’s director, the amazing and multi-talented West Hyler gave me the opportunity to write and arrange music for the seven piece Big Apple Circus Band. This entailed a year of squinting at videos of the various acrobats, jugglers, contortionists, acts, aerialists, and clowns who would comprise this year’s show, and trying to concoct music that would hit the tricks, jazz the audience, please the acts, and match the theme and title “Metamorphosis.” With naïve enthusiasm I got at it, lucky to be dumb enough not to realize how much work it would be, and by summer I had a 400 page score with original tunes and arrangements of Beethoven, Zez Confrey, Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, Holtz, Rimsky-Korsakov, and traditional Irish and American fiddle tunes. These were sprinkled with quotes from Charlie Parker, The Bonanza Theme, The Nutcracker, and everything my daughter listened to on the car radio for those months.
The Fun Part
I arrive at Walden, where the circus has its HQ, in the Rambler van filled with recording gear and instruments, plus a lot of stuff I’d never have time to need like food, books, and nice clothes. It’s a sprawling gypsy camp of trailers, RVs, rehearsal and shop space set in the woods outside of town. Towering over all is the Big Apple Circus Tent. Kids and dogs are running around as the arriving performers move into their digs and set up their BBQs, clotheslines, and picnic tables. I find my beautiful vintage trailer and try to look like I know what I’m doing, but they know better and I’m soon offered much needed help unloading, hooking up, and finding such necessities as the food trailer and where “skunks must be living.”
The band is fantastic – The leader is Rob Slowik. He’s a “lead” trumpet which means he can play really high notes, all the while conducting with his left hand. They’re really solid sight reading the arrangements, and after about half an hour on each, they’re digging into the dynamics, ripping the solos, and fixing the numerous mistakes and weirdnesses in my score. The acts start to drift into the rehearsal room to listen to their new music. This is a bit nerve wracking for me – I’ve watched them hundreds of time on video but they don’t know me from Adam. I shrink into my score pages, and let Rob handle. He’s done this for 12 years. The acts start to pipe up: “That’s good, but more power!” “We take the style here and then do the triple.” “Is that before the llamas?” Rob has seen some of the acts, and he’s heard my demos, but I’m pretty sure he hasn’t figured out which notes go to which llamas. He manages to guide it all towards working. Outside of rehearsal hours, it’s a full schedule of trying to get the sheet music to match the numerous changes put in by the acts, musicians, director, choreographer.
Lynn and Skyler came up for a visit after I’d settled in, but before rehearsals became really desperate – the perfect time. We toured around the area, found swimming holes, and ate at old-time roadside restaurants and diners. Skyler [now 14] was given the job of helping out with the animals, leading camels around, feeding ferrets, rabbits, and a porcupine. She loved working for the wonderful animal trainer Jenny Vidbel, so much so that she didn’t mind getting up at 6:30 in the morning.
Last week we went up to DC to see the show before it moves to Lincoln Center in NYC. We loved the show, but were most thrilled to see our friends. We all feel like we became part of a circus family. We found out that Newman, the ten year old pot bellied pig, is going to retire due to porcine arthritis. His trick was to unroll a red carpet at the start of Jenny’s act, and he won’t mind having his secret revealed: There was a snickers bar rolled up inside the carpet. We’ve decided to adopt him, and bring him down to Chatham County to enjoy his golden years. Let me know if you’ve got a good pig pen design.
Now I’m in Swansea, Wales to rehearse our musical adaptation of A Child’s Christmas in Wales http://dylanthomas100.org. It’s a whole different kind of circus, so more later – peace and tunes, Jack