The Light Within: A Very Early Rough Draft of an Opera on the Life of Lucretia Mott

Main Characters

2016-03-01 12.01.03
Lucretia Mott at about the age of 70…give or take. You can still see the fire in her eyes if you look beyond the bonnet

Lucretia Mott: Soprano – A short, sprite of a woman of quick movements and vivacious manner. She is slender and petite with an air of dignified simplicity and a grace of conduct beyond her years. Two features rule Lucretia’s face; A benignant mouth which softens an otherwise dominant chin and lofty brow. She has beautiful, limpid-grey eyes widely set and full that seem to grow appealingly darker whenever she is moved by the excitement of sympathy or the animation of conversation. Beneath her lively exterior lies a nature as deep and sober as that of her beloved James; always she is tender with a high degree of practical spirituality.

Thomas Mott: Baritone – A tall, quiet, grave-looking man with sandy hair and kindly blue eyes who takes his time and always acts with great deliberation. James perceives everything in a serious way but is always tender with a high degree of practical spirituality.

Miller McKim: Bass Baritone – A young man with a deep sense of spirit. He has dark features and a flair for theological discourse. He is very much a match to Lucretia’s highly spirited convictions.

Quaker Elder – Mezzo Soprano or a Baritone

Quaker Choir

 

Librettist’s note: I have been working on this particular piece for about five months. It pre-dates the launch of the Mott Academy of Libretto Writing and was partially responsible for MAWL coming about in the first place.

This Micro Opera is based on the book Valiant Friend: The Life of Lucretia Mott written by Margaret Hope Bacon. I began writing The Light Within (TLW) when Philip Glass’ Etudes for Piano came into my world. I found a compelling (one could say obsessive) relationship between Bacon’s book and Glass’ music and set to find out where the two intersected. This is very much a work in progress and I have a long, long way to go before it clicks but I’ve come far enough that I think it’s time to share it with you.

To help you make any reasoned sense of this, get yourself a copy of Glass’ Piano Etudes and read on. For a taste of what I’m trying to do, listen to this…

…while you read the first scene of act 1. Hopefully you’ll get the idea. I’d love to hear from you if anything strikes a chord. Any composer out there interested in crafting a minimalist score with Quaker ideals send me a note. This will be a full blown opera one day!

ACT I

Scene 1

Place: A busy Quaker home in Philadelphia 1880. It is the last day of Lucretia Mott’s long and storied life. Based on the tempo from Glass Etude No. 1

Lucretia Mott sits napping in the family room near the fire, an extra blanket lovingly placed over her shoulders by her daughter Mary before she dons her bonnet to head out for a meeting. Several other men, women and children – all dressed in simple Quaker garb – bustle around the home as the morning light rises. Everyone is equally busy and equally happy in their appointed tasks. A number of people head out the door after Mary while others attend to laundry, or splitting wood out back. After a great burst of energetic activity (with the one still-spot being our beloved Lucretia contentedly napping) the room falls quiet. The silence arouses our matron who is happy to be finally alone with her own company. Lucretia holds some knitting in her hand and attempts to pick up the pearl stitch she was in the midst of when she dozed off but her hands are arthritic and she rests her work back in her lap intending to resume knitting in a little while.

The weather is churning outside from the NorEaster that passed through last night. The sun darts in and out at irregular intervals indicating the fast moving clouds overhead being pushed by gale-force winds that have lost their bite but not their shove. This creates a dramatic moving light in the room. At one moment Lucretia sits in darkness and then suddenly a brilliant light breaks in bringing clarity to the room. This creates a distinct Chiaroscuro which moves around Lucretia as she stirs with the dancing light. The music conveys a reflective quality as our antagonist finds the strength to sit up straight and be fully present to the room and the audience therein witnessing the production.

LUCRETIA MOTT

Welcome
Is thee is comfortable?
The storm abates, see how it pushes and pulls the light
The light, the light
Bright like a Nantucket morning
Clear as the wind whipping my skirts

“Spitfire” twas a name they had for me then
As a girl of ten

Spitfire, spitfire indeed
Too many names have I acquired this long life
Not all said lovingly, I assure thee

As a girl I knew what my faults were
I earnestly sought a passive state
I’d wait for truth to unfold from my soul of its own accord

God speaks directly to men and women
boys and girls
through an inward Light
that illuminates our conscience

By minding the Light Within
one learns where one’s duty lay
then it is just a matter of obedience

All the troubles of the world
all evils, including slavery
are not due to human depravity
but disobedience to manifest duty

First-Day silence deep and awesome
Therein I prayed to overcome my hasty rage
My Spitfire tendencies
But it’s not fair how human beings mistreat one another
Humanity shudders at our self-inflicted atrocities!

 

QUAKER CHOIR

God speaks directly to men and women
boys and girls
through an inward Light
that illuminates our conscience

Mind the Light Within
learn where thy duties lay
then it is just a matter of obedience

All the troubles of the world
all evils, including slavery
are not due to human depravity
but disobedience to manifest duty

 

LUCRETIA MOTT

So much injustice in the world
how to fight against it all
when one is so weak and small?

I miss the sea, the ships, the salt spraying on my face
Nantucket’s stark and revealing light
The Light Within I seek so earnestly still
I miss my Thomas, my beloved Thomas

 

QUAKER CHOIR AND LUCRETIA MOTT

God speaks directly to women and men
girls and boys
through an inward Light
that illuminates our conscience

Mind the Light Within
Learn where thy duties lay
then it is just a matter of obedience

All the troubles of the world
all evils, including slavery
are not due to human depravity
but disobedience to manifest duty

 

LUCRETIA MOTT(spoken)

Thee is here to witness an accounting of my days

 

End of Scene 1

 

Intersticial:

QUAKER CHOIR
“unable to abide Thy purity till pure as Thou are pure.
Made such by Thee we then are free.
And liberty, like day, breaks on the soul
And by a flash from Heaven
Fires all the faculties with glorious joy.
Oh Thou my voice inspire
Who touch Isaish’s hallowed lips with fire.”

 

The scene transitions from the stormy set to the house first owned by Lucretia and Thomas five years into their marriage. Lucretia throws off her blankets of old age and stands before the audience a young woman in her prime. She reaches for her bonnet and ties it properly under her chin. 

 

Scene 2

Thomas enters carrying several bundles of cotton fabric

THOMAS MOTT

Lucretia dear – lend thy hand?

Lucretia goes to lend her new husband a hand, heartily hoisting a bolt of fabric over her shoulder. Thomas opens his mouth to protest

LUCRETIA MOTT

I hoisted heavier bolts of fabric before thee ever heard my name called out at Nine Partners school, Thomas Mott. I can manage.

THOMAS MOTT

Well I know thy strength, Lucretia. But there’s an additional…

Lucretia lets out a quick yelp as a small kitten pokes it’s furry head out of the bolt Lucretia is holding

THOMAS MOTT

…suprise inside that one. I could not entice it out of its hiding place so I settled to cary it home

LUCRETIA MOTT

What a delightful fright thee gave. It’s decided; we shall name thee “Boo.” Thy task is to keep the mice in order. Thomas, we must discuss the issue with cotton. A slave, a slave’s poor hands are bound up in the warp and weft of this cloth!

Sound of their child, crying, waking from his nap

LUCRETIA MOTT
My dear little Thomas is awake. We cannot continue we must divest from this wretched slave-reliant industry. Thee cannot abide much longer!

THOMAS MOTT
Go, attend to him. I shall finish stacking the bolts and Lucretia… thee is right but how to make a change that brings no harm to our family?

LUCRETIA MOTT
Thee will do what thee knows is right, Thomas, just as thee knew the right thing to do was to marry me

QUAKER CHOIR

Her life and his were destined to flow
As parallel banks of a meadow stream
Running towards the ocean of great human compassion
Making kin all bodies regardless of creed or color or custom

Scene transforms into a Quaker meeting house five year’s earlier with Lucretia and James sitting opposite one another on plain benches designated for the bride and groom. She in her simple grey Quaker dress, he in his simple black Quaker suit they are bidden to stand by one of the Elders who call them forth before the congregants. The music is formal and tight. Nerves abound but the couple show no outward emotion

 

Scene 3 – Wedding of Lucretia & Thomas based on Glass Etude No. 2

JAMES MOTT

I, James Mott, take thee, Lucretia Coffin, to be my wife, promising with divine assistance to be unto thee a loving and faithful husband so long as we both shall live.

LUCRETIA MOTT

I Lucretia Coffin, take thee, James Mott, to be my husband, promising with divine assistance to be unto thee a true and loving wife so long as we both shall live

 

QUAKER ELDER

In a true marriage relation
The independence of husband and wife is equal
Their dependence mutual
Their obligations reciprocal

 

QUAKER CHOIR

Believe always in the soul of man
invisibly rapt – ever waiting
ever responding to universal truths

Light – Dark – Voice – Seed – Hunger – Thirst – Pilgrimage

Wait for truth to unfold from the soul of its own accord

 

QUAKER ELDER (addressing the couple directly)

Love all people
Act from the direction of the inner light
Submit to God within

 

LUCRETIA & THOMAS

Life’s purpose is to live it out together
Ever alongside one another
In grace, strength and simplicity

I lend unto thee my full heart

May we be brought unto a child-like state
so to receive all the mysteries belonging to thy kingdom

 

Crescendo as Lucretia and Thomas fall into one another’s arms in an impassioned kiss on their wedding night in the upstairs bedroom of Lucretia’s parent’s house where they will live their first year of marriage.

 

End of Act 1 Scene 3

 

Act 2 Scene 1

 

In the Mott household ten years into their marriage tempo based on Glass Etude No. 3 Lucretia is orchestrating the household chores while also preaching at Quaker meeting

LUCRETIA MOTT

Sweep the floor – hang the wash – chop the meat and make the pies
tack the carpet – sew the shirt – weave the rug – darn the heel
Make the tea – set the table – prep the food – and stoke the fire
add a chair there’s a hungry woman lingering outside our door Mary

I see

I see Inner Light residing within each person

Scene swings to her standing and preaching at meeting

LUCRETIA MOTT

Launch thee forth, as men and women do, amid real, independent, stormy life

Heed the call from God

Be an instrument of the spirit

Good to be always zealously affected in a good thing

It’s a simple perception of duty
that brings thee to close examination of thy daily life and practice

Head not the voice that entices

The one that slumbers and forgets

Bring forth thy greatest possible self and be fully who thee is – man and woman, boy and girl, black and white, poor and rich

 

Scene swings back to her home

Sweep the floor – hang the wash – chop the meat and make the pies
tack the carpet – sew the shirt – weave the rug – darn the heel

Oh my stomach!! (Lucretia doubles over in pain and takes a seat. Her daughter, Mary, brings her a glass of milky water to drink)
Make the tea – set the table – prep the food – and stoke the fire

Perhaps I’ll sit a moment by the fire to knit (she falls asleep)

End of Act 2 Scene 1

 

Act 2 Scene 2 In a large assembly of abolitionists populated mostly by men with a smattering of women this scene is based on the tempo of Glass Etude No. 4. During the music-only intersticial Lucretia sits proud and straight during entire pantomimed proceedings. She “speaks” only occasionally but every time she does the entire assembly turns to listen to her. The assembly is dismissed and Miller McKim, who converses with Lucretia during the pantomimed session, steps forward in an aria

MILLER MCKIM

Who is that woman? So learned and self-possessed
So unlike all the women I have ever known
What hath God driven that she glows with such inner fire?
She, like the bright, clear light after a terrible storm
warm and compelling – harsh and direct
I feel rather that she looks directly at my heart and speaks truth
I cannot hide from her piercing gaze
No one has seen me as deeply, purely, completely
as this handsome Quaker woman from Philadelphia

 

LUCRETIA MOTT
Miller McKim, thy dark good looks
thy earnest, searching attitude
misguided, though it may be, thee is replete with potentiality
(aside) If only he would step away from the Presbyterian stronghold at seminary
Thy Light Within is strong indeed – my dear Miller – My poor, poor orphan boy – The darling subject of my pen
Dare I say he remindeth me of my little Thomas – The one who left my breast too early for his time – How I ache for my first son who would be the age that Miller McKim is today
Push this grief aside, Lucretia
Miller is a man who must make his day
And I will provide what guidance I can along the way

(Addressing Miller) Come to Philadelphia for the antislavery convention

 

Miller looks to Lucretia longingly. She returns his affectionate gaze and bustles off to another meeting with the abolitionist women. Thomas Mott notices the animated conversation between his wife and Mr McKim. He reacts not with rage but with a momentary wave of sadness.

 

__________________________________________

Rough draft, as I said. In the future I will post other scenes for TLW as I write them. It’s like creating a jigsaw puzzle from scratch except I’m making all the little pieces first and then figuring out a way to make them fit. I hope you got something out of reading this. Do let me know how it hits you. Have a productive week.

MMN

© Marianna Mott Newirth with preliminary permissions from FCG Quaker Books

Apart The Other or Dia & Ali Meet But Don’t Quite Connect

Happy Street in Somewhere Wonderful, America

Everything is shiny and bright – the sounds are perky and optimistic – the images are iconic, glamorous and captivating all along Happy Street

A woman in her 30’s, Dia, enters – well dressed with a slight flair for the dramatic. The year is 1994. Dia is at the peak of her awesomeness walking down Happy Street on a faire spring day in Somewhere Wonderful, America.

 

Dia – short for Diane or dialysis (also Greek for apart, through, across) Soprano

Ali – short for Alison or alien (also Greek for other) Mezzo Soprano

Choir of The Underserved – Mixed Choir of Women, Men & Children

 

DIA

This must be success

All of this for me

The silver sidewalk

The singing salted Pretzel man

The perfect way my pumps pound as I go purposefully ahead

Life is easy

Life’s so good

The sun on my back

The bounce in my step

No worries but to make my appointment on time

I’ll be fine, I’ll be fine

Isn’t everything divine?

 

CHOIR OF THE UNDERSERVED

Work and haul and push and pray

We strive to make it day by day

Under a growing cloud of doubt

We hold our tongue we do not shout

 

Working poor – the underserved

We are not proud we are not heard

 

Work so hard can’t catch a break

They tell us “All we do is take”

They try to rule us all with fear

And kill off all that we hold dear

 

Working poor – the underserved

We are not proud we are not heard

Working hard the under-seen

Won’t be long before we scream

 

A large woman emerges from the choir and approaches Dia

 

ALI

Excuse me – Can I ask you a question

 

DIA

(Flippantly as she walks past Ali) No you cannot

 

Ali stands momentarily rebuffed and then joins the Choir of the Underserved again

 

The timbre changes on Happy Street in Somewhere Wonderful, America. The year morphs into 2001 and the polish comes off the dazzling façade. The sounds are slightly flat, the images are tinged with cautious notes, the sky (a 911 blue) looks somewhat sinister, the light that once warmed Dia’s back is somehow colder.

 

DIA (pushing a stroller)

Let me see where I can go

So I can look like I’m in the know

It’s hard to keep up the game

With so much pressure to have a name in the world

My grandmother – my grandmother

She was an elegant lady of her day

The Greatest Generation

Social register – Women’s rights

Fantastic hats with feathers in them

She’s the one I emulate

The lady I want to be

It’s harder than I thought it was

I don’t understand, really

 

ALI

Excuse me, can I ask you a question?

 

DIA
I don’t have time – I’m late

I’m late, for a thing, ya know

Excuse me

 

Ali watches Dia bustle past her and turn the corner. She addresses the audience directly

 

ALI*

She’s thinking “There must be something wrong here”

Like I’m a problem that needs fixing

Lazy freeloader – welfare mom

That’s all she sees when she walks past me on Happy Street

 

Broke but not broken

Broke but not broken

The system’s not made for us

The rich folk always making a fuss

Broke but not broken

Broke but not broken

See me for who I really am

I come from a good family of people

People who love me

 

CHOIR OF THE UNDERSERVED*

Self reliant

Something gets broke we fix it

Self reliant

Somebody falls gather them up in a bundle of life

Until they can breathe on their own again

Self reliant

The system’s not made for us

The system’s not made for us

The system’s not made for us!

 

We walk for the lame

We drive for the carless

We wait for the brother whose still in jail

 

We sing for the bird that’s lost its song

We spring for the winter that lasts too long

We cling to each other in times of fear

And pray to a God who never seems near

But we keep praying – ‘cause – ya never know when

That God might just show up and make everything work again

Self reliant

The system’s not made for us

 

The timbre changes on Happy Street in Somewhere Wonderful, America once again. The year morphs into 2016 and the façade is removed exposing the rawness of the performance space. The sounds are sharp, the images are stark, the sky is flat and white. Ali sits on a box next to a tree growing out of the sidewalk. Dia walks by holding her hand to her jaw. She is sporting a hat with a big flower on the side, which contrasts sharply with the dark mood she appears to be in

 

ALI

Excuse me. Can I axe you a question?!

 

DIA

You always try and stop me at the worst times!

I cannot talk to you right now

 

ALI

But you don’t even know what my question is

 

DIA

I…look…I’m sorry. I have a terrible…

 

Aside to the audience: I’m not telling her my problems

My tooth hurts, yes, but I don’t have to explain myself to her

 

We all have places to be you know

We all have things to do

 

Aside to the audience: I really need to get to the dentist, excuse me

 

Audio of a dentist’s drill incorporates with the music of Ali’s She Don’t Even Know aria

 

ALI

She don’t even know my question

She so damn busy all the time

Bound up in her little world of lattes and opera

She don’t see who I really am

She won’t see who I really am

I am a woman who makes hats for a living

I am a woman whose daughter is pregnant with twins

I am a woman with a son stationed in Iraq

Who the fuck is she?!

 

Dia walks out moaning slightly and holding an ice bag to her cheek

 

DIA

I wonder what her question was

Such a bitch I was I know

But my aching tooth, oh my aching tooth

I’ll stop and talk with her now

I don’t know why I’ve been so cold

Although she has been very bold and tried to ask me several times about…something

I don’t know what

It always felt wrong

She did not belong in my world

My perfect little world – so stupid

I could not see for all the glitter that was in front of me

Perhaps I can start with an apology

 

Dia notices that Ali is no longer sitting where she was. Dia looks around but Ali is not there.

 

DIA

She is gone

I am an idiot

 

CHOIR OF THE UNDERSERVED

Ali – the other

Dia – apart from it all

______________________________________________________________

[librettist’s note] I actually have no idea how to end this at the moment…

*Thank you to Mia Birdsong for the inspiration and some of her words taken from her TEDTalk “The Story We Tell About Poverty Isn’t True” May 2015

 

©Marianna Mott Newirth 2016

Meta Micro Opera

 

A middle aged woman sits at a table with a journal open in front of her and a pencil in her hand. A light on the table illuminates the pages in a glow of warmth which washes up onto the woman’s face as she stares down at a blank page.

 

WOMAN

Here I am

It’s four AM

The house is quiet for now

 

I left my bed

So warm and cozy

The dogs won’t leave their lair to join me

In my cold endeavor

At my little desk

In the dark of night

Before the dawn’s floundering light

 

To be a writer is to be alone

A single entity who can dive into limitless waters of thought

Who can swim to the very bottom of the pond of possibility

And dredge up a moment’s consideration

For compilation in a composition yet to be named

 

No, there is more to this than meets the eye

I do not rise in the death of night

Out of some sense of obligation

 

I rise because I have no choice

My characters call to me

They disturb me from my sweet slumbering

Yearning for resolution of the situation I wrote them them into the night before

 

They all want to know – what happens next!

So here I am

It’s four AM

The house is quiet for now

 

And I – I cannot think of a thing to write

MMN

Micro Opera: The Maestro and his Muse

Two character scene:

First character wants a tangible object from the second character while the second character wants something intangible from the first character. Neither character can get what they want, at least not easily.

 

 

Maestro

Look at what time it is
Nearly midnight
Calliope!

 

Calliope

Time – such a silly little human construct
Was I not made for greater things than this?
You washed your hair
How did you know I like lavender

 

Maestro

It was the shampoo in the shower
Shall we get started

Maestro strikes a chord on his piano and straightens the blank sheet music in front of him

 

Calliope

Nice piano – Your pencil’s not sharp

 

Maestro takes a small hand-held plastic pencil sharpener and sharpens his pencil

 

Calliope

Where are we tonight?

 

Maestro

Amsterdam

 

Maestro

I prefer Florence
Jacopo Peri would hold me on his lap as he worked, you know
I would turn pages for him

 

Maestro

A page-turner is not what I’m looking for
Let’s get to work

 

Calliope

I enjoyed twirling his moustache until it stuck straight out

Why do men shave these days?

 

Maestro

I’m getting to work
Will you come?

 

Calliope

If you fondle me right, I just might

 

Maestro
I’m working now
Something new, if you like
It struck me crossing Waterlooplein square

 

Calliope

So you want to play then?

 

Maestro

I like to play

 

Calliope

As do I

 

Maestro

What you have in mind will keep me from my work
We have an understanding, you and I

 

Calliope

Ah my composer, you think you know me so well

 

Maestro

After sixty-years I’ve picked up a thing or two about you

 

Calliope

Sixty years – You’re a child compared to the giants I’ve worked with

 

Maestro

There’s a reason you are here and it’s not to distract me

 

Calliope

What are you doing in this time-riddled, shit-hole of a culture anyway

 

Maestro

This is the only time I have been given (yelling)

 

Calliope.

Temper

 

Maestro

I get angry when people waste my time

 

Calliope

Oh, is that it? You’re comparing me to people now?

 

Maestro

Let’s get to work

 

Calliope

Just imagine me lying naked in your bed
wrapped in your sheets
ripe for the plucking

 

Maestro

I want to write
I need insight
Your help would be appreciated

 

Calliope

You arrogant bastard
You must work for my attention
I’m not some easy thing you can get at any opening night party

 

Maestro

I don’t do that…

 

Calliope

I know, my darling, I know.

 

Maestro

Did I call you or did you grace me with your presence? I can’t remember now. How have we ever managed to work together
I can’t remember

Calliope

Tell me now – what do you feel?

 

Maestro

My feelings border on hatred

 

Calliope

Do you hate when you make love

 

Maestro

Of course not

 

Calliope

Do you hate when you compose

 

Maestro

I cannot hate when I compose
Hate is a mear mask people hide behind

 

Calliope

What are you holding on to then?

 

Maestro

I’m holding
I’m holding on
I’m holding on to
I’m holding onto the one who bears witness to my work

 

Calliope

And who, pray tell, is that?

 

Maestro

It is Phil
The Phil who washes his hair with lavender soap
The Phil who sets a watch and calls you at midnight
The Phil sitting here arguing with his muse
He is insufficient to the task
He will never get this done

 

Calliope

And besides he’s really no fun

 

Maestro

He does the best he can in a mad world

 

Calliope

Take him off the shelf where you keep him
Smash his ceramic face upon the floor
Have sex with me

 

Maestro

You’re my muse not my lover

 

Calliope

Our session is over

 

Maestro

No, it is not.
You don’t want corporeal sex, Calliope
I am old and counting every heartbeat
You want a sacrifice

The Greek choir slowly enters singing

You’re the daughter of Zeus and Mnemosyne
A goddess of music, song and dance
You want the “I” that is watching me talk to you*
The witness has to go* – I relinquish him to you
the one always peering over my shoulder|
commenting on every thing I do
Have your way with him
Slit his throat for all I care
Take it – this power for me to see myself – take it, Calliope
Take it and suck away at his delicious banality

A Greek choir   walks around the two – conveying the thoughts of the maestro as he separates his daily-self from his artist-self and sets to compose in earnest. The choir echoes the mans constant comment…the incessantly nagging voice in his head droning on and on about nothing of consequence. They keep this up while the Maestro and Calliope sing their duet and the Maestro takes his place at the piano while Calliope takes her place on the floor eating away at a puppet that resembles the Maestro. In the end her face and dress is covered in a sticky, grotesque mass of humanity. Her glee cannot be contained.

 

Greek Choir

I am sitting on a music bench
There is music on the stand in front of me
I am trying to write an opera
The piano has white and black keys
My nose has an itch
It might snow tomorrow
Calliope has beautiful breasts
Did I remember to plug my phone in?
Is this an A or an A flat?
What should I have for breakfast
Should I just stop now and go to sleep
How far is the taxi stand from the airport terminal
Will someone be there to pick me up tomorrow
I hope Paris will be a safe place to be
Did I pack an extra pair of underwear
The back of my head is itchy

 

Calliope

Imagination is now open to you at every single moment of time*
Give me the guy who pays taxes and takes out the garbage
The guy who watches and has to remark on every little thing
Give him to me – I’ll get him done
While you swim in the spontaneous unfolding of life*

Nothings routine
Nothings repeated

Nothings routine
Nothings repeated

One foot in the world of clarity and power*
Don’t think about now it doesn’t matter

Nothings routine
Nothings repeated

Nothings routine
Nothings repeated

The sounds of Amsterdam at 3am overtake the music and drown out everything while the light tightens on the Maestro’s face as he composes, unaware of anything else going on around him. The the light clicks to black.

The End

________________________________________________________________

*Much of the inspiration for this piece came from Philip Glass’ memoir Words Without Music a gift that my husband gave to me for Hanukkah. I gobbled the book up in short order. There are a few lines marked with the * that are taken directly out of his book.

Glass, Philip: Words Without Music Liveright Publishing Company a Division of WW Norton & Co 2015 Pages 382 & 383

The picture of Philip Glass was taken by Anne Leibovitz
The picture of Calliope was taken by some guy who posted it on Google reference has been lost

If you have an issue with my using these images send me a message and I’ll take them down. I’m not making any money with this stuff right now – I’m just keeping one foot in the world of clarity and power and the other in the every day banality of daily life.

 

MMN

 

 

Prosody

Weekly Reading Assignment : The origins of opera

2016-03-16 21.32.18
It is worth keeping in mind that ancient Greek drama is less like modern plays and more like opera.

The Cambridge book on Opera, chapter 2 covered the first operatic forms. Greek drama. It has been thirty years since I studied any Greek drama and I had to research the origins of strophe and antistophe, ‘cause I couldn’t remember what they meant. Strophe – to turn. Antistrophe – to turn back again as in a reply to stroph. I won’t get all up in this with you as I’m pretty sure if you’re actually reading this you DON’T want me getting all up in this. The operative thing here is that diving into the structure of Greek drama brought me to an unexpected place – PROSODY!

And where has the study of prosody lead me? To the basics of literary structure, of course. And then, just as quickly, to poetry. No surprise, really. My little web log entry tonight is actually a long-winded excuse to inform you (dear reader) that I abandoned my reading of chapter 2 and took a wild ride into the study of iambs and their many cousins: anapest, dactyl, trochee and others. I studied all this in college circa 1982 but today it lives for me as something completely new. Here’s what I did with what I learned.

 

Iambic dimeter – 2 iambs per line

There is a way

That I can write

Could be by day

Perhaps at night

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There is one thing

That I must do

Put pen to pad

How ever bad

And write anew

___________________________

Iambic trimester – 3 iambs per line

They’re working on the street

Jack-hammers on concrete

Ringing through the night

Who cares what time it is

___________________________

Iambic tetrameter – 4 iambs per line

 

She stooped to pick the basket up

Filled with fresh washed cloths, it was

The weight of it surprised her some

As she carried it across the floor

 

Quite the shock for her to see

Two ears emerge amid the wash

Black and pink those ears appeared

In contrast to her nice black pants

Now covered in fur from waist to hem

 

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paw on thumb over book

The feline gave a quizzical look

Stretched its paw across her bra

To roll its head in its comfy bed

And reach its arm to touch her hand

As if to say “It’s all okay;

I’ll help you with the wash today.”

 

________________________________

Iambic pentameter – 5 iambs per line

These walls contain so many stories told

Of love and life of a family growing old

Where once the toddlers played amid their toys

Two men now occupy the space of boys

 

This home is all that they have ever known

Of school and friends and kissing in the dark

We gave them all that they would need to live

And pushed to make the best of what we had

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Today we must stand back and let them go

Into a world that we cannot control

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Micro Opera #1: Tumbling Grumbleweed

 

SLOTH Stirgill7DeadlySins
SLOTH by Carlton Scott Sturgill

Characters: Carl & Jeremy – a gay couple in their late 20’s. Both are baritones

Carl sits on the couch in his living room looking at his smart phone. He makes the occasional, swipe casually with his finger, slouches further down and puts a leg up on the coffee table. His boyfriend, Jeremy, comes in the room. 

 

 

Carl

I don’t know

It’s all bull shit

shit

from bulls

Jeremy

What’s bull shit?

Carl

Every God Damned thing. Trump, Fox News, Pokemon is 25 years old!

Jeremy

Well, Mr. Grumbleweed…

Carl

I hate it when you call me that, Jeremy

Jeremy

I only call it when that’s what your being. Now remember, Beth and Ben are here for dinner at eight

Carl

Can’t wait – Beth and Ben – sounds like a sitcom

Jeremy

Don’t let the fact that I do everything around here keep you from vacuuming this room

Carl

I won’t

Jeremy

We should get a zoomba someday

Carl

Only if it comes with a cat attachment

Jeremy exits into the kitchen

Carl

I don’t wanna

Can’t make me

Nah, nope, no

Won’t do it

My but is stuck to the couch

my eyeballs glued to the phone

I could get up and do some shit but

I don’t wanna

 

Grumblweed Choir

I don’t wanna

Can’t make me

Nah, nope, no

make your boyfriend crazy

Carl, ya know, you’re such a slug

won’t even move if you get mugged

 

 

Carl

My limbs are heavy – too heavy to lift

I am suspended in misery

I just want to sit

Is that ok?

To sit and not be lectured?

Conformity

Requirements of society

Piety and obedience to an entity stuck in Orthodoxy

Explain that one to me Rabbi!

Why should I obey you?!

I see a wall

A wall one hundred feet tall

Made of glass brick

I see the other side thick with potential

The possibility of possibility

The known unknowns

The dream of a someday

Hard and clear and cold this wall of glass

a hundred feet tall

which keeps me from reaching my fulfillment

reaching my fulfillment

Fulfillment

I am meant to fill something

Meant for something…I don’t know…terrific

I do not know

Am I meant for greatness?

Is it meant for me?

I am great – my parents always said

My parents always said I was the best

What ever it was they always said I was the best

What can I be – should be – could be…would be…could be

Oh, I don’t know.

Choir

Oh Carl – poor Carl – Sad Carl

Jeremy

Are you done with your pitty party?

I didn’t fall in love with you because you were a tumbling grumblweed – you know

I love you

I love you

you find your way out of the tumbleweeds

you emerge from darkness into light

you give me hope for tomorrow

Carl

There’s not much light from here Jeremy

Jeremy

You are my light, Carl

Carl

Not right now

This is not the Utopia we were promised

Jeremy

That promise was a lie

It should die and we should be free to build a world of our own imagination

Carl

We’re too old

Jeremy

What do you want, Carl?!

Carl

I want everyone to shut the fuck up

Jeremy

And then what?

Carl

So then I can think

Jeremy

And when you can think – what then?

Carl

Then I would be able to see

Able to see that we are not what we thought we would be together

Jeremy – It’s not working

I think I should leave tonight

Jeremy

But our dinner with Beth and Ben

Carl

You’ll have to do the vacuuming yourself – I’m not good husband material, Jeremy.

Jeremy

Carl! You can’t just leave like that!

 

Carl puts on his coat, grabs his phone and walks out the door

 The End

 

So…What Have You Done Lately?

The dreaded question every artists hates. I’m actually going to share something I did last year, a thing that really kicked my whole MAWL adventure into gear. Right as I was starting radiation treatment for breast cancer* I put myself into an artists beit midrash at my shul, Town & Village Synagogue @afinekehilla  I figured it was best to put my mind into something creative. Our rabbinic intern, Bronwen Mullen, put together a great program and we had about 15 people participate from all around the Jewish community. Our focus of study was Pirkei Avot – Ethics of the Fathers. Right away I connected to the idea of transmitting knowledge from one generation to the next. Then I boiled it down to its elements; the Alef, Bet. What I came out with was this written piece.

Transmission-original-draft3.10.15

Bronewn, rabbinical student with a degree in music composition, took what I wrote and scored it. BLEW MY MIND. In a flash we were putting out a call to musicians and singers. Within a month we were in rehearsals with 6 artists bringing to life an idea I had one night while walking home. Here is the final result. It’s an 8 minute piece. A bit rough around the edges but if you stick with it you’ll get the idea of the piece.

 

 

As gritty as this clip may be it was a miracle and one that opened up a world of possibility. It was a flash collaboration among an amazing group of talented men and women.

So this is what I’ve done lately. It took me nearly a year to get up the guts to post it.

MMN

Post Script:

*so yeah, I dropped the C word. Just so you can move on from it – as I have – I had it. They took it out, zapped me repeatedly with radiation & and put me on meds for 10 years. End of story. Really just an annoying reference point on my life’s map. But one that is an indelible mark, no doubt. Hope it never comes back!

M