I had hoped to finish the composing of “The Grey Land” by fall of 2017 but my time since my last update was a year filled with the loss of a number of friends and family. I took off essentially half of 2017 (and some of 2018) from all musical activity, convalescing, traveling, and holding close to those dearest to me. But eventually I was able to find my way back to “The Grey Land”, finishing the composing in mid-February 2018! I did an interview about a month ago for the American Composers Forum about the project and currently I’ve been deep into editing the parts and score, discussing the project with my vocal, electronic musician, and film/video collaborators, and working on performance details to premiere the project this fall of 2018 (and keeping in mind going into the studio after the premiere for the recording of the composition for my next Numinous album). I’ll be back soon to update more about all the collaborators and the overall progress as things move forward toward the premiere. You can follow the progress of “The Grey Land” project on Instagram as well.
The Grey Land
The Latest Update
Arielle and Jerome
Very excited that, in addition to the wonderful NewMusicUSA grant, The Grey Land was just awarded a Jerome Foundation J Fund grant for New Music!
Also very happy to announce that I have found finally my soprano for the project: Arielle Armstrong (now Arielle Bennett). Check out my blog for more info and a video of Arielle in action!)
Coming in the new year: Isaac and I will continue meeting and working on the various components and I will also be back in the rehearsal studio with Numinous in January and February to go through various new movements recently composed for The Grey Land. Will be back with another update in a few months!
Here will we sit and let the sounds of music
Creep in our ears. Soft stillness and the night
Become the touches of sweet harmony.
-Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice
This afternoon was the first reading of some of the music for The Grey Land. While not representing the final instrumentation, it was, nonetheless, great to hear the music that’s been in my head for months finally being realized with some actual live vibrations! Numinous, with me conducting (of course), went through five different movements in various states: some were basically complete, some were sketches, and some were just ideas. A couple of the pieces were for dances that will be a part of the drama which is fitting since just a few days ago I confirmed with friend and choreographer Edisa Weeks about joining The Grey Land team too! I’m excited to work with Edisa and her company Delirious Dances again with The Grey Land-we are revisiting one of our collaborations at the end of June at Gibney Dance Center in lower Manhattan: a dance/music/theatre hybrid project called To Begin the World Over Again, which is inspired by the writings of Thomas Paine.
So now that the first reading is finished I’m excited to get back to work composing as well as continuing with the plans for video, dance, and staging. Right now the plan is for the second music reading to take place some time this fall.
Only the beginning, only just a start
Well it has begun (as you can see above–me concentrating on poeting for The Grey Land)! Since early February I’ve been working on some of the words and music for the first few “scenes” of The Grey Land as well as plotting the overall structure of the composition; while there are still details to work out on that front, it has been going well and I’m looking forward to the first music readings toward the end of April, which will help me assess the future direction of piece.
Another important update: director/writer Issac Butler has joined The Grey Land team as a collaborator. I’m very excited to work with Issac, who collaborated with my friend composer/bandleader Darcy James Argue on two outstanding multi-disciplinary projects at BAM: Real Enemies and Brooklyn Babylon (both supported by New Music USA too). Issac and I had our first meeting earlier in the month and I’m looking forward to working with him on shaping The Grey Land into life. More updates to come!
“In self-defense… he made all the world… a vast grey land where neither night nor day was, peopled by strange men and women whom he could not understand, but with those lives he longed to mingle once…”-Richard Wright, from Native Son
The Grey Land will be a music drama that will explore universal themes of acceptance, ostracization, and identity centered around the intractable issues of race, class, and power in American society. The Grey Land will integrate a variety of writings, archival and contemporary video footage, set and lighting designs, as well as fantastical dramatic elements in order to advance a non-traditional narrative that will embrace the musical and social multitudes and “dichotomies of high and low, inside and outside, tradition and innovation” within black culture and will fuse various African-American and other popular music influences within a contemporary post-classical musical language. While I have always been interested in transmuting diverse inspiration into a single voice, this recent personal exploration of black culture and music creates an “impressive stylistic synthesis…a new style…not as an established idiom, but rather as a new approach, a happy merging of apparently disparate traditions.” Using music, prose/poetry, dance, video/film, The Grey Land will ruminate and comment more specifically and directly on the larger longstanding systemic societal, economic and cultural issues that the various police shootings and protests in 2014, 2015, and 2016 have brought to a wider public consciousness. The composition will be scored for the 24 musicians of Numinous (Flute/Piccolo; Clarinet/Bass Clarinet; Trumpet/Flügelhorn; Trombone; Vibraphone; 2 Acoustic & Electric Guitars; Electric Piano; Harp; 6 Female Voices; 1 Mezzo Soprano Soloist; 1 Narrator/Speaker; String sextet (2 violins (one doubling on Viper/Electric violin) 2 violas, 2 cellos); Electric Bass) and approximately 75 minutes in length and is planned to premiere in Fall 2017.
“[W]e must fight for your life as though it were our own—which it is—and render impassable with our bodies the corridor to the gas chamber. For, if they take you in the morning, they will be coming for us that night.”
James Baldwin’s “An Open Letter to My Sister, Miss Angela Davis”, describes Davis as a martyr in the “enormous revolution in black consciousness…[that] means the beginning or the end of America, provides powerfully biting & incisive commentary on the social and racial dynamics in the United States, which still resonate today.
The title comes from the mini-series Roots & is a call valuing one’s intrinsic self-worth and potential. Throughout America’s history, blacks confronted societal resistance, as James Baldwin wrote, by “groaning and moaning, watching, calculating, clowning, surviving, and outwitting” with “some tremendous strength…nevertheless being forged, which is part of [black] legacy today.” And today it is often single mothers left to hold on to that legacy, presenting their children before the world with the gift of love, resiliency, resolve, & strength.
Start and End Dates
01/01/2016 — 10/31/2018
Brooklyn, New York