The Grey Land
The Latest Update
The Grey Land opera Indiegogo Fundraiser
My fundraiser campaign for The Grey Land opera is live! If you are able, I can use your financial support to help bring the album of my opera to the world this fall on New Amsterdam Records.
Indiegogo Campaign: https://igg.me/at/thegreyland/x/21934041#/
Thank you for your consideration!
The Grey Land is an opera by composer Joseph C Phillips Jr about a Black mother trying to survive the reality in this land that doesn’t fully see her continued hope: that the great American experiment will one day become a belonging place where anyone can dream of “stillness and stars”, free from fear and want; a place where the beautiful promise of happiness, liberty, and life may yet manifest true to finally include her family too.
The Grey Land’s libretto explores those themes of humanity and identity through the lens of the intractable triumvirate of race, class, and power in American society. The opera integrates a variety of writings (from Joseph C Phillips Jr, Sonia Sotomayor, Frederick Douglass, the Mothers of the Movement, Isaac Butler, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and Carolyn Bryant Donham), as well as contemporary film and video footage, dance, and set and lighting designs, and dramatic elements. The Grey Land’s score and non-traditional narrative accesses Black culture and music, embracing social and musical multitudes and the “dichotomies of high and low, inside and outside, tradition and innovation.”
The Grey Land features soprano Rebecca Hargrove, narrator Kenneth Browning, and Joseph C Phillips Jr conducting his 28-musician chamber orchestra Numinous. The album was recorded by Ryan Streber at Oktaven Studios in Mount Vernon, NY, is edited by Grammy Award-winning engineer Mike Marciano of Systems Two Studios, mixed by Grammy Award-winning engineer Brian Montgomery, and produced by myself and Grammy Award nominated producer Oded Lev-Ari. The album will be released November 2020 by the critically-acclaimed, Grammy Award-winning independent classical/new music label New Amsterdam Records.
Video by Julia Ross www.margoseesstars.com
Music in video: “Into all the Valleys Evening Journey” by Joseph C Phillips Jr (from Numinous album Vipassana) & “The Most Beautiful Magic” by Joseph C Phillips Jr (From Numinous album Changing Same)
both © Numen Music/BMI All Rights Reserved
Rebecca L. Hargrove joins The Grey Land
Rebecca L. Hargrove has joined @thegreyland as the “Mother”. Unfortunately Arielle Bonnett could no longer participate in the project, but I’m very excited and thrilled to now be working with @rhargrov in #TheGreyLand. Rebecca “has been featured on stage with New York City Opera, New York City Center Encores!, Spoleto Festival USA, Carnegie Hall, David Geffan Hall, The Garden State Philharmonic, and the John F. Kennedy Center.” Check out her site at www.rebeccalhargrove.com for more info on her exploits. A soprano, actress, AND model, Rebecca now brings her triple-threat talent to “The Grey Land”! I’m looking forward to working with her. I think you are going to want to come hear, see, and experience her for yourself at the premiere October 16th @roulette_intermedium. Tickets at the “Associated Event” link or at http://roulette.org/event/joseph-c-phillips-jr-numinous-the-grey-land/. @newmusicusa #newmusicusagrants @americancomposersforum #jfund #monoopera #monodrama #newopera #thegreyland #numinous #numinousmusic #mixedmusic #josephcphillipsjr #contemporaryclassical #newmusic #classicallyblack #blackclassical #blackoperasingers #blackoperasinger #rebeccahargrove #rebeccalhargrove #thisiswhatanoperasingerlookslike
It’s been busy since the last update: I’ve been to Nashville to begin rehearsal work with Arielle Bonnett, who will be the Mother in The Grey Land; I was in the studio recording cellist Mariel Roberts for a movement in the composition, written for her; also in the studio I recorded Kenneth Browning speaking his role in the monoopera–he will be the narrator as well as the Son (he will also be featured in the opening film by Malik Isasis); working with Malik and Xuan Zhang on completion of their film/video contribution to the performance; and begun working with Roulette on the preparations for the show on October 16th, including setting up a link to purchase tickets! http://roulette.org/event/joseph-c-phillips-jr-numinous-the-grey-land/
The Grey Land teaser trailer
October 16, 2018
First Reading of complete The Grey Land
Had a wonderful first reading of The Grey Land yesterday. Now to make adjustments and edits and will be ready for our rehearsals leading up to the semi-staged premiere on October 16th!
And correction from the previous update: the soprano soloist is Arielle BONNETT
See you in the fall!!!
“No moral code or ethical principle, no piece of scripture or holy teaching, can be summoned to defend what we have allowed our country to become.”–Matthew Desmond
Premiere date announced last week! The semi-staged performance will be:
October 16, 2018
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.
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!
“… 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 before he went.” —Richard Wright, Native Son
“No moral code or ethical principle, no piece of scripture or holy teaching, can be summoned to defend what we have allowed our country to become.” —Matthew Desmond, Evicted
The Grey Land is a monoopera that explores universal themes of humanity and identity through the intractable triumvirate of race, class, and power in American society. The Grey Land integrates a variety of writings, archival and contemporary video footage, dance, set and lighting designs, as well as 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. Working with writer/director Isaac Butler, choreographer Edisa Weeks, electronic musician Michael Hammond, film and video artist Malik Isasis and Xuan Zhang, The Grey Land will ruminate and comment more specifically on the larger longstanding systemic societal, economic and cultural issues the various police shootings and protests since 2014 have brought to a wider public consciousness.
“[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