Another snippet from the new opera, The Boats: To The Bank. Puns. Irish Rebellions, Ballintubber, Shakespeare. Chorus. Henry V. More on recitative v. aria. The fortunes of campaigning for office. Kick Drum. Dropping Bombs. Bill Bruford.
Roger CortonAnother new snippet. Marching right along.
JC HarrisYou’re such a punster.
RCNot really. So what’s the story?
JCHWell actually, the title is one big pun.
RCI think I get the pun. In the beginning you talk of a river bank, but at the end they marching to a bank where the money is kept.
JCHYes. The story is, again, one of those ‘truths’ I keep talking about. This didn’t literally happen, but it could’ve happened. All the captains and crew are sitting in the bar after the first day of the auction feeling pretty helpless. And one old guy has the nerve to chastise them for taking it all lying down. He brings up some past ‘rising’ where the villagers rebelled against the Brits. You know, “What happened to all the courage?” and so on.
RCWould that kind of thing really happen?
JCHOh sure. Even after I came to America, you’d occasionally hear some old guy who was all about ‘One Nation’–you know, a united Ireland–waxing nostalgically for a time when ‘men were men’…
RCAnd women were glad of it.
JCHExactly. Just bemoaning how far we had sunk. No guts. All we had to do was ‘organize’! And all that shite.
RCBut it would end up going nowhere.
JCHIt would go nowhere. But in the case of this story, it does go somewhere. The old guy sings about a ‘rising’ back in 1791 on the bank of a nearby river where the locals kicked the occupiers’ collective arses. And the captains get energized to rebel against the auction.
RCDid that happen?
JCHWhich? The battle or the captains rebelling against the auction?
JCHNeither happened. Or rather, there were lots of mini-risings back in the 1790’s. There was a LOT of hope for rebellion back then–especially after Napoleon came to power. But they were all based on the notion that the French would sail in and help out–as they had done with America.
RCOh, right. Right.
JCHBut that never happened and the Brits put them all down with ruthless efficiency. Hanged a bunch of people and things got a TON worse for the next seventy or eighty years. Not to go off on too many tangents…
RCWhat? You? (laughs)
JCHBut that was pretty much the end of the Irish language. The Brits made speaking any ‘Gaelic’ a capital offense. They hanged people. Burned books. Tried to end basic education for kids. Even the names of all towns–they were all changed in 1851 when they did this big ‘census’. That’s why you have so many goofy sounding town names like ‘Ballintubber’. The Brits couldn’t pronounce the Irish ‘Baile na tobar’ so they just changed the spelling to the closest thing they could manage.
RCWhat was that again?
JCHBaile na tobar. It means ‘the town with the well’.
RCVery practical. OK, back to the story.
JCHSo the auction ‘rising’ didn’t happen either. At least not in my town. But it sure could have. So in this case the captains go round the area to all the homes, including Ciarán’s, to enlist everyone in their rebellion. So they march off to the town bank–which is where the financiers were stationed to process all the sales–and demand that the auction be cancelled and to get all the agreements torn up. And then in the final verse, they’ve lost that battle and they all retire right back to the bar to cry in their beer.
RCThat bar seems to be pretty important in the story.
JCHYou bet. It’s almost a character in itself.
RCLike the house in Detroit.
JCHYou bet. Since it’s a one act opera, you gotta keep the staging simple.
RCThen how do you ‘keep it simple’ if you’re depicting not one, but two battles?
JCHThat’s a good point. And when in doubt, always go back to Shakespeare.
RCCan’t go wrong with Shakespeare (laughs).
JCHOH FOR A MUSE OF FIRE!
JCHSo Shakespeare had the same problem in a lot of his plays. How do you include battles and hurricane storms and so on, on a tiny stage with no special effects, right?
JCHWhat you do is have a ‘Chorus’, which we would today in a movie call a ‘voice over’, which steps in at various moments to describe the action you’re not seeing.
RCOr when they do the big ‘montage’ where ten years go by in one minute.
JCHRight. So in this case, it’s the Chorus who sings the song. The characters aren’t talking; it’s just a description of this huge event; a recitative.
RCNot an aria.
JCHBy George, I think you’ve got it (laughs). See that’s the point. It became a convention as far back as Shakespeare to divvy up dramas into bits where the story is furthered–the recitatives as I keep saying. Then there are the arias, which is when everything stops and the characters talk about how they feel. And that’s a set of conventions that have largely carried forward up to today. That’s how most operas and plays and movies have worked. Exposition and Aria. Portions that move the story along and then portions where the characters stop to talk about their feelings. It’s a formula that is everywhere from Star Wars back to Henry the Fifth.
RCInteresting. OK, since we’re getting ‘expansive’ as you like to say, let’s talk about where are we in this whole grand scheme. You’ve now posted snippets on the beginning and here the middle and the ending, so how much is left to do? Are we on track for first quarter 2018 as the web site -says-?
JCHWell, if I can stay out of the hospital and not lose my home…
JCHHey, that’s MY line! But seriously, once we get past this ‘campaign’ thing.
RCOh, how’s that going?
JCHI thought I caught a break last week. My opponent had a heart attack!
RCGreat! (laughs). Right?
JCHWell, it turns out he’s going to recover. Which means I’m still going to lose.
RCChin up. Maybe you’ll run again and get someone with terminal cancer.
JCH(laughs) One lives in hope. But back to the opera, assuming I don’t get sidetracked by any of these pesky details, I may indeed finish on time for once.
JCHOne day at a time, my friend. I’ve had a complete change of heart in the past year. Now? Everything is ‘one day at a time’.
RCI get it. Getting back to the music. I know you keep emphasizing that these are not finished pieces, but…
JCHYes I’ll keep banging on about it because it’s one of the least comfortable aspects of this whole shebang…
RCReleasing snippets before the thing is complete.
JCHCorrect. Because things change right up until the bitter end.
RCAs you said, when you worked on Detroit the whole thing changed right in the middle of working on it.
JCHYep. I don’t think that’ll happen this time, but the mixes are definitely not complete.
RCOK, fine. I just wanted to comment on the kick drum. It’s great. Really reminds me of Bill Bruford.
JCHYeah, I’m finally getting to where I feel like I can use a jazz style kick.
RCNot sure what you mean.
JCHWell, in bebop the kick isn’t a time-keeper. It’s there to, as they say, ‘drop bomb’. It can function just like a cymbal or any other drum to add accents or punctuate a key moment. That’s what Bill was doing on those early Yes records. The kick is as loud as the snare. He’s not using it so much to keep time as to drop bombs–like a jazz drummer.
RCWell that’s cool, right?
JCHRight. But I never felt all that great about my drumming, so I guess I would sort of hide the kick or play it straight like a ‘rock’ drummer. I didn’t have the confidence to ‘drop bombs’.
RCWow. I had no idea you felt like that. Well, whatever. It sounds great. Lots of unexpected ‘bombs’ as you say. Really punchy.
JCHYeah… it may be a bit too punchy. We’ll see. I’ll have to go back and listen to some old Yes. Like on Perpetual Change and Heart Of The Sunrise. Those parts which are (cough) ‘jazzy’
RCAlways a good thing to do!
JCHYou bet. I just wanna hear the master… you know, to tell me how much I can get away with (laughs).