Another snippet from the new opera, The Boats: Sea Shanty. Transitions. Connective tissue. Agent Smith. Yo ho ho and a bottle o’ rum. Greater Truths. Cooking fires.
Roger CortonAnd yet another new snippet. And so many JC’s! (laughs)
JCHAs Agent Smith used to say. Me, me, me.
RCMe too. So this is what you call a “transition”?
JCHIndeed. It answers the age old question, “What do you do in the spaces between scenes where you have to change sets?”
RCOK, so what do you do?
JCHWell, you can simply bring the curtain down whilst everyone scurries round moving bits of scenery. But that’s typically only done between acts.
RCBut The Boats is a one act opera so…
JCHSo what composers often do is put some sort of music and dance in scene changes. It moves people into the new set. I call this a “Transition”. And in the case of this transition, the actors in the new scene sing their Sea Shanty whilst the scene changes from the auction block to the boat at the dock. As they walk towards the new set that’s coming onto the stage they literally change into work mode. Does that make sense?
RCI think so. They start singing as if they’re working and then, I’m being you now: “Ta Da!” and the Boat they’re working on appears. I’ve seen that in shows before.
JCHTa Da! (laughs) I do do that a lot, don’t I? But you’ve definitely the right of it. The idea is that the show is always moving. Once it gets started, there’s never a break in the action. So even changing sets is figured into the singing.
RCNow last time you said that operas have arias and recitatives (I actually Googled that). Where does this fit into that scheme?
JCHThat’s a great question. Oh God, I can’t believe I just said that. Do you know since I’ve been running for public office, I am constantly inundated with that sort of corporate-speak. EVERYTHING is a ‘great question’. I’m worried that I’m getting infected with it.
RCJust like Agent Smith.
JCH(laughs) EXACTLY! Now where was I? Oh yeah. These transitions don’t easily fit into an ‘either or’. There are four or five transitions in The Boats and in some there are recitatives and in some there aren’t. A recitative is just like what it sounds, an actor recites some dialog and it’s almost always expository. It’s basically ‘plot’. In many older operas it isn’t even sung, it’s spoken dialog. The whole show stops so the audience can concentrate on the details–that’s why movie directors HATE exposition; it slows everything down. And they want to get back to the action; the chase scenes, the sex scenes, the juicy stuff. Like I always say, movies come from opera. Anyhoo, the transitions in The Boats are just places where the set changes. They’re distractions to keep the audience engaged while scenery is moving about. In some cases the distraction is a recitative and in others like this one, there is a song.
JCHOh, one other thing. I think with Detroit I gave people the idea that all the show is, is arias (er, ‘songs’) and then recitatives in between. In other words, I don’t want people who can’t see the show to get the wrong sense. So when the album comes out, it will include at least some of these transitions and other ‘connective tissue’; not just ‘the songs’. I definitely will want listeners to get a sense of ‘the show’ as a whole. I think Songs From Detroit came out OK, but that was a mistake.
RCOnly including ‘songs’?
JCHArias, dear boy, arias (laughs). Right. Not giving the listener a better sense of ‘the big picture’.
RCSomething to look forward to! One last thing about this ‘Sea Shanty’. Now be straight. Fishermen don’t really sing like this, right? This strikes me as like “Whistle While You Work”. Or maybe this?
JCH(laughs) Yeah, it was exactly like that. Grown men do not break into song to lighten their labors. All the “Yo ho ho and a bottle o’ rum” shite definitely not happenin’. This is one of those (coughs) ‘dramatic truths’. It’s not literally true, but it tells the truth.
RCYou realize how much that sounds like Kellyann Conwaye and ‘alternative facts’, right?
JCH(laughs) Well, drama often doesn’t tell the literal truth. Like in a movie where it says, “Based on a true story” and they invent some shit to make the plot work better. It’s still true. If it tells the story in a clearer way or gets the audience to understand the real meaning better? I’m all for it.
RCOK, so what is the ‘greater truth’ here?
JCHJust that a lot of the work these guys do is repetitive and boring. There is a tremendous amount of ‘prep’ to be done before each trip and it all has to be done just so otherwise people get hurt and no money gets made. I can’t remember which is more important (laughs). And to me, the ’round’ the brothers sing fits that spirit. In reality, we would spend hours in total silence prepping nets, bait, tackle, etc. It all had to be perfect. And what I noticed, even as a kid, was the rhythm of it. Everybody worked in perfect sync, but rarely was a word spoken. The movement had a dance-like quality. Again, the round has that clockwork repetition and that’s what I was going for.
RCCool. I was going to ask about the lyrics. They sound like phrases just stuck together.
JCHYes. That may change, but for now, it is simply phrases stuck together; phrases I do remember my uncle saying, only translated into English. For example, “Take the rope that fills the boat, then holler up and down you go” is quite literal. It was a mnemonic for remembering a particular procedure for trolling that had to be automatic. I repeated that hundreds of times.
RCCool. You know, switching gears, you do seem a lot more productive. Or more ‘lively’. Does that mean you’re feeling better?
JCHNot really (laughs). In fact, I had an incident just the other night. I passed out whilst cooking dinner. And I come to and the wok is sending flames up to the ceiling.
RCWoah. You OK?
JCHOh sure. But the microwave melted (laughs). Actually, if I seem more ‘productive’, it’s probably because autumn is like my absolute fave time of the year. There is something very energizing for me when the season starts to change. Dunno what it is, but it’s like I get this adrenalin rush that says, “Get yer shit done NOW, boyo, winter’s comin'” I love the colors. Even the sunsets are better.
RCI get it. I just have to ask in terms of live performance.
JCHI doubt that’ll happen this year. Things are getting better, but how about I get back to you when I can go a few months without damaging any major appliances (laughs).