Another snippet from the new opera, The Boats, the big finale: You Can Dream With Me. Escaped salmon. Career opportunities. Crisis and Chinese expressions. Playable mockups. Creative at the wrong time. Performance therapy. Woody Allen.
Roger CortonA new snippet!
JCHSnippet my arse.
RCI misspoke. It’s a substantial piece of music. What gives?
JCHI dunno. I guess my thinking is that the opera stuff is such a stretch for regular listeners that there’s no need to be ‘stingy’. It’s not like I’m gonna sell racks of these things.
RCSo what you’re saying is that because it’s less of what people want, you’re making up for it with larger portions?
JCHI never thought about it like that. We lose money on every sale, but boy do we make it up in VOLUME! (laughs).
RCVolume–that’s good. OK, so what’s it all about?
JCHWell, it’s the finale. And the boys…
RCWho are really your cousins, right?
RCI can’t get over how both your operas are so personal. Couldn’t you think up a story on your own?
JCH(laughs) You have a point there. They always say ‘write what you know’. The older I got the more I realized that there are these themes in my thinking that recur over and over. They seem almost like parables to me.
RCBut they’re not very happy parables.
JCHYou’re right. I never noticed it until I started working on Detroit and now this. I thought I had a pretty happy childhood. But, I dunno if I told you this, but my cousin–the one who passed away recently–told me to not do this particular story. I thought he was kidding, but he was like adamant about it.
JCHNo, he just thought it would be too painful. No joke. And now? I hear stuff like this salmon business here and it really bothers me.
JCHMaybe it didn’t make national news. But they have these off-shore giant fish farms out here. And one of them broke so like 300,000 Atlantic salmon escaped. And now everyone’s losing their minds. They expect them to ruin the native fishery. In fact, they’re letting everyone with a fishing license catch as much as they want–which never happens! That’s where I’m off to this weekend–to catch my fair share of like 150,000.
RCWhat’s the big deal?
JCHThe salmon stocks here are almost gone. And it’s like Ireland followed me here. That’s the connection to the opera.
RCHow do you mean?
JCHI see the same ruining. I mean the whole point of the opera is the Big Yellow Taxi, you know? And it’s just frustrating as hell that it’s the same kinds of problems here. Like, people on the Left Coast are supposed to be so ‘progressive’ and all that shite. But it’s the same fucking deal.
RCYou lost me at ‘ruining’.
JCHWell, when the events depicted in The Boats actually happened back in the ’90’s, they treated all the fishermen like dumb hicks. Nobody got properly compensated. But you would think that out here, everyone is so much better (cough) ‘educated’ and ‘enlightened’ so they wouldn’t screw the world like that. But nope. You’d think people would learn.
RCMoney is money everywhere. So… back to the music.
JCHSo they’re at the bar at the end and they face the fact that they’re all going to have to leave because the fishery is shutting down and that’s gonna be the end of that way of life. So you know, there’s this thing where they try to pump each other up–like ya do when someone gets fired or divorced. You get drunk at the bar and boast about how “I’ll show ’em!” They’re each bragging about how great it’s going to be where they’re going. One is going to Australia, one to Canada and one to America.
RCWhy different places?
JCHWell, that’s something else that comes up in the story–and in real life. They all grew up assuming that their lives were mapped out. The differences between them–and they were really different guys–didn’t really come out because they were all on the same team, if that makes sense. They were going to just work the boat until they retired. Simple. But when the idea of leaving came up, it was the first time it occurred to them that they had actually had choices. I think that was as big a stressor as external events. So they chose different places. Part of it was their wives/girlfriends but a lot of it was that their chance to ‘follow your dream’. And they each had different dreams. Who knew? (laughs).
RCThat is interesting. What is that Chinese expression, ‘Crisis’: a combination of danger and opportunity?
JCHExactly. It was a crisis, but it was also a unique opportunity. At least one of them–my cousin who passed recently–became a big shot Master of a huge ship, like Captain Phillips. He was the youngest kid. He never would’ve had that kind of prestige life if he hadn’t left. They each ended up having lives that you would have never guessed at. Like the eldest, who was a tough, tough guy actually had the roughest time adapting. That right there is a story.
RCDo I smell SEQUEL?
JCH(laughs) Spoken like a true marketer. (Thick Irish accent) “Already thinking about tomorrow at nine AM today.” That was one of my uncle’s fave expressions. I’m just trying to make a liar out of my cousin and live through the original, OK? Forget ‘sequels’.
RCOK, we’ve talked about the story, anything about the music? That brass at the end is pretty epic. I assume that’s not real players, right? A mockup? Is it even playable?
JCHWell, I got Don Bils ‘the valveless wonder’ to do the trumpets. So it’s definitely playable. It’s amazing what good players can do–even at a high school level. You (or rather me) just have to be willing to take the time to learn how to write so they can breathe (laughs). That’s the giveaway for a lot of mockups-they’re making noises with samples that aren’t idiomatic; that a real player wouldn’t do. The takeaway is that there’s no substitute for hanging with players and learning how they do what they do.
RCYou mean those machine gun trumpets near the end?
JCHYes that, but oddly it’s loooong notes that beginning writers mess up. They… er me… do all these long notes which humans can’t do because, hey we have to take a breath every four or five minutes (laughs). But the rapid fire stuff isn’t hard. You just have to have players taking turns going badabadabadabada, etc. Sounds impressive as all get out though, right?
JCHThe hard part for me on this thing was the double bass and drums. I don’t play that doghouse enough and man my fingers were bleedin’ when I was done! Isn’t that what yer supposed to do? Bleed for your art (laughs).
RCAlways a good sign. So on the way out, are you on track to finish soon?
JCHWho knows? I’ll tell you something about writing that is maddening. The ‘muse’ always hits at exactly the wrong time.
RCWhat does that mean?
JCHWell we’ve talked about how I seem to get my best ideas when I’m sad?
JCHIt’s much worse than that. I also get a lot of good ideas at 4AM in bed. And I get soooo pissed off. Man I hate getting up to write them down. When I’ve been with a woman, that of course always wakes them up. So I end up just laying there and stewing.
RCI assume you don’t remember those ideas in the morning.
JCHOf course not (laughs). All I remember is that I had this idea that I thought was my ticket to the Grammys. Drives me NUTS. Oh, and then there’s the part where, when I’m working on The Boats, I start having great ideas about some new piece. So, again, I just argue with myself like a nut case–“Stick to the grindstone!” It’s totally immature.
RCI guess! (laughs). I have to say it sounds like something you might want to talk with a professional about.
JCHYa know. That’s actually one kind of (cough) ‘therapy’ I wouldn’t mind getting. There are these specialized counselors who work with classical musicians. Getting them ready for big-time competitions or helping them finish big commissions and so on. They cost an absolute fortune.
RCYou do see the irony, right?
JCHDo I? It’s like that old joke about banks only lending to people who don’t need the money. Ya know how Woody Allen was always going on about all the ‘therapy’ he used to get… even when he was just starting out? I mean that was a big part of his shtick.
JCHWell? How could a guy struggling to make rent in Manhattan afford Freudian therapy three times a week?
RCWell, that’s my last tangent for today.