In May, I linked to Alexandra Silber's fine theatrical weblog London Still, after she had contacted me:
Al Silber wrote me one of the most beautiful letters a month ago, titled "a song you wrote has always been in my head", which was partially an apology for using a recording of a string quintet I wrote in high school in a number of theater productions in Britain over the years. I want to dig those recordings out of the archives & post them here with our recent correspondence, so look for that here in the next few weeks. Now, I guess fatigued with waiting for me, she just got around to posting those correspondences herself, she is very good for my faltering ego. I'll just repost what she wrote, but I'll one-up her by adding the music she's referring to. If you require mp3s of this old music, go here.
Check out the wonderful blog of my long lost friend James Welsch here.
James is a very talented composer that I met at Interlochen in 1999. He was terribly clever with rhythms-- in fact, percussive pieces both instrumental and vocal, stood out as one of his finest achievements. It was his compositions for the voice that brought us together collaboratively, I sang his beautiful and achingly original "Sigh No More" (from Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing) for his Senior Recital in May of 2000, at high noon the same day as our Prom (or, MORP as we strange Interlocheners called it).
But, all this being said, it was his string quintet that has stayed with me for nearly a decade, and been a part of my creative life. throughout the entirety of this time. I used it in my teaching from 2002-2005, and his piece featured heavily in several productions I did at RSAMD. When his music was going to be used for The Cherry Orchard, I tried desperately to find him and ask for his permission (and for his blessing), to no avail.
Then, a few months ago I found James again after a nine year hiatus. The glories of the internet bestowed a reunion upon us, and I had the opportunity to contact him (I can still sing the entire haunting melody of that string quintet from memory).
The following is our exchange which I include here because... I just think reconnecting is a magical thing. A magical thing. And those moments are sometimes so marvelous, they simply must be shared.
Look out for him. He was a wildly talented teenager. I can't imagine how incredible he must be now.
* * *
James. Okay.... I am about to describe a piece you wrote that was performed in your Senior Recital: it was a string quartet (possibly quintet?) with an emphasis on the viola. It is, one of my favourite pieces of music in the world. I believe there were four movements, the third very vibrant, the second (?) very melancholic and epically heartbreaking.
So.... I would be lying if I told you that over the years, this piece of music was NOT a part of the stage movement class I taught at Interlochen in 2002, or the mask classes I taught in Glasgow from 2003 to 2005. Or that, the whole piece in its entirety did not underscore/orchestrate a beautiful student production of The Cherry Orchard I did in Scotland in 2003 (you were credited in the program by the way, I just had no idea how to FIND you at the time, despite multiple fruitless attempts...)
I will now utilize bullet points for the next section of thoughts.
1. Um, thank you.
2. I hope you don't mind.
3. What is the NAME of this piece?! An old version of iTunes erased the name of it from the files I had.
4. Do you have any other recordings of this piece?
5. If so, could I have them?? I promise not to use them in any other rogue Scottish Chekhovian productions ... or productions of any other kind for that matter...
6. How are you? How are things?
7. Thank you, again. In an odd way, you have been with me all these years, orchestrating my life though you didn't even realize it. Amazing thing, music, isn't it? Evocative, haunting, and far reaching.
All the best,
* * *
Good Morning Alexandra! And how do you do,
Isn't it amazing that piece was from NINE years ago. Gracious heavens. I was thinking writing a faux angry letter with a copyright citation from my lawyer, then saying just kidding, but then I didn't want to hurt you if you didn't get the joke!
No, thank you Al I'm glad you like that piece & you've found use for it. (Did you know: to make a piece not-copyrighted, you have to state that it's in the public domain, otherwise its AUTOMATICALLY considered copyrighted & protected by congress? I publish all my music anonymously these days & I have to specifically state that it's not copyrighted. I've been planning on UN-copyrighting that old stuff, so in such a hypothetical situations like old recordings played in Chekhov plays in Scotland, people don't have to worry about paying men in suits to use my music.) But anyway, that was the nicest letter I've gotten in a while, & a few days later another Interlochen friend Danny sent a random note saying he dug up an old video of another piece, Parallel Obsessions, &, in his words, "What a blast! I love that piece, James!" So, thank you friends, for lifting my spirits when my artistic moral is low.
OKAY! Let's answer all your questions in NUMERICAL ORDER*:
& 2. No worries, as we say in the Sierra Nevadas.
3. It's called "String Quintet of", & there's two violas which is why its so viola-y. I wrote a bunch of pieces that year with similar titles, such as the "String Quartet of". The four movements are unlabeled, like "I", "II", "III", "IV". The musicians were Eska Laskus, Katherine Bormann, Carrick (neé Nathan) Bell, Emily Eng, & Melissa Solomon.
4. I'm assuming you have the second recording from my Senior Recital (which starred you!) No, it's never been played again! Perhaps your repayment could be someday, when you come upon a wandering band of string musicians, ala the Muppet Movie, to get it playd again some day. Those Interlochen friends did a great job, but it would be great to get a recording with tighter rhythms &c.
5. You know I was in England for a year,02-03 at Oxford, I wish we were in touch, I woulda come and seen it! And I was just back last summer, in Derbyshire for my friends' wedding, then singing in Newcastle & Liverpool, but I avoid London like I avoid NY. I hope you like living there tho.
6. Well, thank you for asking. I'm still in my "lost years", working to emerge from them. I didn't write music for many years, frustrated by a lack of performance opportunities & a non-existent audience for new classical music. These days I write FOLK HYMNS, mine are non-traditional tunes sort of in the traditional American "shape-note" genre. Like this one I just put on my blog. I'm working on a west coast folk hymnal called the Western Harmony. Otherwise, I serve champagne to rich people at lavish San Francisco parties & drink beer & hike a lot & play the ukulele & write other things also. Hmm, I guess that's a fair summary. I live in a groovy 1905 flat in Berkeley with my friend Jenny & we throw spectacular parties, like yesterday's FAKE WEDDING, with a randomly chosen bride & groom, a beautiful service in the hills, & speeches & dancing!
7. You've been with me too! I enjoyed looking thru yours photos of you in a variety of plays, & I'm glad you're working in THE THEATER.
Come visit California! Great plays in Berkeley. Happy Easter & Christmas & write from time to time!
Many happy returns of the day,
* Addressing points is numerical order is one of my favorite things (as Louise can attest) and it 1. makes me love James even MORE and 2. I believe this addressing things numerically business will most definitely make it on to the next list of favorites... naturally most likely to be titled "Whiskers on Kittens..." Watch this space.