Preparing the Music of Lydie Breeze

I was asked to write a bit about how I’m preparing to work with EgoPo on the Lydie Breeze Trilogy. Oddly enough, I met the playwright, John Guare, a few nights ago at the Opening Night celebration for another play for which I wrote the music, Mabou Mine’s Glass Guignol. I was very pleased that Mr. Guare expressed his enthusiasm for the music for that show, and it makes me more excited and confident (and a bit relieved!) about working on Lydie Breeze.

I’m in an unusual position in the team in that I was brought in after Cynthia Hopkins had already contributed music to the piece, so I’m doing a lot of catching up. It doesn’t help that I’ve been working pretty constantly on various projects since September. But luckily, one of those projects was the production of The Cherry Orchard at Rowan University, which Lane Savadove directed. This gave Lane and me a chance to work together and learn how each other works and to develop a good groove. This turned out to be really easy. We seem to have really compatible sensibilities and get along well on a personal level, so I feel pretty excited about joining him on this adventure.

"This presents some interesting opportunities to explore musical and textural landscapes and textures"

There are several interesting challenges I’m facing with Lydia Breeze. It’s rare that I’m in the position of writing music for a play that I’m not actually playing, so this presents some interesting opportunities to explore musical and textural landscapes and textures outside my usual skill set. It’s hard to say where this will take us, but I’m looking forward to working with everybody and trying to see what we can do. Since the musicians are also cast members, there are some logistical puzzles that will come up in terms of who is available to play music when not involved in the scene. Often, when faced with this issue, we come up with creative solutions that add to the world of the piece. The neurotic in me always thinks this will never work, but it has always turned out better than I imagine!

Photo: With Anne Hills in Fir, Colorado in 2015

With Anne Hills in Fir, Colorado in 2015

Another new and interesting challenge is Cynthia Hopkins’ music. I became aware of her when I heard the comedian John Hodgman sing one of her songs at the end of a performance. I found it very moving and it stuck with me. Last year I found myself on stage with her as part of a fundraising concert for the Pig Iron Theatre Company. From what I can tell, her approach toward writing is pretty different from mine, as I mostly compose instrumental music and she seems to mostly write songs. The way this project is working, we won’t be working together; she is contributing songs and I’m working through them and deciding how to use them. I’ll also be writing music. Part of the challenge is to try to keep both of our sensibilities in the musical world that the cast will be creating with me. I think it will help to give me ways in and to come up with new ideas and approaches.

"I’m really looking forward to exploring things with everybody."

At this stage, I’m mostly focusing on the first half of the first play “Cold Harbor,” which is an extremely complex piece of work that covers lots of territory and shifts in texture and mood. Since we’re pretty much in the Civil War era, I’ve been revisiting a lot of the traditional songs and tunes I used to play when I was playing the fiddle at square and contra dances in the late 70s and 80s. I’ve also been looking into shape-note hymns that I think can set the mood(s) and be appropriate to the time and place. There are a few tunes from the era that everybody knows, and my inclination is to avoid them. I’d like to keep the audience in the world of the play and if I put in familiar songs, I think there’s a danger of taking people out of it.

With my old band “The Schuylkill Valley Nature Boys” around 1981

I’m really looking forward to exploring things with everybody. I am trying to come in as prepared as possible, but without too many preconceived definite ideas because I know that everything will change once we get everyone involved. I find that the work I’m most proud of is heavily influenced by the specifics of the process; to see how things are staged and how the actors flesh out their parts. It’s such a talented group and such a complex work that I think it would be foolish to approach this any other way.

I can’t wait!!

- Jay Ansill

Music Direction, Sound Design, and Addition Compositions

Lydie Breeze Trilogy

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