Fable Music

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While I was Christmas shopping last month, I picked up a very cool book for my nephew: Fable Comics, a collection of cartoons edited by Chris Duffy, based on both famous and obscure fables, told and drawn by a whole troop of wonderful cartoonists.  Leafing through, I came upon a fable attributed to Aesop called “The Belly and the Body Members.” (Here is Bartelby’s telling of it.)  Charise Harper‘s cartoon version makes (what I think many would agree is) a pretty ho-hum story fresh and fun with goofy stylized, anthropomorphized, chatty body parts and an innovative retelling.

Spending time with Fable Comics got me theorizing about text in interdisciplinary contexts. My thought was: great literature doesn’t need or want another art form to support it. A carefully written poem or story doesn’t benefit from being set to song or turned into a comic strip or opera or movie or puppet show or whatever–it is best relished on its own, read in silence or aloud. Meanwhile, I am sure that fables aren’t literature. They are a raw material waiting to be developed. They are conversation starters. They are didactic little buggers that need to be tickled and freed of their morals.

This little theory supported my good feelings about the fable music that I was part of co-creating this past year, as a commission from the Dilijan Chamber Music Series. The request was for my husband, composer Dan Sedgwick, to write a piece based on an Armenian tale, and include children from the Lark Musical Society, a music school in Glendale, CA. Dan invited me to help him make this unusually specific commission happen. Together we would create a piece for “speaking bassoonist, clarinetist and violinist” and two child singers; he would write the music and I would write the text. In the end, I think I did my part as the librettist: we found a fable, The Council of Mice; I innovated, complicated, and spun out the fable–had a conversation with it–but in such a way that the script was just begging for music to take it and make it complete.

The resulting piece is called All Some None. Performed on March 22nd, 2015 at Zipper Hall in Los Angeles by Zare Arakelyan and Nanor DerBedrossian, voices; Movses Pogossian, violin; Phil O’Connor, clarinet; and John Steinmetz, bassoon.

Watch here.

Now, Dan and I are currently developing the script for a very silly chamber music drama version of “The Belly and the Body Members”, as a partner to All Some None, but with a very different instrumentation (spoiler: the belly will be a double bass). Plans are afoot to make performances happen in summer 2016!

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