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Neely's Blog #13

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June 25, 2009

Itís hard to believe that I wrote Blog #12 about Hansel and Gretel in Urbana and only now am finishing up the task, almost seven weeks later! Of course I have very good excuses. Iíve begun a number of new pieces, I have to practice for the premiere of Shep Shaprioís Twelve Fugues in the fall, ditto Tom Johnsonís Organ and Silence, and above all Iíve had to recruit, organize and conduct 80+ trombones for the New York premiere of ďOrbitsĒ by Henry Brant. And Iíve been busy writing as well. Iíve been able to keep up with my other blog, the one on the Ives Vocal Marathon website.

But something clearly has to change. There are too many things to write about that are not related to the Ives songs, and Iím getting restless to discuss and promote my own work to a greater extent. So here is the New Blogging Policyóthree days a week Iíll write about the Ives songs, and three days a week about my own music and other projects. Specifically:

MWF see the latest musings about the Ives songs at

TuThSat read about what Iím doing otherwise at

Notice that today is a ThursdayóIím getting started with the new schedule right now. This includes new announcements of upcoming events, to be posted later today.

And what about wrapping up Hansel and Gretel? The main thing I have to say about this piece is that it works. Iíve seen three different productions with different strengths and problems. Iíve conducted it, Iíve played the piano part in the orchestra, and recently in Urbana I sat in the house and watched/listened to a Sitzprobe, two piano dress rehearsals, two orchestra dresses and three performances. Iíve observed the reaction of audiences in three different cities in two different countries, as well as groups of school children in many towns around and about Connecticut in the late 1990s. I have gone over the parts more times that I care to remember, and tweaked the piece and tweaked the piece until I know it represents my final intentions. And of course I wrote the thing in the first place. I know it inside and out, as composer, copyist, performer, spectator and observer of other spectators, all this over a period of twelve years. I have earned the right to say it works!

I also know that this opera has succeeded in making the dance an integral part of the drama, one of my conscious goals in composing it. I learned that the preparations for the Illinois production began with Rebecca Nettl-Fiol teaching the dance steps, before the cast learned a note of the music or even read the book together. The first two rehearsals were entirely devoted to dancing. The principals were also required to take dance classes the semester of the production. The result was a seamless integration of the dancing into the flow of the show, to the delight of composer, cast and audience alike.

This opera has, I believe, a bright future. I just have to find the key that unlocks the door to it. There are seven directors around the United States who have expressed an interest in doing it, and Iíll be sending out some sample vocal scores very soon. And I hope the wonderful singers who devoted so much energy and expertise to my work will tell others about it. Electronic communication is remarkably fast these days, but word-of-mouth moves more slowly than in the past. Weíll see what happens. My goal is to replace Humperdinck on the stages of the world in five years.

For the record, the wonderful cast of the Urbana production was as followsómy deepest thanks to you all.


The singers:

Hansel: Jeremy Fisher

Gretel: Alison Wahl

Their Father: Chadley Ballantyne

Their Stepmother: Yoo-Sun Na

A Wicked Witch: Laura Kimmel

A Messenger Bird: Jackie Schiffer

A Duck: Sam Lopata


Non-speaking roles:

Storybook Reader: Renata Herrera

A White Cat: Young-Sun Lee

A Pigeon: Joseph Hutto

Lead Dancer: Aaron White

With other dancers and a Chorus of Birds, big and little