24 Hours With Taylor Mac

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Portrait of the author with Crazy Jane

Portrait of the author with Crazy Jane

A month ago I was testing my body’s limits, forcing myself to engage in Facebook debates even later than my customary 2:00 AM cut off. I was staying up until a bleary eyed 4:00 AM leaked into 5:00 AM, finally turning off the overhead light, and would be startled to find the room still illuminated by a disorienting, demoralizing haze of daylight seeping in through the curtained window.

I was training, preparing for an endurance test. I was about to attend Taylor Mac’s marathon performance spanning 24 Decades of American Popular Music in 24 hours. Non-stop. From noon on Saturday to noon on Sunday.

And not just as an audience member (as if anyone is truly “just” an audience member in Taylor’s brand of interactive participatory theater), but as a full fledged performer, a singer, one of a handful of vocalists from Choral Chameleon who would be playing the role of “prudish temperance choir that storms into a rollicking 1790s era pub and spoils everyone’s fun”. I was a collaborator. A colluder. I had crudite platter privileges in the green room.

I had already seen the first six hours of judy’s (Taylor’s preferred pronoun is judy, and I will be using it) marathon in San Francisco back in January, so when the co-producers at Pomegranate Arts reached out to the board of Choral Chameleon in July (which I sit on), it took about five minutes for me to chime in with my vote: a resounding “Yes, and I’m flying out for it!” I’ve been a fan since judy’s Lily’s Revenge took over a large chunk of Fort Mason and the Magic Theater with another sprawling multi-hour affair, there was no way I was going to miss an opportunity to be part of something this ambitiously insane.

24 hours. Each hour a different impractical and unwieldy costume. Each decade of America’s history contextualized and defined by the songs that were sung by its citizens. A multiply compound experiencing apparatus, America filtered through the minds of American songwriters, then subject to the market of American tastes and popularization, curated and reconstituted through the minds of Matthew Ray and Taylor Mac, and then collectively experienced again over a 24 hour period.

You know those little capsules you give kids? The ones that when you put them in water, the pill dissolves to reveal some foam dinosaur or something. In the days following the marathon, it felt like some very concentrated capsule had been shoved into my brain, one that would slowly transform into something else, a triceratops, or a spaceman, or Kentucky. Now, a month later, I still find moments from that epic day and night and day again occupying a new space in my brain.

In any given 24 hours in normal life, many many things happen. But most of them are largely automatic, habitual. I’d wager that under 4 hours a day are spent in actual engaged thought. So 24 hours of concentrated experience is something we are not built for. And this isn’t just experience, but intentional, surprising, entertaining, and provocative experience. So many things happened in that space of time last month. Simply listing my haphazard memories wouldn’t do the experience justice. But I have to do something.

So how about this: 24 Posts About 24 Moments in 24 Decades of American Popular Music in 24 Hours in 24 Days.

Huh. Ya know, I just thought of that. Right now. As I typed it.

That’s not bad.

Imma gonna do it.

Starting tomorrow!

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Dog Days: Trust, Betrayal, and That Which Can’t Be Unseen

I wasn’t prepared for the ending of Dog Days. I’d gleaned enough from the reviews that the piece was powerful and unsettling, but I wasn’t prepared. (This might be a good time to say SPOILER ALERT. And apparently the creators have asked critics not to reveal the ending. Read at your own risk. Then again,Continue Reading

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Hem – Half Acre – Analysis of a perfect thing

I often suffer from a common malady amongst composers, the illusion that complexity can make a weak idea stronger. Or perhaps make up for a deficiency in structure. Maybe it stems from the thinking that if you impress someone’s ear with something complex, they will be so wowed by your sophistication that they’ll figure that the music MUST be good.Continue Reading

One Response to Hem – Half Acre – Analysis of a perfect thing

  1. Nolan Love says:

    Great analysis, Brian. The combination of puerile innocence in simplicity and repetition along with the world-wise bluesy accidentals in the melody give it a lovely balance. I’m also loving the clarinet which has it’s own mournful timbre to counter the sparkle of the other instruments. Good stuff!

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I May Be a Douchebag (aka noise, criticism, and the New Music Gathering)

The New Music Gathering rolled into San Francisco this past weekend. Founded by Brooklyn stalwarts Danny Felsenfeld, Matt Marks, Lainie Fefferman, and Mary Kouyoumdjian, it was equal parts symposium, festival, and gab fest for composers, performers, and devotees of that amorphous non-genre we’re calling New Music. The festival is, necessarily, a very large tent. In a fieldContinue Reading

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Who Watches the Watchers Watch? – Review: The Source

The Source, an opera oratorio meditation on the Bradley/Chelsea Manning/Wikileaks scandal is not at all what I expected it to be, and that’s a good thing. Composer Ted Hearne takes a ripped from the headline subject and treats it with a probing intelligence and artistry that largely ignores the low-hanging, and ultimately flavorless fruit thatContinue Reading

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Review: Hydrogen Jukebox

While much of the opera world is focusing on the behind the scenes drama at the Met, now would be a good time to take a look at the smaller, more intimate opera companies in your back yard, the ones that are doing amazing work with a teensy fraction of the resources available to theContinue Reading

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Quentin Letts Shows Us What Ugly Is

There’s been an uproar in the opera world after London critics delivered a series of very personal insults regarding Tara Erraught’s weight. “Dumpy of stature”, “unappealing”, and “chubby bundle of puppy fat” gives you a sense of it. Most of the critics have since tried to contextualize their comments as specific to the role atContinue Reading

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When Bad Music Happens To Good Critics

In an article entitled “The Composer As Critic” composer Andrew Ford conflates two points, first that one should be able to divorce your own taste from one’s criticism of a piece, and second, one should refrain from reviewing bad works in general. In making his case, Ford cites Auden: “Attacking bad books is […] a wasteContinue Reading

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Battle Chorale at the SF Conservatory

Choral writing is the foundation of Western music, the genesis of counterpoint, and the basis for functional harmony as we know it. Writing for chorus (as well as singing in a chorus, regardless of vocal abilities) was a requirement for compositions students of Nadia Boulanger, (as well as in the European American Music Alliance programContinue Reading

One Response to Battle Chorale at the SF Conservatory

  1. […] – Review of i thank You God for most this amazing day as performed by the International Orange Chorale in Music vs Theater by Brian Rosen: http://musicvstheater.com/2014/05/16/sfcmchoralcompetition/ […]

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Four Laughs Per Minute: What Music Can Learn From Comedy

In his setting of the Lamentations of Jeremiah, premiered last week in its entirety by Cantori New York (and again this Saturday, May 10), composer Benjamin C. S. Boyle finishes each verse with a recapitulation of the refrain “Ierusalem, Ierusalem, conertere ad Dominum Deum tuum”. With each return, the treatment of this text becomes increasingly ecstatic,Continue Reading

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