I was just going to write about the upcoming recording session I put together for this Wednesday at my studio in Inwood. I’ve invited three of my favorite musician to come improvise with me. Two of which I play with regularly in Ne(x)tworks and one whom I’ve been working with since 1987, on and off. The former two being vocalist Joan La Barbara and harpist Shelley Burgon, the latter being the operatic tenor John Duykers. I thought it would be wonderful to get Joan and John together. They know each other but have never sung together. I have no idea what will happen.
While I was imagining how I would describe John here in this post, I though of the phrase “forward-thinking.” I then stopped and thought “how many other opera singers would it be correct to describe as being forward-thinking?” Not many, or any, really. Not that that’s a bad thing. It’s not in an opera singer’s job description to be forward-thinking. Their job is to faithfully, yet uniquely, interpret music that already exists. (This is of course a sweeping generalization, but one that I will hold as true, if only for this post.) John of course does an exquisite job in that department. (Check out the premiere recording of Adam’s Nixon in China; he was Mao.) But John is also a creator of great inspiration and innovation and truly shows his uniqueness when given the chance to improvise and collaborate with any given composer, director or librettist. He actually has a large body of work in which he is not mentioned as co-creator. This includes my first opera, Trespass Knot (1995), in which John, I, and Melissa Weaver (director and librettist) created the work as equal partners, yet it was difficult to consistently give John the credit he deserved. This was also true of John’s work with the legendary director/writer George Coates, whose very first piece was a solo for John called Duykers The First, and went on to collaborate with John (and composer Paul Dresher) on See/Hear,Â The Way of How, and other works. I believe John was credited only as performer on those pieces, not collaborator.
At any rate, about ten years ago, John & I started simply improvising together (under the moniker Any Thoughts?) We are presently planning a long term project (again with Melissa Weaver) that we are all very excited about. It just struck me how wonderfully unique John is. Not only because he is an improvising opera singer, but because he has a long history of informing, inspiring and improving any work he is involved in. (And I’m not just trying to suck up to the old, large, bald guy. Really I’m not. Okay, so he’s not that old, or large, or… well….)
I’ll let y’all know how the recording session goes. Joan and John have such different approaches to vocalizing. I think it will be a challenge for all four of us. But it’s my experience that challenges make good music.
(Here are many videos of John performing.)
(Unfortunately, I got sick and had to postpone the session. We’ll do it next time John is in town.)