I'm a composer living and working in the Twin Cities. I'm married to an amazing music teacher and oboist and our son plays French horn, guitar, drums and electric bass and is developing into a successful songwriter and producer. I play the cello and have created a catalogue of over 100 pieces found on this website under the heading, Boys Art Music. I am never likely to apply again for a "grant" to create a new music composition but I always like to respond to invitations to compose for specific performers. I've found the best inspirations and most gratifying musical experiences flow from first-person music-making; abstract (long-distance and impersonal) connections are difficult for me and my process. A commission is a composition assignment (not one of my own) and I prefer to take on projects that meet one or more of these criteria: they should be challenging or unusual or full of potential to reach wider audiences. I got an invitation out of the blue from two of my musical colleagues: Rolf Erdahl and his most knowing wife, Carrie Vecchione. Together they have created an unusual family business, OboeBass!, which produces a series of concerts in Lakeville, Minnesota along with tours, recordings and residencies. They have formed a successful enterprise by encouraging new works since so little has been composed for this duo. So, the challenge Rolf posed was to create an arrangement of Stephen Foster's song, My Wife Is a Most Knowing Woman.
I don't want to create "arrangements." I look for ways to create a "setting" of someone else's musical ideas...and this is exactly how I approached the assignment. Stephen Foster is one of this country's most prolific and successful composers/songwriters. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970; his songs continue to form the foundation of American popular song and inspires them even today. The most obvious challenge was to set a song with clever lyrics for a bassist and oboist who do not want to sing in public. Ever. Never.
II. Singing Instrumentalists.
The composing assignment was to "set" a song for oboe and bass! But neither the husband nor wife duet like to sing in public. So what about Stephen Foster's charming lyrics? Would this be an instrumental theme and variations for oboe and bass? A sonata inspired by rhymed couplets? And then I heard how Rolf and Carrie sing. They sing like me and like so many of the instrumentalists that I have worked with over the years. They sing in tune and with feeling. Their personalities come through. They convinced me that A Most Knowing Woman should feature them singing...at least some of the time. Give them a listen.
I think their audition expresses how their personalities are complimentary and so individually revealing. I could not have imagined a better pair of people (married to each other and each one an accomplished musician) to express the troublesome wisdom and complex humor of Stephen Foster. The next post in this blog will explore why the subtitle of A Most Knowing Woman is "An Exposition of the Seven Elements of Comedy."