Solo Voice: Medley

I was appointed a Fulbright Professor at the University of Keele for the year 1977-1978. Although I submitted a proper and, presumably, persuasive application, in retrospect the appointment probably came about primarily through the intervention of the late Peter Dickinson, then Professor of Music at Keele and the person who had managed to broker the professorship with the Fulbright Commission. We had met, I believe, at the Ives Festival-Conference in 1974, though it may be that Peter had stopped by Illinois during my years as a graduate student. In any case, Peter subsequently became a lifelong friend and was enormously helpful to me, especially in maintaining and expanding my presence in the UK.

It is certainly Peter who is solely responsible for Medley: he arranged for a commission from West Midlands Arts, brokered through from the Worfield Trust; he encouraged and critiqued the composition as it took shape; and he and his sister Meriel gave the first set of performances. Medley is only one of many reasons why I am deeply indebted to him. 

Aesthetically and historically, Medley is closely entangled with Madrigals: the second and third Madrigals were completed in December 1977; Medley was begun in early 1978. Medley was premiered in July; the first and fourth Madrigals were premiered in October. In both pieces I was unashamedly infatuated with what was not yet called a polystylistic postmodernism, one that relied especially on American popular idioms. Both pieces drew from my own experiences and preferences—from performances, recordings, and research that were deliberately highly disparate. Madrigals presented four of these in successive movements; in Medley I wanted the differences to be more directly juxtaposed and the sequence to depend on choices made by the performers.

The composing was done in stages. For the first performance (July 1978) I prepared a single, straight-through score from which Peter and Meriel performed. This closely resembled later versions, but there were some discrepancies. Then, in the autumn, I completed the remaining sections. I was still working out the final structure in October, and the hand-copied score was not complete until mid-1979. The first performance that used the final score was given by Sondra Stowe and Bennett Lerner on May 26, 1982.

In 1984, I approached Sylvia Smith (of Smith Publications) about issuing some of my music. She was interested, and Medley was the first work she distributed, with copies made available in the summer of 1985. However, in about 2003 I began to place my scores with Frog Peak. A decade later, I asked Sylvia whether I could reacquire the rights to Medley, and she graciously agreed. There then ensued a lengthy editorial process—which entailed re-contacting some of the performers who had done the piece—as I tried to rediscover and set right various small errors. It was not until 2023 that a truly definitive score was published by Frog Peak.

Medley has received several truly wonderful performances by fabulous musicians. The premiere was given by Peter and Meriel Dickinson at a charity event organized by the Worfield Trust in Worfield, Shropshire, England. No recording was made, but the program survives (see below; the original is in my archive at the University of Illinois).

Over the years, Medley has had upwards of a dozen performances. Because the score is comprised of seven distinct units of material and a map summarizing their permissible interconnections, each set of performers assembles a continuity that has been tailored to their interests and abilities. Each version is different, and all are equally valid. I have about eight performance recordings that demonstrate a good range of the alternatives; unfortunately, most are suitable only as documentation. However, I have uploaded to SoundCloud two quite good recordings—by Amy Neuburg and Chris Brown, and by Teri De Sario and Bill Purse. I’m hugely grateful to everyone who has done this piece; it’s not easy (you bet!), and it requires imagination as well as virtuosity.

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