In 2004, I began playing a piece by Giacinto Scelsi called Manto. The performance note for the third movement is “for singing violist (necessarily female).” If you’re not familiar with Scelsi, check out the Wikipedia page about him—he and his music are equally fascinating. Manto III was one of a handful of pieces to which I felt an immediate and visceral connection, like I had with Shostakovich’s viola sonata and Berio’s Naturale. The bonus was that I also got to sing, something that had been a huge part of my musical development but had taken a backseat in recent years.
After performing all three movements a few times, I started programming Manto III on its own. Audiences were really into the piece, I loved it, and I really connected with this idea of singing and playing simultaneously. I wondered how many of my composer friends and colleagues would be interested in the challenge of writing for a “one-woman duo.” Not being the most coordinated person in the world (at my best, I can stand up somewhat straight without falling over; at my worst, I tumble off eight-foot stages and shatter various bones), I am still not sure that this was my most brilliant idea as far as something that’s naturally easy for me—but I have stretched myself musically and intellectually, and I’ve helped bring some phenomenal music into the world.
Because this technique of singing and playing simultaneously was not nearly as simple as I’d hoped it would be, I had to train my body to do it. Taking my cue from an old Cleveland Quartet method of playing scales together in thirds, I practiced scales with myself in thirds, fourths, fifths, octaves, quarter tones, etc. (In the privacy of my own home. Alone. I’m sorry to my cat.)
It has been an amazing and sometimes amazingly difficult adventure, but I have had enormous support from my collaborators: Lou Bunk, Christian Carey, Jason Eckardt, Stephen Gorbos, Jose-Luis Hurtado, Everette Minchew, Arlene Sierra, David Smooke, and Ken Ueno. One thing that was especially important to me as I asked people to write these pieces was that I love them as people. These friends have worked with me through so much: navigating the difficulties of singing while holding a big piece of wood up to my neck, returning to school and needing to slow down on the project for several years, and most of all, writing phenomenal music for little or no compensation. I hope that this recording can serve as a small repayment for their hard work and their steadfast belief in my musicianship.
vox/viola will be released on New Focus Recordings (http://www.