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The Process: Meet Frances!

One thing that I've never really taken into consideration when I'm choreographing is that the music that I picked may not necessarily have the same intention behind it as my piece. What I mean by that is in the same way that I decide what my dance is going to look like or be about, the composer of the music would have had their own idea of how their song would be used, what it means, or how it feels. It just hadn't crossed my mind until having an opportunity to speak with so many composers about their work.

I've commissioned composers before, but I set the tone and intention for the music. I knew exactly what it was about. Many choreographers never have that opportunity (I have very talented friends). Most of the time we're using something we found that inspired us, but we'll never meet the creator so we never really have to consider it. So I found myself in kind of a precarious position. I had a piece of music that I want to use. I knew the composer. Did my vision fit with the intention of the piece she created?

Here's where the conversation gets tricky... the inspiration for the piece. If you don't know already, I'm in an interracial relationship. I'm black and my husband is white. We had a recent encounter with a man that neither of us knew. He's also white. He shakes my husband's hand, like you do when you meet someone new, and then proceeded to greet me with this mangled hand play that ended with a snap (ummmmm... ok). What he intended was to make me feel comfortable; to make me feel like he was familiar with my "tribe." What he did instead was make me feel marginalized. It was incredibly frustrating that instead of getting to know me, or assuming that a simple handshake would suffice, he just put me a group and assumed that we could do a dap line because I'm black.

Enter Frances White - composer of The Old Rose Reader (if you missed my last post, here's a link to a portion of the piece Frances loves roses. She has a garden of roses that is celebrated yearly by many. I may have misheard, but I believe she has over 100 varieties. “Lyonnaise glory, Goethe…Grace Darling, Great Maiden’s Blush…” These are just a few of the varieties listed in the song dating back centuries. Noted with care, each of these old roses was named for a resemblance, their beauty, or their scent. Each specimen is studied and admired for its uniqueness.

I thought the time and care taken to name all of the old roses and even give anecdotes about some of them would be a beautiful juxtaposition to the lumping of people into racial stereotypes, but I wasn't sure if it was something that Frances would want to tackle. We emailed back and forth and met for coffee. As it turns out, she did! She and her husband, who wrote the text, love the idea. They especially love that a piece that's so personal to them could also be something personal to me.

Even though the music has already been composed, I'm looking forward to working closely with Frances. After talking with her, there are 2 other pieces that are meant to accompany The Old Rose Reader. This thing may end up being bigger that I anticipated. Soooooo excited!

In this instance, I was able to talk to the composer and get her blessing. While our intentions were not exactly aligned, the sentiment was. As a larger concept, where do we as creatives stand on stepping away from the intention of the original artist in order to create our work? How far is too far, or once you release it, does it belong to the world to interpret as they desire?

Now, back to my piece... where in the world is this thing happening?

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