Interview with The Dream Songs Project
We met Dale several years ago when The Dream Songs Project (TDSP) was the featured ensemble for the American Composers Forum’s Showcase. She submitted a score for the Call-for-Scores, we picked it as one of three winners for the Showcase, and then ACF flew Dale to Minnesota to work with us preparing her Footnotes to a History of the Moon for that concert. We enjoyed working with Dale so much on that project that we decided then and there to find a way to commission her for a piece for TDSP. It took a few years to get funding (thanks Chamber Music America!!) and then the pandemic threw a big monkey wrench in the works, so the plan is now FINALLY coming to fruition with this premiere.
What was the collaboration process like between you and the composer?
In our work with Dale from the ACF Call-for-Scores, we knew how thoughtfully she wrote for both of our instruments (particularly a challenge on the guitar for a non-guitarist). She sent us the poetry and we were completely on board with the imagery and dark (and darkly humorous) perspective on wedding traditions. Dale also wanted to make use of some of the extended techniques on our instruments, so we had some remote sessions early on to go over the palette of sound possibilities. We had a couple of check-ins, but in the fall of 2021, Dale sent us the completed score to X Marks the Dress and it was this amazing 30 minute song cycle–a great variety of musical imagery and moods.
The two song cycles on this concert are full of interesting and descriptive words and phrases, and creating daily countdown posts with a snippet of song text and a fitting image has been a fun way to further explore the ideas in these works. It all started because of a discussion we had a few months ago during a rehearsal session about what a good main image would be for these concerts. We settled on a pink crocheted tissue box (a nod to the title of a movement in X Marks the Dress), but a particularly creepy bride doll we found on ebay was a real contender (and may make an appearance this week).
You'll also be performing Voices by Carol Barnett. How would you say the two pieces relate to one another?
Both pieces have amazing texts that explore new perspectives in the subjects they are about. X Marks the Dress examines the objects and traditions of weddings–garters, crocheted tissue boxes, the objectification of the bride. The text for Voices deals with several fairy tales (The Little Mermaid, Snow White) and looks at them from the perspective of the young female protagonist who realizes she maybe didn’t have to wait for the “prince in shining armor” or might regret having sacrificed everything to live on land to get the attention of a prince.
Interview with composer Dale Trumbore
I met poet Kristina Marie Darling at an artist residency in Taos, New Mexico, and she generously gave me a signed copy of the book “X Marks the Dress.” At the time, it was her latest collaboration with poet Carol Guess. I’ve since set a number of Kristina’s footnote poems, and am hoping to set more of Carol’s excellent poetry very soon, but the poems in “X Marks the Dress” were on my radar for years before I finally had the chance to set them as a half-hour song cycle for the dream songs project.
The timing worked out that this premiere is happening around the time of the book’s reissue, and I hope many more people will discover and love these poems! Many of the poems offer humorous, surreal takes on weddings; they present a sort of alternate history in a narrative skewering our oddest traditions. I decided to set these poems for Joe and Alyssa as I was planning my own wedding (years ago, now!). So many of the traditions that Kristina and Carol explore in the book (the tradition of wearing a garter, for example, or calling your spouse a “ball and chain”) are just plain weird, and Kristina and Carol capture that element of the bizarre so well. I love the faux-dictionary definitions sprinkled throughout this cycle, too, asking us to reconsider what we take for granted.
What was the collaboration process like between you and the duo?
I worked with Joe and Alyssa on a setting of another poem by Kristina (“Footnotes to a History of the Moon”). As an ensemble, the dream songs project is up for anything, musically speaking. As a composer working with them, I feel free to be as weird or genre-bending as I want in any given moment, and that’s a great feeling! They’re exactly what a composer wants in a good collaboration: performers whose individual strengths inspire you to write more ambitious music—music that stretches everyone involved as artists and humans.
You are a writer in addition to being a composer. How often do you set your own texts, and how does your experience as a writer impact how you choose texts to set, and how you interact with those words?
When I’m writing my own texts—about half of the time that I’m composing—I try to first write a poem that can stand on the page on its own, without music. When I set that poem, I approach it the way I would any other text, looking for repeated images or linked phrases, then for ways I can unite or light up these words with song. The benefit of working with my own words is, of course, that I can add those elements in as I’m composing or adjust whatever isn’t working without asking for anyone else’s permission. But the downside is that I’m not nearly as inventive of a poet as Kristina Marie Darling or Carol Guess or any of the other outstanding writers I’ve worked with. I derive such joy from getting to analyze poetry as part of what I do, so I don’t think I’ll stop setting other writers’ words any time soon!
THE DREAM SONGS PROJECT
X MARKS THE DRESS