Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Positively Mona Lyn Reese / Mark Alburger
Mona Lyn Reese is a neoclassic composer based in San Jose, who has spent much of the past decade in Germany and India. Her husband Thomas Hassing has served as her librettist in several operas. I caught up with Mona at her comfortable home in the north of town on January 13, 2011.
ALBURGER: So, you've only been back from India for a couple of years.
REESE: We got back in July of 2008. And then Tom started working at Global Foundries, where he's the Director of Intellectual Property.
ALBURGER: And meanwhile he writes.
REESE: Yes, he does. He was actually in the last production of The Three Fat Women of Antibes at San Jose State. The part that he played was a supernumerary who only appears at the end, and only in one piece. The director said, "We're having a hard time finding someone to play the part." So I said, "Tom will do it." "Really, do think so?" "Well, he's going to be there anyway, so, why not? He knows the lines!" Then I came to find that Tom had never been in a play in his life, not even as a child. Not even a Nativity play at church; he hadn't even been a shepherd. But he does a lot of acting classes. When I worked with young kids, getting them to write their own operas (at one of the places I've worked in that capacity: The Twin Cities Opera Company), Tom was helping with the writing. He was great; he was playing the mirror game -- he was fantastic! We've been together for 25 years, and I never knew that he had never been on the stage!
ALBURGER: So, how'd he do?
REESE: He was good.
REESE: He wasn't great. He was terribly nervous. He was really nervous. Fortunately, for him, the person who was the director is a really good friend. We were friends with Daniel Helfgott and Barbara Turner before we did this project. So Daniel and Tom had to have a little coaching, and their coaching was to go for a long walk, without Barbara and me. And then Tom got a hat that he was supposed to wear.
ALBURGER: Something to help him be in the character.
REESE: To be in the character. And, once he had his hat, which we got him pretty quickly (he was supposed to be a 1930's playboy-prince, with a white hat, and once he had it to make gestures, it was....
ALBURGER: Magic. The Magic Feather.
REESE: A magic thing! He went from stiff and horrible to...
REESE: Yes, not great...
ALBURGER: But good.
REESE: The improvement was marked. And once we got to the performances... he was good.
ALBURGER: So that series of performances was in...
ALBURGER: 2009. What else has been happening?
REESE: Oh, I finished recording Choose Life, with the San Jose Choral Project and San Jose Chamber Orchestra. It's an hour long I-really-don't-know-what-to-call-it. It's for chorus, soloists, and orchestra. There's a Gregorian chant choir and a narrator. When it's performed, everybody dresses up. It's about the Holocaust, and everybody dresses up like people of the time -- some rich, some poor. And it's staged. The people sing from the music, but directors usually have them -- depending on the size of the space -- moving around.
ALBURGER: Kind of like an opera-oratorio.
REESE: Kind of like an opera-oratorio. It was done in 2000 at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, which was the organization that commissioned it, a long time ago in the 90's. It's been performed quite a lot. In this recent production, they had dancers for some of it, with modern dancers from Notre Dame, who choreographed a couple of the pieces that were just really moving. So that finally, finally, finally happened, after years of trying to get the money, and get organized, and find somebody that could do it that wasn't going to be in the Czech Republic, or something like that. I don't mind working with European groups along those lines, but I wanted to do this in the United States, if I could. So I finally finished that. We just finished it in October.
ALBURGER: Finished it in terms of the performances?
REESE: Finished recording it at Skywalker Studio.
ALBURGER: Oh, wow.
REESE: Yes, because it's been performed a lot, and everybody does it differently. Now there's going to be a performance of that piece -- I don't if they're doing the whole piece, with all of the choruses -- by a group in New York. So, I've been doing that, and then I've been working on getting the promotions for Three Fat Women ready -- mailing lists...
ALBURGER: And that's going up again?
REESE: Well, excerpts from it, in a similar fashion as with San Francisco Cabaret Opera, at Bluegrass Opera, in Kentucky. The Bluegrass people are going to do six sets of new opera excerpts, and after they see how the pieces go and what the audience response is, they're going to choose two of the operas over the summer. But I've been working on the marking for Three Fat Women, and my daughter, who's also an opera singer, is really good at Excel and Word, and she's making a big mailing list, so I can market it. Because, if nobody knows about it, they why did I bother? Tom and I are also working on a new opera, but we're just in the libretto stages.
ALBURGER: Working title?
REESE: It's an unimportant book called The Glimpses of the Moon.
ALBURGER: The Glimpses of the Moon.
REESE: It's a romantic comedy. I don't like tragedy. I am a happy girl! I am a happy girl, and I don't... see... why... You know, almost every single new piece is this doom and gloom... So depressing. Nixon in China, or that man who was killed by the pirate terrorists, I can't think of the name...
ALBURGER: You mean The Death of Klinghoffer?
REESE: Klinghoffer! Yes, I do! Depressing...
ALBURGER: So that's not your thing?
REESE: Nah, no. So here I am, just telling you about my Holocaust Oratorio!
ALBURGER: Right! Well, so there you go!
REESE: But, you see, that was a commission!
ALBURGER: So, you naturally gravitate towards the happy, but you'll do a sad on spec.
REESE: Sure, but I'll tell you that the commissioners -- the Temple Israel, the Basilica of St. Mary, and the College of St. Benedict -- didn't want a horror story.
ALBURGER: Right. So, they wanted something uplifting.
REESE: A situation in which you would feel good -- or feel cleansed or uplifted -- by the end.
REESE: Yes, so that's what we did. And that's why we titled it Choose Life.
ALBURGER: Choose Life.
REESE: It's from Deuteronomy. There's a verse, "Today I will choose life."
ALBURGER: So that, would you say, would be a through-line in your work: the positive?
ALBURGER: And where did this all start? Your background in music -- where did you get the spark?
REESE: Oh, you know, I'll tell you something: I always wanted to be a composer! I just did. I'm so dumb, Mark, that I thought... Listen, this is what I really and truly thought, that, if you wanted to compose music... Or, you know, if you wanted to major in English, you would go to the English Department and they would teach you... In music, they would teach you how to write... music. That's why you went to music school... I mean, of course, obviously, I knew that people wanted to, you know, play better, and so on, and I knew that that was part of it, but I really and truly thought that it was about composition. And, of course, it's true, you do go to music school and learn how to be a composer.
REESE: You do. But that was so much in my brain, that I couldn't imagine why anybody would go to college and major in English who wouldn't want to write stories, or write novels. Because, people that went to art school wanted to paint pictures, right?
REESE: And sculpt things and, you know, make macrame plant holders, or whatever. And I thought that's what you would do analogously in music. And I was in music school for the first two years or so, and I finally went up to a teacher. I went to the University of Minnesota at Morris, which was a very small school, and my parents lived in that town, and I lived a home. And I went to the head of the theory department, who was also a composer, and I knew that, because we had played his music in the concert band that I was in. And I said, "Dr. Johnson, I want to write music, and when do we take a course in composition?" He just looked at me, because most of the kids wanted to be music teachers. They were in education. They had their music, and that's what they were thinking about doing. My father was a barber. I said to my parents, "I really want to do this." They didn't know what to think. I knew, but I didn't know how to tell anybody, in a way. And, it's my mother's fault, because she always took me to concerts and such in Minneapolis when I was a little girl. She took me to Orchestra Hall when I was six, and I was sitting there, "I wanna do this! This is what I want!"
ALBURGER: What were some of the pieces that made the first impressions on you?
REESE: Oh, Handel. Our town orchestra did Messiah every year, and I remember looking forward to that all year long. I was a really tiny little kid. It was my thing. My father didn't care about that stuff. I had two brothers, and they were little, and didn't want to go. But I can remember going when I was six. Because I was sitting like this, you know? [demonstrates]. When you're six, and you're sitting in the adult chairs at the auditorium?
ALBURGER: Yes! Edith Ann....
REESE: And I didn't fall asleep. My mom took me when I was 12 to see Tosca. The Metropolitan Opera would come to Minneapolis -- they used to; they don't anymore. There was a traveling Metropolitan Opera. They came, and I saw Renata Tebaldi. I've never forgotten. I thought, "I wanna do that!"
ALBURGER: But not "sing that." "Write that."
REESE: Yes, I never wanted to sing it, but I wanted to be in it, somehow.
ALBURGER: You knew you wanted to buy into it in some way.
REESE: Yes. I wanted to be that. I wanted to do that.
ALBURGER: How far away is Minneapolis from your hometown?
REESE: A three-hour drive.
ALBURGER: It was a pilgrimage.
REESE: Kind of. Except that my grandmother -- my mom's mother -- lived there.
ALBURGER: So you had other reasons to go.
REESE: Yes, occasionally we would go just to attend. But usually it wasn't as if we would drive for three hours and see the event and come home..
ALBURGER: You'd stay.
REESE: We'd sleep over, or we'd go the day before. I know my mom's friend, Maxine, and her daughter also enjoyed the concerts. Plus we'd go to nice restaurants, matinees, and attend the Guthrie Theater. My mother really liked drama.
ALBURGER: In general, however, yours was a small-town rural situation.
REESE: Morris, Minnesota, but there's a branch of the University there.
ALBURGER: A small town with culture.
REESE: Yes, lot's of professors hanging around. At the time I lived there, it was quite a vibrant town. Now, I wouldn't say it's a ghost town, there's still lots of manufacturing... And the University is still there -- they've got a great campus -- a very vibrant life. But, previously, there were all of these great stores and restaurants, back in the 50's and 60's. And now, there's nothing.
ALBURGER: So you were born...
REESE: August 24, 1951.
ALBURGER: So the town was vibrant enough then for a good undergraduate education?
REESE: Yes, and then, for graduate school, before which I took some time off doing other things...
ALBURGER: The other things being?....
REESE: I went and I lived in Key West, Florida, for a little while, and just I was a lifeguard. I had done four years of academics in three years of school, and I had still graduated with honors, and I was fried.
ALBURGER: So it was time to do something different.
REESE: And I didn't know where I wanted to go to graduate school, so I went and I lived in Florida for a couple of years.
ALBURGER: Well, being in Minnesota for a certain length of time, it seems like Florida...
REESE: It seemed like it would be a great idea. So I did go there, and then, after that, I went to the University of Kansas, and I got my Masters in Music Composition.
ALBURGER: What were some of your earliest compositions? Were they done at the University, or before in Florida?
REESE: I never wrote anything in Florida. I didn't have a piano. I'll tell you, sometimes you can get really academically tired. And I was academically tired. I played my guitar and I didn't do anything musical except apply to graduate school. I did that.
ALBURGER: The Florida stint was?...
REESE: Just a year and a half.
ALBURGER: You had earned an extra year...
REESE: Yes, sort of like that. So then I was looking for a place to go to school, and I liked the composition program at the University of Kansas. I was accepted, I had done well -- my undergraduate marks were good. I studied there with John Pozdro and Edward Mattila -- my two main teachers. One is about a hundred by now.
ALBURGER: Another Elliott Carter. What about those first pieces?
REESE: I'm trying to remember. Pieces from grad school, some of them I still like. I wrote some songs, a piano piece, and some small chamber ensembles...
ALBURGER: Any titles come to mind?
REESE: I'm trying to think... This is terrible... Oh, I know. One song cycle that I wrote was called Love Poems to the Moon. Oh, I wrote a song that I still like -- I still like. And I get in trouble with ASCAP for it, too. It's a poem by Arthur Rimbaud called Le dormeur du val. Which is "The Sleeper in the Valley." It's an anti-war piece that he wrote some time in the 19th Century. It's a very good piece. It's a good piece. People still perform it, and I like it a lot. There's a pop artist from the 50's or 60's, his name was Yves Montand -- this French singer, who recorded a jazz version of music on this same poem. So they keep sending me his checks! I keep saying, "This is not my piece. This is not my piece."
ALBURGER: You never tried to cash one of those checks.
REESE: Well, yes, the checks are written out to me, because...
ALBURGER: They think it's your piece.
REESE: They think it's my piece, because he's a singer. But I didn't write that version. He was the lover of Edith Piaf, or somebody like that...
ALBURGER: Well, you're very honorable. Because, I've got to admit, when I have checks with my name on them from ASCAP, I cash them!
REESE: Well, you know what? It's easy to do, because sometimes there are a bunch of pieces, because I've done lots of arrangements for the Minnesota Orchestra when I lived in Minneapolis, and I might do Prokofiev. Well, I'm not really allowed to do an arrangement of Prokofiev, because he's still under the copyright. But they're only doing, you know, an excerpt for a children's concert; I'm not going to worry about it. But the orchestra could get in big, big, big, trouble if anybody from that publisher found out about it, and so could I. So that money, if it's going to anyone, is going to Prokofiev's heirs. So I just tell them, I did an arrangement of that, and they say, "Fine, fine, fine." We're not talking about a lot of money. This money I got from the anti-war piece was maybe a hundred dollars. It's nothing. Itunes sells an album of it for 99 cents, and somebody buys that song, and I get a check for 35 cents, or something. So there was that piece. And I wrote the big composition called, Three Moods for Piano, or something like that. You write these pieces...
ALBURGER: Do you keep a works list?
REESE: Oh, yes. And around this same time, I did get my first professional composition commission at 24, when I had not yet graduated from Kansas. I just had my thesis and defense to do. I had done my recital. Everything else was done.
ALBURGER: And this was for your Masters? Doctorate? Both.
REESE: I have a master's. I don't have a doctorate. So I worked in the Art Department. I was an art model.
REESE: I tell you that now that my parents are dead. They would be just shocked! They're rolling now, I'm sure! Yes, anyway, I worked in the Art Department, and was a model. I got to know the professors -- a lot of them very well. This one professor knew that I was a music student. The music department had lots and lots and lots of student concerts, usually held in large classrooms. Because, otherwise without recitals, if you don't hear your music and you don't get critiques, what's the point? You can't learn anything until you see what happens. So this teacher had come to hear my piece, just because he knew me from the art department. He liked what I wrote a lot, and he was making this documentary on different folk arts in Kansas -- people that make wavy sheets that go [makes a whirring sound], and have their whole yards full of these things -- all kinds of folk arts. He asked me to write the music for the film, and I was really surprised and pleased. He was able to get the Kansas Woodwind Quintet, from their Symphony Orchestra, to play it, with percussion.
ALBURGER: Woodwind quintet with percussion.
REESE: Yes. Woodwind quintet with percussion. I could have picked anything else, I guess. But at that time I was most comfortable with winds, because I was a flute player. That was easy for me. I knew I wouldn't screw up.
ALBURGER: When did you start playing flute?
REESE: Oh, I was eight. I was terrible.
REESE: I said "I'm terrible."
REESE: I don't like to play. I can't say that's true. I wasn't terrible -- they gave me a degree in music! So, clearly, I wasn't terrible.
ALBURGER: Well, your focus was somewhere else.
REESE: I didn't get a degree in Music Composition as an undergraduate, because they didn't offer a Composition degree.
ALBURGER: Let me guess: They probably had Music Ed and Music Performance. Period
REESE: Yes. That's it, so I got the latter. They didn't have a Composition degree.
ALBURGER: Well, I have a degree that just says, "Music," from Swarthmore College. It's not specific at all.
REESE: Right. And, of course, when I went to the University of Kansas, I have a Master of Music in Theory and Composition. But the other one doesn't say anything. It just says, "Bachelor of Arts," and that's what I have.
REESE: So, it wasn't my joy. It was fun, I liked it. But I graduated, I got that degree in Flute Performance and I never played again.
ALBURGER: Wow, how about that.
REESE: Yes, I never did. I just wanted to write.
ALBURGER: Well, clearly, you were not great, you were "good."
REESE: I was good when I was 22, and then, if you never play again, you're not good anymore.
ALBURGER: That's true. But it gave you the behind-the-music experience, such that you were particularly comfortable writing for winds.
REESE: Yes. Actually, I can't say I never played again. I did, of course I played again. Oh, I played the double bass, too, when I was an undergraduate. When I lived to Key West, and I said, "I didn't do anything in music," well, that's not true, because the town was going to do, guess what?, my favorite piece, Messiah, and the town orchestra and choir (they were really terrible) didn't have anyone to play the bass. And I said, "Well, I know how to play the bass, but I don't have one." And so I got a bass from the school -- someone let me borrow one. I was not very good, but I was better than nobody.
ALBURGER: Well, yes, sure. Writing for woodwinds and percussion would suggest that you certainly by this time were now attuned to many composers beyond Handel.
REESE: Oh, sure. I was in graduate school.
ALBURGER: Were there 20th-century composers that particularly impacted on your reality?
REESE: You know, I really like Harry Partch.
ALBURGER: How about that? Me, too.
REESE: I love Harry Partch, you know, and he's so out there. And Lou Harrison.
ALBURGER: Those crazy Californians!
REESE: Well, we studied those composers. I went to a small school, but it didn't mean that they had idiots working there. They were good teachers and fine musicians.
ALBURGER: So you were even exposed to such composers as an undergraduate?
REESE: Oh yes, and I liked them. Do you remember those great big computers with punch cards?
REESE: We were doing a unit on computer music, and I had a boyfriend at the time who was taking computer at school -- a math major, computer, engineer, something like that. So we tried to get the computer to generate music for us. We didn't know what we were doing. It wasn't to make the computer play the music but just...
ALBURGER: Compose it.
REESE: And we had as mixed success as many doing this, but we did it. And it was fun.
ALBURGER: And that was as an undergraduate.
REESE: Yes, I suppose was maybe 19. And we had all these punch cards, and we'd get them in a line. And we couldn't have to print out on music paper, it would be numbers, and the numbers would mean certain things.
ALBURGER: And then you'd have to translate them.
ALBURGER: That's a long time ago.
REESE: It's a very long time ago.
ALBURGER: I remember doing related things with spaceships orbiting the moon, with punchcards, and my spaceship "orbiting the moon," went right through the center of the moon.
REESE: Oh, good. Did it crash and burn?
ALBURGER: It must have. Multiple times. I guess that's why I turned away from computers for quite a while, but now I'm back.
REESE: Now you're back.
ALBURGER: Full guns. So, you got this first commission when you were still a graduate student, so that's good.
REESE: Well, yes, but I was done. I was done. I had to do my what-do-you-call-it-they-stand-up-and-ask-you-a-bunch-of-questions...
ALBURGER: The defense of your dissertation, or thesis...
REESE: Yes, that. Oral examination. That's what I hadn't done yet.
ALBURGER: Well, suddenly the world is before you. What happens next?
REESE: After that? I had moved to Minneapolis, because that's where my family was. I stayed with my grandmother for a few weeks, while I found an apartment. I got a job in a music store, signed up to play and sing in choir, just got connected. I got a job teaching theory for people who didn't read music -- for guitar players in rock bands, and so on. There was an alternative school called The West Bank School of Music, and I got a job teaching there.
ALBURGER: So it was basically moving to Minneapolis to seek your fortune.
REESE: Well, I moved to Minneapolis because I could knew I get a job. I certainly wasn't going move back to Morris. There was definitely nothing for me there, because I didn't have a doctor's degree, and I wouldn't be able to get a job at the University.
ALBURGER: Maybe even if you had a doctorate.
REESE: Well, I wouldn't want to live there. I wouldn't want to live there. But I never wanted to be a teacher, either. A lot of people think, "I'd like to be a university professor." I certainly would have done that. I went on one job interview, and I just thought to myself after the interview (because at that time you didn't need to have that Ph.D. -- you just needed to have a master's degree, and they cared more about whether you were good), "Golly, I don't want to do that." So I thought, "OK, fine. Well, I'll think of something. I'll do something." And I just thought, "I'm going to compose music," and I composed music, "That's what I'm going to do, I'm going to compose music." And so that's what I did. I mean, I did all sorts of other crappy jobs, too. And I worked at that music store, and I worked at the West Bank School of Music, and I gave guitar lessons at Golden Valley Lutheran College, and worked at a department store. All those kinds of things that musicians do.
REESE: And I kept getting commissions, and I kept doing that.
ALBURGER: So the commissions kept coming in, that's great.
REESE: They did. Not enough to pay very well...
ALBURGER: But enough to keep you interested.
REESE: Well, and the lessons...
ALBURGER: And like so many people, just kind of putting the career together out of various components.
REESE: Yes, and I did that until the time that Tom and I got married. And Tom makes a boatload of cash, so I don't have to do the icky stuff anymore. Oh, and you know, I did all these arrangements for the Minnesota Orchestra -- tons of them, it seems like there were hundreds of them. Well, it was OK. I actually wrote a piece for these kinderconcerts, in which they use an ensemble of nine musicians, and they put the childen on the stage (we're talking about people who are four and five years old), and the musicians are seated amongst them. The kids are right there. They play a bunch of different pieces, short. A slice of Prokofiev to get the good part -- you know, the theme. Each piece is maybe five pieces long, or two minutes long -- dozens of those. But I wrote one of those pieces, where they have a narrator -- a new piece for that ensemble. That piece is really taking off. Right now, the Atlanta Symphony is playing it.
ALBURGER: And that piece is called?
REESE: The Mitten. I'm sure you've read that story. It's about a little boy who goes to gather firewood and he's in some cold country -- Sweden or Norway or the Ukraine, or some place like that -- and he drops his mitten in the snow. In comes a little mouse, and she pops in there to get warm, and pretty soon a frog and an owl and a whole bunch of animals, until finally there's a bear. And they're all squished together in the mitten, and the last animal that comes is a little cricket. And she jumps in the mitten and it explodes. It just pops.
ALBURGER: I think I've come across that.
REESE: I'm sure you have, because it's a very popular story, and it's a folk tale type. I love that piece, it turned out really well. I was in my 30's when I wrote that, so it was real professional picece. It was a real piece... does that make sense?
ALBURGER: Sure. So, how much have you written on The Mitten?
REESE: Ten minutes.
ALBURGER: That's a pretty substantial piece for a children's concert, with short attention spans.
REESE: But it's a story, it's like Peter and the Wolf.
ALBURGER: Stories help.
REESE: It's one of the pieces that I'm transferring to Finale and Sibelius after using other programs.
ALBURGER: Do you notate by hand, or directly into the computer?
REESE: A little of both. When I'm thinking, I write by hand.
ALBURGER: You approach that by pencil and paper?
REESE: Yes. I do a lot of singing when I compose. I'm not a terribly wonderful pianist, I play.
ALBURGER: By now thought, you're probably better at piano than flute.
REESE: No, I don't know about that. But I sing it all, and get the notes that I want, and I write it down and work on that, then after a bit, if I want to massage or sequence it, I'll put it into the computer.
ALBURGER: A lot of people still do that. Erling Wold, who's much more high-tech than I have, does something similar. But my handwriting is so bad, the moment I got a music-writing program in 1993, I never looked back. As a consequence, I have virtually no sketches anymore.
REESE: I have sketches, and most people that I talk to do. But you write very differently than I do; yours is a real different approach.
ALBURGER: Yes. So there you are in Minneapolis, and you're putting together a career, and where does Tom come in?
REESE: I was married once before. I moved to Minneapolis, I met my husband Frank, and we got married in 1979. In 1982, we had our daughter. And then after some time, I can't exactly remember when, we split up. That happens to people.
ALBURGER: Yes, what was his profession.
REESE: He was a violinmaker. I met him in church. I did, because I was singing in this wonderful choir. It was an auditioned group, and he was in it. His family was from Minneapolis. So I met him, not because we were both particularly religious, but just because we were in that.
ALBURGER: But you do have a religious background. Just growing up in the upper midwest might suggest Lutheranism?
REESE: Lutheran, that's what I was. I did become an Episcopalian later on, just because I thought Lutheranism was... boring. I'm not religious at all. I'm not religious at all. It was awhile ago, and I never felt particularly religious. But I liked going to church. Especially I like liturgical thing. I like the music. If there isn't any music, I'm not interested.
ALBURGER: And the Episcopalians are probably going to give you more of a run for your money.
REESE: Well, actually, you know, the one I went to was pretty liturgical.
ALBURGER: Yes, Lutherans can be.
REESE: But I was not a church-going individual, apart from the music. And I did a lot of church gigs, you know, because they pay you. They pay you to go to church.
ALBURGER: Right. Why not!
REESE: Why not! I said that one time to my daughter when she was going through a period when she was feeling religious, and I said, "I don't go to church unless somebody pays me." That was like blasphemy! She was really upset! Oh my goodness, she was terribly upset. Then about two years ago -- she's now 29, so she's gotten through a lot of that (I think that she was 19 or 20 when I said that to her) -- she called up, and I asked her if she was singing High Holidays this year. She's an opera singer; she lives in Chicago. And she said, "Ah, it's just more trouble than it's worth." And I said, "What about Christmas?" and she said, "I'm not going to church unless anyone pays me."
ALBURGER: She's come around.
REESE: And then finally she stopped doing High Holidays and Christmas. And she said, "I'll just do a solo spot."
ALBURGER: Your daughter is named...
REESE: Greer Davis.
ALBURGER: And you're still living in Minneapolis at this point. Did things get easier when you were married?
REESE: Not really. No, it was about the same, because Frank was a violinmaker. We weren't rolling in money, but we were fine. And I dated Tom for a terribly long time, and we got married in 1997, and moved out here that same year.
ALBURGER: Divorced in...
REESE: In the late 80's. We separated, and we didn't get the divorce for a while. It might have been 1990, or 89. The big bump up to my career was that I was the Composer-in-Residence at the Minneapolis Opera, starting in 1992.
ALBURGER: Wow, that is a big bump. That's great. You had been working with the Minnesota Orchestra previous to this. Was there a connection made between those two?
REESE: No. Not really. Actually, I got the opera job because of Libby Larsen. Libby Larsen had been asked to do this project with the Twin Cities Opera Guild, which is a less wonderful group than Minnesota Opera, and she didn't have time. And she told them to call me, because she said, "Mona could do that. She'd be really good at that. She'd do it." I haven't seen her in a long time, but we lived kind of close to each other, and we'd have coffee, and stuff like that. So she said, "Ask Mona to do it." And they did, and I did. And I said, "OK, yes, I have time, and it will be great fun, and I'll do it." So I called up the person who was Composer-in-Residence at the Minnesota Opera, and asked him if he would help me in my new position at Twin Cities. His name was Stephen Houtz. He was the main Composer-in-Residence, and they had somebody else that would do some of the gigs, too. Because there were too many school gigs for him to do all of them. The other person that they had, unbeknownst to me, was horrible (not Stephen), and they fired her. And Stephen said, "We've got to get someone else." And Stephen was going to move to a different position at the opera, and they we're going to let him do it, and he said, "I know who you should get." Because I had had that interview with him, and he had come to see one of my gigs. And he said, "That's who you should have." And their Director of Education, or whatever, called me one day, and I practically fell on the floor, because you don't get those jobs. You don't apply for jobs like that, because, otherwise, they'd never get to the end of the applications. But, you know, that's how art business works. You get from this to that, and so on. So that's how I got that job, and I stayed there for a long time. In fact, I was there when Tom and I got married, and we moved to California, and I resigned. And they said, "You can't quit; we don't have anybody." And I said, "Yeah?" This was '97, and I'd been there since '92. And they said, "Just do two, three more gigs for us." And I did two, three more years.
ALBURGER: Wow, so you'd fly back?
REESE: I'd fly back.
ALBURGER: As Composer-in-Residence, did they did ever do any of your pieces?
REESE: No, of course not.
ALBURGER: Isn't that a funny term?
REESE: What you were supposed to do, and what you actually ended up doing were not the same thing.
ALBURGER: Still, it's a wonderful title. And a great experience, I'm sure.
REESE: It was. I did arrangements for them when they used to take pieces on the road, I did Magic Flute. A whole orchestra of however many it is and I reduced orchestrations for 20-30 people. And I gave little talks before the operas. They needed a composer on staff, because you need somebody that can "do things" -- that kind of stuff.
Posted by Mark Alburger at 10:00 PM
Labels: Mark Alburger, Mona Lyn Reese