This is my first post since the pandemic. Like many of us, I did not quite know what to do when it all came down. Over a hundred of my scheduled performances were canceled and I was left home wondering where it was all heading.
Thankfully, it was not long before colleagues started reaching out for some composing projects. I did a short film, an online theater experiment, a composition for four basses to be performed outside, and had an outside, socially-distanced visit with pianist friend Lars Potteiger, and Tammy Black, artistic director of Berks Opera Company. This meeting led to a commission which has kept me busy throughout the pandemic. The new opera “These Valleys and Mountains: Berks Legends” will be performed on Friday, June 17, 2022 at the Miller Center for the Arts in Reading, Pennsylvania.
These Valleys and Mountains
Mountain Mary left a legacy of loving spirituality and profound healing. Matthias Schaumbacher left the opposite: a legend of greed and violence. How have the seeds planted in the stories of these two people, who lived such different lives, grown in this place we call home?
I will skip most of the obvious rehashing of this bizarre year and get to my personal highlights.
I started the year with my usual trip to Florida for some gigs and some comraderie with the Alex Meixner Band. One more short tour, then home for my favorite theater event of the year: Reading Theater Projects 5-minute Fringe Festival. After that, everything changed.
One-by-one, all my gigs disappeared. My calendar went from well over one hundred performances to single digits.
Almost immediately, I received a call from a music publisher who needed thirty concert band arrangements edited in Sibelius (a task for which I am well-suited). It was over a month of work at a time when every phone call or email was a cancellation.
Another commission which came in during a busy touring time for me was for Berks Sinfonietta, a wonderful professional orchestra whose imaginative programming compliments its great performances. They asked me to adapt a piece I had written for piano and voice (soprano) to an arrangement for choir and piano. The piece is set to a poem by Louise Bogan. My schedule now allowed me to finish this piece and now eagerly await a time when choirs may resume performing.
During that time, I was fortunate enough to receive another call to compose a jingle for Berks Arts, a local nonprofit which presents the world famous Berks Jazz Fest (which, of course was postponed for at least a year). I was flattered to be asked and grateful both for the work and that they hired locally. We really do have a rich arts community here.
Then, in late November, I received word that a grant proposal submitted by Berks Opera Company for my to compose several short operas on the subject of local historical figures was granted.
A few weeks ago, musical colleague Dave Pedrick invited me to be on his Working Musician Podcast. I was a little concerned because 1) I don’t talk very much and 2) when I do, I don’t really like talking about myself. Well, Dave really does a great job with his podcast and he really got me talking.
Dave made me remember some really great things from my life in music….teachers, students, bands, concerts, and more. It made me realize I have done a lot of different things in music and have had many great experiences and met so many great and interesting people. Maybe I will start writing more about these things before I forget them.
Working Musician Podcast; Episode 066 Chris Heslop
I have been composing for a few different things lately. Firstly, I have a large project with a deadline fast-approaching. Joel Gori’s musical play “Pipers Pitch-a modern fairytale for adults” is a big priority right now, since the score is due by July 4th. The show will run in September/October 2018.
Soon after that deadline, my home-town band “Hot Club of Reading” will be recording its first CD the following weekend (July 6/7). I am composing a few tunes for that album, which will include some standards as well.
Thirdly, I will be creating once again with Sue Lange, this time with filmmaker Tracy Schott as well. It is for a TV pilot which will also call for some hot jazz. Really looking forward to seeing was they have come up with this time.
I am back the road again with the Alex Meixner Band. Last week we were in Helen Georgia and are currently in southeast Texas doing some Fasching gigs. It’s great to be back with the band after a few weeks home. We had a rehearsal yesterday at Joe Trevino’s studio in San Antonio. Great guy to work with! We added a few new tunes to the repertoire.
A few weeks ago I decided to write a piece for Reading Theater Project’s “5-Minute Fringe” based on the writings of George Washington. It is titled “George Washington’s Greatest Hits,” and will be performed by Vicki Haller Graff, with me on piano and washboard.
Sue Lange and Andrew Pochan are at it again! We are shooting a pilot for what I think is called “The Dust Nuggets.” Stay tuned for more info on this. After the shoot I will be able to compose the score.