She Gets to Decide

She Gets to Decide began as a meditation on the controversial Balthus painting Thérèse Dreaming. While the painting seems unquestionably pervy to me, I am also struck by the power and self-sufficiency Thérèse radiates.

As I was working on the piece in the spring of 2018, the Bradley Garner/Wildacres Flute Camp story was all over my Facebook feed. That’s the saga where a well-regarded flute pedagogue was accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with several young women, stripped of all his teaching jobs and product endorsements, except by the head of the Wildacres Flute Camp, Anna Thibeault, who in defense of Garner, characterized young women as “nymphos” and “Lolitas” (She still has her job, by the way, but Garner no longer teaches at Wildacres Flute Camp.)

A collage from the newspaper account of this story, excerpts from the Poulenc Flute Sonata, and the MET audioguide for Thérèse Dreaming opens the piece. It ends with a setting of Judge Aquilina’s words to the young women who testified during the trial of gymnastics doctor Larry Nasser. The central section uses as its text an excerpt of hebephile pornography (by Alphonse Momas, published in 1900, and recorded by Florent Ghys,) the text of which is treated both as the locus of abuse, and as a possible mechanism for healing from that abuse.

Rainer Maria Rilke wrote in a letter to Balthus’ mother, Baladine Klossowska, who was Rilke’s lover at the time: “a barely arching bridge connects the terrible to the tender.”

Sometimes the way out is through.

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You can hear and see Lucy Dhegrae’s premiere performance of the piece by visiting 20 November in A Book of Days. You can also watch a long conversation Lucy and I had around and about the piece in February 2021.

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Here is a performing score for She Gets to Decide. The original version moves from pre-recorded to live piano, and adds a live violin part at the end of the piece. However, it is possible to perform the piece with everything except the voice pre-recorded. You can download the performance track by clicking the paypal button below and paying whatever amount you think reasonable, with my thanks for supporting this informal way of publishing:

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Can I have it without begging?

Since the 1980s I’ve been periodically making pieces for a varied range of ensembles and instrumentation responding to the marvelous secular songs of Guillaume de Machaut. I call the project Machaut in the Machine Age, and Can I have it without begging? is the seventh in the series. Can I have it without begging? takes as its starting point Ballade #19: Amours me fait desirer. The line that ends all three verses is “Que je l’aie sans rouver”, which translates to something like: “so I can have it without begging.”

Against the backdrop of the “Me too” movement, I understand the lyrics of Machaut’s song as part of a long history of attending to the lover’s feelings and ignoring the specificity of the beloved. Machaut talks about Love, not the specific woman, he regards himself as victimized by desire, he will die without it. I am fascinated by how I respond to that pronoun — “it” — how for me at this moment, it embodies everything wrong with how heterosexual desire is depicted in Western culture.

The piece I have made is for live flute and pre-recorded flute samples (recorded on bass and C flute by Margaret Lancaster.) The piece begins with the premise that the live and pre-recorded lines are in the same universe, they want the same things. But the live flute keeps trying to become a soloist, to relegate the pre-recorded track to accompaniment, getting more and more frustrated, begging for something that can never be achieved if the track is merely background.

The irony is that the “failure” the piece embodies is actually pretty fun to listen to. Sort of like the endless number of romantic comedies we’ve all grown up watching.

Can I have it without begging? was commissioned by the National Flute Association, Inc. for the 2018 Young Artist Competition. Special thanks to Lisa Bost, Wayla Chambo, and Margaret Lancaster for their thoughtful advice and artistry as I was writing the piece.

The piece is October 6th in my ongoing project, A Book of Days. That’s the day after the Harvey Weinstein story broke in the New York Times in 2017.

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TO THE PERFORMER:

The backing track starts softly and gets substantially louder; when setting levels, you’ll want to keep that in mind! Perhaps you should set the loudest level towards the end of the piece before beginning to play. At the beginning of piece you should strive to match the pre-recorded track (in volume and attitude); a certain tentativeness is attractive. Gradually become more and more self-serving and egotistical as the piece continues. By the end, you want to have something of a temper tantrum: you are playing the role of a perpetrator after all: don’t be polite!

Here is a score of the piece, please purchase the performance materials (including the optional video by Emma Courtney) by clicking the buy button below, and thank you for supporting this low-key way of publishing. The fee for the materials was originally $40, but I have set it to pay-as-you-can for the duration of the pandemic:

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