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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Village Store Verbatim

This past Saturday afternoon I was at home randomly flipping through the hundreds of channels on the cable box and hit upon something interesting on New Hampshire Public Television (NHPTV). It was some kind of musical stage performance, and it drew me in. I didn't recognise the music. Some of it was based on American vernacular music such as the Blues. Some of it was reminiscent of Kurt Weill. The lyrics were rather unusual. It appeared to be a performance taking place in an actual country store.

Suddenly the camera panned over to the conductor, who I immediately recognised as one of my composer colleagues from graduate school at Brandeis: Larry Siegel.

Since 1987 Larry has made his home in Monadnock Region of south-western New Hampshire. He is a composer, conductor, and Director of Tricinium Limited - a 501(c)(3) organization.

The television broadcast was of his stage work The Village Store Verbatim. It is an ingenious "folk" opera constructed from content recorded from real-life conversations in a public settings. In this case it was the country store in the small town of Westmoreland, NH. From what I've learned, the work was written in the early 1990s and produced as four Episodes for NHPTV which aired around the nation. In 1998 it was re-staged by the UNH Opera Workshop under the direction of David Ripley.

The idea of documenting ordinary public dialogue, and transforming it into musical theatre is apparently a concept that has wings. The "Verbatim Project" has been applied to other communities - including the Town of Peterborough, NH. There is precedence for this. I've heard that Peterborough was also the source of inspiration for Thornton Wilder's classic play "My Town" and the subsequent 1940 movie based on it.

Siegel's Village Store Verbatim will be rebroadcast on NHPTV next month (December 9, 21, and 22).