I don’t often write poetry. Sometimes I get the odd one, but I almost never share my poems.
But when I do, they become opera arias…
Story time! New Zealand and I adopted each other long ago. I love the landscape, the people, the culture, the history…but when I backpacked around the country by myself, I got a little homesick. To be clear: I had an amazing time, with once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and I do not regret a single second.
And I also missed home.
So, one day while riding the InterCity bus between towns, I stared out the window at the impossibly green, mist-shrouded hills, and I composed some verse in my head. When I got to the backpackers’ that night, I tapped it out on my phone. Several weeks later, when I came home, I transferred it to my computer.
I liked it. Nothing super fancy or experimental; I wanted something simple. It had an interesting meter, though. The pattern of stressed syllables reminded me of someone running. Which was exactly what I wanted. It captured those nights in hostel bunk beds, staring at the bunk above me and trying to work out which direction home lay. I figured the poem might be interesting set to music (again, that very bare, understated pub song feel), but I don’t compose. Heck, I barely write poetry.
I came home. I forgot about it.
Fast forward to January 2013. I was rewriting the libretto for East o’ the Sun and West o’ the Moon. Since I was eighteen the first go-round and the performance requirements had changed in the interim, I was mostly rewriting from scratch.
Rose (our plucky young heroine) had an aria. There were some duets and trios, several chorus numbers for the kids. But the White Bear/Prince didn’t really have an aria of his own. I started thinking about how the enchanted Prince would feel: roaming through the northlands, lonely and just wanting to be warm again, waiting to come home…
And a spark of emotion and memory flared.
I dug into my files. I found the poem. It already had a strong meter; I’d already wondered if it would work with music.
Time to find out.
I slipped that poem into the opera almost unchanged (I think I altered the tense of one verb, maybe?). And there it’s stayed. My partner in this—composer Norbert Palej—did a beautiful job with the aria. I didn’t tell him what it was really about, and yet he crafted a lovely piece. The music aches.
Nothing you write is ever wasted. You never know when thoughts, emotions, and memories will reappear to inform your creative work. Save it—because someday, it may find its home.
Cool Thing of The Week
You didn’t think I’d go through all that without showing you the poem, right? I mean, it’s part of an opera now: I think I’ve lost any rights to qualms over sharing it!
I was waiting for the passing
Of the bleak and bitter night,
For the fleeing of the shadows
And the coming of the light.
I was waiting for the dawning
Of the absent summer sun,
And the waiting warmth that spurs me
On the distant roads I run.
I was waiting for the tasting
Of the season on the air,
For the old familiar fires
Breathing smoke upon my hair.
I was waiting for the greeting
And the chorus from the hearth,
For the end to all my calling
From the very end of Earth.
I was waiting for the sighing
When I stood before your door.
I am waiting, and so dying –
Waiting just a little more.
Last night was the first time I got to hear scenes from East o’ the Sun and West o’ the Moon performed by the kids.
“Uh, so I’m a really late addition,” I told the ticket-takers. “I hope I have tickets? Katie Bryski?”
One rifled through envelopes. “Who’s your chorister?”
“Oh, um, I don’t…” I awkwardly pointed to the giant sign a few metres away. “I wrote that.”
Thank goodness I made it out in the end. My synthesized score gives some idea of the music, but really, it has nothing on the human voice.
The piano thrummed the opening chords. I heard Norbert’s winds, the beautiful, aching yearning that characterizes this opera. I clutched my companion’s hand as the kids took their collective breaths, opened their mouths…
Those were my words. Those were my words, brought to life right in front of me. I’d been joking all evening about feeling like this:
Except it wasn’t just me. That’s the beautiful thing about writing for theatre. It’s never just you. We made this. My collaborator, Norbert Palej, is a stunningly talented composer. From a gorgeous wind motif, to witty (and biting) musical jokes, to incredibly complex duets and trios, I hear something new every time I listen to it.
And the kids. Man, those kids. They did it. They nailed it. Sure, this was only a few excerpts—but they got it. With accompaniment, with Norbert’s music, with the kids’ voices…it actually sounded like a real opera. Because somehow, it wasn’t real yet before. Not when I was tapping out meters on my desk while eating Jamaican patties. My own words hit me in a totally different way than they ever have before.
I haven’t even seen staging, set, or costumes yet, and each of those things represents another talent. Plus there’s the direction. Plus there’s the chamber orchestra.
So many different aspects, so many different people putting their work and creativity. Theatre is greater than the sum of its parts—its magic comes from this synthesis. And for me, experiencing my words brought to life—whether through a straight play, a podcast, an opera—is a high unlike any other. Even…and I almost hesitate to say this…even a book launch, or seeing my stories in anthologies or magazines isn’t the same.
Theatre lives. Theatre breathes. Theatre does different things than printed words, unlocks and punches a different part of my brain.
Yes, I write novels and short stories. Those will likely comprise the bulk of my writing. But as long as that magic remains in the theatre, I suspect that I shall always write for the stage in some way. There’s so much strength, potency, and love in collaboration; how could I not?
Now to prepare myself for that opening night energy. Just under three weeks until premiere.
Cool Thing of the Week
Obviously, this bear. This is one of 100 polar bears made by the CCOC. He is the polar bear from East o’ the Sun and West o’ the Moon, and he’s wearing a t-shirt with the CCOC logo.
And he sings music from the opera. The kids recorded a short segment that plays when you squeeze his paw.
Let me say that again.
This bear freaking sings words that I wrote!
This is one of the coolest things I have ever seen. I’m still in shock, actually.
Oh man, oh man, oh man…