Sunday, March 8, 2009

Tommy's Little Boat

Tommy's Little Boat is a rock-opera, featuring Adam Couper as Tommy, Rebecca Riggs as Tommy's mother, and Simon Palomares as the father/narrator.

Listen to Tommy's Little Boat

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Normally we'll do an opera in more traditional operatic style. I suspect (given the title and the obvious connection to The Who's Tommy) this was offered as a rock opera. I find it challenging to do a rock opera, and try and give the same sort of feeling as you'd get from a heavy guitar-bass-drums format, using just a piano.

Adam is a very strong singer, confident and clear. He doesn't wait for a musical offer to set a key, and he changes keys/feels at the perfect time. I managed to find his opening key pretty quickly, but there are other times (eg when his dad first makes an appearance) where you can clearly hear me hunting for his key. Adam carries on confidently, but I think the absence of music lets the opera down for a while. Once again, what I wouldn't give for perfect pitch.

This is not a textbook-perfect opera, but there are a few magical moments that I really love. My favourite is the piece that takes place around 2:30, just at the point where Tommy begins to understand why he can't read. The "I Can't Tell My Left From My Right" song is a great example of counterpoint, where each singer sets up a particular melody and rhythm for themselves. This is quite similar to the counterpoint technique Michael Pollock describes in his book Musical Improv Comedy: Creating Songs in the Moment. Adam's melody is complex, well patterned, and it is phrased very quickly; Rebecca's is soaring and holds for longer; Simon's is phrased somewhere between the two, and kind of injects itself around the others.

Haven't read Michael Pollock's books? Here's a short review: Buy them. If you need more convincing than that, I'll be reviewing both of his improv books soon.

Something I harp on about is making sure as a musician you're changed by what is on stage; if you get lost in your own momentum, you're hurting the scene. There's a good example of being changed at 2:20, as Rebecca sings "Tommy I told you" - I had just started to set up the next section, sort of a minor version of the previous section after Tommy figures out he can't read. Rebecca slowed it down with her vocal, so the music discarded that staccato rhythm to match what she was doing.

Right at the end, Simon does a really nice narrator voiceover to close the opera. Sadly he used the shotgun microphone, so Adam and Rebecca's closing song (which I suspect was another lovely counterpoint) is lost forever.

Download Tommy's Little Boat (mp3, 3.8 mb)

This is the fourth entry in a series of recordings of Songs and Operas from Brisbane's Lightning Doubles Theatresports from 1992/1993.

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