As a graduate student at Columbia University in 2001, Doug Geers experienced the events of Sept. 11 firsthand. Seven years later, Geers, now an associate professor at the UniversityâÄôs School of Music , is the composer behind a 90-minute electroacoustics musical score of a new Sept. 11 -inspired opera.
âÄúCalling: An Opera of ForgivenessâÄù made its debut Friday at LaMama , an experimental theatre club in New York City. The work is based on âÄúA MotherâÄôs Essays from Ground Zero ,âÄù a book written by Wickham Boyle , a New York writer and mother who lived blocks from ground zero. Boyle said the project began after she hired Geers to put music together for a fashion show she produced for New YorkâÄôs fashion week three years ago. While out for tea together, Boyle said she proposed the idea of turning her book into an opera. Geers agreed to take on the task of putting her words to music. Geers said his original motivation to take on the project was to work with Boyle again, but it turned into so much more. âÄúI had never written an opera before, but I said, âÄòIâÄôm going to do it and I am going to try,âÄôâÄù he said. The story, which Geers said is âÄúup-close and down to earth,âÄù follows the life of one family witnessing the attack on the World Trade Center and the journey they take from sadness to finding forgiveness and hope for the future. âÄúItâÄôs very personal. ItâÄôs not abstracting it. ItâÄôs really talking about people,âÄù Geers said. âÄúEveryone who experienced it has a story.âÄù Geers said he composed the opera in pieces, and segments of the show were performed as test runs at different venues. Boyle likened the process to preparing for a large holiday meal. âÄúYou know how you try out different courses on people and then serve it all for Thanksgiving?âÄù she said. âÄúItâÄôs kind of what we did.âÄù The University was the site of one of the workshops during the 2008 Spark Festival of Electronic Music and Arts in February. Timothy Bruett , a School of Music graduate student, sang the part of the father during the University workshop production. He said the use of electronic music makes the opera unique, especially during the scene when the plane hits the second tower. âÄúThe computer started making so many random, squealing noises,âÄù he said. âÄúIt was interesting, the noises [Geers] used to embody that. It literally sounded like twisting metal.âÄù Director of University Opera Theatre David Walsh directed the University workshop version of âÄúCallingâÄù and said although he liked the idea of the opera, he used the workshop as an opportunity to recommend some changes to Geers. âÄúThe tricky thing with a piece like this is weâÄôre still really close in time to that event,âÄù he said. âÄúAnd itâÄôs easy to get off on a sort of a sentimental track.âÄù Walsh said critiquing the work was important because he didnâÄôt want the work to portray just the dayâÄôs events, but rather a larger context. Although the story surrounds the events of Sept. 11, Geers said the action only sets the story in motion; itâÄôs not the ultimate message of the piece. âÄúItâÄôs a story of trying to find how you can cope with the bad things that happen in life,âÄù he said, âÄúand how you can find your way to the other side and find hope.âÄù Boyle said the line that truly defines the message of the opera comes from the character of a firefighter in the production who sings, âÄúThis is dedicated to all of us with more hope than hate.âÄù Everyone has something they need to move on from, she said. The opera runs through Sept. 28 in New York, but Walsh said there has been discussion of performing the full production of âÄúCallingâÄù at the University in the future. âÄúItâÄôs a pretty potent theme,âÄù he said. âÄúItâÄôs one of the landmark events in American history, even if it is recent. And, how one deals with that and thinks about it is of interest to people.âÄù