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2 LAURIE AND UNITED STATES How did thisfour-partUnited States performance begin? I did a birthday party concert for Horace Solomon at Carnegie Recital Hall in 1979. That was an early version of PartI, then called Americans on the Move. It was a sort of holiday for keyboards with six of us playing because I wanted a really massive sound. When I did other versions of that piece later by myself, I began to see what the important parts were and to weed out the musical lines that didn't need to be there. Then what happened was that I had to fill it up somehow and be more in the foreground myself. Then in a way, I felt more comfortable because I had more control. Americans on the Move, Part I, or asyou now call it, United States, Part I, is a solo performance with afew supportingplayers. In Part IIyou worked with a large rock band. How did that affectyour performance? The problem was how to keep my words foreground and still let the music cook. The rock solution is to use repetitive language, that's one choice. But a one-shot concert is not like a record where you have a chance to pick it up after listening three or four times. A Talk With John Howell Photographs by Paula Court You either hear the words and pay a lot of attention to them or you don't bother. So I tried to keep the instrumentation real simple by keeping the musical pitches within talking range. Then you can pay the same kind of attention to the voice as to the melody. But even then, with so many people coming in with their musical lines, I didn't feel quite free enough to put more of myself in. So I didn't feel that I was quite there in the Orpheum performance. Does Part II have a solo version? I just performed it solo for the first time and I liked it a lot better although I missed hearing the other musicians. Let's talk aboutPartII's songs. Theprogramnote says the song "0 Superman '" is 'for Massenet. " How did that happen? I heard a concert by Charles Holland, an incredible singer who worked with Fletcher Henderson in the thirties. He couldn't get much work in the United States so he moved to Amsterdam. He and Dennis Russell-Davies did a concert in Berkeley that I heard 3 in May. The guy was so nervous because he was coming home after thirty years ofbeing a musical exile that he couldn't sing. He dropped his glasses, dropped the music, apologized after each song, saying, "I'm sorry, this is a beautiful song and I've ruined it." The audience was just dying for him. Then he began this Massenet song which is really a kind of prayer: "0 Souverain, 0 Juge, 0 Pere," then lyrics that say "All my dreams of glory are gone, your picture is in my soul, I submit to you, the light is dark, the soldiers march." I could only pick up fragments of the French. Suddenly he could sing because this song was an appeal for help. It was an amazing turnaround moment, the feeling in that room was very intense, and everyone was so relieved. I couldn't stop thinking about those first five notes of the melody-after that I couldn't remember how it went. So "0 Superman" was made around those fragments. WHat about that counterpoint line behind the main theme? Sometimes it sounds like "Ha-ha-ha-Ha-ha-ha," like laughter, andothertimes it sounds like "Ah-ah-ah-Ah-ah-ah," like sighs. I thought of it as "ah." Rudolph Steiner thought that children should be taught the alphabet by getting them to believe that every sound has an emotion. So that when they pronounce "a," they should really let loose an "AH." Haveyou heard this technique in action?It soundsfrightening. It is. I heard it in Bern at a special school. Didyou think about Part II as being infantile? Sure. Babies is a kind of theme, this is a piece for a certain kind of baby...


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