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Interviews

Billy Childs: Lyric

By Published: November 7, 2005

AAJ: No, but I've heard of it. The Spiegelman book, right?

BC: Yeah. The Art Spiegelman graphic novel about his father's trials and tribulations in Auschwitz. I found the book incredibly inspiring so I wrote a piece that was my take on what I was thinking after having read that book. "Voices Of Angels" is a cantata that I composed for chorus, orchestra, and soloists where the text is poetry written by children in the Terrezin concentration camp.

Terrezin was kind of this way station in the Czech Republic that the Nazis used as a propoganda tool to fool, perhaps an all too gullible Red Cross into thinking that the Jews weren't being harmed. Because they let a lot of Jewish culture flourish there, you know. Even still, like 90% of the people ended up in Auschwitz, Buchenwald, or Dachau anyway.

But this was kind of a way station. So, they let a lot of education...the elders educated the younger children. They let them write poetry and paint pictures and put on plays and play music. There's a musical that was written in there that there's a score to. It's like a children's musical. A lot of the stuff is really positive and happy sounding. Anyway, the poetry was taken from this collection called I Never Saw Another Butterfly and I set it to music. So, "Hope In The Face Of Despair" and "Voices Of Angels" are similar in that they both deal, directly or indirectly, with the Holocaust.

AAJ: I'd love to [hear it]. Is there going to be a recording available of "Voices Of Angels" put out?

BC: There's an archival recording which sounds damn good. The orchestra played incredibly and the chorus was unbelievable. Luciana Souza was a soloist on it.

AAJ: She's a wonderful singer.

BC: She sounded great. And we had a fifteen year old girl singing also. It was recorded at the Disney Concert Hall here. It was a really great night.

AAJ: So, as I was listening to all the stuff on Lyric I was trying to think of other things I could compare it to for writing's sake. You know, try to put it into context for people to maybe know what they're going to be getting into. I couldn't think of a whole lot. Maria Schneider came to mind just in terms of scope. I was wondering if maybe some of her music was inspiring for this type of project or maybe some other...

BC: Yeah, Maria's a great friend. I mean, I love her music but it wasn't really an influence on this conception. I love what she does with the big band and she does kind of a similar thing with the big band. The big band has a chamber quality, in my opinion, in her writing. In that in the chamber concept each inter-dependent part is equally important, you know? And there's really a reliance on rhythmic complexity and all these layers and stuff and the interplay is really there. I hear that in her music.

Yeah, she even talked me into going with ArtistShare, which I'm glad she did. We're really friends. Really good friends. She's seen this whole process—me recording for this thing, me rehearsing for it. I'd always call her and she'd call me with her projects too. So it's cool.

AAJ: Yeah, I wasn't thinking that the music necessarily sounds the same. It doesn't. It's a really different sound. But just in terms of scope and the long-form thing. You don't see a whole lot of that in the jazz world. I mean, it's out there...

BC: I think Pat Metheny would be another one too. [He] tries to do that. I really feel like I'm a big proponent of active listening rather than passive listening. I like the audience to, when they're listening, to imagine things, you know? To be where the music takes them, rather than have the music just tell them what to think. You know what I mean?

AAJ: Yeah. I like that phrase "active listening." It's somewhat rare in people.

BC: Yeah. (Laughs)

AAJ: So, the thing about creating images. I'm wondering whether you're interested in doing film scoring, or if you've already done some of that?

BC: That's funny. It's a question that a lot of people go to. I haven't really.

AAJ: The whole west coast thing too, you know? You're out there where a lot of the film scoring gets done so...

BC: Yeah, I know. I'm here in Los Angeles and I have a good handle on orchestration and I can write so I should be doing film scoring. And man, I'll tell you. I've written for the L.A. Philharmonic, I've written stuff for the St. Louis Orchestra... I've written for several orchestras, chamber groups, stuff that you'd think would be hard to break into in the classical world in that way. But the hardest thing to break into, by far, has been the film industry.

AAJ: That's interesting.

BC: When there's a lot of money; like tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars at stake, people want to go with who they know. Or who they think is going to sell. At my age, if I haven't done a whole bunch of films, which I haven't, then they'd rather take a chance on someone who's twenty-three, who hasn't done a lot of films. Because they're younger, you know?

AAJ: And they can pay 'em less money.

BC: They can pay 'em less money. And plus also they feel like they're more in touch with what's happening now or something. Some weird psychology with directors and producers which I haven't figured out. But I'd love to do a film score. It's like the ultimate collaborative project. I don't know that I want to have that be my main career.



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