Interview with Jake Heggie

BODHI TREE CONCERTS / MARTHA HOWE:

Your vocal lines are so wonderful to sing - do you yourself sing?

 

JAKE HEGGIE:

I sang in choirs through high school, loved it, and always wished I had a real voice! I don't. And I figured that out pretty quickly! I love to sing, though - and I think all composers are secret singers - but I do it in the privacy of my studio. The human voice is the most magical of instruments: we all have one, but some people manage to perfect it.

 

BTC/MH:

Do you usually have a specific artist's voice in mind when writing the songs and operas? For example, when writing Paper Wings, did you have Flicka's voice in your mind singing it?

 

JAKE:

YES! Always. I write for the character (or role) of a song, aria ,etc, but I have to know who I'm writing it for.

 

BTC/MH:

The story/poems feel so natural, sound like her just talking. We know you and Flicka are good friends - are the texts something she wrote, or stories that she tells that you are inspired to set to music?

 

JAKE:

I had known Flicka loved to write texts and little poems, so when she asked me to compose these songs about her daughter, I thought: why not go to the source? And she had a ball writing down memories of her own childhood and contrasted them with those of her daughter, Lisa.

 

BTC/MH:

What have been your favored sources for texts? Has it been more a question of serendipity, or methodical research?

 

JAKE:

I don't think there's a favored source, although my preference is always to work with a living writer. Of course, I love setting great poetry that is established, but there's something so energetic and "in the moment" about creating a new work with original texts on a subject that inspires both the writer and myself. I find that incredibly motivating. I do tend to go back to the same writers again and again.

 

BTC/MH:

It seems rare these days for composers to write beautiful melodies that are fun and gratifying to sing, keeping the text clear, expressing the emotions, and telling the story. Have you always had that facility, the ear for such gorgeous vocal line? What has been the most helpful, or who most influential, with the learning curve for such expressive writing?

 

JAKE:

Oh my, I have no idea. I'm glad you feel this way about my vocal lines, but in reality, it's just the way I write. I'm always searching for a meaningful line or melody that has a rhythmic and harmonic profile, as well. But it has to serve the psychology of the situation, the scene, the story, or it won't work. They always spring from a combination of the emotional context of the song/scene plus the language being used.

 

BTC/MH:

Are there any new song cycles in the works?

 

JAKE:

Yes. New songs for Kiri Te Kanawa to celebrate her 70th birthday, commissioned by the Ravinia Festival. A cycle for the mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton and cellist Anne Martindale Williams, commissioned by Carnegie Hall and the Pittsburgh Symphony. And a new set for Susan Graham, commissioned by Vocal Arts DC in Washington. I hope I'm always writing new songs. That's where I started and that's where my heart lies: storytelling through song.

 

BTC:

Would you be willing to collaborate with BTC on a future concert – 2015 or 2016? 

 

JAKE:

YES OF COURSE! Would have to be 2016, though. Busy years ahead!