Meeting Kyle Gullings, A Young Art Song Composer

Our first impression of Kyle Gullings’ (b.1983) music was positive and we made a point to speak with him at the John Duffy Composers Institute recital on June 3, 2007 at the “From Pen to Page to Stage” closing event where two songs from I Speak, You Speak from his one-act musical The Eden Diaries was staged. With soprano Signe Mortensen as Eve and mezzo-soprano Julia Tobiska as the echo of her words, she laments her encounter with Adam who is very formal with her, “Life here in Eden can be difficult.” In Temptation, the second song, we heard Larry Giddens, Jr. as the snake, Sean T. Miller as Adam and Tara Davidson as Eve. The music captures the idea that curiosity equals power over the naive couple as the serpent reassures Eve that she has the right to change the world, as long as when they fall, they fall together. The young professional performers brought his music to life. In early fall of 2007 The Eden Diaries was given a workshop performance at the Kennedy Center’s New Plays Festival.

Mr. Gullings graciously sent us a CD of a performance of his songs including three settings of poems by a well-known deceased humorist. Later the estate denied him permission to use them. Listening to the songs it was clear that he has a talent for capturing the charm of these short, funny poems. My favorite, with cello accompaniment, captured musically the whimsy of the text. Perhaps in future a cooperative poet can be found!

A more audacious work is his in memoriam Hibakusha that speaks of the first atomic blast on July 4, 1945 and the issue of making sure that the overwhelming new energy only be used for peaceful purposes. Sung text is followed by spoken text. Controlled but growing intensity builds as the baritone voice is overlaid with a voice describing the physical aspects of those who survive an atomic blast. It focused my thoughts on how elusive this early goal of applied use has colored our generation’s entire lifetime. Kyle tells us that “My art song in memoriam Hibakusha (for high baritone, piano, and recorded spoken voice), which you kindly commented on in the past, made me a Society of Composers Student Competition Regional Winner in 2008.”

In the setting of an excerpt from A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche sings When People are Soft where the dignified poise of this fragile human comes through, ending in a glimpse of her toughness in surviving.

In an email from Kyle in September, 2009 from Catholic University where he is working on his doctorate, he told of his current project. Orpheus (re)Set is a collection of four arias that tell the Orpheus story using four texts from existing operas, each in a different language, reset to music by Kyle. “The song I have attached, Tu se' morta from Monteverdi's L'Orfeo (1607, text by Alessandro Striggio), reveals Orpheus' grief upon hearing the news of Eurydice's death. The other texts I plan to use are in German (from Telemann's Orpheus, 1726), French (from Charpentier's La descente d'Orphée aux enfers, 1686), and English (from the obscure Middle English verse play Sir Orfeo).”

At the moment Kyle is putting the finishing touches on his String Quartet No.1, his dissertation composition. We hope he will return to writing songs soon after and will share them with us. Visit Kyle's website at www.kylegullings.com and his blog at http://gullings.blogspot.com

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