Andrea Clearfield is an award-winning composer of music for orchestra, chorus, chamber ensemble, opera, dance, and multimedia collaborations. Praised by the New York Times for her “graceful tracery and lively, rhythmically vital writing”, she has composed more than 140 works that include ten large-scale cantatas exploring themes such as ancient cultures, freedom and health. Clearfield was awarded a 2016 Pew Fellowship and a 2017 Independence Fellowship in the Arts. She is also the founder and host of the renowned Philadelphia Salon concerts featuring contemporary, classical, jazz, electronic, dance, and world music now celebrating its 30th year. Learn more at www.andreaclearfield.com
“That Summer: A Fantasia on Family” was composed at Blue Mountain Center during Summer 2015. “The fellows (all hugely gifted and inspiring artists, many who are working in socio-political areas) took part in discussions about the work and a reading of the libretto so I could hear how it might sound with overlapping voices,” she says. “I am grateful for this rich, productive, supportive and inspiring residency.”
By Lewis Whittington
The Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus artistic director Joseph Buches commissioned prolific composer Andrea Clearfield to create a choral work about GLBTQ families. Clearfield collaborated with lyricist Tom Gualtieri to write the libretto for her three-parts Cantata titled “That Summer: A Fantasia on Family.”
The piece premiered last June at the Prince Theater on Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus’s (PGMC) “Modern Families” paired with Michael Shaeib’s “Alexander’s House” a one-act choral staged musical, both on PGMC’s season finale program called “Modern Families.”
In an interview at the time, Clearfield said she began the composition by hearing the real live stories about gay families from PGMC. “Joe Buches and I have been wanted to collaborate for a long time and when he told me the theme, it resonated for me right away. I feel very strongly that people should be able to live the life they want to live and in their truth. And family can be many things—your given family, your tribe, your circle.”
Clearfield said she composed much of the music right after the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality. Gualtieri and Clearfield met a number of choir members to hear their personal stories, which Gualtieri then compiled the transcripts into text for the libretto.
“We started off by asking everyone what their definition of family was,” lyricist Tom Gualtieri recalled. “We asked what does family mean to you as a gay, lesbian, transgender or bi person, since we have not had a model for establishing same-sex, or poly-amorous or non-romantic legally family outside of the heterosexual model. So we wanted to look at how many tribal groups, within the GLBTQ world, really became family.”
Shaping the Piece
In addition to honing in on the theme of the piece, Clearfield asked what the singers liked musically to sing: “I wanted to know what excites them musically, what might connect them to a new piece. I let that percolate…so the musical motifs develop and the musical language finds form.”
The vocal structure is for full choir, chamber choir and soloists and Clearfield said. “There is musical dramatic tension, some of it is depicted in the singing and through the scoring with percussion and piano. There is a lot of irony and humor, musical color and contrast symbolic of what it is like for gay people to create parameters for their own families. The third movement reflects how can this love be embraced in the broader world,” she explained.
“Andrea and I connected right from the start,” Gualtieri said. “I’m used to the unfiltered back and forth of opinions in musical theater, and Andrea at first was more cautious with me about suggesting things, but then it was just an easy creative exchange.”
Gualtieri said he wanted to use as many exact quotes from chorus members as he could in the libretto, because the singers “were saying incredibly poetic things, in everyday language,” noting “there was such an emotional undercurrent.”
Music has the power to illuminate issues in unexpected ways, he adds. He distilled all the material to “capture the ideas in a larger sense of what gay people go through personally. To reflect the truths from individual experience… these experiences resonate, for gays and lesbians around the world.”
A Political Backdrop
Both Gualtieri and Clearfield felt it important to reflect the political background of marriage equality in the piece. “I have to say that it was so moving to work on this the same year the Supreme Court ruling came out. And to hear from the men in the choir that yes, it was wonderful news, but the fight for full equality for GLBTQ families is not there yet, ” she said.
She remembered being taken aback hearing the PGMC voices at the first full rehearsal of the piece in May. “I got goose bumps hearing them sing just the first phrases,” she recalled.
Andrea Clearfield and Joseph Buches take a bow at a festival sponsored by GALA Choruses.
Clearfield has composed works for choral groups and orchestras around the world, she continues to be a creative force in the arts community in Philadelphia both as a composer and director of her monthly Salon, which for three decades has brought together accomplished musicians, poets, dancers, singers, artists and audiences for diverse and unique performances.
Gualtieri is a New York based director, writer and lyricist and versatile performer with such diverse acting credits as being in the national company of the revival of “South Pacific” and performing “That Play: A solo Macbeth,” which was nominated for a 2013 Drama Desk Critics Award.
PGMC also performed “That Summer” at Everyone Sing Out in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware and at a festival in Denver, sponsored by GALA choruses—an organization representing over 180 GLBT choruses around the world.