One afternoon in Houston in the Spring of 1989, hornist Thomas Bacon’s agent called him in from another room by saying, “You’ve got to come listen to this…!” Composer Mark Schultz had sent Bacon a copy of his recently completed Dragons in the Sky for horn, percussion and tape asking if he might consider coming over to Austin to premiere the music at The University of Texas. The answer was an immediate ‘yes’ and the performance a month later was enthusiastically received.
Not long after the Dragons premiere, Bacon called Schultz and asked if he would write another short piece for horn and piano that would be suitable for a children’s CD he was thinking of recording. Again the answer was an immediate ‘yes’ and the music Schultz composed was Dancin’ Dinosaurs. While the children’s CD has not yet materialized, those two works did turn up on another disc recorded the following year. That CD was named Dragons in the Sky (Summit DCD135), and for it, Dancin’ Dinosaurs was renamed T.Rex during an animated long distance exchange of ideas between Bacon and Schultz.
It was the Dragons sessions, early in 1990, that brought Thomas Bacon, James Graber (who was there to perform on a different piece for the CD) and Mark Schultz together in the recording studio for the first time. And they hit it off right away.
In the ensuing ten years their collaboration fostered the composition of over a dozen new works by Mark, which Tom & James (who together became known as The Golden Horn) have performed all over the U.S. and on tour in Japan. Still, the three of them had not entered the recording studio together again until this project. It was bound to happen, though, and this disc is the result: a collection of those ten years of idea swapping and musical exchange between The Golden Horn and composer Mark Schultz.
The first music The Golden Horn wanted Mark to compose needed to be something different. Something unusual that would showcase their formidable performance technique as well as their remarkable interactive rapport on stage. Something that didn’t just say, another horn recital (and toll the death knell to some concert goers), but rather music that might invoke images of magic, beauty and fantasy. Music that could tell a story and somehow connect with an audience.
The first opportunity came at the 1993 Sarasota Music Festival where Tom was in residence. Tom asked Mark that he write a piece using the poetry from Edgar Lee Masters’ 1915 literary masterpiece Spoon River Anthology. The poems are a Peyton Place snapshot of small-town America at the turn of the 20th Century where all of the 214 characters (poems) have one thing in common. They’re dead. Buried in the cemetery at Spoon River, “sleeping on the hill.”
Through narration and musical dramatization, Tom & James bring to life ten of these characters. Each rises up in turn from the grave to speak their piece, to tell their story and in some cases to rewrite the epitaphs carved on their gravestones.
In Voices from Spoon River (1993), there is the town stone cutter, who “chiseled whatever they paid me to chisel” on the gravestones and one man who is mortified at his false epitaph, “graven by a fool.” There is the husband and wife, who probably never should have been married to begin with, still at each other’s throats in the afterlife. The town drunkard and the revered judge end up with graveyard plots switched by fate in deference to their living status. There are the two mothers, one happy for her children and her lot in life, the other, filled with bitter remorse and disappointment for hers. And last, with a wink and a nod, there is the artist and the musician who are driven, much to their detriment, by their creative spirit, always chasing their muse without “one single regret.” The title of the music, incidentally, was mutually decided upon during an animated long distance exchange of ideas between Bacon and Schultz.
Learn more about Tom Bacon.