Music professor Anthony Paul De Ritis won the Live Arts Boston (LAB) 2021 Grant for his project Travesty Generator. The project is based on poet and co-leader Lillian Yvonne Bertram’s book titled under the same name and tackles themes of racial and social justice. The anthology was the winner of the Poetry Society of America’s 2020 Anna Rabinowitz Prize for Interdisciplinary Work and was longlisted for the 2020 National Book Award for Poetry. The project will be presented as an evening-length concert.
As a husband to an African American wife, and the loving father of an interracial daughter, these themes are extremely near and dear to De Ritis’s heart. “With the social unrest that is happening in the world today, it makes me wonder what the world is going to be like for my daughter growing up,” states De Ritis.
The project experiments with and mashes up the dramatic text presented in the book. The final form of the project will evolve from the creative influences of each of the eleven group members. The members specialize in several different musical genres, such as classical music, jazz, musical theatre, gospel, opera, computer, and electroacoustic music. The team members include Davron Monroe, a part-time lecturer at CAMD and an award-winning singer and actor based in Boston, and Emmett Price, former Associate Music Professor.
The texts in Travesty Generator are not the traditional style of lyrics. Some of the poems have complex readings that resemble computer code. Each group member will have to challenge themselves to portray the message of Bertram’s words within their own style.
The first meeting will be on August 12, in the Blackman Auditorium. During this meeting, each member will read Bertram’s poems three_last_words, Counternarratives, and @Code_Switching and discuss what inspires them. They will then translate that inspiration into a musical piece. In the end, all the interpretations will be presented for the team of artists to hear and discuss. The key to Travesty Generator’s creative process is treating each member as an equal participant throughout the development of the compositions. The meetings will be recorded and uploaded to the project webpage.
“With respect to my career goals, this project will help shift my artistic output from primarily abstract symphonic and electroacoustic music, towards more dramatic musical forms related to opera and music drama that also reflects and comments on the most relevant issues resonating in society today,” explains De Ritis.
“I believe that this work will have crossover appeal, resonating with several audiences not usually seen in the same concert venue; audiences interested in opera, music theater, jazz, and contemporary classical music. As this work will examine race, culture, and social change, I hope it will appeal to critics as well as potential first-time concertgoers.”
This is not the first project that De Ritis has worked on with Bertram. In 2020, the two collaborated on a short work titled A Reading of Bertram on Brooks on Walker. The production was a reading and electroacoustic setting of Bertram’s poem, Gwendolyn Brooks on Kara Walker’s “Gone, An Historical Romance of Civil War As it Occurred B’tween the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart.” It was performed in response to an invitation by Nell Painter, Chair of the MacDowell Board of Directors, to create art that enhanced the conversation about social justice through creative mediums. “The more I experience Bertram’s work, the more her spirit of innovation and interdisciplinary inquiry gives me a fresh perspective on my music composition,” states De Ritis.
Aside from Travesty Generator, De Ritis is also working on a master recording for Melody for Peace, a composition that was commissioned by the Melody for Dialogue among Civilizations Association and performed at UNESCO headquarters in Paris and Lincoln Center in 2007. The composition uses instruments from around the world in one conclusive piece and will be released by Grammy-winning Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP).
“CAMD provides an environment that allows me to have access to many resources which helps me spread important messages through my creative practices,” De Ritis concludes.