I was up in Woodstock, New York, for the final weekend of this season’s Mavericks Concerts. Alexander Platt led a performance of his reduced orchestration of David Del Tredici’s Final Alice. It’s a work I have always treasured, but I’d never heard it live and I also hadn’t listened to my recording of it in quite some time. While I resisted the temptation to come up with music that provoked opposing degrees of love and respect in response to Carl Stone’s challenge, experiencing Alice once again brought to mind a similar issue for me.
I was completely transfixed for over an hour by Del Tredici’s surreal and obsessive musical rendering of Lewis Carroll’s familiar children’s story. But then it dawned on me: This piece has a narrator.
While I make every effort to keep an open mind toward whatever it is I’m listening to at any given moment (and therefore I write this with an extremely heavy heart), I’ve never had a particular fondness for music with narration. Unlike vocal music—whether bel canto or hip-hop—where words flow in musical time, narrated pieces of music place the superimposed words somewhere else, usually at a distance that competes with (and all too often distracts me from paying attention to) the music. And while I’m not really an advocate of ambient listening, narrated music defies the listening modality of music without narration: Narrated music forces itself to be listened to as foreground, and that’s a choice I’d rather make for myself.
Yet I really love and respect Alice. Why? Might its seemingly seamless melding of music and narration be so effective that in fact Alice‘s narration doesn’t actually sound like narration? There’s definitely a reason never to say never about liking or disliking anything. In that spirit, what other piece of music with narration offers untold rewards for the open-minded listener?