Praise, admiration, and respect in elegy for the artiste-musicienne composer Elodie Lauten continue to resound since her death on June 3, 2014, with tributes far and wide: she was distinguished, diverse, cross-cultural, international, and—as per her own quest—even cosmic. With conviction and certainty, she proselytized about the scientific-magical powers of music, its essential role in the course of the universe. While she marveled at exploring sound potentials in electronic music, microtonal and foreign idioms, above all else she wanted her music to be performed acoustically with the detailed nuances of Baroque music, and she altogether respected vocal (or as instrumental) lyricism, counterpoint, idiomatic instrumental sounds, and traditional orchestration. She smiled with glee when comparing her music to that of early French masters Lully and Rameau, then of course, Faure, Debussy, Messiaen—realizing that indeed she, and truly all of us, live and work in the ongoing cycle of tradition. She loved and respected music as a spiritual force and, with the wisdom of a sage, passionately instilled in others its importance, power, and significance. Using music, she nobly changed lives; there is no greater compliment.
For the past year, I worked closely with Elodie preparing the debut of the now-definitive version of her opera Waking in New York on the libretto crafted so purposefully by hero-poet of the Beat generation, Allen Ginsberg. Vibrant and contemporary, altogether it unites old and new world musical styles to express visionary poetry that is considered the voice of modern life. Much admired for its message about community, love, and friendship, it is altogether one of the most beautiful and poignant scores I have ever had the privilege to lead. Though always persnickety and precise about musical details, it was moreover inspiring to witness Elodie praise a young virtuoso, crystalline-pure singer (“my favorite voice type,” she said) with, “That was so enchanting. Do you realize that with such a marvelous sound wave, how you’ve created such a beautiful moment into eternity? Now let me tell you about its meaning; [like Messiaen] it has a . . . (blue, red, yellow) color aura.”
Early this spring, the Foundation for Contemporary Arts gave its 2014 Robert Rauschenberg Award to Elodie Lauten, a peer-nominated accolade recognizing her exactly: for her innovation, risk-taking, and experimentation. This truly honored, humbled, and then inspired her. In his recent tribute, Kyle Gann recognized Elodie’s capacity to create new, certainly inventive, platforms for her music, but stated that it was accomplished by sacrificing herself and living in a state “near-penury.” Actually Elodie was an excellent and hardy businesswoman—skills she claimed were instilled in her from her father, the great jazz pianist (and sculptor) Errol Parker. She was a model of the modern artist’s lifestyle: simple living, strong development-funding skills, “everything lives for the music.” She consistently produced respectable productions of her works, altogether treating (and promptly paying!) musicians as professionals. (Now, in retrospect, they all comment on this.) With her Rauschenberg Award, and also the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs and Lower Manhattan Cultural Council on her support team, she envisioned a future for her music launched with her testament opera, Waking in New York.
Arriving so chic in a re-styled mink coat (after all, her mother was a noted fashion doyenne with a boutique nearby Paris’s Arc de Triomphe), I accompanied Elodie as she braved New York City’s bitter cold winter, traveling in a friend’s donated gypsy courier limousine from the Lower East Side up to 7th Avenue and 29th Street, to proudly become a professional member (for the first time) of OPERA America. It was a major step for her. She launched her association with our week-long public rehearsal and video filming at OPERA America’s splendid National Opera Center. Surprising and delighting her, the uptown refined national opera association enthusiastically and respectfully welcomed this funky downtown composer into their ranks with glee, full of cutting-edge marketing ideas for production and promotion. Following this meeting, living the appreciative life-of-the-moment she professed, we chose lunch at a nearby café because they displayed flower-shaped cookies painted with psychedelic-colored marzipan. Elodie noted, “Allen is with us… How can we resist?”
Over the few months since that special day, surely a turning point in her career, Elodie suddenly began her health decline through a sequence of challenges. She was secretive about her condition, steadfast to keep her strong producer-composer image, always managing business details along with the artistic particulars. We rehearsed with the brilliant cast (Mark Duer, Meredith Borden, Catherine Rothrock, and Mary Hurlbut) in Elodie’s large, open studio apartment, with its range of keyboard instruments, acoustic and electronic—some of her own design patents. Elodie would recline almost glamorously on a sofa at the end of the room and listen to the rehearsal, always stopping to discuss “what” Ginsberg’s poetry “meant” with enthusiasm for the details of prosody expounded by great singers. Her coughing and wheezing she would dismiss as “allergies.” To the few of us alert to her declining condition, she vowed that she was “determined to live through for this performance: her music brought to life so splendidly.”
When moved to the hospital “for tests and a few treatments,” she joined and commented on our now-expanded rehearsals, including a celebrity orchestral team, by first complaining about and then even helping construct connections for the hospital’s wireless Skype connections. When finally she was moved to palliative hospice care, still in secret to the cast, declaring, “I want them focused on my music, not on me,” I brought to her bedside on May 31 the superb, just edited film/streaming-broadcast from the National Opera Center made the day before and a copy of the just-arrived, multi-colored printed program. (She even designed the cover artwork.) Always gasping for air in her last days, she grabbed my hand, removed her oxygen mask and muttered the words, “Oh, so beautiful, thank you.”
On Sunday afternoon June 1, she was aware of the successful, well-received public performance at St Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery. She died on Tuesday, June 3 at 7:15 p.m.—uncannily, on Allen Ginsberg’s birthday.
Kooky, quirky, yet all-the-time brilliant, Elodie brought passion to life, igniting human spirits. Even stories of her travel escapades—when lost, she would rub various colored-crystals to find directions (it worked!)—suddenly make the rest of us wonder and dream and ride along with her with confidence. Brilliant and engaging through her collaborative music, poetry, and visual multi-arts—indeed the true definition of her operas—she continues to ponder, guide, and foster a beautiful, eternal life journey.