Karren Alenier, William
Banfield and Nancy
LaLonde Alenier | Poet
grew up in a family actively interested in music. Her father was
a drummer in a dance band. Her brother Jay who plays ornamented
Jazz in the style of Art Tatem studied piano. Her sister Nancy,
starting with a quarter-sized violin, was the darling of one of
the concert masters of the National Symphony Orchestra. Youngest
sister Lisa pursued dance--tap, ballet, jazz, and middle Eastern
forms--both performing and teaching.
characteristically is lyrical. The words selected play to the
ear showing her interest in language, both in sound and meaning.
Holding a bachelor of arts from the University of Maryland, College
Park, Karren majored in French literature and language with a
heavy minor in American and English literature. Although she began
writing when she was in grammar school, serious work developed
after she left college and started meeting with a circle of peers
that included the now screenplay writer Deirdra Baldwin, the antique
piano restoration expert Paul Revenko-Jones, and physicist Jim
In 1982 through
a program sponsored by New York's School of Visual Arts, Karren
spent three weeks studying with writer/composer Paul Bowles in
Tangier, Morocco. Although she intended to work with him on her
first novel, she and Bowles worked instead on her poetry about
Gertrude Stein. Bowles was particularly helpful in working out
the kinks in the rhythmic language poem "Leo on Seesaw."
Although apologetic about his own poetry and admitting that Gertrude
Stein was right in telling him not to write poetry, Bowles had
a finely tuned ear for the kind of poetry in Karren's work-in-progress
Karren with Paul Bowles in Tangier, c.1982.
In 1995, Karren
traveled to Prague to work with James Ragan on what would become
her 4th collection of poetry, later titled Looking For Divine
Transportation. This collection contained her poems about
Gertrude Stein, her travels in Morocco, her eccentric family,
and her own brand of Eden. In 1996, her third collection of poems
Bumper Cars: Gertrude Said She Took Him For A Ride was
published by Mica Press of Ft. Collins, Colorado. This chapbook
contained a selection of her Stein poems and an early draft of
Act I of Gertrude Stein Invents A Jump Early On. Karren
delivered the first publication reading in the Motor City of Detroit
in the Writer's Voice Series during one of the last poetry programs
at the old YMCA before it was demolished.
late Seventies, Karren has been developing the body of work that
has become Gertrude Stein Invents A Jump Early On. The
path of creation is not linear. It was not until February 3, 1996,
on the anniversary of Gertrude Stein's birth that Karren and 12
other poets spoke the lines contained in this then one act tableau
vivant verse play. Despite two feet of newly fallen snow, fifty
people gathered at Chapters, Washington, DC's mid town literary
bookstore for this reading. The consensus was so far so good but
where's the rest of it?
Based on an
invitation to read the Stein work at Washington, DC's Grace Church
in Georgetown, Karren set her sights on writing two more acts
for the Georgetown program scheduled for April 8, 1997. Act II
was written in one week in Florence, Italy. Karren was in Italy
that fall to initiate the first Word Works Writers Retreat in
the Tuscan countryside. Overly optimistic, she planned to write
acts II and III in the week preceeding the retreat. Act III, set
at the end of World War II was written in the winter of 1997 and
required extensive research.
By the time
Act III was written, Karren understood the play's potential for
opera. She began contacting people in the arts to gather a list
of new music composers. Specifically she was interested in a composer
who had a penchant for jazz.
composer Karren worked with was Jeffrey Mumford who was recommended
to her by the Dean of music at Howard University. Jeffrey read
the verse play and suggested that Karren listen to Schonberg's
Pierot Lunaire and Stravinsky's Les Noces. In both
of these compositions, recitative predominates. With short lines
the norm in the original verse play, the musical approach indicated
recitative. Certainly recitative dominates The Mother of Us
All, the second opera Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thomson collaborated
on and which may have been one of Karren's major sources of influences.
Not having any experience marketing such a project, Karren began
calling opera organizations looking for a strategy to gain a commission
for this project with a big opera company. After a year of meetings
in which both composer and poet brain-stormed without success
on how to kickstart financial support for the project, Jeffrey
and Karren agreed it was best to move in separate directions.
The Word Works awarded its 1998 Washington Prize to Nathalie Anderson,
a poet whose libretto based on a novel by Thomas Mann was featured
in a new music opera (The Black Swan with music by Thomas
Whitman) that was premiering that fall under the direction of
Sarah Caldwell. Starting with a referral from Nat Anderson, Karren
called back and forth across the country getting a string of referrals
that lead to William Banfield. Based on a simple strategy Bill
suggested in the short first phone call, Karren made several phone
calls and got the attention of Nancy Rhodes at Encompass Music
Theatre (now known as Encompass New Opera Theatre).
the American literary community, Karren has developed and managed
literary programs that promote poetry. She has been involved in
organizations and programs at the Folger Shakespeare Library and
the Library of Congress. Since her first book of poetry was published
in 1975, she has had an active role in The Word Works. Her poetry
and fiction has been published in hundreds of English language
journals and literary publications. She was the recipient of the
First Billee Murray Denny Award. She has been a fellow numerous
times at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Since 1978,
she is listed in the Directory of American Poets and Writers.
Karren LaLonde Alenier:
A Retrospective of the Washington Prize
Alenier, Hilary Tham, Miles David Moore
(DC: The Word Works, 1999)
for Divine Transportation
Gertrude Stein poems used in Gertrude Invents A Jump Early On
(DC: The Bunny & the Crocodile Press, 1999)
Cars: Gertrude Said She Took Him for A Ride
Mica Press, 1996, out of print)
Woods These Are
(DC: Word Works, 1983)
Ommation Press, 1981)
on the Outside
Word Works, 1975, 1979 2nd ed)
with Paul Bowles
Karren LaLonde Alenier, Francine Geraci, and Ken Pottiger, Tangier,
1984, published in Conversations With Paul Bowles, edited
by Gena Dagel Caponi, University Press of Mississippi, Jackson,
1993. This interview was first published by Gargoyle magazine,
Banfield | Composer
some admirers of William C. Banfield
may call him a Renaissance Man, his multidisciplinary accomplishments
and abilities map him squarely in the third millennium. As professor,
composer, musician, director, and author, he is a man charting
new territory in current times, times that demand fluency in a
much bigger world than the Renaissance Man knew.
Born and raised
in Detroit, Bill says his house was filled with the sounds of
Beethoven, Ellington, Pavarotti, and Al Green. Symphony concerts
and a progressive church offering both classical greats as Beethoven
and Bach and traditional gospel songs were part of his landscape
growing up. He earned a Bachelor of Music from the New England
Conservatory of Music in 1983, a Master of Theological Studies
from Boston University in 1987, and Doctor of Musical Arts from
the University of Michigan in 1992. His diverse blend of musical
influences were shaped by his teachers and mentors including T.J.
Anderson, George Russell, Leslie Bassett, William Bolcolm, and
William Albright. In 2000, he is a W.E.B. Dubois fellow at Harvard
University where he will be working on two operas, including Gertrude
Stein Invents A Jump Early On.
the Endowed Chair in Humanities and Arts at the University of
St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. Simultaneously at this university,
he is director of the American Cultural Studies program and Associate
Professor of composition. Bill is the founder of the Bmagic Orchestra
that has been playing contemporary hip arrangements of jazz, hip
hop, soul, and popular music throughout the Twin Cities in club,
malls and college venues. The Bmagic Orchestra has recorded or
performed with such artists as Patrice Rushen, Bobby McFerrin,
Billy Childs, Don Byron, the Philip Brunelle Ensemble Singers,
Sounds of Blackness, Mark Ledford, and Nelson Rangell.
Bill has composed
eight symphonies, six symphonic concertos, four operas, music
for ballet, musicals, chorus, chamber ensembles, jazz ensembles,
and song cycles for voice and keyboard. In February 2000, his
new piano concerto No Mirrors in My Nana's House was given
its second performance at the Kaye Playhouse in New York City.
(It premiered in January with the Grand Rapids Symphony featuring
pianist Patrice Rushen.) Based on Ysaye Barnwell's story about
an African American girl growing up in a house without mirrors,
Bill expands the scope of the Barnwell's work, concentrating on
the power of inner reflection and outer influences, particularly
prejudice. Of the music, The New York Times stated that the piece
"posed an interesting experiment in perception: the opening
bars had harmonizations that could be heard as typically jazz
or as typically Bartokian."
In March 2000,
Luyala, an opera ballet premiered at Duke University. For
this, his fourth opera, Bill received his commission from the
Lila Wallace-Readers Digest Fund. Luyala is based on an
African folk tale and incorporates gospel music. Featured in this
production was jazz star Nenna Freelon.
In the summer
of 2000, Bill's Landscapes in Color: Perspectives, Conversations
and Visions of Black America Composers will be published by
University Press of American/Scarecrow Press. Related to this
forthcoming book, National Public Radio has broadcast several
two hour shows hosted by Bill entitled 'Landscapes in Color: Concerts
and Conversations with Black American Composers."
of William Banfield's music can be found on TelArc International,
Atlantic, and Innova labels. He is published by MMB Music, St.
Rhodes | Encompass New Opera Theatre
is the founder and artistic director of Encompass New Opera Theatre
formerly called Encompass Music Theatre. The first production
of Encompass Music Theatre was The Mother of Us All by
Virgil Thomson and Gertrude Stein. Nancy directed this production.
For Nancy Rhodes, this was a second experience in directing this
work. She had first directed a workshop production of The Mother
of Us All at C.W. Post College and during that production
had made friends with Virgil Thomson. Thomson later became one
of the founding advisory board members of Encompass.
Among Nancy's many accomplishments in prestigious venues are the
staging of the world premiere of Tartuffe for the San Francisco
Opera, staging of Virgil Thomsonís opera Lord Byron at
Alice Tully Hall, and staging of new musicals for the O'Neill
Theater Center, BAM, and Pittsburgh Opera Theatre. Also she has
worked internationally on Britten's Death In Venice (Stockholm),
The Holland Festival (Amsterdam), Weill/Brecht's Happy End
(Finland), Carmen (Oslo), Kiss Me Kate (Ankara-filmed
for Turkish TV), and West Side Story (Istanbul, for the
State Theatre of Turkey).
She teaches musical theater workshops in Europe and is the Vice
President and U.S. Delegate to the International Theatre Institute,
Music Theatre Committee where she has been a panelist and guest
speaker in Sweden, Germany, Venezuela, Korea, Moscow, Czech Republic,
Estonia, and Istanbul. A graduate of New York University, Tisch,
she taught Acting for Singers at Manhattan School of Music for
twelve years, and currently teaches Oral Communication, Play Production,
and Voice and Articulation at Mercy College.
Nancy was born in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Taking environmental
issues seriously, she enjoys camping and the great outdoors. She
has a finely honed sense of the absurd, shies away from work that
is academic, and embraces life with gusto.