The Dried Tobacco Project has been a long time coming. We started working on this piece in August of 2015, not really knowing what we were getting ourselves into.
We both fell in love with Will’s text, and we probably didn’t know why. Something about it just struck a nerve and moved our hearts. It’s funny to look back on the process, given that it turned out like a, “we’ll do a song…no, let’s do a couple of songs…oh-wait…it’s the week before the premiere and we’re still adding to this,” type of process. Honestly, Cassandra added the final touches of the composition 6 days before the premiere and Ian spent many hours this past week ruminating over it.
Will’s text is so honest that it hurts. Perhaps the preoccupation with it comes from the fact that Will is brave enough to be blunt about the human experience, especially the rejected human experience, or the defeated human experience. And whether or not we are gay or straight or somewhere in between, that human experience of rejection, reclaiming one’s identity and healing is truly ubiquitous.
The musical material may seem disorienting, so let us provide a road map. The beginning to the end traces an emotional journey from pain to love, release and acceptance. The prelude is the most abstract, esoteric thing that Cassandra’s brain could conjure. The piece itself is rooted around a pentatonic scale, presented in the context of a southern folk tune-- hence Dried Tobacco--reminiscent of Kentucky, where Will and Ian grew up and the social climate surrounding sexuality and human rights, in some areas, was not so understanding and supportive. In fact, all of the material in the piece was inspired by the same pentatonic scale and the natural sounds of the human voice as it processes trauma. It paints a picture of desperation, exhaustion and isolation. From there, the musical material travels from dark to light through dissonance to consonance, ending as a hymn.
Why a hymn?
A hymn is an offering of love to something greater than we are.
Well, what is more sacred than love and kindness…acceptance and honesty?
For some of us, a religion guides our spirituality. For others, spiritually guides us to love and kindness. Either way, the root of all humanity is love.
This piece is a call to look at your neighbor with clarity and tenderness. We all have a journey, incomprehensible to one another, that shapes us and the communities surrounding being alive.
One year later, we hope to convey that we want each and every one of you to feel fully alive; to love yourselves, to love your neighbor, to release darkness and embrace hope. This world can be a cruel place, and people can be cruel components of it, but in the end, we wish for each journey to end in a hymn, and for that hymn to be a beacon for another struggle and so on and so on….
We have spent hundreds of hours on this piece. We have spent even more emotional energy on translating words into music.
We are charging a ticket price to give back and to support the future platform for our works and the works of our colleagues with similar social goals. To PFLAG— thank you for what you do. To Roosevelt University, thank you for being a Social Justice-prioritizing school. To all of you…we wouldn’t be here without you.