My Lincoln Center Debut: David Lang's "The Public Domain"
The Public Domain: Adding Movement

The Public Domain: First Rehearsal

The Public DomainAside from having a bit of unexpected free time on my hands, the thing that finally convinced me to participate in David Lang's the public domain was the fact that one of the five groups of 200 singers - a.k.a. "strands" was rehearsing right here in Park Slope, at the northern end of 7th Avenue. But, as I took my seat among the other participants Wednesday night, I felt a sudden sense of unease. Flipping through the relatively simple score, I felt like I was back in college, treading water through a music theory class that I never should have signed up for. 

Fortunately, we were blessed to have as our guide Maria Sensi Sellner, founder and Artistic Director of Pittsburgh's Resonance Works opera company and a three-time winner of the American Prize in Opera Conducting. Sellner somehow managed to be both warm and encouraging, yet firm and direct, taking us through the score section by section, offering clear, easy-to-follow instructions for when to transition from one section to the next, when to crescendo or decrescendo, when to raise our pitch a half-step.

the public domain is a new work, meaning that we are all hearing it for the first time. There are no recordings to fall back on, which is both scary and comforting: Sellner told us that Lang wants us to make it our own, to "let the scaffolding show," even if that means making obvious mistakes. Fortunately, much of the work employs chance techniques, such that we are free to alter the tempo, pitch, even the order of the text. At least, until we're told otherwise. 

The Public DomainThe music itself is vintage Lang: simple, slightly off-kilter, with alternating moments of eeriness and sonic ecstasy. At first, I was just trying to get the notes right, but then the prosaic-yet-penetrating text struck me head on. Lang says that the text, which he also wrote, is meant to reflect our shared experience - one that is often fraught with conflict:

"our choice

our pain

our strong opinion

our free will and the power to choose

our perfect imperfections

our struggle to figure out our lives"

After three hours, we got through the entire score, giving ourselves a round of applause. Anne Tanaka, the production manager, then gave us some basic instructions on what to expect over the next few weeks of rehearsals, as well as on the day of the performance (August 13). She also made an urgent plea for more singers - particularly tenors and basses, who our outnumbered in our group 5:1. If anyone is still interested in joining, it's not too late: go here and you'll be put on the "express boat," as they're calling it.