A Musical Memoriam to Gay Youth
Composer David Del Tredici discusses the tragic inspiration behind his latest musical movement, the ambitious and cathartic "Bullycide."
At one point while composing his latest piece, a piano sextet inspired by five gay teenagers who took their lives within six months of each other in 2012 after being bullied by their peers, composer David Del Tredici had the realization that he had been "taken over" in a way. "I couldn¹t believe I was writing such a personal piece," he says. "But [the suicides] touched me somehow and brought up my own memories of being bullied in grammar school, so I almost had to write a piece around it."
The composition, aptly named Bullycide from the phrase coined in the wake of those tragic deaths, not only stands as a memorial to those lost lives, but also realizes Del Tredici¹s goal to represent the gay community. "It has been my mission in the last few years to create a body of musical compositions that unambiguously celebrate the gay experience‹happy, sad, horrible or bizarre,² he writes in the Bullycide program notes, citing the suicide of Tyler Clementi as the impetus for the work. Upon mentioning Clementi¹s death to a friend, Del Tredici learned of the other four teens that had also cut their lives short in "desperate response to the relentless bullying of schoolmates." It was then, he adds, that he "could feel a new piece stirring and I set to composing."
Though past works had often been inspired by the words of poets and writers, Del Tredici says that this time he needed no such text to realize the movement. Instead, he allowed the memories of the five youths to serve as his muses and speak for themselves. ³The characters just kind of revealed themselves to me, in ways that I never would have thought of on my own,² he recalls. "It was a departure for me in a way, composing in this manner. It¹s about being taken possession by your subconscious.
"The rewriting became bigger, I gave it more variety,² he goes on to say, noting that it was written in two chunks over a six month period and pointing to a section that contains "imagined experiences [the teens] might have had had they lived" as an example. Using Schubert’s "Trout Quintet, Op. 114" as a model, he added flourishes and sections that are by turns romantic, energetic, melodramatic, ghostly, whimsical and grandiose.
In the end, Del Tredici says it was more than just a labor of love. "It was cathartic to get it down on paper. I don¹t know how it represents my canon, but I hope that, while it may not change the world, I hope it creates a bit of understanding for the feeling of these gay teens having it so bad that suicide is an option, or just to create a bit of understanding about how it feels for others to go through life."
Apart from that, Del Tredici adds, it is his hope that Bullycide may serve as an important reminder to those of us left behind. "I ended the piece with a humorous, smiling gesture after all the Sturm und Drang. It is my way of saying that‹against all odds, absurdly, life does go on."
"Bullycide" will premiere at La Jolla Music Society¹s Summerfest on Friday, August 16 i n La Jolla. For tickets and information on this performance or
others, call 858.459.3724 or go to ljms.org/SummerFest-2013.