After six major operas and two mini-operas, local composer Evan Mack is releasing on Friday his first collection of songs on a CD called “The Travelled Road.” And that recording wouldn’t have happened if mezzo-soprano Megan Marino hadn’t discovered one of those songs earlier through her husband, baritone Michael Mayes.
“Michael had done ‘A Little More Perfect’ in numerous recitals across the country. Megan loved it and asked me to arrange it for her as a mezzo,” Mack said. “When they got married, the text was recited at their wedding.”
That song is now on the new CD. It’s based on the final paragraph of the Marriage Equality Decision in a text quote by former Justice of the Supreme Court Anthony Kennedy.
“I thought it could be an opera or a song,” Mack said. “I thought it beautiful and meaningful to me and friends. I wrote it within an hour and dedicated it to Darren Woods [artistic director at the Seagle Festival] and his husband, Steven Bryant, who’ve been together thirty years but only married in the last three or so years.”
Mack, who has taught for 11 years at Skidmore College, grew up in Forestburgh, N.Y., graduated from Port Jervis High School and went on to get degrees at Vanderbilt University and the University of Cincinnati’s College of Music. In 2018, Mack was named “Professional of the Year” by Musical America — the oldest American magazine devoted to classical music — which said that Mack was “considered one of the most gifted composers of his generation by industry insiders.”
In 2019, Marino contacted Mack about the couple’s love for his music. Skidmore College then created a two-day music residency for Marino, pianist John Arrida and Mack to work on a collection of his songs and give workshops and talks to the students. Five songs were chosen to record at the school’s Zankel Music Center. Ravello Records of New Hampshire agreed to label and release the CD.
“They were familiar with my work,” Mack said.
But just writing the songs required a lot of research because Mack wanted to base the lyrics on quotes of famous women of history.
“I read a lot of articles and collected up to fifty quotes to see how the categories connected,” he said. “I shaped those down to make sense to their thoughts. I wanted to use music to throw down barriers and play up the humor musically.”
From reading to opera
This technique of working with something Mack read is what got him into writing for opera.
In 2005, he’d heard of Sister Dorothy’s murder in the jungles of the Amazon. She’d been an American-born, Brazilian member of the Congregation of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. At the time, Mack was a music director at a church in Cincinnati. In nearby Reading, Ohio, there was a chapter of the Congregation. Mack reached out to the sisters, who allowed him to read some of Sister Dorothy’s letters written between 1969 and 2005.
‘I realized this is an opera,” Mack said. “It was a calling.”
In 2011, his first opera “Angel of the Amazon” premiered at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York City. Albany Records soon released the opera on CD worldwide. His song “Three Reflections of Sister Dorothy” is now on his “The Travelled Road.”
“Preach Sister Preach” has quotes from 18 women including Mae West, Daphne du Maurier, Ann Landers, Tina Fey, Lucille Ball and Ellen DeGeneres.
“I had two great quotes from Lucille Ball from the ‘I Love Lucy’ theme and that show was my mother’s favorite show so it’s a nod to her,” Mack said laughing. “And Ellen’s quotes are snippets from combined shows.”
“The Road and the Sand” is based on Carl Sandburg’s poetry.
“I’m a fan and had a collection of Sandburg’s poetry,” Mack said. “His lines are so 21st century. They’re not flowery but have the simplest structures.”
There is also a song called “The Secret Ocean” with text by poet Mark Jarman.
Besides writing for Marino, who sings all the songs, Mack enjoyed writing for the two other artists on the CD: pianist John Arrida and cellist Jameson Platte.
“I wrote parts as a tour-de-force for both and they’re perfect,” he said.
“The Travelled Road” album can be purchased on Amazon to download on your device on ITunes, stream on Apple Music, Spotify or Amazon Music.