Soprano Mellissa Hughes, who sings in various ensembles like Alarm Will Sound and Ensemble Signal, fronts the band Newspeak, is a member of the Trinity Wall Street Choir, and does all kinds of freelance work as a soprano/vocalist, is finally here to speak to The Glass!
Mellissa (also known as Melly) had a few minutes to talk about the 4th Annual New Music Bake Sale at Roulette in NY on Sunday, March 3rd (starting at 4 PM and expected to go until 11 PM), and she also talks about some great musical moments that happened recently!
CM: Tell us about the annual New Music Bake Sale.
Mellissa: The New Music Bake Sale started in 2009, and I was on the original team that kind of came up with the concept. We wanted a fundraiser which was something different that hadn’t been done yet, so we came up with the idea of having a bake sale! The community aspect of a bake sale is people coming together–Who doesn’t want a Rice Krispy treat or a cupcake? You spend a little bit of money, but you are helping an organization, so, we thought it might be nice to open it up to a bunch of organizations, PR people, bands, ensembles, and what not.
CM: Various blogs were there to cover it as well–I Care If You Listen, among others, had covered it–Thomas made a really nice video of the highlights of last year’s show, and Newspeak was such a nice part of that montage! [They appear at 2:35; Patti Kilroy sitting in on violin] But I noticed this year it’s just you at the event.
Mellissa: Yeah, this time it’s just me–Newspeak’s a pretty big band, and we can’t always get everybody together. It’s such a special type of band being a classical ensemble that plays rock music, so, it can be tricky finding the right sub. It’s impossible to find someone to sub for Caleb [Burhans], for instance, he’s such a dynamic leader and phenomenal player, and does what he does so well. So we decided that instead of getting a bunch of subs, David [T. Little] opened it up to any of us if we had solo sets, and I’ve been doing this song cycle with Jacob Cooper I’d just done at LPR back in January, and so I asked him. It’s a really portable show, just me and electronics, so I will be doing a 20-minute set of those pieces.
CM: The name Jacob Cooper sounds familiar…
Mellissa: He wrote Timberbrit, the opera about Britney Spears that I did! Jacob and I went to Yale together, we’ve known each other since 2004, and have been collaborating since 2005. He’s one of my longest-running collaborators, still! And he lives a block away, so, [laughs] it’s really convenient, when he writes me something, I can just walk down the block and we’ll record something!
Jacob Cooper: Excerpt from Timberbrit
CM: Can you talk about the David Coll piece Position, Influence and your working with the composer? [EDITOR’S NOTE: I spoke to David about this piece in his interview as well; David Coll << The Glass, published 7/7/12] I love this piece and your performance, and this was something that got a lot of attention when you performed it at the MATA Festival last April, and the New York Times wrote a rave review of the night in question with this being the evening’s highlight.
Mellissa: That was a really busy week! The night before David’s performance was The Little Death, Vol. 2 at MATA, and I had a recording that week! It was kind of insane, and so, we barely had any rehearsal time–We had one rehearsal! Because of the sound sculpture (The resonating sheets behind me), I had to go out to some office building in Brooklyn, where a friend of David’s, who was a percussionist, had a studio so he could set it up, and it was the only time I was going to be able to experiment with the laryngophone–a super sensitive microphone that picks up the tiniest sound. A teeny little crack in your throat is amplified and then sent to these sheets of metal.
The actual score is crazy too, it’s not necessarily written out! It’s timed, so that there’s a line, and at some point in the line, there might be a consonant, or a vowel. And then there were arrows that were kind of squiggly, and some of them went up, some of them went down, some of them were pointing in, so that suggests inhalation that kind of looks like the shape, so, it took me a while to kind of familiarize myself with the score and with the way he chose to write down the sounds that he wanted, and the more and more I thought about it, the more and more I was convinced that I couldn’t have actually done it any better! He did it brilliantly, but it took a while for me to figure out the language.
Our first rehearsal, I was so concerned with just showing him “I’ve done this work, I’m trying to be really accurate”, and he told me “Don’t be afraid to sell it!”, and I was like “Oh, I’m never afraid to sell it! That’s what I do! I will sell it, don’t worry about it!”, but he didn’t know me and he didn’t really know my performing, so it was kind of hilarious that he was concerned that I wasn’t going to bring down the house or at least attempt to bring down the house!
CM: Literally bring down the house! [both laugh]
Mellissa: There was a very comedic and theatrical element to the piece, which is my favorite type of music to do, where you get to really play with the audience, in a way, and I could definitely sense that they were hanging on to my every sound that I was making.
CM: I know in the back of my mind, whenever I watch new music, or particularly the more experimental forms of music, I can picture people I know watching/listening to either John Cage or someone more contemporary like David Coll, and they’d be saying “What is this? Why are we here? Why did you bring me to this?”, but I’m much more mature than that, and I know that there’s things about this music that speak to my taste, and even with John Cage, there’s lots of things he’s done that I love, and there’s lots of things he’s done that I’m still trying to wrap my head around.
Mellissa: Well, that’s kind of the point! A true artist isn’t going to make everybody happy all the time, and for me, I know I count my successes and my failures, in that if somebody hates something that I’ve done, I like that! That means I caused them to have an intense reaction to something that I’ve done instead of provided them with lovely background music.
CM: You are also appearing on Mohammed Fairouz’s next CD coming out.
Mellissa: Yes! I recorded a piece with David Krakauer, who’s this phenomenal clarinetist who kind of does similar things with me that he does in classical music, and then he’ll do some crazy stuff. He’s part of this world famous crazy klezmer band, and the piece is for soprano and clarinet, it’s microtonal, and it’s really beautiful!
CM: You sang onstage with The Stones! Please share!
Mellissa: I did! That was Trinity Choir’s doing, not my doing, but yes, my church job! We sang on the first encore “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, which has that big boy choir…
CM: Yeah, I know, the London Bach Choir sang on the original recording!
Mellissa: Right, and the band has never done it live with a choir, so for their 50th anniversary tour, they were going to do it, so, we got the gig! It was fun! The first one was at the Barclays Center, and then the last 2 were at the Prudential in Newark–I’ve never sung in a stadium that big before.
CM: What about the interaction with the band? Did any of them speak to the singers?
Mellissa: They came up and said “Hi”! Mick Jagger definitely walked over and said “hi”, and every night we would walk out onstage in our gowns, and Keith Richards would guitar bow to us. He looked over to the four ladies on my side, and just very graciously bowed his head and we were like “Yeah!” [laughs]
The Rolling Stones: “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”; Live in concert at Barclays Center, NYC 12/8/12 (Mellissa can be seen far right on the jumbotron at 0:29)