Chicago-based composer Ross Crean is a multifaceted artist who’s active in many genres of music. Last year, Crean’s song cycle A Passive-Aggressive’s Guide to Mother Goose, was a winner of One Ounce Opera’s inaugural Fresh Squeezed Ounce of Art Song competition. Today, Ross Crean is our next featured artist in “The Inside Story,” a blog series exploring the inner workings and personalities of our artists. Read on to find out what role The Great God Pan has played in Crean’s life.
What was your most unusual performance, or the most embarrassing thing that happened to you during a performance?
My most unusual performance was the premiere of my monodrama Xenophysius Obscura (The Stranger’s Nature in Darkness) at Moscow State Conservatory. The work is intended to be sung in complete darkness and includes me roaming through the audience at one point. I was also barefoot so that no one in the audience would know when I was approaching. However, that backfired when I stepped on a bolt that held one of the seats down. I gasped, and in turn, I heard several other surprised gasps in response that traveled back from where I was standing to the stage. I wish I was able to recreate that moment for recording! The good news is that I neither damaged my foot, and the audience found the performance intriguing, so I never felt the need to confess what really happened at that point. Good thing, because it makes for great material you can talk about later, like this!
If you could do any job in the world and make a living at it, what would that be?
Exactly what I do now, which is composing. I worked as a performer for a very long time, and I will cherish the experiences I have gained through that, but there is nothing like being able to sit at home and completely be cerebral while creating a new piece of music. I love the creative process so much and enjoy being able to collaborate with so many talented performers who understand my work. It has been such a rewarding experience to see my music come to life, and the nerves and frustration that can occasionally accompany that do not amount to the joy and sense of accomplishment I get to feel when I am relating to others through my music. To me, it is always being able to express myself fully and have a continuous conversation with an audience.
If you could spend creative time anywhere in the world, where would it be? And why?
Hands down, I am always hoping to do work in Portland, Oregon. During my touring days, I had been to Portland hundreds of times, and I currently go back to work on different art installations. The energy I feel there is unlike any other place I have ever gone. It has always felt like a second home to me. Plus, as someone who thrives off of books and music, the downtown area pretty much has me covered, inspiration-wise. I am completely addicted to Powell’s books and can spend many an hour there each time I visit. Portland also has some of the best hiking imaginable, and I appreciate my time to escape to the great outdoors.
What does this album mean to you personally?
The Great God Pan has been such an immense part of my life for the last three years. It was a way for me to deal with grief, to find my creative self again, and to make an old story become relatable to current events. I gained a family through this process and learned immeasurable lessons about the recording process and behind-the-scenes work. Thematically, it has been an awakening of the undercurrents that can come through in a story that is not originally meant to be there, and therefore give the story a new life. It was also a way for me to really let my synesthesia take over and create a whole new world of sound and color. Listeners may not understand that world, but for myself, I feel like I wholeheartedly connected to a piece of music, and can escape to that world each time I listen to it. I have written a couple blogs about this that appear on my website, should anyone want to read further about my experiences with this opera.
What was your favorite musical moment on the album?
There were so many, but the one that stood out for me was Rachel’s aria, In the Garden. I originally wrote that piece as a chamber work and performed it many times myself. It combined my love of the Celtic sean-nos singing with internal piano dissonances, two things I have always enjoyed. When it came time to work on the opera as a whole, I knew that I had to include that piece as part of it, since it was the character of Rachel who inspired it. The aria is a demonstration of impending madness, the losing of one’s self-control, and to have it take place in such beautiful natural surroundings like the forest can actually be frightening in its conception. Jessica Hiltabidle had researched that particular moment of the story for months, and when she walked into the studio to perform it, there was really nothing I could say. She knows how to bring that inner turmoil to life, in a true and organic way, not something that has been staged.
Is there a specific feeling you want listeners to tune into when hearing your work?
Personally, if I have done my job correctly, I will not have to convey that verbally. There are several goals I have with this opera as far as what I was attempting to create, but really, what I want is to have the audience walk away with further questions. To be able to spark a further conversation about this opera would be an amazing achievement. I found so many layers within a story that seemed to have such a surface narrative, that I wonder how much more can be lying underneath there. That discovery alone has lit a fire in me to delve into future stories and narratives in a similar fashion. I cannot control the listeners’ interpretations as to what they hear, so I simply hope that they enjoy it, whether it be a horror story or a sociopolitical commentary on sexuality and religion. Either way, I am happy to have had the opportunity to share a piece of myself with them.
Ross Crean’s THE GREAT GOD PAN is releasing on Navona Records Friday, August 11th and when it will be available for purchase and streaming.