Jake Heggie

Composer Jake Heggie’s life is the stuff of opera

By DAVID DUPONT BG INDEPENDENT NEWS   Before the opera, before music, or the words, comes the story, said composer Jake Heggie. “I call this ‘the well,’” he said. “If the well is deep and rich and filled with big emotions and transformation, it just might inspire wonderful words, a strong architecture and potentially beautiful, powerful music.” Heggie have the Edwin H. Simmons Creative Minds series keynote talk, Sunday. He is on campus through Tuesday working with students. For Heggie the most attractive stories are those about the search for belonging and identity, the longing for family. Maybe someone should write an opera about Heggie’s own life. The theme would be the redemptive power of music. When Heggie was 10 his father committed suicide. “He suffered from crushing depression,” the opera composer said. But all Heggie and his three siblings knew is he had abandoned them. “A bomb went off in the family. There was emotional shrapnel and wreckage everywhere.” A week later Heggie turned 11, and he started composing his first songs. He lost himself in the arts. Spending days at the movie theater, watching films, especially musicals. His first goddess was Julie Andrews. “I felt safe and secure with music,” he said. “I spent all my paper route money on music, records, and movies. … I never felt alone though I often felt lonely.” When his family moved from Bexley, Ohio, to southern California, Heggie, who started playing piano at 7, took his first composition lesson. When he graduated from high school, he went to study in Paris where his heroes had lived and worked. When he returned to complete his studies at UCLA, he began studying with Johana Harris, the widow of the American composer Roy Harris. “I experienced magical teaching,” he said. Music “stopped being lofty sacred and unapproachable. It became human, visceral, real, messy, magical, and somehow more miraculous than before. Real people did all this. “I was learning directly from the keepers of a flame … the flame that had guided me all along.” It had brought him to a place where he was immersed the greatest in the performing arts. He was on stage turning pages for those who accompanied renowned singers. He played for the choir and for faculty members. When he graduated, he wanted to return for graduate studies right away. “I missed school. I felt successful when I was surrounded by music and study.” Then his right hand started to curl up and cramp when he played. He was diagnosed with focal dystonia. “I was…

The arts can save the world, opera composer Jake Heggie believes

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News When composer Jake Heggie comes to campus next week, he has a charge for music students – bring back the arts to schools. “This is a critical moment,” he said. “Arts can save the world.” They build empathy and understanding, and without that human beings’ more destructive tendencies take hold. Heggie, composer of the operas “Dead Man Walking,” “Moby-Dick,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and others, will visit Bowling Green State University Sunday, Oct. 22 through Tuesday, Oct. 24 as guest resident for the Edwin H. Simmons Creative Minds Series. He will give a free public lecture on Sunday at 8 p.m. in the Donnell Theatre in the Wolfe Center for the Arts. He will also give talks about his work, present workshops, and offer master classes Monday and Tuesday. Visit for www.bgsu.edu/CreativeMinds the schedule. All events are free. Heggie knows well the power of music to give solace and bring people together. Growing up in Bexley outside of Columbus, he started to study classical piano, and around the house he heard the big band music his father, an avocational saxophonist, loved. His father had dreamed of becoming a musician, but the son of Hungarian immigrants, he went into medicine and became a doctor. He suffered from depression and committed suicide when Heggie was 10. Music helped Heggie deal with the emotional “shrapnel” of his father’s death.  “I found solace in piano and musical theater. That’s where I found strength.” He started about this time to write songs with his idols in mind, Barbra Streisand, Carly Simon, Peggy Lee, and the other musical storytellers whom he loved. He did not, he said, in a recent telephone interview, have any exposure to opera. “I’ve always been drawn to singer telling stories,” he said. “It wasn’t a goal of mine to write opera. First and foremost I’m a theater composer. That’s what interests me, theater.” He first heard the operatic voice when he was living in Paris at 18. He was amazed at the power. “That comes from a human body?” His emergence as an opera composer has its own touch of musical theater magic. Rather than a dancer plucked from the chorus line to find stardom, Heggie was working in public relations for the San Francisco Opera when he was offered the chance to compose his first opera, “Dead Man Walking” a collaboration with Terrence McNally. That opera launched his career. He had started writing about music after he developed focal dystonia in his right hand. That stalled his career as…

Stars align at BGSU as College of Music welcomes famed guest artists

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News The Bowling Green State University College of Musical Arts has some special acts in the wings. Lindsay Gross, the college’s manager of public-community relations, can’t help but show her own enthusiasm for what’s in store for the coming academic year – five internationally acclaimed artists who will share their gifts with the community. And all the events related to these residencies are open to public for free. Why wouldn’t Gross be excited? She’s a jazz bass trombonist, and the first guest in September is the American Brass Quintet, a pioneering ensemble that uses bass trombone, not tuba, as its lowest voice. And closing run of guest artists during Jazz Week in late March will be Maria Schneider, the most esteemed living composer for large jazz ensemble. Schneider has won Grammys not only for her jazz work but also for her arrangement on David Bowie’s song “Sue.” And for her collaboration with soprano Dawn Upshaw, who will visit BGSU a week before she arrives. Visits scheduled are: American Brass Quintet, residency Sept.20-22, with a concert Sept. 22 at 8 p.m. Jazz guitarist John Scofield, Sept. 30, a master class and concert at 8 p.m. as part of the two-day Orchard Guitar Festival that starts Sept.29. Opera composer Jake Heggie, keynote lecture at 8 p.m. on Oct. 22 and residency Oct. 23-24, as part of the Edwin H. Simmons Creative Mind Series. Vocal superstar Dawn Upshaw, recital March 18 at 8 p.m. and residency March 19-20, as the Helen McMaster Professorship in Vocal and Choral Arts. Maria Schneider, residency from March 28-30, with a concert March 30 of Schneider conducting the Jazz Lab I band performing her compositions. (All concerts and lectures in Kobacker Hall. More details will be forthcoming on BG Independent News closer to each event.) All the artists will interact with BGSU students, and as much as possible with the community as well. Gross said she is arranging a session with the American Brass to work with high school students on playing chamber music. The quintet members will also be working with university brass students. The quintet, which has been dedicated to performing new music since its founding on 1960, will also discuss its extensive commissioning of new works with student composers. In addition to working with music students including vocalists performing his songs, Heggie will talk with students in English and Creative Writing about setting literary works to music. Heggie wrote an opera based on “Moby Dick,” and has set the poetry of Walt Whitman, to music….