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Tue, Jun 20, 2023

Rare Musical Composition Performed Under Spruce Goose

Of Airplanes on and Under the Roof

Recently, a rarely-performed hybrid work of music and avant-garde theater was performed at McMinnville, Oregon’s Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum.

The composition, titled One-Thousand Airplanes on the Roof, was written in the 1980s by composer Philip Glass and staged in the vast shadow of Howard Hughes’s colossal Hughes H-4 Hercules—better known throughout the wide world as the Spruce Goose.

Referred to by event organizer Third Angle New Music as a “one act sci-fi melodrama,” One-Thousand Airplanes on the Roof has rarely been performed in its entirety.

Third Angle New Music artistic director Sarah Tiedemann set forth the reason for the piece’s scarcity derives primarily of its atypical instrumentation and vocal arrangements.

Ms. Tiedemann stated of the work: “It’s for two synthesizers, three wind players playing saxophones and flutes, and I’m playing something called the EWI [an electronic wind instrument] and then a vocalist and an actor.”

Tiedemann added: “So it’s kind of a theater piece. It’s kind of not really a classical piece. An orchestra wouldn’t really do it. It’s kind of like a cross between classical music and Depeche Mode.”

Upon receiving One-Thousand Airplanes on the Roof’s score, the staff of Third Angle New Music discovered an additional complication.

“So it is handwritten, I assume in Philip Glass’s hand,” Ms. Tiedemann explained. “It clearly hasn’t been revised other than scribbles on it in the last forty-years. So there was a process with me on the floor with all of the parts: photocopying and cutting and pasting and transposing the instruments.”

Unfamiliar with the work’s intended sound, Tiedemann improvised.

“I managed to track down one archival video from a group in Scotland who did it 12 years ago, but that was just for a reference and that’s all we’ve got,” Tiedemann conceded.

Long-time Portland actor Ithica Tell, who played the production’s sole scripted role, elaborated on the part, stating the score’s complexities and eschewal of conventional motifs made for a challenging performance.

“We decided that we’re just gonna get someone to cue me, someone who’s incredibly capable of reading this music,” Tell related. “Someone’s gonna tell me when to go [and] I’ve taken the time to figure out how long, based on the rehearsals, my speech should take.”

Notwithstanding the composition’s inherent complexities, Tiedemann and Tell agreed the opportunity to perform the work against a backdrop as tremendous and superbly apposite as the Spruce Goose was a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence.

“She’s beautiful, you know,” Tell said of the storied aircraft. “You look at this plane and it’s silver and it looks like metal, but it’s wood. There’s something vibrant about that still, in an earth and sky kind of way.”

The Hughes H-4 Hercules, is a prototype strategic airlift flying boat designed and built by Howard Hughes’s aircraft company in 1947. The vast machine made a single short flight before being shelved by the U.S. War Department on account of WWII having ended and its moment of usefulness to the Allied war effort having passed.

The aircraft has been on display at western-Oregon’s Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum since 1993.

FMI: www.evergreenmuseum.org


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