Unlike his librettist Gene Scheer, composer Jake Heggie didn't want any direct contact with the Houston firefighters who'd gone to New York City to help out in the 9/11 tragedy ten years ago, and he didn't want to talk to any surviving relatives either.
Just as he had with Dead Man Walking, Heggie wanted "an arch" from Scheer -- stories and words based upon the interviews Scheer had done -- but then Heggie would fill in the blanks with his imagination. "I felt like I needed that one-step-removed to be able to really do them justice," he told Art Attack.
Starting this Friday, Pieces of 9/11, Memories from Houston, a 35-minute song piece commissioned by the Houston Grand Opera and performed by a soprano, baritone and teen soprano, will be presented at various places in Houston. Heggie said he is trying to portray the feelings and emotions of Americans -- like him -- who weren't in New York City on September 11, 2001, but who "felt the ripples" all the same.
"One of the reasons this piece spoke to me, I felt the shock wave of 9/11, too. I felt a need to respond as well. These memories from Houston were a way I could connect as well," he said.
In writing the music to the song cycle, Heggie said: "The big challenge was, we know, that this was a tragic story that was deeply shattering and the shock waves were felt all over the world. But the job, our job, I felt, was to find something hopeful and positive we could take away from that horrible experience so could make our lives better."
Heggie said he felt he understood the characters of the individuals Scheer interviewed and, as a result, "there's a very strong sort of folk and pop influence in the songs because I feel like they're connected to real people out there in the field."
He wrote two versions: the first with piano as accompaniment and the second, a more portable one with flute, violin, guitar and cello.
"The whole reason it's called Pieces of 9/11," Heggie said, "is that all we really have of that experience are pieces of memories or emotions or journeys and collectively they're all pieces that we're trying to put together in a puzzle to try to understand what that event meant."
The Houston Grand Opera will present Pieces of 9/11, Memories from Houston at noon Friday, September 9, at the Houston City Hall Reflection Pond, 901 Bagby Street; 7 p.m. Friday, September 9 at Discovery Green (followed by the 9/11 documentary); 7:30 p.m. at the Arab American Cultural Center, 10555 Stancliff Rd.; and at 2 and 4 p.m. Sunday, September 11, at the Rothko Chapel, 3900 Yupon St.
There are also several upcoming events to commemorate the tenth anniversary of 9/11: 7 p.m. Thursday, September 8: HGOco Community Conversations: Remembrance and Honor: Why do we remember? How do we honor? With Jake Heggie, Gene Scheer, Bill O'Brien at Rothko Chapel.
9:03 a.m. Sunday, September 11: The 9/11 Heroes Run. Visit www.911heroesrun.com for more information.