Energies of a Passionate Collaborator--
By Kip Allen
If the usual image of a classical music composer is a dead European, Danny Crafts doesn't fit the mould. He was born in Detroit. He isn't dead.
Daniel Steven Crafts doesn't remember a time when there wasn't music in his life. While music hasn't always brought much money into his life, it does bring joy.
He's a prolific composer. There are always three or four projects cooking simultaneously. To date he has written 8 operas, 12 large orchestral works (including seven symphonies and five concertos), many songs for solo voice or chorus. And protest songs.
Music pours out of him. He responds to the expected question of "Why did you become a composer?" by saying self-satirically and truthfully, "I can't help it. I never really had a choice."
He experiences music as central to living. He rails against composers who have driven audiences away from music by writing in unjustifiably dissonant modes. In the liner notes to one of his CDs, he writes, "Music should be neither the esoteric property of an exclusive group of professionals, nor the kind of audio wallpaper to which commercial enterprise would reduce it. The task of the truly contemporary composer is not only to write music of substance, but to win back an audience thoroughly alienated by 'modern' music."
Danny is passionate about music and about collaboration. "Working with others charges me even more than working solo," he observes. He recently hooked up with Rudolfo Anaya, a major figure in contemporary Hispanic literature, to create an opera based on the tale of La Llorona.
Commissioned by opera star Jerry Hadley to write a work celebrating Hadley's Midwestern roots, Danny worked with Hadley in assembling "The Song and the Slogan" using poems and lyrics by Carl Sandburg. A PBS television production of "The Song and the Slogan," featuring Hadley and narrated by David Hartman, won an Emmy for "Best Music" in 2004 from the Mid-America Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
Another collaboration with cartoonist Shannon Wheeler this past summer resulted in a Portland, Oregon production of "Too Much Coffee Man - The Opera." Danny laughs, "It's probably the first opera based on a comic strip character."
"Currently in the works is my most exciting collaboration, 'From a Distant Mesa'. Jerry (Hadley) has commissioned this one, too," continues Crafts. The new work has three sections, with words by Rudolfo Anaya, V. B. Price (poet, novelist, historian and columnist), and Adam Cornford, a poet Danny has worked with since the 1960's. Each section offers distinct insights into the essence and impact of America's Southwest. "I'm currently talking with the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra about a possible premiere performance."
Humor is another factor in his work. "'Too Much Coffee Man' had audiences belly-laughing," he remembers with delight. Social satire looms large. A suite of tunes for flute and piano has such titles in it as "A meter maid attempts to give a parking ticket to an aggressive alcoholic who has just arrived with three more dimes."
Crafts now lives at the edge of the Rio Grande north of Albuquerque. The beauty of the landscape tempers his sense of social justice. "Of all my compositions, 'The Songs of Innocence and Experience' based on the William Blake poems, is closest to my heart. I doubt that it will ever get performed. It's so long.. 2, 3 hours, maybe. But William Blake! Blake offers two basic tenets: See beauty in all things, never lose your innocent wonder.. And also fight like hell against injustice in the world. The dialectic of those two, balancing each other, one never overpowering the other - that's the model I've been using to shape my life."