The fear is that we won’t go gently or abruptly into that good night. We will hang on in the endurance trials of old age, forever rehearsing in the early morning twilight, fortified by a few hours of faulty sleep, the plot or why there is no plot, the explanations, the why, the lists, the old grievances never to be settled now, the stories never told or passed on, the interruptions, the terrifying proportions, everything larger than it is known to be, distorted in the mirror, and again and again.
Old people are special because they have no future. The future is what to eat for breakfast or where did I leave my shoes. Everything else is in the past. Is this understandable?
So, sometimes old people break the rules. Especially the rules of conversation and being together. They laugh a lot. I mean real full laughter. Did you ever notice that? They break the rules, because, for one reason or another (illness, anger, damage, enough of that, whatever), the rules no longer apply for them. They are alone. Sometimes they are sad. Sometimes they are desperate. Mostly they are brave. Mostly they have given up on the promises of religion – life after death, immortality, etc. Mostly they are concerned with dignity. Living with dignity. And, like all of us, eventually dying with dignity.
But they are still obliged, as human beings, to make sounds. They are obliged to speak, whether or not anyone is listening.
Act I (“Is It Light Yet?”) is a series of personal songs, the kind rehearsed in the early morning, every morning, to try to get the story right. These are separated by short bulletins of what some of the rest of the people on earth are up to.
Act II (“Asylum”) is a dialogue between four guests at the Assisted Living Facility and the counselor, who is trying to explain to them that the burden they feel, which might seem to be explained in words, is not to be relieved by finding the word of escape, and in fact will never be relieved. Occasionally the guests break into song to relieve the tension.
Act III (“The River Deepens”) is a series of reminiscences in a mixture of past and present tense. The importance of the reminiscence is its persistence. Separations never heal. Friendships misused never forgive. A mistake is a mistake forever.
Music, Libretto and Direction: Robert Ashley
Singers: Sam Ashley, Thomas Buckner, Jacqueline Humbert, Joan La Barbara and Robert Ashley
Piano: “Blue” Gene Tyranny
Electronic orchestra: Robert Ashley and Tom Hamilton
Live mixing and sound processing: Tom Hamilton
The Silent Character: Choreographed by Joan Jonas
"Celestial Excursions" was commissioned by Performing Artservices, Inc. as part of the national series of works of Meet the Composer/Arts Endowment Commissioning Music/USA, which is made possible by generous support from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Helen F. Whitaker Fund, and the Catherine Filene Shouse Foundation.
"Celestial Excursions" is a co-production of the Berliner Festspiele’s MärzMusik, the Hebbel-Theater Berlin, and Performing Artservices, Inc. with production support provided by generous contributions from the Phaedrus Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation’s Multi-Arts Production Fund.
Recorded live at the Kitchen by Tom Hamilton
Edited and remixed at 10 Beach Street by Robert Ashley and Tom Hamilton
Additional keyboard by Robert Ashley
Produced by Robert Ashley
Production photos from Berlin by
Lighting Design by David Moodey
Technical Coordination and Sound System Engineer: Cas Boumans
Stage Manager: Melanie Lipka
European Representation: Bénédicte Pesle
Art Direction and Design: By Design
Nancy Foote/By Design
Typeset in Garamond and Frutiger at
By Design, New York, NY, U.S.A.
Copyright © 2002 Robert Ashley, Visibility Music Publishers (BMI)
© 2005 Lovely Music, Ltd.
All rights reserved.
Printed in USA.
LCD 1007 DDD