Regan commissioned to compose chamber opera for Houston Grand Opera
Marty Regan is a perfect example of how a few required credit hours in college can change a person’s life.
As a student at Oberlin College Conservatory of Music, Regan took a class in Zen Buddhism to fulfill the international and cultural diversity requirement. The class inspired in Regan a love of Japanese culture, and 20 years later the assistant professor of music at Texas A&M has received a commission by Houston Grand Opera’s initiative, HGOco, to compose a chamber opera that will focus on Houston’s Japanese community.
The commission is part of HGOco’s East + West program, a four-year celebration of the Eastern and Western cultures within Houston. The project falls under the HGOco’s Song of Houston initiative, which commissions works that define the character of Houston.
Regan’s work will debut in spring 2013 and is expected to coincide with Houston’s Japan Festival. His will be the sixth East + West chamber opera in an eight part series. The work will contain no more than ten singers and instrumentalists, and the musical accompaniment will consist of a mix of traditional Japanese instruments and Western orchestral instruments.
Regan’s music has evolved to become an amalgamation of Eastern and Western cultures due to the various opportunities he was given and the chances he took. Time spent in the United States, Europe, and Asia (mostly in Japan) has speckled his career. While pursuing a Bachelor of Music and Bachelor of Arts from Oberlin, Regan began studying Japanese and ultimately turned down a spot in the graduate program in music at Yale University to go to Japan for three years.
“When I was 22, I had nothing left to say. I was simply composing music because it was required for my private lessons, and I felt like I really had to search for personal statement to make before granting myself the artistic license to continue composing,” Regan said.
While Regan was in Japan, a mentor helped him realize that he could dovetail his passion for music with his passion for Japanese culture.
“It was about this time that I first encountered the word ‘ethnomusicology,’ which literally means the study of social and cultural aspects of music and dance in local and global contexts. Up until that time it wasn’t even in my consciousness,” he said. “The idea of specializing in Japanese music and instruments as a vocation hadn’t crossed my mind until I realized that a term existed to describe that type of vocation.”
From 2000 to 2002, Regan attended Tokyo College of Music as a Japanese government-sponsored research student. During that time, he received private lessons on most of the primary Japanese instruments, including the shakuhachi (an end-blown bamboo flute), the koto (a zither), and the shamisen (a three-string plucked lute), among others.
Regan also landed a spot under the wing of one of Japan’s most prominent composers, Minoru Miki, who entrusted Regan to translate his orchestration manual “Composing for Japanese Instruments” into English. Widely regarded as the authoritative text on the subject and the only one of its kind available in English, this book was published by the University of Rochester Press in 2008. Following his time in Japan, Regan spent three years in Honolulu where he earned his doctorate from the University of Hawai‘i, Manoa.
Now, Regan has over 50 works for Japanese instruments in his portfolio. Navona Records has released two CDs that exclusively feature his works. "Selected Works for Japanese Instruments, Vol. 1: Forest Whispers..." was released in 2010, and "Selected Works for Japanese Instruments, Vol. 2: Magic Mirror" was just released on June 26, 2012.
Regan defines his music as “art music” rather than “easy listening music.”
“While the roots of the shakuhachi can be traced back to Zen Buddhism, I don’t compose music for meditation or yoga CDs. I compose art music. It’s meant to be experienced in the concert hall as a singular aesthetic experience,” he said.
Regan now says he has found his reason to compose, what he was looking for back when he embarked on his first journey to Japan.
“Everyone wants to know the meaning of life, but there really is no singular, objective meaning in my opinion. You have to find your own meaning. You have to find a way to engage yourself with something, anything, so you make a contribution to society,” Regan said. “For me, my contribution is this.”