‘Troubleshooting,’ new work by Ballston Lake composer, premieres Friday at SUNY Schenectady

'Troubleshooting,' new work by Ballston Lake composer, premieres Friday at SUNY Schenectady

Ballston Lake composer John Carroll has a habit of jumping into new musical territory.

That’s perhaps especially true with his latest work, called “Troubleshooting,” which will premiere on Friday. It’s a micro-opera that will be performed by members of The Quarry Project, a group that includes Areli Mendoza-Pannone, soprano; Robert Frazier, bass-baritone; and Mark Evans, piano.

Clocking in at around half an hour, it depicts a phone call between a lonely, socially dysfunctional young adult (Sam) and a volunteer social worker (Rory) dealing with similar issues. It captures some of the loneliness and struggles that neurodivergent people can face when trying to navigate social situations. It reflects Carroll’s experience as someone with autism spectrum disorder.

“This opera has more or less one goal; to [help] people who struggle with those issues not feel alone,” Carroll said.

The SUNY Schenectady and SUNY Fredonia graduate started working on the piece while studying musical theater writing at New York University earlier this year. Carroll had met Evans, Frazier and Mendoza-Pannone as a student at SUNY Schenectady and wanted to write a piece for the group to take to work through at Avaloch Farm Music Institute, a New Hampshire-based residency program.

At the time, Carroll was itching to compose a dramatic piece with lyrics because while at NYU’s graduate program he’d been strictly studying composition.

“Something about my program, which is a little unusual, is that it is very segregated between composers and lyricists. You are selected as one or the other regardless if you can do both. And for the entirety of your two years there, you’re pretty much relegated to that position,” Carroll said, adding “I was getting this sort of bubbling interest in writing words, despite not really having much experience doing so for music.”

It took about a month to ruminate on the storyline and then another few weeks to write the piece. It’s a stripped-back work and Carroll purposefully made it so that any performer, regardless of gender or vocal capacity, could sing each of the parts.

“I want anybody to be able to sing this. The message of the opera is already quite universal, I wanted it to be in the hands of as many people as possible and accessible to as many people as possible,” Carroll said.

Along with that, Carroll designed the piece to have flexible performance needs.
“A stereotype of opera is that it is lavishly expensive and impractical to perform,” Carroll said.

“Troubleshooting” is the opposite. There are no opulent costumes and the only set piece is a phone.

The format of the micro-opera, where two performers sing back and forth on the phone, was also true to Carroll’s experiences.

“The majority of the revelations that I came to [and] that I put in the opera to the best of my ability, happened with conversations with friends over the phone. The phone call aspect of it is very true to my life,” Carroll said.

The Quarry Project and Carroll started rehearsing the piece at Avaloch over the summer and have fine-tuned it since then.

Carroll noted that while the piece is personal, listeners often find something in it that they can relate to.

“Whenever I show it to people, every time, there’s always been a sense of ‘I feel like that’s me. You wrote about me to a certain degree.’ And that’s so validating because that’s the reason why I wrote it,” Carroll said. “This is the first time I’ve written something that I feel [is] helping people on some level or validating them. It makes me feel like this piece is bigger than myself.”

“The fact that it moves people on some level and makes them feel like their issues are being recognized . . . the piece is automatically a success,” Carroll added.

It premieres at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow in the Taylor Auditorium at SUNY Schenectady.

The Quarry Project will also perform Brett Wery’s “Quarry Songs.”

For more information visit sunyschenectady.edu.

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