Soldier Songs: Perception vs. Reality on the Front Lines

by Shannita Williams

If your only exposure to the ravages of war is through a small screen from the relative comfort of your couch, you don’t know what war is or how its aftermath affects the men and women on the front lines. Those who have experienced it first hand, however, are profoundly affected in ways most of us will never fully comprehend. 

In Soldier Songs, a groundbreaking multimedia concert from award-winning composer David T. Little and filmmaker Bill Morrison, elements of theatre, opera, rock, and film are combined to contrast the perceptions and realities of war from the soldier's perspective.

Little says Soldier Songs was originally conceived after a trip to speak at his former high school’s career day along with several other alumni guests, including a childhood friend who was there to talk about his experiences as a field medic in Iraq. On his way out, he stopped at a trophy case full of photos of classmates serving in Afghanistan and Iraq and realized he knew all of them. “Having these friends who were there,” Little recalled, “I started to think about the role of war in my life. I had thought of myself as someone for whom the military and any combat was not part of my world.” 

As he reflected on this experience, as well as on his own family, which was full of veterans of past wars and conflicts, he realized that he needed to re-examine his thoughts about war and the reality soldiers are confronted with. “I wanted to get to the heart of the matter so I went to people who had lived it,” he says.

Those recorded interviews with veterans of five wars gave rise to the libretto for Soldier Songs which follows a nameless soldier through three phases of life: Youth (playing war games), Warrior (time served in the military) and Elder (aged, wise, reflective).  “Opera can really do a lot to get below the surface of things,” says Little. “In Soldier Songs, I really wanted to try to explore these stories that individuals had told me as deeply as I could. Music is one of the best ways you can do that.”

David Adam Moore
David Adam Moore in Soldier Songs.

David T. Little is “one of the most imaginative young composers” on the scene, a “young radical” (The New Yorker), with “a knack for overturning musical conventions” (The New York Times). A monodrama for baritone and chamber orchestra, Soldier Songs will star David Adam Moore, who created the role of the Soldier at the work's 2008 premiere at Le Poisson Rouge in New York and the first fully-staged presentation at the 2011 International Festival of Arts and Ideas in New Haven, Connecticut.

Directed by Ashley Tata, this multimedia concert presentation utilizes film by Bill Morrison, whom Variety calls “one of the most adventurous American filmmakers.” Co-presented with LA Opera Off Grand, the show is a Beth Morrison Projects' production, the same team who blew our minds last summer with The Hubble Cantata. Soldier Songs will be conducted by Alan Pierson, leading members of the LA Opera Orchestra.

David T. Little's Soldier Songs takes place at the Ford on Saturday, October 13 at 8:30 PM. Tickets and info can be found here.

Catch the trailer for Soldier Songs here: