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A ‘Small Box’ At The Buskirk-Chumley

I was invited in to teach the men on death row. I did it for twenty years until prison policies changed and I was invited out

Small Box is a one act opera written by Bruce Pearson with music by Herman Whitfield III. It’s set in a death row visiting room, a place that Bruce Pearson knows well.

“I actually taught classes on death row in a South Carolina prison. I’m a native Hoosier, taught high school in Indianapolis and while doing that got my masters at IU. Then I went on to Berkley for a PhD. and a teaching job in South Carolina. During the time that I was there prison philosophy was advanced and I was invited in to teach the men on death row. I did it for twenty years until prison policies changed and I was invited out.”

Although Pearson’s story is based on his experiences, it’s not a literal translation.“The characters in my libretto are based on real people that I knew or heard about. The incidents are real as well. I have put things together and compressed the time. Although I’m not a musician, I’ve always loved music and I felt that this material was right for an operatic treatment.”

Pearson’s musical connection came about through the internet. “I joined an organization that included composers and I put out a proposal. A number of people responded and it seemed that another IU grad, Herman Whitfield III was the best fit musically and in terms of how we viewed the project. Fortunately, he lives and teaches in Indianapolis, so we’ve been able to get together frequently on the project. To me his music sounds like Puccini with spare lean vocal lines that contrast with lush orchestral writing.”

The name Puccini, brought to mind the various styles that he shows in his trilogy Il Trittico and Pearson said,” That’s a propos because I’ve envisioned Small Box as the first part of a trilogy. The librettos for the second and third parts are written and awaiting music.”

Bruce Pearson and Hermann Whitfield’s Small Box has its premiere in a single performance on Saturday November 7th at seven in the Buskirk Chumley Theatre.

George Walker

After completing an M.A.T. degree in English at Indiana University, George Walker began announcing for WFIU in 1967. Along with regularly hosting classical music shows, he interviews artists and reviews plays and operas.

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