Todd Sickafoose Returns Home To Eugene For The Oregon Premiere Of His Project Bear Proof

Oct 22, 2019

Composer, bass player, bandleader, and Eugene resident Todd Sickafoose has had quite a year. Along with Michael Chorney, Sickafoose won the Tony Award for best orchestration for the Broadway musical Hadestown.

KLCC's Lauren Purcell-Joiner sat down to talk with him about Hadestown, his Tony Award win, and his upcoming October 23rd performance of his composition Bear Proof.

Lauren Purcell-Joiner: Can you talk a little bit about doing the orchestration for Hadestown and what that looked like? How did you get involved with that?

Todd Sickafoose: I've lived in a bunch of places in my adult life. I've lived in Los Angeles for 8 years, and San Francisco for quite a bit of time, and New York for quite a bit of time, but I've also traveled for many many years with a songwriter named Ani DiFranco. And Anaïs Mitchell was one of the people I met through Ani, many many years ago. I think it was 13 years ago we started working on Hadestown.

LP: You talk about that being a really long process. What does that process look like? What are some of the steps that it took to get to the show that you might see if you bought a ticket and saw it on Broadway today?

TS: The thing that's interesting now, if you only know it as a piece on Broadway, is that it started, as just as a weird art project up in Vermont. It was really just--It was something that might have existed in a downtown art scene in New York. I guess the key to it is that it didn't have sights on being a commercial piece. And so it's always had this protective bubble around it. Of just being an art project that we wanted to be as good as it could be in every way. Thankfully, as more and more people became involved in the project, the people who came into that respected that, took their cues from Anaïs Mitchell and the amazing way that she collaborates, and kept that protective bubble around it through all of this, all of this attention.

LP: This past year, you won the Tony Award for Best Orchestration for Hadestown, can you tell us a little bit about that experience?

TS: Of course, it's a great honor, but it was also so fun that night to feel like the whole show was so represented, and I really did have a feeling of community. I was getting texts from friends who were feeling like our whole scene won this award together: the kind of creative scene that's a little bit sometimes cross-genre and sometimes without a home, the kind of music that we love and that we're making. And so everybody felt like, this is a win for everyone, this is a win for art.

LP: You've got an upcoming production October 23 at the Shedd. Can you tell us a little bit about that show and the piece that's going to be featured there?

TS: It's a piece called Bear Proof. I wrote it for an 8 member version of my band Tiny Resistors. It's a really cool instrumentation; it's clarinet, cornet, violin, accordion, electric guitar, piano, upright bass, and drums. So many cool color combinations between those instruments.

LP: Where did that title come from?

TS: It goes hand-in-hand with the general thematic world of the piece. I'm from the San Francisco bay area. You become aware at a certain point that, especially if you're an artist and make it through the waves of change that keep coming over, you know this is true of all of California but especially San Francisco, you're just reliving 1849 over and over in all these different weird ways. And so I was thinking about that and coming up with some phrases that fit in that world to me. And you know, it's instrumental music, so I think what I've tried to do is make a piece loosely based on this idea of booms and busts in California from now until eternity and what that means for people. And I've tried to be loose about it so that there are titles to the different sections as you go through the piece, but they're loose and they're something that the listener can interpret.

LP: You've played this piece in other places.

TS: Yeah, we've had a chance to do it four times so far: San Francisco and LA, and on the East Coast we've played it in New York and Philadelphia, and Eugene will be our fifth chance.

LP: Can you talk a little bit about how even if you might have heard this piece before somewhere or heard a recording of it, how a different performance might give you a different window into it, given the spontaneity of each performance?

TS: It's quite composed, so there's a consistency to it, but it's over an hour long and played without break. I thought that would be an interesting, exciting thing to present, but I wasn't prepared for how unusual that was gonna feel to play it that way. It's not like we don't play long stretched of music in our performances, but there's something about this piece that has been very satisfying to present every time that we've had a chance to do it. There are certain things that you only get to, there's no shortcut to, and sometimes you make decisions as a group in a way, that deep into an arc of music. There's something meditative and deep about it that has been very exciting.

You can hear Todd Sickafoose performing his composition Bear Proof along with Jenny Scheinman and Allison Miller's Parlour Game, 7:30 pm on October 23rd at the Shedd Institute.