Back in 1983, when I was media specialist at East Coweta High School, I ordered a whole bunch of Newbery Award books to fill the gaps in the pitiful collection I had inherited.
When the order came in, I was a little puzzled at this book, A Visit to William Blake's Inn, by Nancy Willard. It looked like a picture book, and it was poetry, unlike every Newbery winner before it. However, the illustrations were marvelous, and when I started to read it...
Here was a magical world of tigers, sunflowers, cats, and angels, portrayed by sure-footed and ecstatic poetry. I was enthralled.
Being the rank amateur composer that I was, I immediately set "When We Come Home, Blake Calls for Fire" as a chorale, followed by the opening poem and a couple of others. Because of copyright issues, of course, I kept them largely to myself and eventually forgot about them.
Flash forward to 2003, when a group of us Newnanites were returning from taking some children to our sister city of Ayr, Scotland, where they had sung in an international thing that the Scottish Opera had put together. Wouldn't it be nice, we mused, if we were able to return the favor? I remembered my music from William Blake's Inn and pulled it up on my laptop on the flight home. Hm, I thought.
With some trepidation I mailed Nancy Willard the music that I had along with a CD and begged her not to sic her lawyers on me. Might I have permission to set the whole thing to music?
Dale, good heavens--of course you have my permission. What a wonderful gift appeared in the mail today--all those songs! Nancy Willard
Nancy was as generous and lovely and as wonderful as her book. It took me another three years to finish composing and another year to orchestrate the piece, and she was constantly supportive.
Alas, we never were able to stage William Blake's Inn beyond a couple of choral presentations and one "cardboard and hot glue" version we did to demonstrate its potential to civic backers who did not see the same potential as we did. And so it has languished for ten years.
On Monday, I met with Jennifer Dorrell, an old friend from the theatre, and we pinky-swore that we would spearhead the world premiere production of William Blake's Inn in February 2019. At this point, it's one enormous nebulosity. An ABORTIVE ATTEMPT, if you will.
Mark your calendar.
P.S. You can hear the music (with scores) at dalelyles.com/mymusic/wm-blakes-inn. I think you'll like it.