“The Happy Prince,” based on the book by Oscar Wilde, will kick off the Theater Extravaganza at 7 p.m., May 3, in the Troutt Theater.
The annual showcase of student-created plays and monologues. An integral part of theater is the presentation of the “The Happy Prince,” courtsey of Deen Entsminger and the Chamber Singers, a student chorale group.
“It’s going to be stunning,” said Deen Entsminger, the composer of the piece and a Belmont music professor.
“The Happy Prince” is about a self-absorbed swallow on his way to Egypt from Europe for the winter.
He stops at the feet of a statue prince who begs the bird to stay and help distribute the wealth on his statue, like his ruby eyes and gold-leafed body, to the suffering people. The bird agrees for a night, helping those he sees, but as the night ends, the bird dies at the prince’s feet. God sends an angel to earth to bring the bird and the prince’s heart to heaven.
“It’s centered in the act of sacrifice and good-will. It’s a story that will move you,” Entsminger said.
He wrote the musical composition for his master’s degree. It is now published, which rarely happens.
“It was extraordinary for me. I felt so strongly about the text, the story of this work and my contribution to it as a composer I wanted this work to be in the world,” he said.
Entsminger’s compositon is a difficult one. Inspired by composers Aaron Copland and Benjamin Britten and conductor Leonard Bernstein, his work is sophisticated and complex, complete with meter changes on every bar and clashing chords that mirror the swallow’s actions.
“The challenge has been to help the ensemble learn 70 pages of music. We’ve worked on it since the fall,” said Entsminger.
The May 3 performance will be a little different than previous performances of Entsminger’s work. In addition to simply hearing the Chamber Singers, the audience will also see two modern dance sequences that have been choreographed and performed by his daughter, Heather Entsminger.
“I separated the complete text into three separate movements and wrote a dance movement after the first and second so the audience could have a visual component,” he said.
Even if people have never heard of ‘The Happy Prince,’ Entsmingers said he hopes they will walk away with a better understanding, able to reflect and relay what they witnessed.
“I think that’s any composer’s responsibility when you set text to music. It should exalt the meaning behind that text. What’s the point of writing the music if people can go and read the story? I’m hoping the music and dance will even lift the story higher to those who come and see it.”
Entsminger encourages attendance because “we could all use an amazing example of decency just before we head into exams.” He hopes there is at least one person who comes to hear ‘The Happy Prince’ and it sparks action.
“We’re always in the presence of great acts of kindness and sacrifice but I think sometimes we need to be present, where it’s told in a musical venue,” Entsminger said. “When we witness an act of kindness, it’s a nice thing but when we’re a part of the story it gives us the opportunity to act.”