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Keith Gates: Music

Migle and the Bugs


Migle and the Bugs takes place sometime in the future, in the era of Huxley's, Brave New World. It is a story of a space-age civilization in which population and death are controlled by man, and in which the human qualities of mankind have been lost. Migle, a test-tube baby who was purchased at "birth" by John and Marsha, is now two years old. He has two mysterious pets, "Squink" and "Squank". He carries them around in a jar and confides in them.

The action takes place in a around the home of John and Marsha.

Recorded at the North Carolina School of the Arts, Feb 10, 1968, in the Auditorium

Robery Vodnoy, conductor
David Wood, director
Lee Harper, choreographer

Migle - Bernard Thacker
Marsha - Martha Teachey
John - Douglas Decatur
Alice - Ella Cutts

Sally - Emily Adams
Migle - David Ray
Violins.........Ida Bieler, Lucy Chapman
Viola............Ruth Critchley
Cello............Margaret Tait
Flute............Ransom Wilson
Oboe............Randall Ellis
Clarinet........Arturo Ciompi
Bassoon........Michael McCraw
Horns...........John Epperson, Dan Ashe
Trumpets.....Gary Buchanan, Russ Plylar
Trombone....Steven Sherrill
Tuba............John Sizemore

Migle and the Bugs, from the 1968 performance
at the North Carolina School of the Arts
Migle and the Bugs, from the 1968 performance at the North Carolina School of the Arts

Emily Adams
Emily Adams, who danced the role of Sally in Migle and the Bugs

The Origin of Migle and the Bugs

My second opera, Migle and the Bugs, composed when I was nineteen at the North Carolina School of the Arts, came about in a very strange and interesting way.

In high school in Lake Charles, where I was raised, I used to do dramatic interpretation at speech rallies. I had scored fairly consistently using the Hollow Men, and a soliloquy from Hamlet, "Oh, what a rogue and peasant slave am I." But in my junior year of high school I wrote a short story called Migle and the Bugs. It was mostly dialogue and worked out perfectly for the speech tournaments. I used it for dramatic interpretation and won at several rallies. So when I left LaGrange High School here in Lake Charles and headed to the North Carolina School of the Arts for my senior year of high school I tucked away in my suit case a copy of that original short story that had helped me win so many top honors. Why did I take it along with me? I really don't know, but later it proved to be very beneficial.

My senior year in high school at NCSA was an eye-opener. I had come from this very conservative town in southwest Louisiana and went to a very progressive and experimental arts school in Winston-Salem. When I left Lake Charles in 1967 short hair for guys was the norm. In fact, I had been kicked out of class at my conservative high school in Lake Charles because I combed my relatively short hair down onto my forehead quasi Beatles style. But these guys at the arts school not only had shoulder length hair, they had beards and moustaches as well! And you talk about free thinkers with alternative life styles, the school of the arts had them all. I loved it there. It was a hotbed of creativity.

At that new arts school we were like a family. Everyone knew each other. It was very small and very intense. Everyone interacted in the various art fields, music, theater and dance. It was the norm for me to accompany dance classes (that's where I fell in love with ballet, and several beautiful ballerinas as well), compose music for the theater department's productions (Pirandello's Enrico IV, Romeo and Juliet, She Stoops to Conquer), and collaborate with all my dear fellow students in the music department. But most importantly that's where I learned to compose, under the tutelage of Louis Mennini.

The main project my senior year of high school was to compose my first opera, Escurial, based on Michael de Ghelderode's theater of the absurd masterpiece of the same title. I was in heaven, composing opera, my favorite art form.

It was while I was a senior there at NCSA that I happened one evening to attend a talent night in the school cafeteria. It was a student thing. David Wood, a fellow student, had organized the evening's events to sort of amuse the student body, since we weren't allowed off campus on weekends. It was just something creative to do. So while I sat there listening to others perform and do "their thing" I suddenly remembered Migle and the Bugs and how I used to perform it at speech rallies. I was a real ham back then and loved attention and applause. So I quickly ran back to the dorm and rummaged through my things until I found the copy of the short story I had written. When I made it back to the cafeteria panting and out of breath the talent show was still in progress. So when they said "Next" I stood up and made my way to the spot light in the dimly lit room. And the rest is sort of NCSA history.

Migle and the Bugs went over very well. I got a standing ovation. People loved the eerie story with the mixture of comedy and suspense. As the days passed students who saw the performance at the talent show told me that I should do something creative with that story. They loved it! So the thought occurred to me to make it into an opera. And so I did. The short story served as the libretto perfectly. I simply had to leave out the descriptive narrative and use only the dialogue.

The following year, my first year of college at NCSA, Migle and the Bugs was produced by students along with Gianni Schicchi by Puccini. Student David Wood directed the opera, Robery Vodnoy, a fellow composition major, conducted, and students performed the singing roles and played in the chamber orchestra as well. It was a tremendous success. Later that summer it was produced in Siena, Italy at the summer session of the NCSA in Italy and even later at Alice Tully Hall in Manhattan when I was a student at the Juilliard School.

The most recent performance of Migle was at McNeese State University on a double bill with my Portraits from Macbeth. It remains one of my favorite pieces. It has the charm of youthful writing and the foretaste of some of my latter compositions as well; a fun and scary one-act opera!

Keith Gates