Some Thoughts To Help With the SpinTunes #5 Mini-Opera Challenge

Spin+judges didn’t get to fully talk through the mini-opera challenge before it was posted. I don’t blame anyone. We’re all busy people. But I’m concerned that the challenge post as it stands may mislead some entrants. I speak for nobody but myself, and maybe it’s not something a judge should do in this situation, but I’d rather do something now to help entrants get moving on a good track than stay silent and risk that we all end up with something less than the best possible crop of mini-operas we can get for this round. So I’d like to share some thoughts on what I believe a mini-opera is and how those thoughts will come into play at least in my own judging. I’ll give some additional examples, too. Again, I speak only for myself, and all entrants can take or leave everything I say as you wish.

An opera is a dramatic work. That doesn’t means it’s “interesting or emotional” as opposed to “boring.” That means it tells a story through characters communicating and taking action. I’m looking for that kind of story. “Written in the Wind” may be from a musical and have two characters interacting with each other, but “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” and half the radio-hit duets you can think of have two characters interacting with each other. “Come Talk To Me” may have been “dramatized” in the “Secret World” concert film with a telephone prop, but it’s a solo song from a solo album and the other “character” is really just singing background vocals. It’s theatrical, it’s “dramatic,” but it’s not a dramatic work. None of these songs tell a story. I think a mini-opera, like a full opera, should tell a story, so that someone who heard your entry could tell the story to someone who didn’t hear it, just as if it were a novel or a movie or a TV episode, etc.

I will probably vote to disqualify any entry that doesn’t tell a clear story, and I’d hope that all judges would feel the same for this challenge.

An opera tells a whole story. Like I said in a comment on Dr. Lindyke’s blog, Mini-Me wasn’t just a lung or liver following Dr. Evil around, just a part of a person. A mini-opera, to me at least, is not an excerpt from an opera. It’s a small opera. It should tell a whole story. A whole story can be told in a few seconds. A mini-opera can certainly be pulled off at a length appropriate to the amount of time given for a SpinTunes round. Give us an excerpt that doesn’t stand on its own and the challenge maybe may just as well have been to write a number from a musical. That’s not the challenge. The challenge is a mini-opera.

I will probably vote to disqualify any entry that doesn’t tell a complete story, and I’d hope that all judges would feel the same for this challenge.

An opera is made up of multiple songs or song-like pieces. Get mini enough, down to a few seconds, and this would be impossible to do effectively. At a few minutes, though, it’s totally doable, and I think it would be really nice to have a mini-opera keep this characteristic of a full opera. At some level, it’s possible that a single song’s separate sections (verse, chorus, bridge, etc.) might accomplish this, but possibly not.

I don’t know that I’d vote to disqualify any entry that had only one “movement,” but I might, depending on what it does (and doesn’t) accomplish with that one movement. All other things being equal, I’d definitely score a multiple-movement entry higher than a one-movement entry.

In light of all this, here are some examples that I think would best serve entrants to consider:

“Paradise By the Dashboard Light” by Meat Loaf — It has multiple characters (in multiple time periods, even), they’re singing, getting a complete story across, in multiple movements. And it was written to be listened to as a recording. Except for the spoken-word baseball broadcast, there’s probably not a better example for you to consider.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” — Also a good example, for nearly all the same reasons as the Meat Loaf song, especially if you consider the song’s Wikipedia outline. (It’s almost a one-person opera, which is a possibility I’d personally like to have left open, since there are lots of one-person dramatic works, and I don’t see why it couldn’t have been possible here, but I can live with a two-character minimum.)

“Marvin at the Psychiatrist (A 3-Part Mini-Opera)” from the musical “March of the Falsettos,” and “Wire & Glass – Six Songs from a Mini-Opera” by The Who, from the album “Endless Wire” and the musical “The Boy Who Heard Music” — In both cases, it’s true they’re from larger works, but they were also both intended to stand somewhat on their own, and both self-describe as mini-operas.

7 comments for “Some Thoughts To Help With the SpinTunes #5 Mini-Opera Challenge

  1. July 24, 2012 at 10:21 am

    Okay Mark. You know I love you. But I’ve got something to say about this…

    To begin? I think this is crap.

    (Let me explain why…)

    “Iā€™d rather do something now to help entrants get moving on a good track…”

    How? By putting up a blog post where no one can find it? As I type this, it is 10:49 on Tuesday, July 24th. The date on this blog post is two days ago — the same date that the challenge went up on the SpinTunes blog. The only reason I happened to stumble upon it is because I decided to zip over to Dr. Lindyke’s blog to see if there were any more residual comments left over from LAST round. Being secure in my song idea for THIS round (i.e. my idea wasn’t going to be altered, affected, or influenced any longer by hearing other people’s thoughts and ideas), I decided to read Dave’s “What’s Opera, Doc?” post. Followed your link — not even a hyperlink; a TEXT link — to your blog page, and that’s how I happened to stumble upon this.



    We’re now more than 30% of the way through the songwriting window. Ideas are starting to set and jell. (If the past is any indicator, there may even be a song or two that’s already been submitted at this point!) What the hell kind of good does this blog post do anyone if they haven’t seen it yet — or don’t EVER see it?!?

    I’m already kind of dismayed at the lack of definition that this challenge seems to have been given. The original challenge was already vague enough that a secondary definition of “opera” had to follow the primary definition of a “mini-opera.” So basically, in WORDS the participants were instructed to create something that was…

    1) Dramatic
    2) A story delivered “conversationally” through song
    3) Populated by at least two people who address each other

    This might have been somewhat workable. But then Travis posted two exemplars that provided nearly as much confusion as guidance. Indeed — in your blog post, you proclaimed that the two exemplars Travis posted, were they submitted, WOULDN’T MEET THE CHALLENGE!!!!! (In your own humble, non-publicized opinion.) You wrote, “None of these songs tell a story. I think a mini-opera, like a full opera, should tell a story…”

    Later — after pontificating for a while about YOUR understanding of the nature of the challenge and the essential qualities of a mini-opera — you wrote, “In light of all this, here are some examples that I think would best serve entrants to consider,” and then listed four songs/works. So again, I have to ask…


    As I said at the top — you know I love you. I know you mean well. But I think that a great injustice will have been done to the entrants if the judges don’t give a GREAT deal of latitude this round on how the letter/spirit of the challenge was or was not met. I know you like to give voice to your opinions, and I’m not telling you to refrain from COMMENTING on how “mini-operatic” you think an entry is or isn’t. But I’d frankly be rather pissed if I saw judges adding (or withholding!) POINTS to (or from!) competitors based on this particular aspect. (And please tell them I said that…)

    After all — by posting a link to “Come Talk To Me,” Travis basically told the participants that it was okay to submit a song in which one person is talking to another person WHO BASICALLY NEVER SPEAKS IN RETURN, as long as there’s another voice in the recording doubling the protagonists lyrics. I agree with you whole-heartedly that this wouldn’t satisfy MY take on what a “mini-opera” should be, but Travis all but gave his blessing. And by posting a link to “Written In The Stars,” Travis basically told the participants that it was okay to submit a song about a “moment” — a moment that isn’t necessarily an entire STORY with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Again — would I say this would qualify as a “mini-opera”? Probably not. But THIS IS WHAT THE PARTICIPANTS WERE GIVEN ON SUNDAY!

    (Your blog post, on the other hand? Was never GIVEN to ANYBODY!)

    Fulminatingly, yet respectfully yours…

    Edric Haleen

  2. July 24, 2012 at 11:11 am

    The moment after I posted this, I posted links to it at the SpinTunes Facebook Group, the SpinTunes Annex Facebook Group, the SpinTunes “venue” Facebook Page, and Dave Leigh’s blog post about the challenge. I maybe should have submitted a comment to the actual challenge post itself, but since Spin moderates his comments, and because of the nature of what I was saying, I wasn’t sure he’d bother publishing it. And even if he did, I thought that in all likelihood any entrants would have already seen the challenge post and wouldn’t have a reason to revisit it, so posting in all these other places, where discussion is known to take place, seemed to me the best way to let people know. Maybe I still should have bothered to submit a comment to the actual challenge post, maybe I still should. Maybe I should have been more careful to make an actual link for the Cratchit comment. But I did make a real effort to make the post known, and it’s clear that many people did see it because of the Facebook commenting that came afterward.

    As for — all my feelings were expressed on the secret judge/admin-only forum before I ever even decided to write a post. I only wrote it when it seemed clear that at best there were delays in discussion on that forum or at worst Spin didn’t care to discuss anything at all once the challenge had been posted. And, indeed, he later did make clear just that. I posted a link to my post on that forum. If Spin had thought it important to email notification of my post to all the entrants, he could have done so on Sunday. If he hasn’t done that, then I don’t think my asking him would help.

    Your dismay about the challenge definition is shared by me. And, as I said in my post and even more strongly in Facebook comment discussion about my post, it’s all especially inspired by what I believed were the two really poor examples Travis gave. It’s why I posted on Sunday when I did and got the word out as I did — precisely to make an effort to get those thoughts out as early as possible to as many as possible.

    Judges provide input, feedback, opinions. And you can imagine how much I personally have done so. But the buck stops with Travis. The names and descriptions and examples for all challenges are his to finalize even after we may have made arguments about certain things — and even if he never shared aspects with us, as happened with Written In the Stars, which I heard about in connection with this challenge for the first time right along with everyone else reading the challenge post for the first time.

    Share your dismay with Travis. I tried to fix the problem. And it appears I was the only one who tried to do so. If I wasn’t in a position to do so as fully or as quickly as would have been nice, it’s not my fault.

  3. July 24, 2012 at 11:26 am

    (You seem to do a lot with Facebook. Almost a shame that I don’t Facebook…) šŸ™‚

    Yes — I have shared my dismay with Travis. I have copied my comments from your blog page to the SpinTunes blog page — they’re just awaiting approval. I also asked Travis if he might not send out an e-mail to all of the competitors and all of the judges, letting them know that those comments had been submitted.

    I’m glad to know of the avenues through which you did try to broadcast your thoughts. I am a bit confused as to why you didn’t think to post a link on the SpinTunes blog page ITSELF — but that’s rather moot now. I’ve posted said link, and hopefully triggered an e-mailing as well. That’ll have to do for now. (Then — when the judges’ rankings come out — we’ll see if there are any “brilliant” songs that get dumped to the bottom simply because their creators followed the Peter Gabriel example. That would be sad to me. That’s why I commented that how WELL a song met the challenge should maybe have less influence on the rankings this round…)



    • July 24, 2012 at 11:42 am

      (Sorry — I missed your reasons for not posting to the SpinTunes blog page when I initially read your response. I’m confident Travis would have posted it — but I can see that you did at least consider that possibility.)

      Sorry about the vituperative nature of my first post. Having been around as long as I have, and being as connected as I (thought I!) was — I guess I just kind of assumed that I knew where all of the SpinTunes “media outlets” were. Clearly, there’s a whole realm of which I’m completely unaware. (And most of that realm was notified of your blog post on Sunday. That’s one on me!)

      Anyway — I’m gonna go back to working on my song. (And — for the record — it shares almost no substantive characteristics with “Come Talk To Me”…)


      • July 24, 2012 at 12:21 pm

        Thanks for all your feedback and for your apology — and also no real need to apologize. I feel like I’m really on your side with this whole issue. I was up really late Saturday night trying to influence things and then continued even more strongly the next morning after I saw the challenge post itself, spending the better part of the morning and early afternoon trying to do something about it, culminating with this post and with what attempts I did make to publicize it. Not how I’d have preferred to spend that chunk of my weekend. I was/am upset about the situation, too, and I don’t think we owe anyone an apology for feeling the way we do.

        I do less with Facebook than some but more than I’d really like. Especially with something like this where I’d prefer to see a conversation all in one spot. I just went to where the people are in this case — or at least to where I knew the people to be.

        If there are brilliant entries that follow the Peter Gabriel or Elton John examples, some judges may dump them to the bottom, and I agree that would be sad. I would only have it affect my one Challenge category. Which to me is an advantage of the kind a scoring system I use. Ironic that I may be among the most vocal opponents of the challenge’s examples and yet in the end my scoring may overall be the most kind to those who follow them.

  4. Felix Frost
    July 24, 2012 at 5:35 pm

    No problems here. I only write songs that tell stories. XD I’m so excited to hear everyone else’s. I’m psyched for this challenge.

    • July 24, 2012 at 7:35 pm

      This was I said that I was hoping you’d make it into Round 3 even though I might not have been al that crazy about your entries for the earlier rounds. Of course you could have shadowed, but you might not have. I’m really glad you made it and I’m psyched to check out what you do šŸ™‚

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