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John Gallatin, with MU Spartan Stream, interviews Stewart Copeland after the VIA on Friday, February 28.
Photo Provided by Spartan Stream

Drummer to Maestro: Stewart Copeland Speaks on Life Experiences

Erin Hickle

Stewart Copeland, founding member of the iconic rock band The Police and composer of the opera “The Invention of Morel,” joined Dr. Debra Lynn on Cordier’s stage (a day late) to discuss his journey from rock star to maestro.

Due to inclement weather that prevented Copeland’s plane from arriving in Indiana, this VIA that was originally scheduled for Feb. 27 was postponed until Feb. 28 at 10 a.m. The change in day and time looked to have an effect on the audience numbers: local schools that planned to attend on Thursday could not reschedule, and many students and faculty were in class at the 10 a.m. hour. Still, an enthusiastic group showed up to welcome Copeland, and to applaud his generous stories he told.

As students, professors and members of the community gathered in Cordier Auditorium on that Friday morning, they were greeted with green flags and a red couch sitting center stage. Copeland would later go on to tell the story behind the flags. He said the unique design on the flags was a logo he had used during the reunion tour of The Police. There was a green cloth flag that would go from concert to concert: one person would be waving the flag in the front of the crowd, and Copeland would point to the flag as he performed. At their final concert, fans brought many green flags as a tribute, and the audience was at one point a sea of green.

To start the VIA, Lynn played snippets of some songs of The Police. She then played a video showing how the cast and crew are feeling about being granted the opportunity to perform the opera. Many of the cast and crew members said they were excited nervous and even terrified. All members of the opera are grateful for the opportunity to perform Copeland’s work as it brings a fresh scene and sound to opera. “I am so pleased with the work he’ll be able to do with the cast,” Lynn said in the video.

Copeland sat center stage on the red couch as Lynn asked questions about his career and life experiences. She started by asking about his college experience and how life might not have gone the way he thought it would. He talked about his plan to major in music and study composition. Once he transferred to the University of California, he failed to get into the music program. Copeland then decided to study communications and marketing. Even though he was not in the music program, he was able to take what he learned and apply it to the music world by allowing him to understand why things such as radio stations and publications made the decisions they made. However, music kept drawing him back. He went on to recount his time as a band member, musician, and composer, along with discussing the differences between rock stars versus symphonies and composing versus just playing.

Copeland said there are two types of musicians in the world – musicians of the ear and musicians of the eye. “Musicians of the ear hear and connect what’s going on with their ears,” he said. “Musicians of the eye see the music and follow along. You put it on the eye, they will faithfully play what is written.”

Lynn and Copeland shared a few music-themed jokes, causing the many musicians in the audience to laugh out loud before Lynn turned the conversation back to the opera. Copeland began with his time scoring music. “The cool thing about music is that it is something everyone can understand,” he said. “A film composer’s job is telling people how they should feel, using music to create feelings, tone, etc.” After he finished composing films, noting that it helped him feed his seven children, Copeland decided to dedicate himself fully to the arts. One of the things he enjoys most is the ability to tell a story, making the audience feel deeply about the performance, and the greater intensity that is opera. When Lynn asked Copeland about “The Invention of Morel,” she mentioned it being opera number five of six. Copeland chuckled as he said he has lost count.

Lynn had planned to bring some of the performers out on stage to give the crowd a tease of the show, but because the VIA had been rescheduled to coincide with opening night, she showed some rehearsal footage instead. Then she and Copeland discussed the dramatic decisions he had made while writing the opera. For instance, Copeland talked about why two actors play one character on stage: they are both the protagonist, but one is so busy doing everything that Copeland decided there should be one person telling the story and the other person doing the actions of the character. These two men might be portraying one story, but they still interact through song and performance. Copeland said this allows the audience to go into the mind of the character. He explained that sometimes someone will tell a story about themselves and they often tell it as one thing, but they are seen doing it differently.

Copeland was commissioned to write his first opera before he had ever seen one and commissioned to write his first ballet before ever had watched one. “Waiting for inspiration – not gonna happen,” he explained. “Just turn yourself towards your instrument and just do it. Make something happen.”