As we sit in his living room surrounded by instruments from around the world, sheet music and cables, it’s easy to conclude that Jeremy Bleich is the perfect person to play the wizard behind the curtain of Circus Luminous.
Bleich—who plays Middle Eastern music with Medjool, Cuban music with Savor and experimental Americana with The brilliant Dullards, just to name a few—is one of the most diverse musicians around. And it’s that diversity, as well as his academic view of music composition, that allows him to put together such an assorted, yet coherent, soundtrack for performances that range from clowning to aerial dance to puppetry and encompass a variety of performative traditions.
Composing the music, a feat which he began after October auditions, has been a race to the finish line for Bleich. “I did get to see in the auditions, at least in progress, what people were working with,” Bleich tells SFR. “Some of it, actually, I still haven’t seen completed.”
For his songs, Bleich often works from existing musical parameters to come up with a new song for each act. “A lot of times the performers are doing choreography to something that is already composed, so the challenge is to write something that’s going to be comfortable to them. There are certain things that are obvious, like the tempo needs to be the same and the structure needs to be the same. Depending on the level of comfort and familiarity I have with a certain artist, I can play more. For people who are working with pieces that are already written, you have to be careful about making sure things happen when they need to happen.”
To make the music fit, Bleich reached far across the musical aisle and tapped influences that range from Balkan to minimalist to pop in order to put together songs that not only fit the style of performances but the story that Circus Luminous aims to tell.
“The theme is hope,” Bleich says. “It starts off in an urban environment and suddenly something goes kind of bad and the characters get pushed into this other world. For them it’s a journey to see all these beautiful things and, through that process, getting this hope. Of course, it’s also a metaphor for the 2008 campaign and the outcome. The hardest part was writing the closing song. It’s hard to write a song of hope without being really cheesy. I got out all my old U2 recordings and watched a bunch of Obama speeches and came up with something that I think will work. Most of my music is more ‘you just cut out my heart and ate it in front of me’ music. I do like music that’s hopeful and I’ve written some things that are happy. For this I actually ended up reworking a piece that I’d written years ago that was kind of like a country-gospel kind of thing. That’s not what it is now, but that’s what it was originally.”
To help with the soundtrack Bleich utilized local musicians Sharon Gilchrist, Ray Charles Ives (Paul Feathericci and Brian Mayhall) and Sitara Schauer, and even included a few out-of-towners in the mix.
“I’m really excited about the group,” Bleich says. “It was nice to have the opportunity, not only just to compose the music but also to bring exactly the band I wanted to put together.”
Because Circus Luminous, which sells out every year, has become synonymous with Thanksgiving in Santa Fe, it only makes sense for Bleich to thank his audience by providing the music for the show—recorded live and available a few weeks after it’s all over—on his website.