Gertrude Stein and Al Carmines ‘In Circles’

In Circles LP front cover
In Circles LP back cover
In Circles LP side B
Al Carmines

Gertrude Stein‘s writings have been a goldmine for composers of the past 50 years, if we are to judge from the innumerable examples of her texts set to music, yet a Broadway musical is, to my knowledge, a unique case among more Avantgarde settings. ‘Gertrude Stein is an index for us’, said composer Al Carmines (Reverend Alvin Allison Carmines, 1936-2005) who, as a minister at New York’s Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square Park between the early 1960s and 1982, promoted contemporary theatre and dance performances inside the Church itself. A gifted pianist, he also wrote some of the music used in these shows, to the point of composing several musicals, often with stage direction by Larry Kornfeld. Premiered in 1967, In Circles is based on A Circular Play: A Play In Circles, a collection of short texts Stein published in 1920, infused with an obsession for circular forms typical from this writer. The ’67 stage version was such a success it was transported Off-Broadway to Cherry Lane Theatre the following year. In Circles uses the elliptic, short texts of the original book as the basis for a collection of joyous numbers for small ensemble and voices, with Carmines at the piano and the voices of 10 singers. The ensemble includes tack piano, celesta, cello and drums. The irresistible melodies cover many genres, from lullaby to ragtime, romantic love song to spiritual, and what liner notes call ‘barbershop quartet’. At some point in the early 1970s, Juilliard School student Charlemagne Palestine was hired by director Jayne Mooney Brookes (see here) to write a piano+voice score of In Circles, as a proper written score was not available from Al Carmines. The LP might have more to do with Minimalism than meets the eye – after all, the title starts like In C.

In Circles:
01 Side 1 (24:55)
02 Side 2 (23:50)

Total time 48:45
LP released by Avant Garde Records, Inc., NY, 1968


See also:
Marian Seldes reads Gertrude Stein >
Heiner Goebbels Hashirigaki >

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6 Responses to “Gertrude Stein and Al Carmines ‘In Circles’”

  1. 1 Bill May 20, 2010 at 7:58 pm

    When I thank you I thank you when I thank you thank you.


  2. 2 continuo May 20, 2010 at 8:01 pm

    Thanks for your lovely comment, Bill. And I enjoy your reference to The World Is Round.

  3. 3 kenny nowell June 28, 2010 at 9:44 pm

    Thank you. I knew Al from the early 90s to his death. He cast me as an angel in a church production. Made me wear a leather jacket over a bare chest. He made me sing an incredibly difficult song. I’m a terrible singer, but that suited his purposes.

    But I was never able to hear him at his best. Thanks, thanks, thanks, thanks.

  4. 4 continuo June 28, 2010 at 10:00 pm

    Glad to know angels read this blog, too ;D
    From what I know of him, Al Carmines must have been this kind of larger-than-life figure able to transcend one’s prejudices and limitations. You probably learned a lot with him. Thanks for your comment, Kenny.

  5. 5 Dennis Hearn July 27, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    To commemorate Al Carmines’ 76th birthday, we have added five new videos to our YouTube channel. These videos join 15 others that speak to Al’s life and legacy.

    Please share with all. If you have a particular favorite please post it on your Facebook page

    I leave you there,
    Dennis Hearn

  6. 6 Susan McLean January 20, 2013 at 7:24 am

    Al Carmines let me cry in his kleenex in his Judson office 1967… and said empathic stuff that helped me feel better. Saw In Circles twice at Judson and had the record until, somewhere along the way it became losted. ;-( Fondly remember Al, his kindness to me and his rambunctious playing of the piano with his feet… (Wasn’t that the Mrs. Delmoncy <sp? Has Adopted A Child number??)

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