The Story Of Moonlight

Dedicated to the memory of my dear friend, mentor, and pianist Melody Lord...

By Michele McGovern

A tragic love story, Moonlight is a fictional, silent film which reflects the conflicting emotions of love and death in Beethoven’s enduring work. Set in the 1930's, Moonlight tells the story of an acclaimed flute and piano duo romantically involved but cruelly separated by fate. Directed by Nicole McGovern, the characters are William Sinclair (pianist and composer) played by Will Evans and Evelyn Reed (flutist) played by myself. The style of the film was inspired through my work as an orchestral flutist with the Lincolnwood Chamber Orchestra as part of the Silent Film Society of Chicago's Silent Summer Film Festival. The music for the film is an adaptation of the original McGovern/Lord arrangement of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata Mvt. 1 for flute and piano done in collaboration with American Music Festivals, the presenter of the film. “It is an evolution of artistic expression” said Philip Simmons, who worked closely with me on the music for the film. I like to call Moonlight an innovative and refreshing twist on classical music. The sound track, which was recorded by Johnny K, Matt Dougherty at Groovemaster Recording, includes performances by pianist George Radosavljevic, Chicago Symphony Orchestra cellist Gary Stucka, and me on flute. The film and music is really a coming together of family, friends, and colleagues who are industry professionals. I am so grateful for all their hard work!

The story behind the musical arrangement:

It was the late 90's, and I was getting ready to leave my house to meet Melody for a rehearsal and discussion about our next musical arrangement. My husband Dave said "why don't you do Moonlight Sonata?" referring to the 1st movement of Beethoven's piano masterpiece. I liked the idea, but did not want to create a generic flute takes piano melody line arrangement. On the drive up to Melody's home I started to picture a music video. I saw a grand piano sitting in the middle of a large, dark, empty room with a flute lying on the top. There was a male pianist playing Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. The flutist walked in the room dressed in a long, flowing, black evening gown, picked up the flute and began to improvise around the melody, while the pianist continued to play the part as written. I had it! The flute part would sound improvisational, soaring, flowing, and winding around the march like melody in the piano score.

When I got to Melody's home I asked her thoughts on creating an arrangement to Moonlight Sonata Mvt. 1. At first she was a little hesitant until I painted the picture of the music video I had thought of on my drive up. She then loved the idea and said I sold it to her with the video description. We started to discuss the arrangement, added an extra opening bar in the piano to create an intro for a soaring, improvisational flute line. Melody said "let me go with it". The next week she had it done! We played it and both loved how it sounded!

Months later I played the recording for Donald Peck who was the principal flutist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the time. He really liked it, but thought the flute part needed more substance. I didn't think much about it because I originally thought of the flute part as sounding improvisational. Later, with more thought I began to rewrite sections of the flute part, incorporating more of the thematic material from the piano part.

When the filming of Moonlight started I quickly realized that our arrangement as it stood was not going to work. The film was nearly 10 minutes long meaning I would need almost double the material! I turned to my longtime friend and colleague Philip Simmons for advice. He told me not to worry and accepted the role to adapt our arrangement to fit the film. Boy, did I get lucky, and I absolutely love what he did with the score! He added 2 cello parts, one to reinforce the bass line in the piano and the other to act as the "ying" to the flute's "yang". As we were discussing the new adapted arrangement along the way, I told him about some triplets that Melody wrote for the flute part that weren't used in our new version. He said "send them over to me ", I sent them over, and they ended up playing key roles to the music for the film. Acting as great transitional material and adding to the particular style/drama of this film (you will learn this in the documentary part of the film). Not only did they play a huge part in the music for the film, but the triplets segued into my new composition that I wrote that replaced Melody's original triplets. Our parts connected together perfectly! Amazing!