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Scoring 'The Laramie Project' with Cynthia Van Maanen

Interlochen Arts Academy Instructor of Composition Cynthia Van Maanen says before partnering with the Old Town Playhouse on "The Laramie Project," she had never scored such a large-scale play.

It's not an easy one, either - "The Laramie Project" tells the true story of the hate-fueled murder of gay 21-year-old Matthew Shepard through dozens of townspeople's voices.

Shepard's murder spurred hate crime legislation and heightened gay rights activism across the United States.

Van Maanen says though "The Laramie Project" was first performed in 2000, its continued relevance means it's an important story to keep telling.

"Just driving over here this morning, I was listening to something on the radio talking about a young person who was killed because of their lifestyle," she says.

Van Maanen says scoring a play - especially one with more than 60 characters played by just eight actors - takes special care on the composer's part.

"If you do it right, then the music will elevate the text and they'll kind of become one body," she says.

Van Maanen approached the score by creating musical through-lines based on important words throughout the script.

The words she's referring to are often nature-related, describing Wyoming's mountains, wind and sky.

"Every time you were discussing one of those words, you would hear that certain music come back, and it created a fabric," she says.

She mapped out that fabric on large pieces of paper, like this one, plotting the words' path and following the story's arc.

Cynthia Van Maanen's timeline for "The Laramie Project"

The team also chose to record the score, which gave Van Maanen the flexibility to layer instruments in ways she otherwise couldn't.

It's written for four flutes and two marimbas - instruments she says she chose for their dark, moody colors.

She says throughout the entire compositional process, working closely with the production team to write music meant as a complement to the story and the actors' work, not the focal point, was actually very special.

"It's one of the most collaborative experiences you can have," she says.

"The Laramie Project" runs through Feb. 18 at the Old Town Playhouse.

Visit their website for showtimes and ticketing information.

Kate Botello is a host and producer at Classical IPR.