The Black House Ensemble at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Ross McElwee’s “Sherman’s March”

(2014, 15′)

Chamber Opera in One Act, with Film
Commissioned by the Black House Collective (Kansas City, MO)
Libretto based on a transcript from an excerpt of Ross McElwee’s film Sherman’s March, used by permission of Ross McElwee.


Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano, Baritone; Violin, Cello, Flute, B-flat Clarinet, Percussion (Vibraphone and Glockenspiel)


Ross McElwee originally intended his documentary film Sherman’s March to retrace General William Sherman’s famous 1864 campaign of destruction from Atlanta to Savannah. After going through a painful breakup that took place at the beginning of filming, however, McElwee shifted the film’s focus to the various women he met as he followed General Sherman’s route through the South, meditating on the futility of searching for love.

I write operas that document life, often using collected oral history and existing documentary films as inspiration. I am interested in combining the genres of opera and documentary to highlight the relationship between reality and artificiality in both. For Sherman’s March, I used an excerpt from the film and replaced the soundtrack with an operatic accompaniment, setting a simplified transcript of the dialogue to music that would be heard concurrently with the film. The excerpted scene from Sherman’s March centers on the emotional pleas by Charleen, McElwee’s friend, that he pursue a new romantic interest.

Ross McElwee’s “Sherman’s March” (1986) (my title for this piece) was commissioned by the Black House Collective for a concert of five “film operas” on the theme of love. The work was first performed at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, MO in August 2014. Mr. McElwee was also present to film the rehearsals and performance.


August 22, 2014, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO

Ross McElwee’s Sherman’s March
Ross McElwee’s Sherman’s March
Clip from “Sherman’s March” (above) posted by permission of Ross McElwee.