Police drummer Stewart Copeland is in town to watch VocalEssence perform his work ‘Satan’s Fall’
Stewart Copeland is best known as the drummer in the Police. (He’s also known as the guy who broke lead singer Sting’s rib in a band-related fight.)
But the 69-year-old didn’t stop making music when the Police called it a day in 1986. Instead, he focused his efforts on composing outside of the rock realm. And he’s remarkably prolific, having scored more than 65 films and created music for television and video games. He even conjured a series of ringtones for BlackBerry.
Copeland has also explored classical works and has written numerous operas, orchestral pieces and ballet scores. Sunday, the VocalEssence Chorus, Ensemble Singers and Orchestra will perform the regional premiere of Copeland’s oratorio “Satan’s Fall.”
While Copeland will participate in a free Police sing-along at the Mall of America on Saturday, he won’t be on stage Sunday beyond a pre-performance chat with the audience.
“That’s the best part of composing,” Copeland said. “What fun it is to come to your city, watch all of these resources focused on the piece and sit in the audience. I wrote it, lived it, created the score and now I get to see this document turned into a profound musical event. I’m its biggest fan.”
Classical music is what first caught Copeland’s attention. He was born in Virginia to an archaeologist mother and CIA agent father and grew up in Cairo and Beirut.
“I think the first piece of music I can recall is (Carl Orff’s) ‘Carmina Burana.’ I was crawling around on Parisian carpets and the combination of the music and the chaos and symmetry of the carpet design went straight into my brain. It was in my head before rock music. And that was the beginning of a musical career.”
Echoes of the ominous and powerful “Carmina Burana” – the opening movement of which has been used in hundreds of films and televisions shows – can be heard in “Satan’s Fall,” which was inspired by John Milton’s epic “Paradise Lost.”
“It’s a huge, 10,000-line poem that was rammed down my throat in high school,” Copeland said. “But it always stuck with me. I hardly understood it, but the language and the rich syntax always reminded me of Orff. It was very rhythmic and powerful and elemental.”
Years ago – “way back in the mists of time,” Copeland said with a laugh – the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music commissioned the drummer to write what would become “Satan’s Fall.” But he lost the gig after the man who commissioned the work was fired and the piece went back on the shelf, with Copeland revisiting it from time to time.
“These things come and go, but the idea stuck with me,” he said.
He eventually finished the work, which had its world premiere in Pittsburgh just weeks before the pandemic lockdown.
In telling Milton’s tale of the battle between God and Satan, Copeland focused on the fifth and sixth sections of the poem and condensed about 15,000 words down to 1,500.
“It’s written in that old-fashioned English style where the verb comes last,” he said. “There will be three pages about what his sword was like and another three pages on him raising it. I love it, but I did have to unwind it. I cut to the chase wherever possible.”
Hearing it performed in Pittsburgh for the first time was a joy for Copeland. “I’m partial to my own music, but for it to come back in the living flesh with 80 singers was very moving.”
In Minneapolis, the piece will be presented at Central Lutheran Church without staging, props or costumes.
“It’s written to stand and deliver,” he said. “It’s a vocal piece, an audio experience. It’s in a room with all kinds of classic illustration. The church will be the costume and the staging.”
Copeland got into the classical world through his film scores. But he doesn’t consider himself a classical musician.
“I am an orchestral musician. My use of orchestra is not to make classical music. I use it for its multiferous ways of communicating emotional language. It’s not rock music, but it’s infused with everything I’ve learned from playing stadiums around the world.”
Stewart Copeland’s ‘Satan’s Fall’
When: 4 p.m. Sunday, with Copeland conducting a pre-concert discussion at 3 p.m.
Where: Central Lutheran Church, 333 S. 12th St., Minneapolis
Tickets: $40-$20 via 612-371-5656 or vocalessence.org
See also: Copeland, along with VocalEssence conductors Philip Brunelle and G. Phillip Shoultz III, will lead a free community sing-along featuring music of the Police at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Mall of America’s Rotunda