Paleface—Exploring the Hero Myth in American Identity

The Neave Trio premieres Paleface Friday January 5, 2018 at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music in New York City. The work is accompanied by video of Kearns' paintings created by Amanda Tiller. Click for Info and Tickets

Jerry Kearns—Lowland Drifter

Jerry Kearns—Lowland Drifter

Inspired by and accompanied with video of the acclaimed paintings of New York “psychological pop” artist Jerry Kearns, my piano trio Paleface explores the persistence of the American hero myth, even as it breaks down on every level in our contemporary society. It begins with the Western cowboy mythos— horses, cowboys, folk songs and church hymns (Jesus plays a lurking role in the piece), even a gun fight. Then it jumps to the varied 20th century heroes who struggle and triumph over dark forces—detectives from pulp comics and film noir, the secret agent, and the muscled action hero. Paleface concludes with all these icons now as phantoms, struggling in the night to cohere and make sense of a world they no longer can possibly describe. They ultimately all go to church and fade away to a ghost pop gospel choir.

The musical style of Paleface is contemporary classical with an Americana quality influenced by Ives, Copland, and George Crumb. The pianist taps inside the piano to evoke distant galloping horses, all three instruments create a collage of a dozen folksongs and church hymns. There is dissonant chase music, a jazzy “secret agent” tune, frantic blues, and even a comic fanfare with kazoos. Some Excerpts:

I. Wild West—galloping horses, an Ives-ian montage of over a dozen Western/American folk tunes, and a shootout; the piano in this movement uses several extended techniques inside the instrument—tapping the steel bars to imitate horse gallops, melodies and chords with muted strings, and atmospheric strums

II. Action Hero—a fast scherzo with dissonant “chase” music, jazzy “secret agent” music, “action super hero” music, all getting jumbled together as they lurch towards a comic climax with kazoos tooting out a ridiculous fanfare. 

III. Into Night—an Adagio that takes all these American icons and thrusts them into the night of today’s post 9-11 world. The first part is spooky with high notes depicting the starry night, punctuated with startling tremolos, chords that descend into the depths, and ghostly returns of previous themes. The musical landscape enters “church,”  with a hymn that morphs into a quasi-gospel pop anthem. The anthem swells and subsides, eventually itself becoming a ghost and fading away.


Jerry Kearns—One Trick Pony