by Jill Tracy
I’ve had the honor of being the “Belle of the Edwardian Ball” almost since its inception, 13 years ago.
At that time, none of us had any idea of the magic that was in store. We had no clue that a tiny club night honoring the eccentric scribe, Edward Gorey, decorated with a few meagre puppets and painted backdrops, could transform into the event it is today: an opulent spectacle attended by thousands each year from around the globe.
When Rosin Coven and I first arrived in the Bay Area in the mid-1990s, it was nearly impossible to get bookings. Club owners complained that our work was “too dark, too strange, too elegant, too theatrical.” Industry experts told us “No one will ever pay to see this!”
So we began to create our own events, off the radar, and often together. It was the only way any of us could hold true to our vision: the only way we could prove our naysayers wrong.
I was running “Jill Tracy’s MYSTERIA”, the award-winning performance series that I had created, when Rosin Coven approached me with an idea for an event based upon a book by Edward Gorey. They wanted to throw a formal ball, in a nightclub not much bigger than my apartment, themed around the work of a little-known (and decidedly macabre) illustrator. Once again, the so-called experts scoffed.
But experts be damned—We had art to make!
A Testament to Authenticity
We weren’t looking for anyone’s approval. We were merely outliers, and we were just being ourselves.
Neither did we have any interest in applying labels to what we were doing. (Annoying marketing descriptors like “steampunk” and “dark cabaret” were all but unheard of at the time.) I believe that once you begin to classify and commodify, you are no different from the industry. You are experiencing art through a filter, and the essence is no longer genuine. In the words of Søren Kierkegaard, “Once you label me you negate me.”
13 years later, the Edwardian Ball remains a testament to authenticity. A tribute to being anything you wish to be, to escaping the cage of convention, to honoring your passions brazenly and unapologetically, and holding on to your dreams at all costs.
This is what we did when they told us it “could not be done.” We did it anyway.
A Waltz To Make Wishes Come True
One of my all-time favorite moments occurred at the 2010 Edwardian Ball. I typically perform early in the evening—my dark, cinematic sound forming a perfect bridge between the classical music and waltzes with which the Ball opens and the more intense Gorey-esque theatrics yet to come.
As a result, when my band takes the stage there are frequently still several couples waltzing. I don’t normally get to see audiences waltzing at my concerts, so this is especially enchanting to me. I love it when people dance to my songs. Sometimes I’ll even change the arrangements slightly in response, tailoring them to what the dancers are doing. As a composer, it’s thrilling to tap into the synergy between performer and audience; I never know what to expect.
That year I had created a special waltz which I planned to debut at the Ball. Titled “Under the Fate of the Blue Moon” this dreamy piece had been composed on the extremely rare Blue Moon New Year, and recorded on the night of the Solstice during a total lunar eclipse. There was great power for me surrounding the creation of this song, a power that I was eager to share with my audience.
When it came time to introduce “Under the Fate of The Blue Moon”, I said “This is a waltz to make wishes come true. I can think of nothing more magical than an entire room of people making their most intimate wish together, all concentrating on the same piece of music. There’s wondrous power in that. If you don’t care to waltz, just focus on a wish or a goal, hold a special token in your hand, allow it to transport you.”
I was looking down at my piano as we began to play. Secretly, I hoped that perhaps 10 or 20 couples in the front might choose to dance.
But “Under the Fate of the Blue Moon” cast quite a spell. When the lighting tech raised the house lights, I suddenly saw that the entire Grand Ballroom—over 2,000 Ball-goers—was dancing! My wish had come true.
I looked over at my band members, drummer Randy Odell and bassist Kenny Annis. As we caught one another’s gaze, delighted smiles illuminated each of our faces. Years ago, when we first began performing together, we could never have imagined a moment like this, so magical and so grand.
It was one of the most magnificently powerful moments I’ve ever experienced onstage, and it could not have happened without all of you—the beautiful people who return every year to make the Edwardian Ball the glorious night that it is.
We may just perform “Under the Fate of the Blue Moon” again this year. If you’d like to practice your waltz, here’s a recording of the song that you can listen to online.
And of course, get a wish ready. They sometimes do come true.
Hailed by LA Weekly as “the cult darling of the underworld,” Jill Tracy—the Belle of The Edwardian Ball—has been proclaimed by National Public Radio as “a Bay Area treasure… like Grafeo coffee, Scharffen Berger chocolates, and fine Napa Cabernets.” She has cast her spell onstage at the Edwardian Ball nearly since its inception 13 years ago, and is thrilled at the continuous growth and popularity of the event.
Her signature concoction of dark parlour and post classical piano, haunting lyrics and seductive style creates a sound that conjures up glamorous shades of early cinema, and film noir— but with a distinctively modern flair. She calls this devastatingly beautiful place she inhabits “The Elegant Side of the Netherworld,” She has collaborated with legendaries including David J (Bauhaus,) Steven Severin (Siouxsie and the Banshees,) Jello Biafra, and even famed author Lemony Snicket.
Recently, Jill made history as the first musician to be awarded a grant to compose music inside the famed Mutter Museum in Philadelphia, the nation’s foremost collection of medical oddities. Her recent spontaneous “channeling” of music in peculiar locales have featured haunted castles, decrepit gardens, abandoned asylums, and forgotten mansions. Her Musical Seance project with Atlanta cult violinist Paul Mercer (which incorporates cherished objects brought in by the audience) has garnered a collection of ardent fans from around the globe.
At the 2013 Edwardian Ball, Jill Tracy will be appearing on Saturday night (SF), and in Los Angeles.
This post is part of a series showcasing the fabulous diversity of The Edwardian Ball. Have an Edwardian Tale of your own? Share it with us, and you could win tickets to the Edwardian!