He’s a professor, a composer, a lyricist, a producer, and more
by Donalevan Maines
Aaron Alon’s fingers are in so many pies that you might mistake him for Marie Callender. That is, if Marie Callender composed music, wrote scripts, produced new plays, and taught college.
Alon is the ubiquitous “hardest-working man in show business” (you may quote me) who’s part of a renaissance in the music department at the Lone Star College-CyFair campus. See more at lonestar.edu/cyfair.
Alon entered college expecting to become a theoretical mathematician, but changed his major to music, subsequently earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of Chicago, a master’s from the Cleveland Institute of Music, and a doctorate from Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music.
In January, the native Floridian joined the faculty at LSC-CyFair as assistant professor of music. An accomplished composer himself, Alon launched a songwriting class so popular that two sections have already filled up for the fall semester—16 students per class, each with his or her own keyboard/computer setup.
The spring class culminated in a concert of 10 new popular songs that students created after eight weeks of studying lyrics and eight weeks of music composition. The school hired local pianist Luke Kirkwood and drummer David Lerner to collaborate with the students in preparing the concert. “Both of them really did wonderful work,” says Alon.
“Some of the students had been in bands, but others had never written a lyric,” he adds. “Wherever they are in their ability, the class bumps them up to the next level. It’s a class on all basic aspects of songwriting, so no matter what style a student is interested in, they can take what they learn and apply it to any style of popular music, such as folk, rock, Christian rock, rap—you name it.”
Next spring, LSC-CyFair plans to expand its already-impressive music program with a second semester for advanced songwriting. “‘Songwriting 2’ will be more like a songwriting workshop,” says Alon.
“The school has a wonderful music program that is building every day,” says Aaron, who this year moved from Pearland to the CyFair area of Houston to live closer to work. “This fall, we’re adding classes on audio recording, engineering, producing, and editing, using industry-standard software.”
Alon recently completed another summer as director of composition and theory at the American Festival for the Arts, where in July his students, in collaboration with Houston Ballet Academy, premiered seven ballets for which they composed scores during the summer-intensive session.
At LSC-CyFair, Alon serves as a co-sponsor of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Allies (GLBTA) along with Blake Ellis, a history professor. Alon also co-chaired the school’s spring Pride Week with Hilary Harris, who teaches developmental English. In addition, Alon formed a glee club in which 70 students have survived the audition process, including 15 whom Alon has selected to be featured performers this fall.
Alon has also completed a new musical entitled Bully that involves a 14-year-old boy who is driven to suicide after being bullied at school. Justin Doran will direct it, on stage and/or as a YouTube series, Alon explains. “Justin is the finest director in Houston,” says Alon. “It’s such a gift that he’s interested in this.
“The first act leads up to the boy’s suicide, so it shows the human side of the victim as well as three bullies who assault him. Act Two is what happens in the town in the aftermath. Everyone starts pointing fingers—parents of the bullies, parents of the victim, the school administrator, other people in town.
“The victim, Sam Bradley, was bullied for being gay, but we’re never actually told if he was gay,” Alon adds, describing the bullies’ motivation that is based on their presumption, whether accurate or not.
Finally, Alon heads Thunderclap Productions as president and co-founder. He hopes that Thunderclap will have its IRS nonprofit status approved this summer. “Anyone at any time can submit scripts and scores for our consideration,” he offers. “We are doing very well as one of Houston’s real go-to places for developing new and under-represented plays and musicals.”
In June, Thunderclap Productions scored a coup with Andrew Ingalls performing Rum and Vodka, a solo play about a 24-year-old man whose drinking spirals out of control. It was the Houston premiere of Irish playwright Conor McPherson’s debut script, which he wrote at age 20 before winning acclaim for The Weir, Shining City, and The Seafarer.
Doran, who teaches theater at Rice University, also directed Rum and Vodka, which Ingalls, now 22, discovered when he was 19 and too young to buy a beer. “It was completely over my head, dramatically,” he explains. “Adulthood has kind of happened to my character, who is called ‘Narrator’ in the script, and he defends the drink in his hand as the only thing good in his life.
“He says, ‘I think my overall “f–ked-up-ness” is my impatience,’” he adds, providing a glimpse of his character’s salty language.
The 2007 graduate of Dobie High School in Pasadena memorized the 35-page script and performed it in previews at the University of Houston Honors College, where Ingalls is completing courses toward a bachelor of arts in music with a minor in phronesis. Additional previews were at Stages Repertory Theatre and Jones Theater on the University of St. Thomas campus, before its June 8–9 bow at Wildfish Theatre in the Galleria area.
UH professors Robert Cremin and Dr. Iain Morrison, who both hail from Ireland, helped Ingalls perfect an Irish brogue. “It’s a very specific North Dublin accent, which they have an ear for,” explains Ingalls. “My challenge was to get the leprechaun out of my voice.”
Doran “helped me find how to navigate the script and shape it,” says Ingalls. “We worked on how much we wanted to show the story in pictures and how much I would just recite. It had almost no set. The set ended up literally consisting of a chair.”
When Ingalls asked Doran to direct
him in the show, Doran approached Thunderclap about producing it. “We jumped at the chance to produce the regional premiere,” says Alon. “Thunderclap has worked with Justin several times before and he also serves on our board of directors, but this was our first opportunity to work with Andy.”
Ascribing a theme to the play, Ingalls says, “Men can go to terrible lengths to hold tight to certain illusions of youth. This play takes a brazen look at what those illusions can cost.”
“Andy is a very talented young actor. You may have seen his work on stage before, but Rum and Vodka showcased him in a whole new light,” says Doran. “It’s very anti-Andy Ingalls if you know him in real life. It was really fun to see his work stretch as he grew as an actor, having to hold the stage on his own.
“It was very fun to direct. It was also very challenging, as always, in a one-person show, to keep it theatrical and interesting and keep the story moving forward. I was really, really pleased that we were able to piece this together. It was exciting to share this story with audiences.”
“This edgy production likely provided anyone in Houston with the first opportunity to see this play performed,” adds Alon.
For more information about Alon’s endeavors, visit aaronalon.com and thunderclapproductions.com.
Donalevan Maines also writes about Rob Flebbe in this issue of OutSmart magazine.