From Left to right: Blayne Chastain (playing whistle, guitar, flute and bodhran), MinTze Wu (director, violin and piano), Jem Moore (narrator, whistle and guitar), Joy Adams (vocals, banjo and cello) and Eric Thorin (Bass, guitar, tuba) come together to bring life to the raw and gritty short story, "Death of The Puglist." Courtesy photo

Roaring Fork Valley’s own MinTze Wu will take off her VOICES theater hat (where she is the executive director) momentarily to join a band of talented collaborators bringing an exciting and unconventional concert experience to life with “Death of the Pugilist.” The performance takes place at The Arts Campus at Willits (TACAW) on Friday, Oct.13 at 8pm. Wu is the show’s artistic director and, in addition, plays violin and piano. 

The music acts as the vehicle for Daniel Mason’s 2008 short story, providing an eclectic soundtrack of contemporary tunes, traditional Irish music, blues and even Bach in telling the story of a professional boxer, Jacob Burke, and his duel with Blindman McGraw in 1824 England.   

“It’s such a beautiful and wonderfully written story. It taps into the underlayers of humanity,” said Wu. “It is this sort of David and Goliath tale. He [Jacob Burke] is someone who, by all means, is not meant to be successful but — spoiler alert — redefines success.” 

Wu expressed that she fell in love with the story despite a hesitance with the material. Her husband, Jem Moore, introduced her to the story. In fact, Moore appears in the story as The Narrator. In 2008, he read the tale in Harper’s Magazine while trying to kill some time in the cockpit of a plane which he was piloting. That same year, Wu got in touch with Daniel Mason to share the vision of the project, and was given his blessing to go ahead with it. 

The project debuted in Newfoundland, Canada in 2008, while Wu was there for an artist’s residency. 

“I found this story so enticing. It has this color and rhythm of Daniel Mason’s voice, and the environment he’s created,” Wu shared. “Everything was so vivid. So, almost right away, I felt like I could fully realize this story with music.”  

This narrated concert first premiered in the Valley as a part of the 2021 Garden Music Series. Then, “Amy Kimberly was still the director of Carbondale Arts and, you know, Amy being Amy, I brought this to her and she said, ‘Yes, let’s do it!’,” Wu stated. 

The Garden Music Series not only found a space for the premier, but also provided some inspiration for setting the stage.“There’s three stakes and two ropes, then we form a partial ring — similar to the boxing rings mentioned in the story,” described Wu. “So, we feel that as musicians, we are representing that environment and sound. We are both in the show but also paying witness to the story. By us being the witness of the story, the audience becomes a part of that as well.” 

The current ensemble also includes the talents of Blayne Chastain, Grammy nominee Eric Thorin and Grammy award winning cellist Joy Adams Twelve different instruments also make an appearance on stage, rotating among the five artists. 

“What we’re trying to paint a picture of is not a pretty place for the eyes. It’s rough, but I believe that art does not just serve the refined and the beautiful,” Wu stated. “There is something so incredibly revealing when you get down to a place that is so raw. That is what this production is about.” 

Wu encourages those planning to attend to come in with no preconceived notions, and, further, to allow themselves to stretch their perceptions of what they might deem acceptable. 

“When I came upon the story, I thought to myself, ‘I don’t like death, I don’t like boxing. What is in there for me?’” Wu reflected. “I realized later that there is a lot. It’s humanity expressing itself in different ways.” She concluded by quoting her elder daughter, Adelaide Moore, “‘This simplicity of storytelling in a musical format is so powerful.’” 

To get tickets for “Death of The Pugilist,” visit or call 970-510-5365. 

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