Each semester, I assign a series of weekly listening assignments to my composition students. The last few semesters, I’ve had a goal of making at least half of the list women and composers of color. One of the challenges of this is that I only get 14 weeks in the semester, and that means if I’m going to address this concern, I have to remove some of the composers and works that I found important and that I was taught when I was a student. We talk a lot about curriculum reform, not just in representation in the repertoire, but also things like technological and entrepreneurial skills. Often, we don’t address the fact that we can’t just keep adding things without taking other stuff away.
Last weekend, I got to hear a wonderful performance of a new work of mine for wind quintet. The title refers to the new Stumpery Garden at the Missouri Botanical Gardens in my hometown of St. Louis. Stumpery was on the program along with four other excellent works by members of the Central Florida Composers Forum, performed by the recently formed new music chamber collective Alterity.
Orlando is where it’s at.
There is usually an artist creating work live on stage during performances at Timucua. It’s a total coincidence that the paintings this night were tree stumps! You can hear the full concert on this YouTube playlist.
Oh, and just because it’s cool. Here’s a photo from the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Stumpery.
In 2007, I set a poem by Archilochus1 about a total eclipse visible in Greece in the seventh century BCE.
Nothing can surprise me now, nothing can astonish
or alarm me now the god of gods has galled the midday
into night and trimmed the light of the westering sun.
Surely anything can happen now, anything at all,
so brace yourselves for the sight of milk cows grazing
the dolphin-crowded seas, of sure-footed deer
and mountain goats crossing the talus of a cresting wave.
The performance above is by Joseph Baunoch, bass-baritone; Marissa Olin, alto flute; and Kawai Chan, piano.
Translated by American poet Sherod Santos in his collection Greek Lyric Poetry↩
I’m not big on naming favorites of things. Having said that, Karel Husa—who died last week at age 95—is one of my favorite composers. His inventiveness in orchestration, rhythm, and texture combine with a keen sense of dramatic gesture in works that are as creative as they are approachable. I met him once at the University of Missouri as an undergraduate student and heard him speak about his music. He signed my copy of the third trumpet part I was playing on his monumental Music for Prague 1968. I recall that he seemed to think that while the Pulitzer committee actually awarded his String Quartet No. 3 in 1969, they really intended to honor Music for Prague, and weren’t quite sure about taking the wind band seriously as a medium for serious music. I won’t offer an obit here, as I’m sure your Googlemachine can connect you to some much better writing. I will simply conclude by sharing the opening of Karel Husa’s beautiful Les Couleurs Fauves from 1996. I often say half-jokingly that every time I write a piece of slow music, I’m trying to rewrite this.