Me Gustaría Hablar
I have been friends with Meghan Guse for many years and have luckily had the opportunity to sing with her dozens of times. Her voice’s clarity and her musicality have always impressed me and so I have long wanted to compose something for her. Our mutual friend Yvonne Strumecki’s poetry grabbed my attention the first time I read it. I thought it would be especially meaningful to create a piece of art which is a collaboration between the three of us. I have broken this four part poem into four short songs for a cycle. Each song is built around a different short musical motif, a form of composition that is very natural to me. This poem about finding a home in a new place really spoke to me, as my life hasn’t always taken me where I thought I wanted to go. Somehow, luckily, I found myself at home here in Chicago.
When I first began composing at age 14, I thought that every moment of every piece needed to be “new” to the listener. This style of composition is called “through composed” and can be very difficult for the audience to understand (not to mention how time and energy consuming it is for the composer!) As I matured as a composer (with some rather emphatic guidance from my early composition instructors) I began to understand how form and especially repetition in music allows the human ear to more fully appreciate what it is hearing. Think of Beethoven’s 5th. The first movement is in sonata form. How many times in a single performance do you hear that first motif? The sonata is a musical form which is an elaboration on the simple ABA form which has endured for centuries and has been used by most of the great European composers throughout history. This piece was written while I was studying composition and theory at St. Olaf College when I was 21. I felt it was time to add my voice to the chorus of composers who used the sonata form to express themselves. Originally written for classical guitar and viola (1997), I re-scored it in 2009 for piano and violin.
This piece was written in November 2016.
Julie Ann Ball
Julie Ball is my father’s sister and these three poems deal with the relationships between my father, his sisters, and their parents. The time comes in every child’s life when they find that they are no longer the child. The torch is passed. Adulthood looms. These poems and songs were written soon after the passing of my paternal grandmother, and while my paternal grandfather was transitioning into the later stages of life. The poetry is direct, unflinching in the face of major emotional upheaval, and I tried to allow the music to take a backseat in the first and third songs, providing a foundation but minimal commentary on the lyrics. The second song is acapella (without accompaniment) and not easy for the singer as it is relatively chromatic. I gave myself permission in this second song to do some text-painting, trying to convey with the music what my imagination perceived in the poetry.
The Third Night
August Strindberg (translation: Lotta Löfgren)
These pieces were commissioned by Brian von Reuden for VOX3 Collective and the Swedish American Museum. I, admittedly, do not speak Swedish, so I have not read Strindberg’s original poems. Lofgren’s translation is sparse, but full of innuendo. I chose a more minimalist compositional style for these settings in order to convey the eternal struggle of faith and doubt in the human heart (Thirsting Spirit) and the fluctuating but constant and inescapable racket of the city (Sprawling City). The musical seeds for both pieces are taken directly from Scandinavian traditional music.
4nov2002 and Perfect Fog
Julie Ann Ball
These two songs were not written as a set, as they have very different instrumentation. However, the poems do have similar thematic material so I am programming them together here. Julie Ball’s poetry is often inspired by nature and especially by the nature of the upper Midwest and the Great Lakes, as she grew up in northern Wisconsin and raised her children in Duluth, Minnesota. As an artist, I appreciate the idea of changing seasons as a metaphor for the cycles of history and of life. Both pieces feature a great deal of text-painting, trying to mirror the meaning of the words within the music. 4nov2002 is written in a more traditional ABA form and Perfect Fog, while not completely through-composed, is more flexible in its form.
Some of my first forays into more dramatic vocal writing, these 2 songs are an incomplete set based on the female characters from the play Richard III. Of course we know Richard is a villain (or anti-hero), and the women of the play have many interesting responses to his villainy, but these characters are also all fallible humans and don’t always place the blame for their suffering where it belongs. I see this project in some ways as an exploration of the internalized misogyny that the women themselves express. (The patriarchy hurts everyone.) The first song I wrote I intended to be a stand alone song. It was Margaret’s Curse, which was written in 2016 (immediately before “Sickness”) and also served as an outlet for some of my frustration at that time. I plan to expand on this set to include songs and ensembles including the characters of Queen Elizabeth and the Duchess of York.