Warming up for Bluegrass!

Sunday, February 27, 2011
The opening concert of the 2011 Festival of Women in the Arts is now finding it’s way to our archives. If you were there, thank you so much and we all hope that you enjoyed our snapshot of contemporary music of women composers. By all accounts the singers, the band and the audience had a great time! I know that I most certainly did.

Our next appearance will be as a small part of the Festival Closing concert on March 27, at the Clemens Center in Elmira. We do hope to see you there! And if you missed us in February and want to see a bit about what we were up to, the program notes are posted below! Enjoy. - - will
Sunday, February 27, 2011

Program Notes (February 27, 2011)

   Music of women composers contains something, some quality that defies easy identification or definition. Certainly one root of this mysterious quality is the kind of strength that only a woman could possess. Where a male composer might find that strength through domination of the material (think of Beethoven hammering away at that four-note motif that is the fifth symphony), the female composer has a quiet strength from which the music simply flows.

   The eight or so minutes of Nancy Bloomer Deussen’s “Et in terra pax” are as unstoppable and beautiful as any spring swollen river. The simple and elegant tune trips and dances through the watercourse, always changing but ever the same, offering a refreshing taste of that peace to everyone who stops by to drink of, bathe in or simply enjoy the passage of those clear, flowing waters.

   Another facet of the music of women composers is a kind of insight into the relationships we all create with each other. Is this a learned skill or instinct? Good question! Wherever it comes from, Gwyneth Walker’s “White Horses” has it in abundance. The composer’s own program notes call the work a “love song dating back to the time of the Troubadours” but that is also true of e. e. cummings’ poem on which the music is based. Walker’s music takes the text, the singer and the listener to a much deeper connection between the knight and the lady, a spiritual realm where chivalrous love, care and concern reside full time.

There is an insight in the physical world that makes up part of the mysterious quality of the work of women. A stellar example in this program is “The Mirror” by Rebecca Sacks. A self-proclaimed nature enthusiast, Rebecca writes that she hopes to inspire that love in others through her music. The insightful nature of the music, however, is the use of musical mirrors: a repeated melodic phrase here, harmonic repetition there. Sometimes clear and other times masked as if by ripples in the water, Sacks’ technique clearly evokes the appearance of the doppelgänger swan within the water of the lake.

   Societal insight is also a strong part of what women composers bring to bear on their work. In “Arirang”, a traditional Korean folk song that is almost a national anthem, Chinese-born American composer Chen Yi finds her way to the very soul of Korean society. Set simply but elegantly for unaccompanied voices, Dr. Chen’s choral music clearly expresses the deep feeling and Korean identity of the well known and well loved folk song.

   And fun. The music of women composers is fun. And what could be more enjoyable than just “Fiddlin’” around? Jennifer Higdon gives us a chance to do just that. Using the time honored vocal tradition of Shape Note or Southern Harmony style, Higdon, with a wink, turns the voices of the choir into a quartet of southern Appalachian fiddlers improvising around what could well be a traditional tune.

   Above all other facets of the compositional art, women composers bring creativity to their music. “The World Beloved: A Bluegrass Mass” is the perfect example. Marisha Chamberlain’s wonderfully evocative texts turn both the proper and ordinary of the catholic mass upside down and shake ‘em up a bit. Composer Carol Barnett welds a folk-style bluegrass accompaniment to strong contemporary choral composition to create a stunning work that is far greater than the sum of its parts.

   Whatever you take from this glimpse into the creative world of women in music, we sincerely hope that in some way you will have been touched by their efforts. All music has the power to reach us at the deepest emotional levels. Perhaps in some small way this recent music of American women might make your life, or at least your outlook on that life, a bit better in some way. Soli Deo Gloria! - - will wickham