World Premiere of the Musical Setting of My Poem ‘Circles Against the Spin’ Takes Place as Part of The Big SCORE

artists of The Big SCORE
The poets, composers, and musicians of The Big SCORE: (L to R) Jennifer Jolley, Dionne Custer Edwards, Scott Woods, Barbara Fant, the musicians of the Columbus contemporary music ensemble CODE, Jennifer Merkowitz, Louise Robertson, Jennifer Hambrick, Charlie Wilmoth, Linda Kernohan, and Michael Rene Torres  (Photo: Terri Collins/The Big SCORE)

I am extremely honored to have been part of an epic performance recently that marked the culmination of an exciting new poetry and new music project.

Six new works of texted music were given their world premieres May 22, 2019 as the first of two concerts culminating a year-long project. In The Big SCORE, the Johnstone Fund for New Music commissioned six Columbus poets to collaborate in pairs with six Columbus composers and create six new poems in musical settings.

The Columbus contemporary music ensemble CODE (Columbus Ohio Discovery Ensemble) performed the world premieres of all six new works – including my poem Circles Against the Spin in composer Mark Lomax, II’s setting for narrator and chamber ensemble – on May 22 on the Garden Theater’s New Music at Short North Stage series, in Columbus.

The whole concert was a tour de force. CODE’s performances of all six new scores were stunning, the poets who performed their poems with CODE were all totally on, and the energy in the Garden Theater – raw, real, hip, and overwhelmingly positive – was truly incredible.

Zoe Johnstone’s idea for The Big SCORE was pathbreaking – to pair six Columbus poets with six Columbus composers, commission each pair to write a poem set to music, and see what happened. Zoe and Jack Johnstone selected the 12 artists for the project and, working with their advisors, paired us up.

The Johnstones and their advisors avoided what might have seemed the obvious poet-composer pairings, in the name of shaking things up to see what the resulting unusual collaborative duos would create. For instance, a poet who had collaborated many times with one of the composers in the project was intentionally not paired with that composer for The Big SCORE. The racial and gender diversity of the group of artists was also taken into consideration in making the pairings.

Mark Lomax, Michael Rene Torres and CODE rehearsing Circles Against the Spin
Composer Dr. Mark Lomax, II (far left) looking on as Michael Rene Torres conducts CODE in a rehearsal for the May 22, 2019 world premiere of The Big SCORE.  (photo: Jennifer Hambrick)

I was paired with Dr. Mark Lomax, II, the winner of a 2019 Governor’s Award in the Arts and a recent Artist-in-Residence at Columbus’ Wexner Center for the Arts. As I told the audience at the May 22 world premiere, Mark’s music for Circles Against the Spin “really found the heartbeat of my poem,” which is about how making a clover chain together weaves two girls into a childhood friendship that, in a very special way, survives the test of time and indeed grows stronger, despite distance and other trials of adulthood.

Lomax-Hambrick Circles Against the Spin
Mark Lomax’s score for Circles Against the Spin  (photo: Jennifer Hambrick)

Mark’s music is playful and lovely and full of joy. And even in the poem’s middle section, where the trials of adulthood put physical distance between the two friends, Mark’s music never loses the youthful innocence that childhood friendships carried into adulthood often have. Listen to the world-premiere performance in the video above.

The other poet-composer duos of The Big SCORE consisted of Dionne Custer Edwards and Michael Rene Torres, the founder and conductor of CODE; Louise Robertson and Jennifer Merkowitz; Scott Woods and composer Jennifer Jolley (formerly on the faculty at Ohio Wesleyan University, currently on the faculty at Texas Tech University); Jeremy Glazier and Charlie Wilmoth; and Barbara Fant and Linda Kernohan.

These phenomenally gifted people are some of the artists who, along with creative pioneers Zoe and Jack Johnstone, are actually making new art happen in Ohio’s Cap City.

Kudos to my fellow artists of The Big SCORE, and deepest thanks to the Johnstones for making this incredible project happen for Columbus.

The next performance of The Big SCORE takes place Sept. 8, 2019 at the Columbus Performing Arts Center, on the Sunday at Central concert series.

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