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.

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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.

Fruitful Collaboration Brings about the World Premiere of the Orchestral Song Setting of My Poem “Thorn Tree”

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The opening measures of Jacob Reed’s orchestral song setting of my poem “Thorn Tree.”

After months and months of preparation, dozens of conversations, a bevy of emails, and a whirlwind of ideas catalyzed by an inspiring and fruitful creative collaboration, the orchestral song setting of my poem “Thorn Tree” was given its world premiere along with those of two other new orchestral songs yesterday afternoon at the McConnell Arts Center in Worthington.

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Antoine Clark conducts members of the McConnell Arts Center Chamber Orchestra in William Walton’s Façade Suite No. 2, while I recite Edith Sitwell’s offbeat poetic texts.

The song settings were composed by Columbus composer Jacob Reed as part of “The Poet’s Song,” a project Reed created to unite poems and music in new art songs.

On a concert program entitled “The Words Beneath the Sound,” featuring musical works with sung or spoken texts, McConnell Arts Center Chamber Orchestra artistic and music director Antoine Clark conducted the world premieres of Reed’s songs, the world premiere of Christopher Weait’s orchestral song settings of Emily Dickinson poems Emily’s Bees and Bells, Walton’s Façade Suite No. 2 – with poetry by Edith Sitwell, and, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of its world premiere, Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du soldat, with a text adaptation I wrote specially for this performance. Soprano Chelsea Hart Melcher was featured as soloist in the Reed and Weait songs, and, in my role as midday host of WOSU Public Media’s Classical 101, I narrated the Walton and the Stravinsky.

Stravinsky Soldier
I narrate my own text adaptation of Stravinsky’s iconic L’Histoire du Soldat with members of the McConnell Arts Center Chamber Orchestra.

Funded jointly by the Johnstone Fund for New Music, the McConnell Arts Center of Worthington, and the Worthington Educational Foundation, “The Poet’s Song” project brought together many throughout the Worthington community.

As a guest artist, I worked with Thomas Worthington High School students on reading and writing poetry in two class visits. Students were also encouraged to participate in a poetry contest, which was judged by other members of the Worthington community, and the winner of which had his poem set to music by Reed and performed in yesterday’s concert. Poems by all of the MACCO programentrants in the school poetry contest were displayed along with musical sketches by Reed and Weait, on a “Wall for Sharing” in the lobby at the MAC. The project’s culminating performance, “The Words Beneath the Sound,” yesterday at the McConnell Arts Center brought a rich program of poetry and music before the Worthington community.

This project hit home deeply with me. I grew up in Worthington and attended the Worthington Schools, and I know how committed this community is to quality in education and cultural enrichment. Yesterday’s concert brought a rich offering of poetry and music before the Worthington community in combinations that had never before been experienced in that way. I left the performance with the feeling that we all had experienced something unique and exciting.

From its dissonant opening “thorn” chord to its intentionally unsettled conclusion, Reed’s setting of my poem “Thorn Tree,” like his settings of the poems by the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi and Worthington student poet Nat Hickman he selected for “The Poet’s Song,” explores the text’s emotional depth in rich, dramatic harmonies and sparkling orchestral color.

My deep gratitude to composer Jacob Reed for believing in my poem “Thorn Tree” enough to give it this sumptuous orchestral setting, to Antoine Clark for bringing me into “The Poet’s Song” project, and to the staff of the McConnell Arts Center for making the center an inspiring locus of creativity.

collborators - The Words Beneath the Sound
Christoper Weait, me, Antoine Clark, Chelsea Hart Melcher, and Jacob Reed onstage in the McConnell Arts Center’s Bronwyn Theatre.  Photo: Jon Cook

A Standing Ovation for the Ohio Premiere of Melissa Dunphy’s Song Cycle “Hervararkviða”

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Photo: Søren Niedziella/Creative Commons/Flickr

It was a great honor to sing the Ohio premiere of Philadelphia-based composer Melissa Dunphy’s song set Hervararkviða – The Incantation of Hervor – with harpist Jeanne Norton and violinist Laura Koh Sunday afternoon at Capital University’s Huntington Recital Hall, Columbus.

Commissioned by mezzo-soprano Maren Montalbano for her recording Sea Tangle: Songs from the North, the three songs in Hervararkviða tell the story of Hervor, a young Viking woman who dresses up like a man, changes her name to its male equivalent – Hervarth, and leaves her village to journey to the burial mound where her father was laid to rest after dying in battle and claim his sword as her birthright.

Scored for Montalbano’s specified instrumentation, Dunphy’s songs treat the voice and each of the instruments in unconventional ways to stunning dramatic effect.  They are an extraordinary contribution to the art song repertory.

Yesterday’s performance of Hervararkviða was presented by Women in Music Columbus and was the conclusion of a concert consisting of works selected from among those submitted in response to Women in Music Columbus’ biennial Call for Scores from women composers.

I was greatly touched by yesterday’s generous audience, which gave our performance of these incredible songs a standing ovation.

For more about Hervararkviða, listen to my interview with Melissa Dunphy which I conducted for Classical 101, WOSU Public Media.

My collaborators and I are planning future performances of these songs.  Keep watching Inner Voices for details.

A Poetry Commission and an Exciting New Project from the Johnstone Fund for New Music

Toshiyuki Imai Music Sheet httpswww.flickr.comphotosmatsuyuki4317930373inphotolist-7zywgp-Udcg8Q-8xrsLM-aXqoHp-dxRJv8-8xrsSX-8xrsCM-7
Photo: Toshiyuki Imai/Creative Commons/Flickr

I am extremely excited to announce my most recent poetry commission and an invitation to participate in an innovative project to catalyze the creation of new musical works with poetry.

The Big SCORE, a project created and funded by the Johnstone Fund for New Music, pairs six Columbus poets with six Columbus composers, each pair tasked to collaborate on the creation of a new work for chamber ensemble and spoken or sung text.

I am thrilled to be one of The Big SCORE’s invited poets and to have been paired with the phenomenal composer and percussionist Mark Lomax. The other artists invited to contribute to the project are poets Louise Robertson, Jeremy Glazier, Barbara Fant, Dionne Custer Edwards, and Scott Woods, and composers Jennifer Merkowitz, Linda Kernohan, Jennifer Jolley, Michael Torres, and Charlie Wilmoth.

The new works will be premiered in Columbus in spring 2019. I am deeply grateful to Zoe Johnstone for inviting me to participate in this extraordinary project.