Tuesday, March 23, 2010

ACDA Brock Commissions Pt. One: Joan Szymko's "All Works of Love"

The 2010 ACDA Raymond Brock Commission, Joan Szymko’s “All Works of Love”, is in my mind, the most successful ACDA Brock Commission in years. The piece is beautifully lyrical, thoroughly well-crafted, sets a timely yet ever-universal text, and is accessible to many choirs in the best sense of that sometimes scary word “accessible”.

I had two opportunities at the recent ACDA conferences to hear the piece, once in Tucson and again in a performance by Dan Bara’s wonderful choir from East Carolina University in Memphis. What Joan has created is a gorgeous piece with a gentle text that could and most likely would devolve into cloying musical clichés in the hands of a less mature, less sensitive composer. The text by Mother Teresa is all of twenty–five words, yet Joan has found a way through repetitions, using almost Zen-like echoes of varying phrase lengths (this was important, I believe, to avoid four bar phrases) to bring the message across in the most artistic way:

“All works of love are works of peace. If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

The piano part is supportive and never intrusive, in fact, in many ways the music often feels like an a cappella piece, that’s how much the choir is entrusted to convey the message, with the piano just there to help out.

Joan is a composer who has strong beliefs about music, about society, and other issues and her world views are usually reflected in her music. I was quite thrilled that she received this commission and wrote about it last April in one of my first blogs- which you can see here


(this also includes a fun anecdote about meeting her parents at one of my concerts!).

Here are some thoughts about composing by Joan, taken from her website, which is at www.joanszymko.com

“As a choral musician, I have witnessed over and over again the power of ensemble singing to awaken in both vocalist and listener an almost ineffable yearning; a longing to be “one with”—what? The object is not so important as is illuminating the illusion of separateness. Dispersing the illusion allows the participant to enter into communion with that for which they yearn. I believe that it is the responsibility of any artist to facilitate this kind of communion. As a choral musician I am bound to the task. It is the nature of the medium. It is also in my nature as an artist. I know that as I compose, if I truly surrender myself—if I become “one with” the process, then I will create something of beauty that will resonate deeply with singer and listener, whatever the tone, character or meaning of the work.

I honor intuition, letting my compositions unfold, but am also a craftsman and a lover of language. I look at the rhythm and flow of a text in the way a sculptor may search her medium for the form that is already there. The willingness to see what is inherent, the courage to allow the truth that is present to be revealed and the skillful craftsmanship to give it a clear voice; all are a part of my ideal as I create new works.

Throughout my career, my goal has been to compose in such a way that invites the audience in while challenging the notion that “accessibility” and “musical integrity” are incompatible concepts. One of the means to realizing this goal has been through collaboration. I have composed choral music to be performed with actors, poets, Taiko drummers, modern dancers, aerialists and accordion players. I have set texts by fourth graders, 12th century mystics and Pulitzer Prize winners. As a composer and conductor, my intention is to engage audience members with choral performances that will surprise, delight, move and transform.”

Congratulations to Joan on this new piece, which I expect will become standard choral repertoire, something which many recent Brock commissions have not been able to achieve for one reason or another.

Coming Up: Part Two: ACDA Brock Commissions for 2011, 2012, and yours truly gets a scoop from Tim Sharp on the 2013 commission

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