Date of Submission

Spring 2013

Academic Program

Music

Project Advisor 1

James Bagwell

Project Advisor 2

Joan Tower

Abstract/Artist's Statement

Every time I return to my parents’ home, I am somehow surprised to see all of the models, books, pictures, and maps of and about lighthouses when I walk into my childhood room. The memories of just how fascinating and exciting lighthouses were to me in my early years rush to the front of my mind with stunning power and clarity. While I had no tangible connection with lighthouses near home when I lived in north-central Alabama, I was completely enthralled whenever our family would travel to areas with Lighthouses. When I moved to the lighthouse-filled Hudson Valley of New York, a closer connection with the elegant waterside structures for me rekindled their allure and led me to reflect on what it is about them that is so emotionally compelling. Eventually I came to the conclusion that they are so powerful because they are inherently strong and completely selfless leaders, a trait to which I strive in every aspect of my life. George Bernard Shaw put it, “I can think of no edifice constructed by man as altruistic as a lighthouse. They were built only to serve.”

This new revelation of the beauty of lighthouses was one of my two major inspirations in writing my composition Beacon, for violin and chamber orchestra, the other being the violin playing of my friend and collaborator Sabrina Tabby. She is not only an incredible violinist with a distinctive sound and personality, but also an exceptional musical leader and a great friend. Her ideas are so convincing that every time I have worked with her or heard her play in the last four years, I notice her colleagues following her sound and molding their performance around her imagination. I could not help but think of this unique trait when writing this piece for her. Beacon is dedicated to Sabrina, who will perform the work with the American Symphony Orchestra on May 24, 2013, with immense gratitude to Joan Tower, George Tsontakis, and every other professor who has touched my life at Bard.

Beacon was premiered on April 17, 2013 in the Chapel of the Holy Innocents at Bard College by Contemporaneous, the new music ensemble that I co-founded in 2010. The program was entitled There is Another Sky and also featured a very personally meaningful collection of works by two of my teachers (George Tsontakis and John Halle), one of my compositional idols (John Adams), and a very close friend (Dylan Mattingly). I conducted the entire performance, which opened with the world premiere of Beacon with violinist Josh Henderson creating the solo role. George Tsontakis read the narrator role in his work Melville Pilot, a subtle and beautiful work that features spoken texts of letters by Herman Melville and two poems set to music for two sopranos and large ensemble. The Twist, also for two sopranos large ensemble, is John Halle’s wild bastardization of the song by the same title, as popularized by Chubby Checker. I serve as co-artistic director Contemporaneous along with Dylan Mattingly, whose brooding and poignant chamber orchestra work There is Another Sky closed the first half in the world premiere of the newly revised version. After intermission, we performed the string septet version of John Adams’ 1978 work Shaker Loops, a veritable masterpiece that is famous for its unique texture of shimmering tremolo patterns. The performance was generously underwritten by the Peter S. Reed Foundation, which funded this project as one of its two 2012 artist grants in the field of music.

A few days after the performance, a patron asked me if Beacon was representative of my work or more of a departure. Reflecting, I answered her saying that it is really a culmination of what I have been trying to do with my music for a long time — even longer than the two years in which I was working on the piece. The spirit of experimentation, collaboration, and mutual support in the musical community at Bard has offered me the invaluable opportunity to reach this compositional summit that — even just a month ago — I never expected to reach.

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