Lawrence composers explore the song

Cory Robertson

The similarities of poetry and music make them complimentary art forms, with elements like meter, articulation, and timbre serving as necessary structural influences in both media. In last Sunday’s New Music concert, Lawrence student composers revealed an appreciation of this relationship with settings of a number of classic poems, as well as several equally-compelling instrumental pieces.
Sophomore Burcu G”ker opened the concert, performing “Verbena,” her own piece for solo violin. Her performance eased the audience into the meditative but capricious tone that would last throughout the concert. G”ker’s sparse and sonorous piece, interspersed with double stops, allowed the audience to savor the purity of her instrument.
Soprano Jeni Houser and pianist Myer Nore performed a piece by senior Doug Detrick, a setting of the William Carlos Williams poem “Young Sycamore.” The piece achieved a pleading undertone while ascending into fervent chords, reaching musical height as Williams’ verse arrived at its verbal capstone. Detrick’s interpretation of the poem seemed to reveal an acute sense of the text’s musicality. “The music came pretty easily to the poem,” said Detrick. “It wasn’t too much of a stretch to think of it in musical terms.”
The first of sophomore Graham Hand’s “Two Songs on Poems by e.e. cummings” interwove an unexpectedly low, dark soprano line with capricious pizzicatos and arpeggios from the cello. The contrasting voices of Liana Francisco and Jesse Weinberg came together in the second piece, with Weinberg’s low and colored baritone achieving a surprisingly pleasant harmony with Francisco’s birdlike soprano. The two alternated in a sort of parenthetical call and response before solemnly joining their voices together for the piece’s conclusion.
David Werfelmann, a junior, employed a slightly different style in his bard-like “Two Songs,” written for guitar and tenor, which borrowed as text the words of Henry David Thoreau and Robert Frost. In discussion of the dual elements of poetry and music in his work, Werfelmann said that he “attempted to combine the two so that the music and text become, in a sense, mirror images of each other.”
Following Werfelmann’s work was Joe Pfender’s liltingly minor “Waltz.” Performed by bass clarinet, cello, and vibraphone, the piece achieved a distinct, slightly klezmer-like sound. Pfender, a sophomore, said that his piece was influenced in part by “misty tree-covered hills just after dark.”
The concert’s trend of diverse artistic vision continued with junior Scott Sandersfeld’s vocal septet “Stars, hide your fires!” Sandersfeld was inspired to set Shakespeare’s words to music after seeing Ian McKellan’s performance in the made-for-television production of Macbeth. The actor’s vocal delivery of the text, Sandersfeld said, made him “realize its musical potential.” This vision translated to music well, providing a polished vocal work that ranged from tightly choreographed chords to canonic operatic segments.
Trombonist Rachel Freedman and pianist Joe Rodenbeck performed the final piece, Rodenbeck’s “Adoration.” The composition rose and fell in alternate swells of tunefulness from the bass trombone, by turns jaunty, triumphant, and grand.
The concert was well received. “We had a lot of first-time composers,” said composition professor Joanne Metcalf, “and they all gave very professionally prepared performances.” The concert proved a worthwhile chance to enjoy the creative endeavors of a number of Lawrence students who have taken it upon themselves to express their own musical visions, poetic or otherwise, for the benefit of those who will listen.