Lawrence musicians perform at Northwestern

Amelia Perron

In the latest wave of Lawrence’s “Focus On: Chicago” initiative, music theory instructor John Benson had the privilege of hearing his original compositions, “Corners” and “Wings and Things” for voice and wind quintet, performed at Northwestern University last weekend.
The performance was part of the College Music Society’s annual convention.
“The College Music Society tries to weave a community from the various music departments across the country, Canada too,” Benson explained. “It provides services, information and activities for its members.”
In addition to these services, it provides a performance venue for composers such as Benson. This concert was a preamble to the convention, and featured works by composers chosen last fall by a selection committee.
“I was one of eight composers on the program and had the good fortune of having both sets of songs performed instead of one due to a late program cancellation,” said Benson.
What should have been a strong performance opportunity had some disappointing setbacks. According to Benson, “The crowd was small — maybe 30 people in the audience, mostly early birds to the conference which started the next day — and the acoustics were difficult for our wind quintet and soprano combination.”
The difficulties did not get the last word, however. “I was proud of how our little group represented Lawrence University,” Benson continued. “It was interesting to hear them adjust their playing accordingly. The hour we had the hall — a half hour before dinner and a half hour after — found them constantly making the necessary adjustments as a group and individually so the music could speak.”
Benson was emphatic in considering the artistry and work of the performers. “I think the real story here was the sacrifice of the performers,” he said. “They all had busy schedules to begin with and to agree to see this extra project through to fruition I found heroic.”
The performers were Emily Fink, soprano; Karen Leigh-Post, mezzo-soprano; Barbara Boren, flute; Howard Niblock, oboe; David Bell, clarinet; James DeCorsey, horn; and Susan McCardell, bassoon. Also in the mix was Patrice Michaels, soprano, who performed in the recital Sunday on the Lawrence campus. All performers are faculty at Lawrence or the Lawrence Academy of Music, except Emily Fink, who is a sophomore.
“Corners” and “Wings and Things” are two sets of songs sung without a break between. The music of the voice represents, through Emily Dickinson’s poetry, the reclusive poet observing the world through her window.
The recital was aptly titled “From Emily’s Window.” The scoring for the wind quintet was finished this fall, based on sketches from 1998.
As Benson’s program notes explain, “The settings are meant to evoke a sense of wonder, a glimpse into her beautiful, fluent, and original mind. The settings are meant to be direct, simple, and spontaneous. ‘Corners’ deals with internal issues of a soul. ‘Wings and Things’ is lighter in tone, embracing nature with reverence and love.